「追憶装置 -Darkness Visible-」 (Tsuioku Sochi -Darkness Visible-)
“Device of Reminiscence -Darkness Visible-“
All aboard the Slaine pain train…
This was another fascinating mess of an episode that had the long reach of Urobuchi’s hand all over it, but as sometimes happens I think I really need to start at the end and work backwards, because this elephant pretty much takes up the whole room. No, I don’t believe Asseylum is dead. And yes, I do see that the circumstantial evidence supports it – most obvious being the shutdown of the Aldnoah drive on the Deucalion. But it just doesn’t pass the sniff test with me – right here, right now? I don’t think so – time will tell.
It sure would be one hell of a ballsy development, though.
Let’s start with the positives, and it’s becoming a bit of a broken record – the Martian side of the story seems to have more potential than the Terran side in many ways. True, that’s partially because it’s been less successfully fleshed-out and has more upside to grow into, but this week Aldnoah.Zero finally got something it really needed – a Martian character who can’t be summed up in a sentence and dismissed. Saazbaum could just be the character that brings the story to the next level. He’s not an idiot, he’s not a cartoonishly evil genocidal maniac. He’s an actual antagonist who takes a little figuring out.
I thought the scene where Slaine and Saazbaum share “dinner” was the best in the episode by a wide margin. I like the fact that Saazbaum came right out and told Slaine the truth (most of it anyway). He holds most of the cards and he knows it, so he didn’t BS around – he laid it out there for Slaine to understand. Why he owes his father a debt. what Cruhteo was, and what he is. Saazbaum certainly resents Earth and what he sees as the lavish lifestyle they lead, and the fact that they threw their table scraps to the Martian colonists after shuttling them off to a harsh and brutal environment. But it’s absolutely clear that Saazbaun reserves his true hate for the Martian society and the VERS royal family, and it’s they who he blames for the death of his betrothed. Saazbaum doesn’t spew racist propaganda and torture shotas – he does what he does for what he feels are justifiable reasons, and doesn’t make a caricature of himself in the process. And he seems to have a modicum of intelligence, too.
More than for Saazbaum himself, though, this scene works because it continues the development of what I see as the most interesting part of the story – the VERS society and what it represents. Saazbaum mercilessly guts it and lays it wide open – it’s a backwards, feudal nation led by a royal family that rose to power by fanning hatred against the Earth. “Enlightenment” is certainly a relative term when one takes a look at the world we live in, but irrespective of our own failures VERS represents a pre-enlightenment society – except one that’s been given technological superiority over every other. That’s a fascinating and terrifying notion, and for me it’s at the heart of Aldnoah.Zero – that gap between where VERS is socially and where they are militarily. And Saazbaum sits at the very epicentre of all this – not an ideologue or megalomaniac, but a man driven by personal vendettas to try and force change, and one who dislikes being used as a pawn. He’s wrong, but he’s wrong in far more interesting ways than the other Martians are.
For me at least, most of the stuff back on the Deucalion isn’t nearly as interesting. I’m having a hard time taking any of Lt. Marito’s storyline seriously, because it’s seems so utterly cliched. PTSD is a very real thing, but this particular drama is completely boilerplate right down to the character designs. And the attempts to cultivate a teen romance subplot and mine humor from it aren’t working too well – as a rule, humor hasn’t been a strong point of Aldnoah.Zero so far. And seriously, Eddelrituo needs to just stop talking already.
But then there’s that ending. The episode certainly does focus heavily on Rayet’s growing existential angst with her situation, and on her resentment with Asseylum for being so at peace with who she is. That said, I never really felt things were building to what they did – actually trying to murder the Princess (with her lucky pendant) seems like a big jump from where we were 30 seconds earlier. That aside, was it really necessary to stage that scene in the shower? I suppose it’s the reality of anime these days that directors feel they have to try and pander in every way they can even if it doesn’t mesh with the rest of the series (and there is an art to doing so without seeming so crass about it, but Aldnoah hasn’t mastered it), but blatant attempts to appeal to prurient interests by cheap fanservice and Eddel’s constant lolicon posturing undercut the stature of the show as a whole.
In the end everything comes back to what Rayet did though, and not how she did it. If Asseylum is indeed really dead barely a third of the way through the series, that certainly casts the remainder of Aldnoah.Zero as a very different story than it appeared to be. And whether Asseylum’s really dead or not, things have obviously changed in a big way for Rayet. Is her continued existence on the Deucalion even possible now? Even if she isn’t directly linked to the crime (whether that be murder or attempted murder) it’s hard to imagine she’ll be able to stay in that environment given how close to the psychological edge she was already balancing. If Asseylum is dead that truly scrambles Aldnoah.Zero so thoroughly that it’s nigh impossible to predict where it goes next. But even if as I expect Asseylum survives, this still goes down as a pivotal moment that sharply changes the course of the plot.
It’s often been said the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. I think it reasons that when you’re a Martian princess on a ship full of Terrans (and one other crazy Martian) and it’s a shared shower environment, that warning goes double. It’s just too bad Asseylum never saw it coming, and gets slaine-d by Slaine’s charm in what would be one of the most ironic deaths in a while. Of course, that’s assuming she actually is dead, which I’m not inclined to believe despite the ALDNOAH Drive shutting down shortly afterwards. Ultimately, her character is too integral and too prominent in the plot line to kill her off at this point in time, and I would be shocked if she’s actually dead at this point.
With that said, I’m not quite sure what to feel about the events leading up to this in the first place. It does make sense in the grand scheme of things that Rayet merely lost control for a bit (it didn’t help that she got in that simulator earlier), but at the same time it feels a bit off considering her character up until now. It’s not a significant detachment given the circumstances, but it is enough to make me want to point out that brooding is not a great way to lead up to sudden events like this, and I would hope that no one reading this finds a sudden urge to strangle someone in the shower with their most valuable keepsake as a result of this episode.
In any case, this episode really highlighted the double edged sword behind everything here. Because whereas down time amid a war is always a welcome thing for the soldiers fighting it (and especially the civilians caught in between it), it also comes with a secondary side effect. The down time ultimately gives you time to think and reflect on the events that have transpired so far, which comes with its own set of risks. Rayet was just one example of how things could go awry, and it reasons that the Captain and Marito are both facing their own personal demons at this point too—although they, unlike Rayet, have the gift of added experience, age, and maturity to aid their cause.
Speaking of causes, another big twist here comes within the fact that Slaine’s actually getting treated better with Saazabaum than he was with Cruhteo, and it’s a situation that finally gives us better insight into the Martians and their way of life. Assuming we can take his word at it—his knife grabbing moment makes it hard to doubt his take on events—things just aren’t great on Vers despite the advanced technology, and it looks like the royal family might’ve been the trigger that started this in the first place 15 years prior. In that sense, it’s fitting that the royal family was involved in starting things this time around too, and there’s a simple pattern of cause and effect here that seems somewhat reminiscent to how issues stemming from the first World War led to the second one.
Overall, the twists were nice this week, but I’m not sure how to feel about the lead up to them, and I’m shuddering at the thought of the impending cliffhanger in three episodes (as well as the fact that this is Inaho’s “Cloud Nine” face).