What They Say:
Fifteen years have passed since the hypergate collapsed on the moon’s surface – a catastrophe known as the Heaven’s Fall. The war between Earth and the VERS Empire of Mars is now in a cease-fire. The VERS’ Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia descends upon Earth as an ambassador hoping to encourage reconciliation while some citizens are not willing to compromise. Inaho Kaizuka, a Terran high school student… and Slaine Troyard, who swears his allegiance to Princess Assylum… Their fates cross as both societies watch in horror as a missile crashes on Asseylum’s motorcade. This incident marks the beginning of a new war.
The audio presentation for this release is a frustrating one even as we get a bilingual presentation for it. The original Japanese language track gest presented in its uncompressed PCM form in stereo and it makes for a strong design overall as it works the forward soundstage. The dialogue is well placed where needed while the action has some good rumble to it as well as a sense of impact during the big fight sequences. The mix is one that plays stronger than you might expect but since it spends a lot of its time on dialogue it feels all the better when it shifts to the other elements. What’s confounding though is that Aniplex USA has again gone and brought out the English language version using simple DVD lossy quality encoding – down to 192kbps. Which is about as basic as you can go. It’s serviceable to be sure and we’ve had years of listening to DVDs like that, but why it’s done for a Blu-ray release – and for a mix that they had to spend new money on to create – really leaves me speechless.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The six episodes included in this set of the overall twenty-four episode run are spread evenly over two discs with three per disc. Animated by A-1 Pictures and TROYCA, the show puts its budget on the screen in every way and the end result is a gorgeous looking transfer here. Colors are rich and varied, the high fluid animation sequences are problem free and the details are striking in a lot of scenes as you can dig into it both during playback and in pausing. The look of the show is important in really making you feel the world that’s trying to be presented here and it comes across beautifully, from its lighter and quieter moments of simple beauty to the darkness and danger of the war that’s playing out as well, whether it’s on planet or in space. This is one of those shows that really does benefit hugely from a high definition presentation.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that’s inside a thin cardboard slipcover that holds the case and all the pack-in goods. The slipcover is a familiar one with the use of the mecha on it where the two main panels present different ones, both of which look ominous and dangerous as hell. That certainly sets the tone in a pretty stark way, especially since it’s not trying to hook you on character artwork. The wraparound on it provides a look at what’s inside on the front piece in a clean way for both on-disc and pack-in elements, while the back side breaks down the technical aspects, though they’re less than clear about the audio presentation differences. Inside the box we get the clear case where the front cover offers us the character artwork of Nao with his backpack as he’s set against a white backdrop. These can be hit or miss but it works here in contrast to the slipcover itself. The back cover brings us the artwork of the princess and her young attendant while the reverse side has the Japanese cast and staff listed and the right side has the English language staff. Part of me would prefer more artwork, but they’re working off of the Japanese releases and spacing it out properly.
Inside the case we get a fantastic booklet from character designer Takako Shimura where the main cast are all presented in varied forms in black and white. While this is normal to get, we get the commentary from Shimura which adds some great insights into how they approached ach of the designs. The other pack-in we get here are a pair of postcards with the Earth side represented and the VERS side as well. I wish there were more though simply because the designs are so appealing.
The menu design for this release is another one that’s very much a Japanese design with its minimalist approach, though at least it works in context with the show a bit better than some of the others. Menus continue to be the weakest part of Aniplex’s offerings though. This one gives is a military styled feeling about it with a blue squared background that has the military logo through the middle and the series name across it with the disc number. The bottom is where the navigation is located with a black strip and white text above it that’s quick and easy to move through both as the top level menu and as the pop-up menu. It’s solidly functional and works well but it’s lacking that something extra to really set the tone in a good way or show off more of what it’s all about.
The extras for this release are pretty good with what we get as there’s the clean version of the opening sequence as well as a collection of the promotional videos and commercial spots that we’d seen prior to the shows original broadcast. The big extra for this release is the inclusion of the twenty-three minute Count to A/Z special which provides a look at the animation itself but also a lot of behind the scenes pieces with the production team and what went into the project. For those that love to see how the magic is made, it’s definitely fun.
An original series that aired in the summer of 2014 and the winter of 2015, Aldnoah.Zero is a twenty-four episode series animated by A-1 Pictures and TROYCA with Ei Aoki directing it. Based on the ideas from Gen Urobuchi and fleshed out into a story by Katsuhiko Takayama, the show is the kind of work in the first six episodes that we get here that is utterly and completely up my alley. Having cut my teeth on anime like Macross with its look at war, the impact on cultures and the kinds of losses that can come from it, and following that up with the original Gundam material, the beginning of this series feels so perfectly in that vein but with modern sensibilities to it that by the end of this set was I seriously craving more. Particularly because of its richly designed vision that it’s working with here.
The series revolves around events that began in 1972 where during the Apollo 17 mission on the moon, a hypergate was discovered that allowed mankind to create technology to colonize Mars. Their arrival there went in an interesting way though as a scientist named Vers ended up discovering ancient runs from thirty thousand years prior that ended up bonding with him, turning him into the gatekeeper of that society. With that power that’s bonded to his DNA and his descendants, and upon which he can gift to his loyal Knights, he founded the VERS empire and established Mars as its own world free from whatever Earth may take from it. Now, decades later, there’s been an extended war between the two worlds and the current period of peace. With a particularly covered up event back in 1999 part of the background of the tensions between the two sides, events are now ready to start moving again with the imminent arrival of princess Asseylum Vers Allusia on Earth in order to try and bring peace between the two worlds.
A decent portion of this set works towards exploring the way the two worlds operate and how history has changed from what we know. Earth has become the United Federation of Earth in order to gain access to what’s on Mars and establish a solid overall defense against what may come from there. Within the context of Japan where the Earthbound events take place, we see that everyone is essentially on a war footing even during peacetime as high school students go through strong military training overall towards their larger service of protecting the world. There’s a good mix of characters that we’re introduced to, though it leans a little female heavy but in a way that has them on an equal footing overall when it comes to what’s happening. There’s no big element of the guys protecting the girls and there’s nothing big made about the girls piloting, fighting or protecting others. It’s just a given that this will happen and it’s striking when it shouldn’t be.
On the VERS side, things are certainly curious there as we get the princess coming to spread hope and open new dialogue. She’s got an Earthling that’s close to her named Slaine, though his past is only lightly explored as he’s treated as an animal by a lot of the military/noble side of the Empire since he’s not truly one of them. Within that class of nobles though, particularly among the 37 clans of the Orbital Knights, there’s plans afoot to end Earth once and for all by conquering it if the opportunity should arise. With men like this sitting in waiting for fifteen years, you know that they’re basically setting things in motion for it to happen no matter what. The curiosity comes as to how much the Emperor truly knows – or is in control of his own empire – and how the princess will deal with it once those events truly come to light.
Though there’s time spent in orbit with Slaine as part of the Orbital Knights storyline, most of the series takes place on Earth and in Japan as that’s where the princess has come to begin her dialogue – only to be assassinated by those that have been planted there for years by VERS for just such an occasion. Naturally, you know it’s not really her that ends up dead but it sets into motion the actual invasion by the Orbital Knights to exact revenge. This occurs around the world in key sites with some truly terrifying destruction unfolding just from impact and then from the machines they use, which utilize ancient technology in order to be largely invincible. It makes for a harrowing series of events that we see unfold in Japan through the eyes of Nao and his friends, though I was appreciative of his general light lack of emotion, owing to the training they’ve all had and the can-do attitude that has them buckling down and just surviving, fighting back and coming up with intriguing plans.
Admittedly, there’s plenty of the usual high school super student kind of aspects to this, but since it lays the foundation that they’ve been soldiering to one extent or another for a few years at least and have grown up in this environment, there’s this aspect to it that makes it feel real and honest rather than forced and comical. It’s backed up by some fantastic choreography with the tactical side of it as the kids race among the sudden ruins of their city, the impact of just how strong the first strike was and the use of so much that they can get their hands on. There’s also some good background layering that helps to bring more of it to light as well with the adult characters that populates it and adds some good context to events. But there’s also the fact that it’s so beautifully animated and designed that it feels incredibly rich and engaging from pretty much the first frame.
I didn’t catch Aldnoah.Zero during its simulcast and in a way I’m glad I didn’t as it’s a show that very much needs to be marathoned. The series is one that builds a rich mythology from the very start and works hard from there to expand in so many ways. I’m light on the characters at the moment in talking about it but they do establish a lot while focusing mostly on the fact that they’re dealing with their world turning upside down. There’s no forced drama, relationships or entanglements that get in the way here in an out of place form and that results in a strong narrative that had me hooked from early on. The series has a great design about it, fantastic animation that comes through beautifully with the transfer here and a story that has me hook, line and sinker from the get go. It’s the kind of release that has me ready to go catch up on it through the streaming, grumbling that I missed it the first time around.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Count to A/Z, Textless Opening, Promotional Videos and Commercials
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: July 21st, 2015
Running Time: 150 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.