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Aldnoah.Zero Collection 2 Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Aldnoah.Zero Set 2The quiet before the storm.

What They Say:
While being interrogated under the assumption that he knew something, Slaine remained silent to protect Princess Asseylum, who had saved his life when they first met five years ago. Meanwhile, Inaho, Asseylum, and the others head to the United Forces of Earth Headquarters on the Deucalion, as Count Saazbaum prepares to launch his attack. Having learned Count Saazbaum’s ulterior motives, Slaine sets out to save Asseylum.

The fierce battle on the snowy field build in intensity – there, Inaho, Slaine, and Asseylum find themselves in an unexpected situation.

Contains episodes 7-12 plus a special “Mecha Archives” booklet by Aldnoah.Zero x I-IV (mecha designer) and collectible pin-ups.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is a frustrating one even as we get a bilingual presentation for it. The original Japanese language track gets 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 an interesting one as the two main panels work with some great painted illustration work of the mecha from the series, one with a snowy sequence with its own kind of darkness while the other goes for plain darkness and a sense of evil about it with the colors. They’re certainly not the usual character standard pieces with the machines included, though it’s going to be hit or miss with people whether it works for them or not. 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 Slaine in his uniform looking serious 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 some of the higher ups in VERS that are relevant to this season 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 filled with all the mecha designs and notes, which are just neat to dig into, especially if you’re quite invested in the world. The other pack-in we get here are a pair of postcards that are pretty nice with a Christmas and New Years/Party piece for some of the leads. 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 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 kept simple with the clean version of the two ending sequences and the English language trailer for the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first cour for Aldnoah.Zero comes to a close with this set and it’s certainly been an interesting ride so far. Getting the season in two halves can be tricky because of the layout of the series and the type of episodes we get with it. The first set was one that wowed me over in a big way as I gave it an A for the story/animation and just loved what was presented with its kind of old school take and seriousness while avoiding dealing with the really detailed structure of how the timeline works and so forth. The problem with this set, and it’s not truly a problem, is that it’s like the mop-up side of the story before we dig into the second cour. As such, it feels weaker for a lot of it, almost listless in a way, as it seeks to put the pieces in the right place. And then proceeds to blow the whole thing up.

The set basically bookends the action and deals with character material at the end. The first couple bring to a close the fight we had the last time around and it brings Slaine and Inaho closer to each other and actually working together in their respective machines for a bit. It’s a pretty exhilarating series of action moments while defending the ship and trying to deal with the Hellas and its wonderfully old school rocket punch arms that are a bit more involved. It’s beautifully rendered across the board and there are some good set pieces to it as well. But it’s what the action reveals that’s intriguing as one of the explosions reveals a secret cave entrance to a hidden base where in materials from the advance mission fifteen years ago are. And that means the crew of the Watdatsumi now has something more powerful to work with and a new piece of equipment that raises their standing. There are some interesting nods to it, owing back to what happened before and some of the secrets of the Deucalion ship and what happened at Tanegashima, but those will feel better cemented when watched with the first set closer to this one.

The character nougat that makes up the middle of this set feels like a mess and rather listless, as mentioned before. The Earthbound side in particular feels weak because we haven’t really connected with these characters and it’s still hard to do so. I rather like Inaho because he avoids the whiny teenage pilot thing, feeling closer to Amuro Rey than a Shinji Ikari, but there’s a lot less personality here and his controlled persona makes him too aloof. They do try to bring more out through the other characters, such as Rayet as she struggles with her piloting simulations that hit up some serious PTSD issues, but that can’t (and shouldn’t) carry the series. We do get some good material from Asseylum, but the whole hidden princess gig is up relatively quickly here and attempting to smooth it out to move forward is done with a light and not altogether well done approach. A lot is just… swept under the bridge, so to speak, so that it can all move on towards the end goal of the season.

The intriguing material that we get on the character side comes from Slaine – again. With his return to the VERS side, he’s ended up in some serious interrogation under Cruhteo’s hands and it’s fascinating to watch because it doesn’t hold back. There’s no blood, which does a disservice to the moment in making it clear how far Cruehto is going, but the wills of both men is well on display, particularly as they’re both doing the right thing overall for their respective causes. It’s easy to despise Cruehto, but he’s been taken advantage of by Saazbaum here. That truth does come out here eventually, as Saazbaum gets some one on one time with Slaine and repays a curious debt that he reveals, but just having that truth out for Slaine to hear about what Saazbaum has done and why further cements the grayness of the storyline. There are no true heroes or true villains here for the most part. Everyone is damaged in some way and doing what they can to advance their goals, worthy or not. And seeing the pursuit of it, more seriously by the VERS side as the UFE tend to be more reactionary objects, really makes for some great sequences for them.

The final act of this cour is one that I definitely have a love/hate relationship with. The show goes to take Saazbaum’s intent to the next level and it goes big as many shows do of this nature to provide a cliffhanger during the wait for the next cour. The attack on the UFE is grand in nature and done well in really driving the fear home to those on Earth with the power of VERS. Saazbaum’s certainly close to hitting that crazy level, but it’s all about revenge and justice in his mind and he’s got that cold side to him that plays well. The action is beautiful to watch unfold as the chaos goes on, but it’s the character moments that shine. Asseylum’s attempts to bring an end to things by communicating her being alive is spot on, as is the confusion that follows. But it’s those brutal moments near the end with the shootout that occurs that just drives it in a fantastic way. It’s a moment I love because it should alter the course of the second cour. And I know it will. The hate side is that you know that they won’t truly follow through with it in the story sense because there’s a fear in doing that these days. It’s a rare series with the balls to do that anymore, to the detriment of strong storytelling.

In Summary:
Though this half of the first cour of Aldnoah.Zero doesn’t quite win me over in the same way as the first, which drew me in with its world building, character basics and the beautiful animation and designs, it’s still a strong set depending on what you’re looking for. There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re interested in the VERS side or just enjoy the animation and design work, as it barrels us towards the conclusion it wants for the cliffhanger. That makes some of the middle of this a little listless even as it works to put all the pieces in the right place. It’s well done but just not all that engaging. I’m definitely excited for the second cour to see how they work all this out in the details and the end goal itself. The show feels like such a throwback in some ways that it’s exciting even if it doesn’t fully exercise its potential.

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: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: October 27th, 2015
MSRP: $94.98
Running Time: 150 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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