Before I get into this, I would like to say that I enjoyed this series. What I didn’t enjoy are the loudest fans who say it sucked because of the ending or anything about the love polygons or other things that only tell part of the story. Yes, unrequited love is a central theme, but like anything else I’ve reviewed, the result isn’t the only thing that matters to the series. It’s how they got there.
I would like to avoid as much of the fandom as possible in this discussion. So if you’re here to find out what my opinion is on the whole Inaho v. Slaine campaign, I realize it exists; that is all.
Aldnoah.Zero brings us into an alternative present day, where Martians exist, look like human beings, and they are just as ambitious as we are when it comes to taking resources. The Martians call their planetary kingdom Vers, and they call Earth dwellers like us Terrans. On the surface, the series is about how humanity’s United Earth Forces take on the Versian threat, fighting giant machines called Kataphracktoi with Kataphracktoi of our own.
But of course, this would be a really boring series if it was just about the machines themselves. That’s because in this mecha series, all the machines require someone to pilot them, whether they are Terran or Versian. And so, we get an ensemble of characters (like Inaho Kaizuka and Slaine Troyard) to fill in the human side of the story.
I’ll spare you the punch line to my critique. Aldnoah.Zero takes on a romantic narrative similar to Wuthering Heights.
And it’s not too far of a stretch to really say that. Aldnoah.Zero’s character designer Takako Shimura also wrote Sweet Blue Flowers, another series that paralleled Wuthering Heights, but in a more direct fashion. For Aldnoah.Zero, Inaho is like the cool-headed Edgar Linton, Asseylum is like Catherine Earnshaw, her sister Lemrina is like Isabella, so on and so forth. And of course, Slaine is much like the Heathcliff of this show.
Of course, not a lot of people talk about whether they liked Edgar or Heathcliff more in Wuthering Heights. The conversation typically dominates around everyone’s opinion of just Heathcliff; and for most, whether you like him or hate him. I’m sure even Wuthering Heights‘ author Emily Brontë intended on us to love and hate him, too.
Similarly, if you follow along with Aldnoah.Zero from beginning to end, you might notice how the mood of the story changes from its first season to its second. The first season feels hopeful, that Inaho and Slaine might somehow find common ground, despite representing opposite sides of the ongoing interplanetary war, maybe even to the extent that they would side with each other somehow find their own sense of justice. But of course, that mood changes right where the first season ends, when the two finally meet face to face, and no Kataphracktoi involved!
If the first half of Aldnoah.Zero focuses on why we should care so much about Slaine (or Inaho), the second half shows us why we should hate him.
I do admit to feeling slightly more attached to Slaine, but that’s not to say I didn’t like Inaho. Inaho remains relatively the same character-wise (kind of like Edgar), with the exception of getting a new mechanical eye at the cost of feeling less attachment to others… which isn’t saying much, because that’s kind of how he was at the beginning. He is level-headed, after all!
But this time, Slaine is calling all the shots; and through deception and charisma, he becomes a respected knight among the Versians, showing us that he is the one who will take charge! So just in case you thought Slaine was the good guy, he turns out to be the villain. Kind of like Heathcliff. And those who bothered to read Wuthering Heights know how that will go down!
But like I said, Aldnoah.Zero is more than just the narrative of unrequited love (and believe me, it’s totally unrequited). It’s in the sci-fi genre for a reason; and the creators are well aware of that! And when it comes to how much I enjoyed this series for all of its elements, I have to turn once again to how incredible Takako Shimura is as an artist.
I’ve watched plenty of militaristic anime; and one thing that does trend often is how men and women are often treated differently, as if somehow one gender can do certain things better (or worse) than the other. But Shimura doesn’t think that at all. She treats her subjects, male and female, with the same care, whether they are the protagonists we want to follow or the antagonists we’re supposed to despise.
And if you’re asking why a character designer would have any kind of influence on the story portrayed, just look at the uniforms throughout the series.
On casual days, Nina and the other girls look much like girls, and the boys look like boys. But when they’re strapped in for missions, everyone wears the same kind of outfit. That goes for the Versian side of things as well. Androgynous character design isn’t unique to Shimura, but it does give a sense of what really drives this war: a collective of folks working together, not just individuals!
But the visuals alone aren’t the only thing that treats all the characters fairly. The side stories that aren’t about Inaho or Slaine play a more human side to this drama. And there are plenty of characters to like from there.
Lt. Kouichirou Marito of the United Earth Forces suffers from PTSD, after he was forced to put his friend out of misery in the last war with Vers. The current war gives him plenty of anxiety attacks, but he still uses this as an opportunity to overcome his fear.
Rayet Areash was born Martian, and lived on Earth with her father, a surveyor. When her father became just another casualty for Vers, she was convinced that all Martians are the enemy, and vowed to avenge her father by turning on her own race.
If there is such a thing as an “Earth otaku,” Mazuurek would be the prime example. He may be a soldier in the Versian army, but he is fascinated by what Earth has to offer, both its nature and its culture.
When she was a child, Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia fell in love with Earth through Slaine’s explanation of the blue planet. She believes that Earth and Mars can offer great things for each other, but only if Terrans and Versians both submit to peace.
Aldnoah.Zero is a narrative of unrequited love, but it is also a tale of how humans of two opposing races respond in a war. And even if the technology and strategies involve seem futuristic, I think that it is important to recognize that wars have a side to them that is genuinely human, not just a construct created by conflicting political machines. You just have to consider a much more personal side to the individuals involved.
But enough of the drama! There is at least one comedic thing about Aldnoah.Zero that is ongoing throughout the series, and that is the casual conversations between Cpt. Darzana Magbaredge and Lt. Kaoru Mizusaki. But I won’t spoil you. So if you want to know the details of what they say, watch the anime!
So if you are looking for a series about unrequited love that also brings out the human condition in times of war, watch Aldnoah.Zero. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go brush up on my dating tips again.