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Aldnoah.Zero Episode #01 Anime Review

7 min read

Aldnoah Zero Episode 1
Aldnoah Zero Episode 1
Some old friends are returning to zero once again.

What They Say:
Princess Asseylum wants to see Earth for the first time and plans a goodwill visit. However, Count Cruhteo doesn’t seem to be sharing the same feelings about Earth. Does this mean that there will not be peace between Earth and Mars?

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
If you’re a fan of Fate/Zero, next season is the one for you. That’s when you finally get your proper continuation in ufotable’s adaptation of Fate/stay night. But while much of the pieces of Fate/Zero are clearly being carried over for that series, there are a few missing. The two things that I look at first when seeing if I can expect a series to faithfully follow its predecessor are the writer and the director, specifically if they remain consistent from one to the next. However, neither Gen Urobuchi nor Ei Aoki was to be found on the staff list of that new Fate/stay night anime. The former isn’t surprising; while ufotable promises to continue with the tone that Urobuchi set for Fate/Zero, he was the original writer of that and not involved with Fate/stay night in any form, nor was Nitroplus, the company he works for. But as Ei Aoki has been with that ufotable team since the Garden of Sinners, I was more surprised to see him absent. That’s because I didn’t realize that he had formed his own studio, TROYCA, and while ufotable is wisely keeping focused on one thing at a time, Aoki wanted to do something original with the new studio he had created. Having worked with him before, it’s no surprise that Aoki would reach out to the biggest name in anime writing, and so with Aniplex’s own studio A-1 taking the brunt of the animation work to keep the quality up to par with the talent of the main staff while still working with a brand-new studio, we have our team.

But this presents another problem. Although he hasn’t done an anime series in a year, having been busy with the last Madoka Magica movie and a Kamen Rider series about fruit samurai (seriously), he’s all lined up for more Psycho-Pass, probably involved in the re-edit airing this season, and certainly writing the second season next season and the movie coming after that. So how does he have the time for this series as well? Unfortunately, he doesn’t in the way that many would hope. Instead, he is merely listed as the original creator while Katsuhiko Takayama, not known for anything particularly impressive (and responsible for the infamous Boku no Pico, for what that’s worth) is actually writing the series. If you’ve read some of my reviews, you know that getting hyped up over creative staff only to be crushingly disappointed is my modus operandi, so it’s probably for the best that we had this damper to demand a more cautious approach from me. That’s especially true given the fact that the music is being handled by Hiroyuki Sawano, one part of the team that made Attack on Titan what it was, a man who I praised almost constantly in my Kill la Kill reviews. With so many Fate/Zero people involved in this project, I would’ve loved to have Yuki Kajiura doing the music, but as she’s busy with Sword Art Online II this season into next and hopefully Fate/stay night next season as well, there was no real chance of that. However, we do get an opening theme song (used as a cinematic ending in this first episode) by her group Kalafina, who also did the second opening to Fate/Zero and is always a pleasure to hear. It’s rare to have Kalafina in anime with background music not composed by Kajiura, so in some ways this is the best of both worlds.

In case there was any way that I wouldn’t immediately think of Fate/Zero for this series, having a title again consisting of the main word for the project, followed by Zero certainly makes sure I do. Interestingly, Aoki also directed Ga-Rei: Zero, which also used Zero to indicate that it was a prequel to the previous story. As this is a completely original anime, it seems strange to use “Zero” in the same way, but it could just be that Aoki wanted to keep that trend going. While a different punctuation mark is used to separate the first part of each title from the Zero (never merely a space), the eyecatches do abbreviate this title as A/Z, also the name of Sawano’s own upcoming ending theme, tying it further to Fate/Zero (or F/Z). The major event that took place before this story begins (a time that would be more appropriate in a “Zero” series, perhaps) is called Heavens Fall, not a new term by any means, but one that also makes me think of Heaven’s Feel from the Fate franchise.

Of course, there was never any illusion that this series would be anything like any piece of the Fate franchise, with the initial announcement revealing it to be a futuristic science fiction epic complete with giant robots (which Urobuchi dealt with in his last anime series, one which I’d say was his weakest after a string of extremely impressive works). There’s not much time for the robots to get a piece of the action just yet, as this episode is mainly based on world-building, establishing characters, and setting up the major plot to bring the episode from a tranquil beginning to a chaotic end. A-1’s animation is up to its usual standard, with TROYCA’s influence as yet unknown in quantity. As we get glimpses of some of the major mecha in stationary positions, they are as crisply rendered as the characters and settings, and while CG is used for the motion we see from some of the more standard models, it’s done in a way that befits mechanical constructs, especially these very “real robot” types, and is never as jarring as when used to augment character movement. The original character designs come from Aoi Hana and Hourou Musuko creator Takako Shimura, very soft, warm designs to contrast the harsh, cold environment surrounding them. To compare to another Urobuchi work, this isn’t unlike the Madoka Magica model, although that was a far more striking dichotomy. As with Madoka, the connection likely originated from the director having directed an adaptation of one of the designer’s manga works (in this case, Hourou Musuko).

I’ll try to stop myself from spending another two cours praising Sawano’s music, but he sure earns every word of it, and I couldn’t be happier that we get him, at this level of masterful work, nearly every season now. While the sweet piano compositions setting the lighter mood earlier on and the fairly typical buildup pieces could’ve come from any number of composers, the climax of the episode unleashes the kind of musical impact that helped to make Attack on Titan, Kill la Kill, et al as great as they were, with Sawano’s signature use of his talent lineup of vocalists to make regular background pieces feel like full-fledged insert songs. In fact, the only reason I can really point to that exact moment as the climax above other, similarly eventful moments is the power behind that sudden vocal release. I have a feeling the ending theme simply credited to Sawano himself will be of the same variety, although an instrumental piece might work for this series.

In Summary:
While Gen Urobuchi’s name is enough to sell anything these days, his involvement in this series isn’t as significant as such advertising would imply. However, he delivers a strong premise, and while it’s sad to see Aoki away from his ufotable team that made his Garden of Sinners movie and all of Fate/Zero so perfectly presented that another studio doesn’t seem like it can really showcase Aoki’s finest direction as appropriately, there’s no doubt that he’s a talent himself, and I can’t think of a better studio for him to start this original project with than the one he just recently founded himself, however little said studio might be contributing in truth. Hiroyuki Sawano is a composer I could go on about at extreme length, as I have before, and everything I can say about him is positive. Add a surprising Kalafina opening into the mix and we might have something pretty good going. There’s just not much to go on just yet. There’s a big story to be had here, but it’s so involved for one episode to clue us into just how intriguing it might be while still introducing its characters. Likewise, the seemingly main character seems to be another milquetoast lead that I don’t find remotely compelling so far, so hopefully there will be plenty to change that. As it stands, this sure is a first episode, albeit an ambitious and competently executed one, but not one that seems to really be breaking any ground just yet.

Grade: B-

Streamed By: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Custom-Built PC, Sceptre X425BV-FHD 42″ Class LCD HDTV.

1 thought on “Aldnoah.Zero Episode #01 Anime Review

  1. Gosh, i’m thinking the same as you! I’m an f/z fan so i’m actually dissappointed with aoki’s and urobuchi’s absent, but i really hope that doesn’t make fsn an unsuccess sequel. And when i saw that urobuchi and aoki are doing a new project i was very excited! Although i had a feeling that a/z’s team was kinda trying to snatch kajiura, but to no avail (at least they got kalafina XD) lol.

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