「深い森を抜けて -The Rose and the Ring-」 (Fukai mori o nuke te -The Rose and the Ring-)
“Through the Deep Forest -The Rose and the Ring-“
Aldnoah.Zero is predictable, but it’s predictably unpredictable too.
Superficially, this episode of Aldnoah.Zero could hardly have done a better job of following the template the series has established so definitively in a season-and-a-half. There were two battles, and each went exactly the way they would be expected to. The two leads followed the same course they’ve been on almost since the beginning. But it’s also predictable that A.Z is going to drop some bombs of a more interesting kind in the final moments of an episode – and the repercussions of those plot explosions are enough to keep you guessing about what happens next.
Both fights here went according to plan – but the thing with Aldnoah is, the fights in this show pretty much always go according to plan. We had another Count attack Earth with his supposedly indestructible Kataphrakt, which had one fatal Achilles heel. We had Inaho several steps ahead of the combatants on both sides, taking advantage of some semi-hard science to outwit the opponent (in this case, the inability of beam weapons to follow the curvature of the Earth). Really, if the Terrans were to simply do nothing it seems as if they’d be able to pick off the 37 Orbital Knights one by one as they each make a fruitless attack that ends in their death.
Indeed, I think the most interesting thing here is the acknowledgement that Inaho outranks his sister – which of course he does, as she’s technically a warrant officer (which is at the top of the enlisted ranks, but still below every commissioned officer – of which Ensign is the second-to-lowest rank). Of course he should really be commander-in-chief, but in any event it’s nice to see an open reference to the fact that he’s no mere scrub now. Also of note is the conversation between he and Inko, where Inaho reveals that his eye can even see the duel occurring at the moonbase. He doesn’t deny it when Inko says “You can see everything”, but he does add that the one thing he cannot see is what he really wants to – could it be what’s inside Slaine’s head, or Asseylum’s heart?
As to that duel, Niles Crane did of course prove no match for Floyd Mayweather. And the foregone-ness of the conclusion did render Slaine’s tearful pre-fight confab with Eddie and Tank Girl somewhat hollow – there was as little doubt as to the result here as there was to the battle on Earth, and the only question was just how Slaine would go about it. Well, to be fair, it did occur to me to wonder whether Slaine might try and find a way to let Marylcian live for political reasons – but it appears he saw greater value in the message he sent by killing him (and in a rather nasty way, too). Barouhcruz may emerge as a leader of some kind of old-guard opposition, but Terran or not it seems as if most of the nobles are getting the idea that it’s better to back a winner than a loser, and Slaine is systematically chipping away at all resistance.
Given that, it’s no surprise that he should make his move in a big way, and that gives us the big twist(s) after the ED. Lemrina speaks of her glee at seeing an outsider seizing power, and of how she’ll never let go of her grudge against the family that shunned her – and Slaine’s victory seems to have convinced her to unreservedly throw her lot in with him both personally and politically. Lemrina agrees to marry her Terran Prince Charming, and with it announces their intent to establish a new VERS kingdom on Earth. She almost has the last card played here – it looks for all the world as if Lemrina is going to end Asseylum and eliminate any possible future competition for Slaine, but she pulls back at the last moment. Sentiment – some residual love for her half-sister, or perhaps simply a spark of decency? Or just plain pragmatism (she’d certainly be the first one I’d suspect if Asseylum died)?
The last card, though, is reserved for Tank Girl herself – Lemrina seems to have unwittingly stirred her sleeping consciousness by systematically turning off her life supports, and the last thing we see is Asseylum opening her eyes.. The fox is really in with the chickens, now – Slaine is going to have some ‘slaining to do, because I can’t see Asseylum being very happy with the course he superficially seems to be following (and that’s not even factoring in marrying her impersonator). Whichever thing it was Inaho said he wanted to see – or both – these final frames seem to bring the moment when he’ll have his answers a lot closer to fruition.
I’ll say the duel ends up as expected, but the episode overall ends up anything but. Filled with the twists and turns, this was every bit as straight forward until the final moments, and honestly, I need a moment to collect myself here. We got Lemrina saying she’s going to take Slaine as her husband while posing as Asseylum, the former almost taking out all of the latter’s life support system shortly afterwards, and the actual awakening of the real Asseylum moments after that. It’s a classic one-two punch knockout (with a third for good measure) if I’ve ever seen it, and I can’t say enough about how much better this second cour’s coming along.
The major developments are coming suddenly and hitting like trucks, all while being nestled in between lulls in the action that are giving almost every character their fair share in the spotlight. Gone are the climactic twists seemingly made for impact value only. Gone are second fiddle characters serving as mere blips during Inaho’s demolition runs. Okay so the Inaho demolition runs are still the usual for the most part, but there’s such a stark difference here overall that it almost makes you wonder if they changed the staff here between the two cours. Suddenly there’s a decent cast of characters with their own individual motivations, a cloak of intrigue regarding how things are going to go from here, and a load of plot lines waiting to be explored with Mazuurek still in the background (I’d laugh if he was a literal red herring though).
The easy conclusion would be that Lemrina will regret her decision not to kill Asseylum while she had the chance, but it’s interesting to think about the possibility of that not being the case. Ultimately, Slaine’s path—if we can assume it’s one trying to unite Earth and Mars under Vers rule—is a one way route that essentially resigns him to either him killing others or being killed, and the fact that Lemrina comes in with the background she does means that even if she understands this, she’s not going be the one that stands in his way despite what seems to be genuine feelings for the former. Rather, her desire to see the Vers hierarchy torn to bits and the whole “I’d be a willing substitute” bit highlights the notion she’d support him more than anything, and it’s pretty tragic in the grand scheme of things how different their lives could’ve been.
Either way, it boils down to the notion that the real Asseylum becomes extremely important as the only source of the duo’s potential “deliverance” and “salvation” so to speak—meaning that if shit goes down and their plan ends up being thrown to the curb (likely by Inaho), she’s the only one capable of making a difference between Slaine + Lemrina’s lives and struggles either being worth something or nothing at all. Given her unique perspective, Asseylum’s the only one capable of understanding their respective circumstances and why they did what they did, and it could very well be her role to be the one who delivers the classic “it’s okay, you’ve done well” parting line at the very end if they both end up meeting their makers. At the very least, we know Inaho’s far from fitting for that role if things work out as I think they will, and the basic thing is Asseylum’s the only one who can give both Slaine and Lemrina the proper closure to their respective stories—one that reflects the struggles they’ve gone through and highlighted the harshness of the reality they lived in.
Of course, there’s plenty of time for things to change and ALDNOAH.ZERO’s shown a propensity to really surprise this second cour, but let it be said that I don’t expect things to work out well for Slaine and Lemrina. As I mentioned a few episodes before, it’s a star-crossed tale if I’ve ever seen one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Inaho joins them in the land of the dead either. As ironic as it sounds, the Princess who’s been killed half a dozen times now might just be the one who truly survives until the bitter end, and it’ll be quite something to see if this actually ends up being the case. I can see it now… an time-skip epilogue where it’s just Asseylum reflecting on the things that happened. Yup. Sounds like an ending to me. Or maybe it’s just my flu-hazed mind conjuring up hallucinations and just making me think that.