In 1972, humans discover an ancient alien hypergate on the moon. Through this hypergate, humanity begins colonizing Mars. It is on Mars that humanity discovers even more advanced technology called Aldnoah. The settlers of Mars claim Aldnoah for themselves and become the Vers Empire. In the process of doing so, they eventually form a culture where they feel themselves superior to the people of Earth. As such the Vers Empire eventually invades Earth in 1999, but during this war the hypergate on the moon is destroyed, leaving the Martians stranded in Earth's orbit. Fast forward to 2014, the Martian Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia becomes the target of an assassination plot during a diplomatic visit to Japan. Thinking the Princess dead, the knights of the Vers Empire declare war on Earth once again and invade to devastating results. High school student Inaho Kaizuka, along with his friends and loved ones, gets deeply dragged into the war. Does Aldnoah.Zero take the mecha genre to new heights, or is it in desperate need of repairs?
The Martian knights in Aldnoah.Zero get to pilot giant mecha called Kataphrakts. Earthlings get to use Kataphrakts as well, but their Kataphrakts are much smaller, only being the size of a small building compared to the Martian knights, whose Kataphrakts are multiple stories tall. In addition, the Earth Kataphrakts have weaker armaments and crap endurance, while the Martian Kataphrakts have special abilities, such as a barrier that vaporizes anything that touches it, or rocket powered fists, or plasma swords. Because of this huge valley between the two types of Kataphrakts, the people of Earth have to utilize strategy and exploit the few weaknesses of the Martian Kataphrakts. In a way it is not that dissimilar to the beloved video game Shadow of the Colossus. It makes for an interesting premise. Unfortunately, the execution of this premise leaves much to be desired.
Hiroyuki Sawano is creating quite the reputation for himself when it comes to crafting great soundtracks for anime. He provided the beautiful sounds heard in Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill and he's back creating the music in Aldnoah.Zero. Though it is far from his best outing, his songs are still far and away the best part of Aldnoah.Zero.
Inaho is a rather intriguing character. He has a nigh emotionless exterior and speaks in a monotone, but he is incredibly smart, a gifted tactician that could rival some of history's greatest generals. Unfortunately he is just too boring to be the main focus like he is. I don't hate Inaho as a character per se, I just hate that he's the lead character. He'd make for one badass lead support character, though. In a role like that, his lack of talking wouldn't be an issue at all. But as it is there are quite a few dulls moments when the camera is on him.
Aldnoah.Zero wears many hats over the course of this season. It's a mecha show, it's a war drama, it has an ensemble cast. Unfortunately it does none of them in a satisfying way. For a mecha show the focus is surprisingly not all that much on the mechs themselves. On top of that the Earth Kataphrakts just look extremely generic, so much so that the only reason Inaho's stands out is because he uses an orange trainee Kataphrakt the entire length of the season compared to the olive green Kataphrakts everyone else uses. That's it. That's all that is special about it from a visual stand point. For a war drama, well the war isn't really seen that much. We get a few isolated skirmishes, and that's about it it. It's supposed to be a global war, mind you, but you'd be forgiven if you assumed the war was just near Japan. Oh to be sure Aldnoah.Zero likes to wax poetic about the realities of war, but it very rarely actually touches upon them. Hell even the justification for the war from the Martians is weak and rather ham-fisted. And as for its ensemble cast, well...
There are a few exceptions, such as Inaho, an Earth-born Martian named Rayet Areash and the Martian knight Saazbaum, but even these exceptions are not particularly well developed characters either. They at least have some decent amount of character development, though. The rest of the cast either barely has any character right now, or if they have some character, they are portrayed as being rather stupid at times, to the point where Inaho is often made to look like the only person with a working brain.
One of the support characters, a Lieutenant named Koichiro Marito, is one of, if not the only, surviving combatants from the first war between Mars and Earth. As a result of his experience in the war, he developed PTSD and can't even simply take a seat in a Kataphrakt without going into a panic attack and becoming a useless ball of nerves. Except that's not how PTSD actually works, and as such its depiction in Aldnoah.Zero is a laughable joke that frankly makes a mockery of real PTSD. It is actually quite baffling to me that they messed this up so badly when they clearly put their research into the science behind Inaho's many strategies.
(The following talking point contains mild spoilers, if you do not want to be spoiled, please head to the next talking point)
Aldnoah.Zero loves to reuse fake outs with its other two lead characters, Princess Asseylum and an Earthling raised by the Vers Empire named Slaine Troyard who is loyal to Asseylum. With Princess Asseylum, they like to constantly make the viewer think she gets killed, only to reveal the very next episode that she was fine. They pulled this particular fake out three different times. As for Slaine, his fake out is that he always thinks he's going to reunite with Asseylum, but dagnabbit he always just misses her. I honestly lost track of how many times they pulled that with Slaine. In both of their cases, they use these fake outs so many times that I eventually stopped caring about if Asseylum actually died or if Slaine ever reunited with his beloved Princess.
The last episode of Aldnoah.Zero's first season is one of the biggest works in trolldom to date. It's a lose-lose scenario. If they stick to the events in this ending, anyone who actually liked this show and were emotionally invested in the characters, despite all of the jerking around and fake outs the writer(s) put the characters through, now have to accept having a giant double bird flipped their way. And yet if the writers dare reverse what happened in the ending, they'd be subjecting viewers to yet another fake out. Either way you slice it, the viewer loses out. I can just imagine everyone involved in the planning and writing of this series sitting back with that smug toothy grin saying, "U mad?"
Aldnoah.Zero is frankly not an original series. It is way too similar to the extremely underwhelming Gundam AGE for comfort. Aldnoah.Zero is at best a poor man's Gundam....well, nearly everything. It cribs a lot of stuff from the Gundam franchise. But it doesn't end at Gundam. Aldnoah.Zero takes bits and pieces from a variety of mecha series from throughout history, and ends up being a parade of mecha tropes that just make me wish I was watching a different, better show.
For most of the season, I thought of Aldnoah.Zero as the anime equivalent of a Michael Bay film, something to be enjoyed only for the spectacle of it all, something that is so bad and cheesy that it boomerangs back to being good. But the last episode makes it extremely hard to justify watching just these 12 episodes, let alone continuing on to watch the next 12 episodes scheduled to start airing in the Winter 2015 season. It is a dumb show masquerading as a smart show, while also trying really, really hard to be edgy, only to fall flat on its face. It's not the worst show of the year, or even the season, hell it isn't even the worst show I've seen to completion this season or this year. At the end of the day, though, Aldnoah.Zero is a combination of mecha tropes that ultimately prove to be its own weakness.