What They Say:
At long last, the war between Earth and VERS is about to come to an end. Many have shed tears at the sight of the battlefield, where numerous lights flare, then die out. Slaine, resigned to his fate, is determined to commit all his forces to prepare for the final showdown. Inaho steels himself to answer the call of his own destiny, along with the crew of the Deucalion. Elsewhere, a solitary girl resolves to confront her fate and watches over the final moments of their battle…
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 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 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 and in very close combat. As we’ve mentioned before, they’re certainly not the usual character standard pieces with the machines included and that means 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 and Inaho together in outfits we don’t see them in too often, which is striking in its own way. These can be hit or miss but it works here in contrast to the slipcover itself. The back cover brings us a great and sad image of Asseylum in her standard costume looking downward with a shadow that adds to the mood 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 up. The other pack-in we get here are a pair of postcards that are pretty appealing with a the main core characters together for a cherry blossom viewing.
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 an orange 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 only extras for this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
The concluding act of the Aldnoah.Zero is one that ended up working surprisingly well for me. Like a lot of storytelling, the final act of a lot of shows, movies, books, and games tend to be underwhelming for a range of reasons. It feels more so with Japan simply because of the desire to ensure every fan ends up happy and not upset about how their favorite character ended up. This can undercut a lot of what needs to be done for proper closure – and in some ways, this series suffers from it too. But it comes closer than a lot of others with proper closure while also feeling like it’s a science fiction series from the 80’s in terms of scale and goals. There were a lot of shows that played well with these themes back then that have been largely relegated to Gundam shows ever since so there’s a lot of appeal in seeing it play out here.
What becomes interesting in this final arc is how the cast configuration plays out with who becomes more important. Inaho was largely seen as the lead early on as we got introduced to much of this through the first actions at his school and the way he and his classmates that lived through it became enmeshed in the war against VERS. He’s had a strong role overall but once we hit that two-year gap and he ended up with the analytical drive for his eye replacement he ended up being reduced a bit. His role became more one to provide what was necessary to move things forward while giving him some angst to deal with in how he was coping with what the drive was doing to his mind. The coolness given to him in his attitude because of the drive provided distance from others but also the viewer, resulting in his role being almost robotic outside of the angst. That largely carries through here and it’s important that it does so that we get the real impact of those final moments with Slaine.
Even Slaine feels reduced to some degree, though it’s his efforts that are causing all of these events to unfold. While he plays his facade with Lemrina in order to secure his objective of war against Earth, something that the Orbital Knights are all in favor of for the most part, he’s still sticking to watching Asseylum and her lack of progress. With her waking up as she does at the start here that becomes a game changer for him. He’s had that enamored aspect since day one and it’s not surprising to see him slowly make critical mistakes that undermine his larger goals as his focus is nowhere near as sharp. Watching the way he comes to life differently with Asseylum compared to Lemrina is really well done as it adds some good material for all of them. Lemrina is the one that makes out the best as she’s full of emotion, overcome by her discoveries along the way and the feeling of betrayal as she sees herself losing Slaine to her sister once again. I really felt for Lemrina amid all of this and with her giving Slaine what he wants she ends up really caught up in it as well. Wars have started for lessers reasons to be sure and it’s not justified here, but there’s a lot seeded into how she feels this way and how Slaine manipulated her over time to make it work.
The show makes out well with a solid supporting cast that has been built over time and some of the intertwining aspects of it with the various counts, military personnel, and your civilian side as well with some of the school kids that ended up conscripted into service. The final arc naturally works a way for most of them to at least have an appearance as it all rushes toward its conclusion with the epic battle. I suspect some of this works better when you marathon the show as you can see the ties that bind them together better, but there’s a lot to like here with the smaller moments, especially with those involved in connecting with the missing Asseylum, as it adds to the larger story. Not everything is solved by the core three or four characters. It’s not quite an ensemble show since the supporting players aren’t strong enough for that labeling, but you can envision them having larger roles in novelized form. Well, not light novel form.
A great deal of the appeal for me with this show beyond the story (and I love the story of a war between the worlds like this with all the politics, intrigue, and military aspects that we get) is that it’s actually a show that takes place in space for a decent part of it. So many shows are Earth-based or just run the science fiction elements in the first or last episode. Here, we get a lot of action taking place in space with some big sequences, some great design work with the mecha, and some solid settings for it as well. The battles that we get here as the war really gets underway is strong and seeing how some of the Orbital Knights refuse to stand down after things are seemingly called off fits well after all they’ve been through. It’s very easy to get caught up in the action of it all as it’s just so well executed and brought to life.
Aldnoah.Zero delivered for me across the entire series in a way that I didn’t expect. I’ve had low expectations for science fiction shows for the past decade since so many want to shoehorn in the usual cliches to appeal to the wider audience that they lose what makes it work. This series went with a lot of strong visual moments, some solid character material, and a larger working plan that even if it doesn’t make sense from time to time in terms of politics or military matters that you can get past it. It played to my old school 80’s science fiction mecha/military/war side in a way that rarely gets tickled these days and it didn’t hold back for the most part. Aniplex USA put together a solid release for the most part and it’s an absolute visual treat that reminds you why high definition releases are important with anime. It’s a fantastic looking show with a lot of detail and passion put into it that translates very, very, well.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Textless Opening and Ending
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: April 19th, 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.