「いつか見た流星 -Inherit the Stars-」 (Itsuka mi ta Ryūsei -Inherit the Stars-)
“Shooting Star of Yesteryear -Inherit the Stars-“
Fair or not, anime are always graded on a curve. And it’s a tough week for Aldnoah.Zero.
Let me start out by saying I really didn’t this this was a bad finale. Technically it was solid, the action sequences were (as ever) terrific, and the pacing was fine. It was coherent and easy to follow, and didn’t leave much in the way of loose ends. So in sum, not terrible by any means. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave me feeling… Well – not much of anything, really. And that’s a disappointment.
It’s finale week for the bulk of series that are ending this season, of course, so it’s impossible not to compare and contrast a little. This was a sort of antithesis to the Tokyo Ghoul final episode in a sense – predictable, conventional, plot-driven and emotionally hollow where that one was an impressionist painting, a canvas of pure feeling which told its story largely in silence. But it’s Death Parade which most springs to mind for me as the A.Z credits roll, because it was clear when that show ended that everything had happened for a reason. Here, the question that demands to be asked is, what was the point of all that?
I don’t have any single grievous complaint with how Takayama Katsuhiko (a very good writer) chose to end the story. Probably the biggest gripe I’ve heard is Asseylum marrying Cruhteo Jr., but that makes sense to me – she acted like a leader, not an anime character. Princesses don’t get to choose their husbands, and in the act of trying to wrest control of her nation away from a despot and usurper and stop a war, she did what had to be done. Slaine paid a price for his almost limitless misdeeds, and Inaho was spared a Valvrave-esque personal demise. In the big picture, it was basically (here’s that word again) “fine”.
But again, somehow this all feels very pointless to me. There was no poetry to this ending, nothing epic or Shakespearean in the final bishoudown that’s been teased for two seasons. We had Slaine finally making what seemed like a reasonable decision – ordering his troops to surrender and destroying the moonbase to keep it out of enemy hands.. But his Orbital Knights decided, out of loyalty to the boy who’d led them and their world to the brink of ruin, to throw away their own lives in a pointless suicide mission. Then you had Slaine try and enter into a murder-suicide with Inaho, who was offering him the opportunity to live. It sort of makes sense in that Slaine is smart enough to realize the future that awaits him if he lives is pretty bleak, but it just offers no closure or satisfaction.
Maybe it’s wrong that after all this, nobody dies (though it seems somehow fitting given Aldnoah’s history). Maybe Slaine’s death would have given the ending greater pathos, though that doesn’t feel like the problem to me – I think again it comes down to the issue of there seeming to be no larger purpose behind all this. And at least there was a good reason why Inaho inexplicably bent over backwards to spare Slaine’s life – he was asked to by Asseylum. And in the end, Inaho certainly proves to be the better man in this matchup.
I think a lack of a deeper character arc for Inaho was definitely a problem that undercut the impact of the finale. I like Inaho and I found his reverse-Pinocchio situation in the second season interesting, but he didn’t get much in the way of backstory or emotional catharsis. That all went to Slaine, and he was so uniformly a dickhead in the second season that there was really no doubt as to how his arc would or should end up – live or die, he had to suffer a serious downfall. From the Greeks onward great tragedies have been built not around suspense, but on knowing such a downfall was going to happen and watching it unfold, so structure isn’t the problem here. If Slaine’s ending lacked poetry and power (which I would argue it did) execution was the issue.
In the end, I think it was really Asseylum that seized events by the throat and changed the game – which is certainly unexpected given the first 22 episodes. At least Slaine had the grace to admit he’d underestimated her – “I didn’t think she was capable of it” – but you know, I almost would rather have seen Slaine go all-in on the megalomania and fight like a cornered wolverine right down to the end. He was really beyond redemption anyway, so seeing him go down with a whimper – while it was the logical course for him – doesn’t bring much emotional pop. He was neither redeemed or destroyed in a blaze of glory, and that’s not a satisfying result from a dramatic standpoint.
I guess, for Slaine, one has to ask if Asseylum really did him any favors by begging Inaho to spare his life. The world thinks he’s dead, he’s in solitary confinement, and has to suffer the pity of Inaho and Asseylum for the rest of his life. I suppose the smile we see from him at the end is supposed to indicate that he’s glad Asseylum still had feeling for him in her heart, but his lot is pretty grim by any standard. In the larger picture Asseylum has certainly carried the day – peace has broken out, Aldnoah is being shared, and only a few occupying Orbital Knights seem to be holdouts. As for Inaho, he’s taken out his prosthetic eye-engine (is that murder?) and as always, reveals little of what he’s really feeling. But it’s safe to say he’s resigned to having lost the love of his life to a greater cause, and his history suggests the response is going to be to make sure he never allows himself to be that vulnerable again. Once more, a perfectly feasible and logical endpoint – but one that doesn’t offer much closure or emotional catharsis.
I would still say that, on the whole, the second season of Aldnoah.Zero was better than the first – it was certainly more coherent and consistent. But the rather flat conclusion leads me to wonder if the series wouldn’t have been better off pursuing the Valvrave route after all – balls-to-the-wall insanity and illogic everywhere you turn. Even if was sometimes frustration or irritation, at least it would have left the audience feeling something – and maybe that’s better than what we ended up with. If you’re going to play it straight, in order to be a really good series there has to have been a larger point to everything that happened. Otherwise, you end up with Aldnoah.Zero – a collection of perfectly good parts that somehow add up to less than they should.
Obviously, a huge thanks to Zephestopheles for this partnership – covering A.Z together has been a blast. Let’s hope Spring delivers – if it has anything on the schedule as good as Death Parade, Akatsuki no Yona or Kiseijuu, that will mean the season isn’t a total loss.
Zephyr’s Final Impressions:
Here we are. Two cours and 24 episodes later, ALDNOAH.ZERO comes to an end, and it’s a fitting finale for a series that has been predictably unpredictable and controversial almost every step of the way. Slaine and Inaho have their 1v1 fight to end things, Earth and Vers make strides toward a permanent peace via the sharing of resources and ALDNOAH tech, and all’s fine with the world. The only thing missing was a literal bow around this happy ending, and it’s a finale that won’t be without its share of “what the heck happened,” with many aspects feeling as if they were merely shoehorned in to end up at a certain result.
Granted, there’s an immense amount of pleasure to be gained seeing Slaine incarcerated permanently in a shady prison somewhere in the boonies, but that doesn’t change how the UFE’s attempted assassination of Asseylum suddenly gets brushed under the rug like they never intended to kill her in the first place. The offerings of peace and ALDNOAH tech probably played a part in changing their minds, but there’s a certain incongruity to how things suddenly sped up to the happy ending we got here—especially considering how it’s Asseylum herself that ends up activating the first ALDNOAH reactor on Earth. Part of me expected one last explosion to set the stage for a third season, but obviously that didn’t happen. The third season however, might, depending on how much credence you lend to rumors and images floating around…
Either way, the whole resolution regarding Slaine ultimately also feels lackluster considering the build up it’s gotten throughout this second-cour. It’s fitting given Slaine’s psychological state, and the shock of Asseylum’s announcement clearly played a bigger role than anticipated, but to suddenly have everyone abandon the Moon Base and self-destruct with himself still inside? That’s certainly stretching things quite a bit. The compassion for one’s companions only goes so far, and the fact that he subsequently rushes out to fight Inaho shows there were clearly things he wanted/intended to do, which goes against his whole decision making process in the first place. It’s as if they expected us to believe that the Slaine we’ve been watching over the past dozen episodes would’ve just sat there if Inaho didn’t come, and this is just one of those moments that was clearly made in a way just to ensure they would have a 1v1 fight to finish off the series and set up for an ending that leaves everyone alive. The latter makes you wonder if their intent wasn’t to make sure they could do a third season later if they wanted to, and it makes you shake your head if it ends up being true, even if they did do a good job bringing things back to the beginning with the shooting star, the mentions of Rayleigh scattering, and the seagulls flying across the empty ocean.
Put it all together though, and I suppose it’s ultimately par for the course in regards to the series as a whole. ALDNOAH.ZERO was a great series to watch from an action and entertainment standpoint, but it was always lacking from a narrative and character development perspective. The second season made great strides by providing us character-centric episodes to see where much of our cast were coming from, but to echo a comment I read elsewhere, when both Inaho and Slaine end up being NTR-ed by someone with less than 10 minutes of screen time, the overall development issues really show. It ends up pretty darn hilarious thinking about it in hindsight like this, but I would doubt that was the initial intent of those behind the series.
ALDNOAH.ZERO is still worth a watch/recommendation to people regardless however, just as long as you make sure that people know to come in with their expectations tempered and with the knowledge that UroGen was only involved in the first few episodes. If anything, it’s worth watching just to see what the fuss is all about, especially of another season does end up coming, and it’s interesting to note that despite all the flaws of the series, I’d likely watch a third season if it came. Until then though, I’ll just be content building model kits of the mecha from the series as my only remaining tie in to ALDNOAH.ZERO…
Looking forward, it’s amazing how fast time flies, and I hope that everyone reading has enjoyed Enzo and I’s posts/caps respectively regarding this series and will continue to do so for whatever series we end up covering next season. Spring’s looking pretty darn good—especially compared to this past season—and we could very well end up with much of our AOTY contenders by the time the summer comes up…
ED5: 「heavenly blue」 by Kalafina