What They Say:
The year is 2016— a year and a half after the assassination of Princess Asseylum. Despite his status as a Terran, Slaine has been granted the title of Mars Knight, is now served by his own personal subordinate, and has been taking part in battles against the United Forces of Earth. Meanwhile on Earth, the Deucalion is finishing up its repairs as, one by one, the ship’s former crew members return in order to proceed to a new battlefront.
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 2015, 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 solid one one as the two main panels work with some great painted illustration work of the mecha from the series where both of them are set in space. 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. Even worse is that the combination of the white text on the yellow wraparound is nearly unreadable depending on the lighting you have. I had to turn my flashlight on my phone over it in order to get a better idea of things. 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 Inaho as the main piece in his attire for this cour 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 black and white booklet that’s fairly thick and is actually an Extra Episode manga with artwork from Michi Akuta and a story from Yukie Sugawara. It’s definitely a really nice addition, one that might be done on-disc in order to save money instead of printing u. The other pack-in we get here are a pair of postcards that are pretty appealing with a beach scene for one while the other has a serious Slaine in space design.
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 installment, all on the first disc, are familiar as we get the new clean opening and closing sequences as well as a round of promos and commercials for the show. These continue to be welcome pieces as I definitely enjoy taking them in after the show is over and admiring the animation and music of it all. The big extra here is the Extra Archives, which is a nearly fifty-minute recap of the first season. I only skimmed it as it wasn’t completely necessary for me, but these are definitely interesting experiences to see how a season is repackaged to catch existing fans up and attempt to draw in new fans.
The first cour of Aldnoah.Zero was something that really felt like a surprise the more I dug into it. While there are some of the usual standard science fiction anime elements that bug the heck out of me, they were doing more world building than we usually get these days while creating something that was wholly intriguing. It really left me wishing it was done as a straightforward hard science fiction novel (no light novel, please!) so that it could dig into the stuff that I enjoy. Coming into this second cour, just after finishing watching The Expanse, it reminded me again of the looseness of the science when it comes down to space travel and combat. While that’s just a staple of anime for the most part, it’s something that I wish more serious would treat seriously. Aldnoah.Zero does so much right, however, that it’s easy to ignore.
What this cour does at the start is a bit frustrating but not surprising as it moves us nineteen months forward from when we ended the first cour. That ending was brutal as we saw Inaho shot point blank, Asseylum taking a hit herself, and Slaine coming across as the consummate villain because of his actions. There are so many questions, most of which are answered relatively quickly, that missing out on this much time is frustrating. More so for those like me that want to know what the state of the war is in more than just a passing reference or two. The Vers are certainly winning at this stage, though, as we learn that they’ve just finished off the hard work of taking down America and are moving into full on occupation while turning their eye towards finishing off resistance in Asia. That keeps the focus towards Japan and the like in a natural enough way and allows us to see the state of events from both sides.
Slaine’s story is certainly intriguing across the board as there are a lot of movements going on here as he attempts to reach his dreams. It’s still hard to tell what’s part of his master plan and how much is him having changed and becoming a part of the machinery of Vers. With him now having firmly tied himself to Saazbaum after saving him after the events of the first cour, we see his rise to power happening almost too naturally. It’s combined with a massive coverup being used with regards to Asseylum as Saazbaum, Slaine and Harklight are using Princess Lemrina is actually playing at being her through hologram technology in order to carry the larger war forward. Asseylum herself is locked away in a medical chamber where she’s been in a coma ever since the last incident. There are some really tender scenes we get from Slaine towards Asseylum here, and you do get the sense that he’s protecting her, but there are plans within plans that fits in utterly with how Slaine operates from what we saw in the first cour.
A little more clear but no less complicated is what’s happened to Inaho after everything. With his being shot, he’s survived and now has been given an analytical eye piece of cybertech that’s taking his already calculating personality to the next level. He’s already rewritten a large chunk of the firmware to give him an even greater edge and there’s a less than human element about him that’s even stronger now. After all his time away in recovery, he’s now back and joining the effort to fight back as things are becoming even more dire. There is a decent bit of time spent with him reconnecting with the women in his life from before, friends, sister, potential love interest, but it’s his time with the military women that I find the most interesting because there’s a newfound respect between both sides that makes for some compelling scenes. Particularly as they’re trying to gauge how much of what he says is him and how much is the new eye and the amount of detail and information – and analysis – that it’s giving him.
A lot of what we get with this half of the second cour is all about the reconnecting, showing us how things have changed – and boy have they changed – and moving forward with the new twists and connections. It’s heavy on the maneuvering and politics of it all on both sides, a little smaller in scale for Inaho naturally, but there’s a lot to take in as this war between the two worlds becomes ever more dire. Thankfully, we do get a good deal of action to it with what Slaine is facing as there are many that don’t consider him to be true to Vers due to his Earth heritage and that results in one fantastically animated duel sequence. Combining this with what we see Inaho is capable of with his eye and the two are angling towards one fight that should be pretty intense to watch, and one that the animation team is likely very capable of pulling off based on what they’ve done here so far.
While the whole moving forward piece of the story is something at the start that can be quite frustrating, Aldnoah.Zero manages to make it work by filling in the blanks for a decent part of it and providing for some captivating material going forward. I’m intrigued by both Slaine and Inaho at this stage with what they’re capable of and what their plans are in the long run as there are so many variables at play. It’s hard to believe that there’s only six more episodes and the show is done as it feels like it could go on for another couple of cour and still have room to work any number of stories. Aniplex essentially replicates what they did before, which means a strong looking release with some great extras and first-press material that will definitely excite fans.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Textless Opening and Ending, Promotional Videos and Commercials, “ALDNOAH.ZERO EXTRA ARCHIVES” (Season 1 Recap Video)
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: January 26th, 2016
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.