Years after the destruction of the Moon in a great war between the Vers of Mars and humans of Earth, the Versian Princess Asselyum makes a diplomatic trip that erupts into a desperate war for the survival of humanity.
Humanity has split into two races - those living on Earth, and those who emigrated to Mars, forming the Vers empire around a supernatural power source called Aldnoah. After a bitter war 15 years ago between the two races which left the Moon destroyed, Earth and Mars have been on constant standby. However, the beautiful Versian Princess Asselyum is determined to heal the rift between the two planets, making a peace visit to Earth even if many on Mars wait feverishly for another opportunity for war. After a devastating attack, Martian forces descend upon the Earth, forcing cadet Inaho Kaizuka and his friends to fight back if they want to survive as the heavens fall.
Aldnoah Zero falls squarely into the camp of many other science fiction mecha series, so readers familiar with the genre will be most interested in this series.
Aldnoah Zero’s first chapter is quite enjoyable, showing serious signs of promise in setting up a compelling story through Inaho and his friends as they experience the beginnings of a new war with Mars. I liked that it gave a strong introductory sense the major characters, introducing the driving plot of the series very quickly and clearly by showing the contrast between Princess Asselyum’s attitudes compared to her compatriots. It also did a great job conveying an atmosphere of dread, with the chapter’s final scene showing the Martians descending to invade Earth flashing to show people in cities across the globe experiencing the events. This was quite effective at demonstrating the sheer scale of the invasion as well as its human cost as experienced by ordinary people.
While the first chapter was solidly enjoyable, sadly it all falls apart over the remaining two chapters as the plot quickly becomes muddled and difficult to follow. The story seems to recede into the background as characters get introduced with little explanation, and things just suddenly start happening without the context necessary to understand how they fit into the plot. I had to re-read parts of the chapters to figure out exactly was going on - the series has a troubling tendency to just show a montage of events happening at once rather than explaining a chain of action. This worked quite well in the first chapter to set up the story but quickly became annoying when trying to follow action sequences, preventing the creation of a tangible chain of action.
It doesn’t help that the vast majority of the characters don’t receive any characterization - we simply see them doing things without an explanation for their motivations and are supposed to infer things about them from that. This made several scenes that might otherwise have had some impact come off as silly and under explained without any rhyme or reason as we never really get much of an explanation why any of the characters do the things they do within the context of the story. It also doesn’t help that Inaho as the main character seems to have no personality at all, simply saying things out of the blue. While some characters such as the gang’s training instructor Lt. Marito seem to show some signs of depth, too many characters are introduced way too quickly without any characterization or context making for a frustrating read.
Aldnoah Zero’s art is a mixed bag at best, never settling into a consistent groove over the course of this volume. One one hand, artist Pinakes does a fantastic job drawing the characters, giving them a stylized look that conveys their expressions in a wonderfully clear and detailed manner. This is especially impactful in the first chapter as the art really sells the shock experienced by each of these individual characters when faced with various horrific events, adding greatly to the atmosphere of the story. However, the same can’t be said at all for the action scenes, which fail to deliver in a comparable way.
The scenes in the later chapters involving mecha are quite cluttered, failing to clearly define the different robots in an easily visible manner or give any real sense of impact to the supposedly destructive fights going on. There were a number of times where I had difficulty determining which way a robot was heading or which arm belonged to which robot, breaking my immersion in the action. Furthermore, the SFX is overbearing and oddly placed, obstructing several action scenes unnecessarily. It almost feels as though the artist decided to use the SFX to make up for the art not being able to convey the impact of robots slamming into each other. The lack of clarity in the action sequences compounded the issue with the story doing a poor job at explaining itself, making parts of the later chapters difficult to understand.
Aldnoah Zero Vol. 1 left me thoroughly disappointed, with the later half of the volume turning into an exercise in frustration after the promising first chapter. The lack of context and the muddled artwork actively worked against getting a sense of what was happening, making some of the later events feel wholly silly and oddly placed. It almost feels as though someone thought of a really cool scenario for an invasion of Earth and delivered exactly that in the first chapter, but couldn’t figure out what to do with it in terms of creating interesting characters or explaining the ongoing plot as it all fell apart later on. The second volume may well rescue the series if it can figure out how to sort through the mess of characters established and ground them within the story, as there is undeniably a cool premise, good art and a decent story hidden somewhere under it all. However, I really can’t recommend the series based on this volume, and those leaping in should proceed with some caution.
Aldnoah Zero Vol. 1 was published by Yen Press on December 15th, 2015. Illustrated by Pinakes based on the story by Olympus Knights, the series is currently ongoing and published by Houbunsha’s Manga Time Kiraira Forward. Volume 2 will be published in English on February 23rd, 2016. The series is based off of the original anime series by A-1 Pictures.
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