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Aldnoah.Zero Season 1 Collector’s Edition UK Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Aldnoah.Zero Volume 1 DVDAn original series…and the butcher is in fine form…

What They Say:
In 1972, the Apollo 17 mission discovered a hyper gate to Mars on the surface of the moon. As a result, war breaks out between Earth and Mars, and Martian soldiers begin to descend from the sky, riding steel giants, intent on exterminating humanity.

The Review:
Audio:
For a Blu-Ray release, surprisingly we only have a 2.0 Stereo release of English and Japanese – nothing wrong with either track (actually was fine on the default settings, watched the first disc in English and the second in Japanese – no problems with the synching or with the subtitles, also able to easily select subtitles with the English dub which is surprisingly rare), just a bit surprising there was no 5.1 track. Very straightforward release quality wise, no glitches I noticed with music, foley, background noise, etc – just with the very nature of the series a 5.1 release would have been great. (That amazing opening song…)

Video:
Set with the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, we have HD quality with combining CGI for the robots (sometimes it’s obvious, other time it isn’t) with the gorgeous colours of combining mother Earth with the gritty Martian environment – the animation feels loved as it feels that despite incorporating certain technology it keeps to its roots and a magnificent palate emerges – this flows well because there is so much action intermixed with the amount of talking, plot twists and action on screen it still is clear what is going on and transfers well onto the small screen. A quality release.

Packaging:
There was no packing for this test release.

Menu:
Very basic menu on all four discs – we have alternate discs of images of either Inaho or Slaine on a white background on the left side, whilst on the right-hand side the selections are on a black trapezoid like grid of Play All, Episodes, Set Up (Discs 1 and 3) and Extras (Discs 2 and 4) – all are easy to navigate, quick to select both from the main menu and pop-up menus in show, but nothing eye-catching (no clips, music, or even pictures of any of the characters) – very basic and simplistic.

Extras:
We have the clean opening and promotional video on disc 2, and the clean ending on Disc 4.

The big extra also on Disc 4 is a behind the scenes/making of segment called Count To A-Z – basically the creation of Aldnoah.Zero. This was done whilst the series was still in progress (Mentioned they had done up to episode 5) – we get the history of the fact it is an original series with no manga background, but we get interviews with the dream duo of Ei Aoki (Director) and Gen Urobuchi (the two worked together on the fantastic Fate/Zero, and of course Urobuchi is well known for his work on Madoka, hence the nickname Urobutcher) – narrated by Sora Amamiya (voice of Asselym who you also see her thoughts) we get discussion on the fact for Aoki, it is his first original project and how it came to be, how the animation for the robots came to be, about the Martian robots, the main characters (which leads to interviews with Sora, as well as Natsuki Hanae (Inaho) and Kensho Ono (Slaine)), how they feel about the characters, atmosphere and working with each other, the impression of the series, and the music (with a short interview with composer Hiroyuki Sawano). It is a decent in-depth behind the scenes look, more impressive considering it was done whilst the series was still being made at the time.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Aldnoah.Zero, as mentioned, is an original series with no manga history or other form of media but was done with some acclaimed directors meaning this is going to be an interesting experience – early screenshots suggests mecha anime which isn’t a genre I’m that good with, however, there is definitely a lot more to this, and with the ‘Butcher’ in play, I knew there was going to be a surprise or two…

The origin of the story is basically Mars vs. Earth – Mars has been terraformed with technology known as ‘Aldnoah’ and a war broke out between the Martians (now known as the Vers Empire) against the United Earth Federation of 1999. However on Earth, records seem to be stricken of it especially odd considering the moon was destroyed (known as Heaven’s Fall) causing many deaths (only one of our main characters remembers it and his records are removed and has been treated as an idiot since then) – fast forward to 2014, we meet the Princess of Vers, Asseylum – who has been taught by an actual Earth member working for the Vers Empire named Slaine – who is basically treated like scum despite him being good friends with the princess. She is off to hold peace talks and have relations between Earth and Mars – whilst on earth, we meet our main protagonist Inaho, a calm young man who is the opposite of his emotional sister Yuki, and a pilot of mechas known as Kataphrakt for Earth whilst Inaho and his friends are training to be pilots. They head to go see Asseylum…and that’s when the trouble starts.

Terrorists seem to kill the princess, which gives the Vers Orbital Knights reason to attack Earth – you can tell there is more to it considering the talks between the main Martian antagonists, Cruhteo and Saazbaum, but it isn’t elaborated yet. However, the Martian Kataphrakts are far superior to the Earth ones (known as Terrans) – so evacuations are hard. This brings in all of Inaho’s friends, who also locate two young woman who reveals that Asseylum actually wasn’t killed as it was a body double that died – but how would she know? The other main new character is a young woman named Rayet, who seemed to be part of the terrorists but when the Martians give them their reward (death), Rayet gets saved by Inaho, who are forced to become warfighters quite early. One of their friends is killed early sadly whilst Yuki and Marito (their teacher who was the sole survivor of an incident 14 years ago but was stricken off the record and has some interesting back-story of his own)…

So whilst technology is not on their side, strategy is as Inaho seems to have a calm reaction to everything, to the point of being too stoic, almost emotionless – everyone teams up to take out the mechs and the psychotic fighter in their Trillram whilst more allies come from Marito and a UE captain (Mahbaredge – who has some history with Marito) – however it looks like they are doomed, however, the unknown girl reveals herself as actual Asseylum in disguise, which causes the distraction for Inaho to win – it becomes clear that the assassination of Asseylum was a Martian plot so revealing her identity to try and stop the war may not be the best idea…

The show then becomes a mecha battle series for a bit – various soldiers of Mars go to fight the Earth, whilst they fight back, evacuate, and character relationships go with interest. Inaho for example in his own way is quite taken by the princess, but Rayet seems to completely distrust her – tarnishing all Martians with the same brush. Meanwhile back on Mars, people are wondering what is going on when the Emperor causes a ceasefire, as Slaine discovers that the Princess is alive and manages to get an audience with the emperor. However, Saazbaum says he is a spy and causing false information causing war to continue, pretty much cementing who is the real big bad of the series…

This causes Slaine to pretty much be screwed over so he actually deserts and helps out the Earth, causing the contrast between Inaho and Slaine (Inaho even gets a nickname in Orange by him due to his mech, insert Code Geass joke here…) but also some jealousy which actually causes Inaho to shoot him down thinking he is to exploit the princess (Slaine also thinks the same but in different ways) as Asseylum now being revealed who she is and the fact she can access Aldnoah power including ones dormant on Earth like a giant alien battleship which turns the tides against the Martians superior technology.

With Slaine seemingly a traitor by Crutheo, however, Slaine reveals to him she is alive and sees where his loyalties come. Surprisingly considering all the cruel treatment he gave him earlier, Crutheo now realizes Slaine is true to his cause and loyal to the princess and is about to basically cause a ceasefire….cue Saazbaum who had been listening on the conversation to do a coup d’etat and kill him, capturing Slaine as well. He actually reveals a surprisingly good back-story to why he wants war with Earth (one part resources, one part revenge) but it does feel a little tacked on, just motivation added so he doesn’t fall into the ‘ha ha, I’m just evil’ antagonists.

Tensions are definitely moving though – we learn of Marito’s history and why the captain isn’t a fan of him despite knowing he was telling the truth 15 years prior, and Rayet suffering from flashbacks when training and even attempting to kill Asseylum showcases her reveal that she wasn’t an Earth sympathizer for the Martians, but in fact a martian herself – the princess, however, lives thanks to Inaho and Rayet slowly begins to understand that the princess is really that kind. Asseylum now is ready to announce to the world that she is alive to stop the war – however, Saazbum blocks it so no Martian will hear it and offers Slaine a choice – uses Crutheo’s Kataphract and join him, or escape to Earth and be an enemy…

The last two episodes bring in the big battle sequence as Saazbaum tries to go to Earth and kill Asseylum, and their forces are way too strong so Asseylum decides to actually sneak into his base and then she can shut off the Aldnoah Drive – where Rayet actually helps out seemingly now accepting the princess, but Saazbaum is intelligent and manages to stop the plan so the team now have to improvise and do it on foot whilst Inaho faces off against Saazbaum, whose mecha is basically the Ditto of the Kataphracts in that it has all the abilities of the ones defeated – however throughout the series Inaho has always studied all the mechas he has faced and their weaknesses which comes in handy for this – it seems that the team wins just as Slaine crashes the party, still unsure what side he is on. And the conclusion is quite surprisingly but also leaves things open as the final words of the shows don’t mention anyone dying, just status ‘unknown’ and leaves huge room for a sequel as you’d think with Urobuchi involved there would be a dark twist and there is, but we shall see…

This is a beautifully animated series which has a classic theme of one side vs. another, though the twists are there despite the short length – the fact the princess is alive immediately is one albeit predictable, though Rayet being a Martian and the final episode were definitely a bit more surprising – the way the show seems to plod along with a mecha of the day whilst the political battles are still being faced – Slaine having totally loyalty to his princess whilst Saazbaum wanting to use the princess’ death to his advantage means a lot of plans are changed on the fly, made even more complex with Slaine being from Earth, not treated well by the Martians yet his loyalty to her changes things, both for the princess’ sympathisers and the ones who do want her dead. Combined with Rayet not trusting any Martians, or the princess’ maid Eddelrittuo basically being against Earthlings and always trying to get them to respect the princess despite her not being bothered, the conflicts are there, many and complicated. The side story of Marito and him surviving the first conflict that has been written from the records, his best friends’ death and the fact the best friend is the brother of the captain Magbaredge – all the showcases of war are there as both him and Rayet, for example, freeze up inside the mechas when they recall things (Marito – the death of his friend, Rayet – the death of her father with a particular mech showing in the training). Add to that what seems to be a potential love triangle between Slaine, Inaho and Asseylum which to the show’s credit isn’t the main focus and is only subtly discussed through and they do manage to cram in a lot in the twelve episodes they have.

The characters all have to grow up well especially as one of the kids dies early on – which does fall into the formerly of new rookie team saving the world, and whilst there is definitely more to that, this leads to the biggest problem of the series. The fact there are quite a number of characters in this team and the focus is on Inaho, Slaine, Asseylum and the corruption/conflict is quite good as it does bring in focus. The reverse side of that though is not only does it mean all the side characters are pretty much forgettable, this also transcends into the main characters.

Inaho is a rare lead who isn’t all gung-ho – he is calm and thoughtful. He barely registers emotion (his sister says when he is in a conversation with the princess that he is head over heels in love with her, yet he has the same expression as he does when seeing eggs are on sale in the first episode) and is very intelligent coming up with plans, looking for weaknesses, etc. There isn’t really any background on how he’s this good (his sister whilst also a soldier is the polar opposite from him) it just happens to be there. This is conflicting because whilst it is unique to have a hero like this, it doesn’t make him that interesting or relatable. Even at the end of the series, you feel more pity for either Asseylum or Slaine then something hits the fan because he is mostly the same as he always has been. Granted it is a nice change of pace from a usual hot-blooded hero, but it doesn’t make him particularly memorable, especially as he still has the good guy trope of always winning his battles.

The other two main characters also suffer as well though in different ways. Slaine, for example, is pretty much chewed out and spat out for most of the series, and you will feel for him especially when it appears his love interest is more into Inaho – him being slurred for being an Earth man combined with his love for the princess, him being slapped and even tortured when he deserts, he is someone you do feel for – then he has to make a few choices when Saazbaum’s plan comes out and you feel at the end of the series he falls into the ‘what an idiot’ syndrome. Heck, Saazbaum actually has a bit more development despite his role as the villain as he has at least reason for his motives and you can understand where he is coming from though disagree with his methods.

Asseylum seems to get the best of the development as the all-loving hero, and granted she has a fair bit of exposition and able to end the war despite things not going well for her – she even has a few action moments when she is in disguise and is easily the most likeable of the cast due to her kindness, emotion and also understanding the flip side of the coin, for example, Rayet’s hatred of Martians she feels upset about, not because she disagrees but because she knows Rayet is right. That said, she is a bit too forgiving when Rayet tries to kill her and does feel like she is someone you are supposed to like, almost like you forget she does have emotions and personality. The set up for the sequel involves her heavily by the looks of things so it will be interesting to see how it will take, however, this does make the series much more reliant on the war and the history rather than the lead characters.

Aldnoah Zero Image 14

That said, though, even though the characters aren’t the most developed and the actions may not be to everyone’s liking, the actual story, history of Mars vs. Earth, motivations, battles, tactics, etc – these are actually told very well and you get to see some great animation and scenery of all the locations involved and the battles. Whilst the mech battles are clearly CGI at times it does blend in well with the animation so that it isn’t too distracting. The only real issue with the series is not enough time with all the characters involved (I haven’t mentioned much of the crew cast simply because there isn’t much involvement with them sadly – even Yuki and Marito are mostly sidelined for most of, Rayet is probably the most developed of the rest and even see gets sidelined by the end) however it does set up nicely for the sequel so there definitely could be more involved as so many questions are unanswered and the show is memorable enough that you will be interested…

In Summary:
A few more episodes to give more time to the cast and this would have been a fantastic series. Fluid animation, great music (the opening theme always gives me chills) some good motives and discussion about why this war is happening, combined with intense battles, smart strategy, and action, and a surprising twist at the end, sets up nicely for the sequel where hopefully the cast will be more open. Inaho, Slaine, and Asseylum all have their roles but they and the rest of the cast don’t have enough depth or interest to keep them being hugely memorable or even likable. Which is a shame as a little bit more would have made this a top series, but it still is very good.

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: June 27th, 2016
MSRP: £49.99 Running Time: 275 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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