Aldnoah.Zero – 24 (Fin)

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I knew every Orbital Knight wouldn’t immediately heed Asseylum’s out-of-the-blue call for an end to hostilities, but that didn’t matter: as long as some of them stopped to see which was the wind was blowing, it was going to be a huge blow to Slaine’s power base, drawing things that much closer to an endgame.

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Neither Lemrina and Harklight want Slaine to give up, but neither of them have the benefit of his experience, all of which runs through his head in the corridor, where he has a clear view of the death and destruction taking place in his name. From there, he decides to evacuate Lemrina and order Harklight and the rest to surrender while he blows the Moonbase up.

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Harklight isn’t going down quietly, however, and neither are his Stygis comrades. They end up changing Slaine’s mind, at least insofar as he’d rather go out dueling Inaho one last time then dying in that control room. And so their final battle begins.

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When Inaho engages Slaine and asks him (via radio channel…SEE, Gundam G? Mecha pilots CAN communicate with each other once in a while), Slaine assumes Inaho wants to fight him as much as he wants to fight Inaho. But Inaho’s “different objective” isn’t that.

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Asseylum had her big badass announcement that turned the tide of the battle, so even though we know this has to be about Inaho and Slaine at this point, it’s a bit disappointing that all she can do here is clasp her fingers together, watch, and wait, hoping the boys don’t succeed in destroying each other.

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They very nearly do, too, exhausting their ammo, snapping all of their swords, and finally just pummeling each other like rock-’em-sock-’em robots. But Inaho, even without relying on his magic eye, is the better tactician, and he manages to neutralize Slaine as a threat and serve as an ablative shield for their mutual re-entry into the atmo.

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Once back on good old Earth, Slaine again gets the wrong idea, thinking he’s in a reversal of last season’s finale and that Inaho is going to put a bullet in his head. Inaho might want to do that, considering everything Slaine’s put him and Earth and Seylum through, but I knew he wouldn’t.

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That brings us to the epilogue, in which Empress Asseylum activates the first Terran Aldnoah Drive as a gesture of goodwill, and EYEPATCH INAHO visits Slaine, who is believed dead by the public, but remains alive in a creepy lucite prison cell.

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Not that the creepy cell is helping, but he’s not in a great place emotionally, and not eating his meals. He’s still waiting for Inaho to finish him, to exact justice upon him for all of his sins. But while Inaho has been many things throughout the run of this show—Mary Stu; know-it-all; humblebragger; cyborg; savior of mankind—but he’s no executioner, and he entrusts Slaine’s fate to the one most equipped to properly judge him: Seylum.

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Slaine taught Asseylum a lot of things about Earth (some of them, like why the sky is blue, weren’t accurate, but still). But it’s Asseylum who teaches Slaine something about Vers that he may not have picked up on while hanging out with all those Orbital Knights: pages can be turned, people can be forgiven, and lives can be redeemed in time.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 23

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With the Moonbase Chase and Princess Shuffle completed successfully, Asseylum is now in the hands of Count Cruhteo the Younger, and it’s confirmed that those are far better hands to be in than Slaine’s.

And hey, Cruhteo doesn’t seem to have an ulterior motive here: he’s simply loyal to the Emperor of Vers, who ordered him to retrieve his granddaughter. He even helps Asseylum hold firm in refusing to return even after Slaine tries to trick her with an offer to negotiate. Slaine isn’t negotiating anymore. If he says he is, you run.

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As I’d hoped, Mazuurek comes into play as Asseylum’s other ally. Between him and Cruhteo Jr., I can happily report the quality of Martian Counts has improved greatly in the home stretch. Here’s hoping there are other Orbital Knights who will take after them and do the right thing: abandon that little tyrant Troyard for the rightful princess.

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Slaine, obviously thinking he’s come too far to turn back or show weakness, is keen to launch an all-out assault on Earth, a repeat of the Shock-and-Awe campaign the O.K.’s started with, which, you may remember, ultimately didn’t work. Not that that matters to someone who seems to have developed a personal vendetta against Earth.

As he fiddles with Asseylum’s necklace in the chamber where Asseylum had once been in a coma, Lemrina pays him a visit to express how sorry she feels for both of them. I think she’s pretty much done with this palace intrigue bullshit, especially if she senses she may not be on the losing side.

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Somehow, Inko is able to retrieve Inaho, something that happens off camera that I wish we could have witnessed. While sitting with the Captain and Doctor, Inko learns Inaho has given over part of his brain to the AI in his eye, taxing his cranial nerves, which must lead her to wonder if she’s slowly losing the guy she likes.

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Asseylum is surprised but happy to learn that Mazuurek has come to her side, in part, to pay a debt he owes Inaho. Like Cruhteo, his true colors are proven pure: paying his debts are more important to him than grabbing power. While resting aboard his landing castle, Asseylum wonders what became of the gentle, peace-loving Slaine she once knew. Eddelrittuo tearfully corrects her, saying Slaine hasn’t changed at all, insofar as he’s always cared for her, even at the risk of his position or love.

Perhaps Eddelrittuo is right, or perhaps it’s only wishful thinking. My take is that a part of Slaine may still care for Asseylum, but she woke up too late, and as long as she doesn’t feel the same way about her, he will never be at peace.

In an echo of one of the more beautiful scenes of this cour, Inaho wakes up to the sound of his relieved big sister, sitting by his side. When Inaho resolves to get right back to work immediately, Yuki knows she can’t stop him, and not just because he outranks her. Instead, they wish each other good luck and agree to have dinner when he gets back, though Inaho remarks that to promise such a thing could be construed as a death flag.

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Inko tries to stop him too, showing her concern without going so far as to confess or anything, but as Calm knows, no one is going to stop Inaho from going out there and fighting. This leads to an oddly meta exchange:

Inko: Do you think you’re some hotshot ace? That you’re special?
Inaho: I’ve never thought that about myself.

Inaho is joking here, right? He’s just super deadpan about it.

When Asseylum is finally able to contact her grandfather, she sees that he’s too far gone mentally to be fit to rule, knows what her next step must be, and takes it.

Her gramps is also upset that his son died in Heaven’s Fall, but revenge is no reason to subjugate another planet, even if he was of sound mind.

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As the UEF musters for a Final Showdown, Slaine prepares to address his fellow Orbital Knights with a motivational speech. Unfortunately for him, Cruhteo II has more clever techs, because Asseylum is able to override that speech and broadcast on all channels.

She’s got some big news for everyone: First of all, she declares her succession to Empress of the Vers Empire. Then she confirms her betrothal to Baby Cruhteo. Finally, she expresses her, and by extension, the royal family’s, desire for peace with Earth.

Inaho helped get her here, but she had to take the stand, and she did, even if it dooms Slaine. Now we’ll see who among the Orbital Knights will recognize her authority.

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Though I consider myself a strong Seylum+Inaho shipper, I’m not perturbed by the fact that Asseylum—the real Asseylum, not her sister in disguise—must ultimately sacrifice any possible romantic future with Inaho for the good of the empire.

It just makes sense: she’s going to have a hard enough time garnering the support of the Orbital Knights with a real, non-adopted Count by her side; asking them to accept a Terran would be too much, so that’s that. But hey, if Inaho survives, maybe he’ll get smart and pursue Inko. She’s an ace too, you know!

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Aldnoah.Zero – 22

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The Deucalion launches into the Satellite Belt with its space loadout and catapult module, and with it launches the best chance of Inaho saving his princess.

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Before that, Captain Magbaredge is briefed on the particulars of the battle, in which, no surprise, the Deucalion will be used as little more than bait to split the Vers defenses. Darzana doesn’t like it, and neither does the crew, but they carry that plan out…with one slight adjustment.

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Asseylum, Lemrina, and Eddelrittuo locked in the observation room is about what you’d expect: Lemrina blaming Asseylum for waking up and ruining everything, and Asseylum picking up the fact her sister must care for Slaine quite a bit to have gone this far for and with him.

What angers Lemrina more than Slaine loving her sister more than her is the fact that Asseylum won’t return that love. She tells Lemrina her heart belongs to the world and people of Vers—or so she’s always been raised to believe. We’ll see, won’t we?

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Meanwhile, Lord Troyard meets with the newly-arrived Count Klancain Cruhteo. It’s a meeting replete with mutual etiquette and flattery, but in between sips of tea, it’s clear Klancain is sizing him up. It’s obviously suspicious that Slaine speaks of starting a new kingdom, but the princess he claims wishes for a “dream” is nowhere in sight.

Slaine, on the other hand, seems hopeful he can bring Cruhteo to his side, which he believes will cause a domino effect with the other “loyalists”, consolidating his position. Cruhteo doesn’t strike me as that pliable, and despite his successful coup against Asseylum, Slaine doesn’t strike me as that capable.

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As for the slight adjustment to the Deuc’s mission: Inaho consults with Darzana, who apparently approves his plan to sneak into the moon base and rescue Asseylum. He and Inko spot a friendly transport dropping off a covert ops squad Inaho suspects are tasked with assassinating the princess.

This discovery betrays a surprisingly shrewed, if unethical, competence on the part of the heretofore appallingly dunder-headed UE military brass. It’s clear they were never going for a tactical victory with this attack; the idea was for a loud and shouty battle to obscure the death team that would take out Slaine’s Aldnoah source.

If Magbaredge sent Inaho and Inko off to save Asseylum, she’d be ruining the brass’ plans; but it can’t be called insubordination, because she was never officially informed of their true plans. Even so, her trust in Inaho is formidable. There’s also something sad about poor Inko having to literally (and figuratively) “let go” of Inaho so he can go save another woman. But hey, she volunteered.

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Another miscalculation by Slaine is sticking the princesses with the most inept bodyguards imaginable. Sure, they’re up against hardened special ops infiltrators, but shouldn’t that be exactly the kind of foe they should be able to hang with? Instead, like rats in a maze, they dart all over the moon base and get headed off time and again.

In the middle of this chace, Lemrina stops and tells Asseylum and Eddelrittuo to continue on without her. It’s not because she doesn’t want to slow them down, but because she has nowhere to go, which is also really sad and lonely. A/Z is not being particularly charitable towards anyone with unrequited feelings this week.

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We also get—at last—the much-anticipated square-off between Inaho and Slaine, and…it’s pretty underwhelming. I guess that’s par for the course; neither are what I’d call brawlers (I think I’d rather have Rayet on my side in a hand-to-hand fight), and the zero-g conditions contribute to a stalemate after a brief exchange of gunfire. That, and the ever-wily Inaho hits some steam pipes, the steam of which covers his escape.

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By that point, Inaho has really used his Google Glass implant way too much, to the extent that just moments after finally reuniting with his beloved Seylum, he passes out. That’s when something strange and unexpected happens: the implant takes over his brain and voice; a totally artificial “backup program” for Inaho the human being. Whoa.

For a second I wondered if this Inaho was an android—it would explain a great many things—but the AI puts that matter to rest at once with these deeply romantic words:

Even though this boy is aware that Princess Asseylum is a separate individual, he misidentifies her as a part of himself. He therefore placed maximum priority on her safety and has acted to protect her.

What a novel way to confess. The AI also tells Asseylum and Eddelrittuo where to go to get picked up by Inko, and Asseylum tells it to thank him when he wakes up, and confesses that she also thinks of Inaho as a part of herself. As if there was any doubt.

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With the last standing assassin cornering Asseylum and Eddelrittuo, combined with Inaho’s breakdown, those who are loved by the one they love didn’t have it any easier than the losers.

When Eddelrittuo valiantly stepped in front of her princess, I feared the worst, but the assassin is taken out by none other than Count Cruhteo…who may either be our new best friend, or a cure that’s worse than the disease if he intends to exploit the the princess just as Slaine did.

He’s quite the wild card, but the glass-half-full part of me wants to think his intentions are honorable, but I do wonder what will become of Inaho, unconscious behind enemy lines, along with Mazuurek, who was a no-show this week.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 21

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Slaine’s preoccupation with the battles on Earth, combined with Lemrina’s relative freedom of movement, means it doesn’t take long for Lemrina to find her sister awake and well, and learn that her fiancee has been lying to her face.

Lemrina had certainly showed signs of increasing obsession with besting her sister, and when she pulls a gun on the real Asseylum, it seems like a natural extension of that attitude. But at least, here, she stays her hand.

Perhaps its the fact that a part of her is genuinely glad to see her sister; that it was easier to consider sororicide when her sister was nothing but an unconscious body floating in a tube.

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Instead of killing Asseylum, she and Lemrina organize a clever little switcheroo on Slaine. This time it’s Asseylum posing as Lemrina, who confronts Slaine and listens to him prattle on about the inevitability of war, proving to her the Slaine she knew and cared for has changed in two years, for the worse.

He’s power-drunk, and there is no longer any reasoning with him. In one of the more badass sequences of this season, “Lemrina” stands up out of her wheelchair, reveals her true identity, and orders Slaine to stand down.

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Down on the surface, the United Earth Forces are faced with three Orbital Knights working together, combining their powers of invisibility, electricity, and duplication to good use. It’s another showcase for Inaho’s inexhaustible resourcefulness, as all three counts’ kataphrakts are taken out one by one by finding and exploiting their weaknesses, just as if they were only dealing with one at a time.

It’s a big victory, in that it proves that even working together, the Orbital Knights are far from invincible. It also shows that Inaho is putting too much pressure on his physical body for the sake of carrying the day for the UEF. I doubt his pain will go away, especially as he takes on more and more complicated operations. He’s running out of time; if he’s to do something about Slaine, he’ll have to act soon, before his own body betrays him.

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And despite the Vers Sisters working together, Slaine isn’t going anywhere. He has the full command and confidence in his subbordinates, and is also pretty sure Asseylum isn’t going to shoot him with a gun. So he disarms her and has both princesses confined to quarters under guard.

In this, the “palace intrigue” side of A/Z would seem to have come to an end, especially when Slaine tells Harklight he doesn’t care anymore whether the sisters ever understand his actions anymore. There’s no more pretending there’s going to be a fairy tale ending for anyone. The sisters are his keys to Aldnoah, and so still have value, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a little further down the road, his plans include doing away with Aldnoah altogether, righting a great wrong Saazbaum was never able to.

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But like Inaho, Slaine is running out of time. None of the Orbital Knights know of all the drama going down with the princesses, and assume everything is being done under Asseylum’s authority. One such Knight, the son of the late Count Cruhteo, Cronkine, is arriving. Like Asseylum, he knows Slaine from way back. I doubt he’ll be pleased with what’s become of him.

I forsee Slaine becoming far less patient and thus far less careful in maintaining all his lies and deceptions. Combined with the fact the Deucalion is being deployed to space for an as-yet-unannounced but surely important (and risky) new mission, it opens up the possibility for an anti-Slaine resistance, involving Inaho, Mazuurek, and possibly Cronkine. But first, Slaine’s source of power taken away, which means the princesses must be freed.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 20

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In a flashback to when Slaine first sees Asseylum in that damnable tube, we see the belief being imprinted within his heart: “She’s going to wake up.” This was merely a dark night, which would soon be broken by the light of day.

Somewhere down the road, that hope faded, and we see the result: battles being fought and won by knights loyal to him and cooperating, gaining him territory for his new kingdom with Lemrina.

But now that Asseylum is awake, as if to reprimand him for losing hope, he’s now forced to reassess everything.

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Even hot-shot Inaho has few choices other than a speedy retreat when surrounded by powerful knights. Captain Magbaredge may be playing favorites by having the Deucalion execute risky low-altitude rescue maneuvers, but can you blame her for not wanting to lose Inaho, not to mention her remaining kataphrakts and pilots, considering how both are in short supply. Also, seeing the big battleship swoop in and take a licking but still get its people out was its own thrill.

The Deuc loses avionics, but Inaho is able to serve as a supplemental eye for Nina. Thankfully, it’s temporary: once she has her (literal) bearings, she thanks him and takes it form there. She’s the one who pulled off those rescue maneuvers, after all; she’s no slouch at the helm. Inaho could fly the ship if he needed to, but the fact he lacks experience would put him at a disadvantage, in spite of his magic eye.

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Meanwhile, awkwardness is at an all-time high for the engaged couple. Lemrina continues to pour her heart out to Slaine but gets nothing in return; Slaine doesn’t blush in the least at her words, and is quickly off again to “attend to matters,” promptly turning his back on her so as not to suffer objections.

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Lemrina is distressed by the fact her comatose (at least she thinks she still is) sister continues to command so firm a grip on her fiancee’s heart, and no matter how much power Lemrina amasses, she is powerless to wrest that heart away. Similarly, Inko is unable to get close to Inaho due to his continued insistence Asseylum is still alive.

Even if he’s proven right, Inko isn’t exactly happy to be second fiddle (or even third, if you count the Rayet angle). Hell, even Inaho and Nina had a brighter interaction. I wonder what Inko says to him in that corridor. Speaking of not happy, Darzana receives orders to re-take the territory they just lost by throwing everything they have at the Martians, even though it’s pretty clear that’s playing right into the Martians’ hands.

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Earths leaders are short-sighted, inept fools, but the Martian situation doesn’t seem to be in that much better shape, seeing as how Slaine is paying far more attention to Asseylum than the war, and Lemrina’s growing resentment. Slaine tells Eddelrittuo how he gave up hope on the princess and is now being punished by having his plans blow up in his face.

He can now only hope Asseylum’s amnesia is permanent—a terrible thing to hope for the one you loved—or else he’ll be at the center of a power struggle between princesses, and Slaine would choose Asseylum without hesitation. Her happiness is more important to him than power or the war. That means if she wants the war to end, he’ll do everything he can to end it.

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The political swagger gained by Lemrina’s proclamation certainly rallyed the Orbital Knights to her cause, but in her audience with Count Mazuurek (which Slaine patronizingly, callously agrees to in order to essentially throw her a bone and “keep her happy”) she falters fast and hard. Mazuurek has little trouble noticing something’s not quite right about “Asseylum”, and Lemrina, angered she was left out to dry alone, loses her cool altogeher and ends up a pathetic heap on the bulkhead.

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Lemrina acts like a spouse who senses intrinsically that their spouse is being unfaithful. And even though Lemrina told him she didn’t care if he never loved her, as long as they were togther, Slaine isn’t even giving her that right now, and she’s collapsing under the weight of that constant rejection. Just as there was a point in time when Slaine gave up on Asseylum enough to agree to marry Lemrina, Lemrina is starting to give up on Slaine, and it only looks to get worse for her.

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The suspicions Mazuurek develops in his talk with Lemrina are only compounded when he catches Eddelrittuo in several lies and omissions, particularly when he mentions Inaho right after she insisted she’d never been to Earth. Mazuurek is no fool, and that’s a good thing. I wonder what steps he’ll take from here. Lemrina and Slaine have never been more vulnerable, and as Slaine said, there’s nothing more fleeting and worthless than a knight’s loyalty.

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Having clearly cried for a long time, an increasingly unstable Lemrina enters her sister’s lab, only to find the tube empty. This isn’t going to be good for Slaine, who probably should have put a lock on it, or used another hologram. But like her, Slaine is so all over the place he’s making a lot more mistakes that could end up paying dearly for very soon.

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One of those mistakes was letting Mazuurek, a recently-released prisoner of the Earthlings, anywhere near Lemrina, as well as being blind to Lemrina’s steady descent into infatuation. Mazuurek was able to return Asseylum’s pendant to her, resulting in the sudden triggering of her memories, the same ones which we’ve seen in the first moments of the opening sequence all season.

This is great news for Inaho and Earth, terrible news for Lemrina, and a decidedly mixed bag for Slaine. In any case, it’s a welcome development, and I hope it leads to peace.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 19

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Asseylum’s sudden awakening had a This Changes Everything feel about it. But what struck me was how very little actually changes, at least this week, due in part to the sheer momentum of the developments that preceded it.

Lemrina, posing as her sister, has galvanized the Orbital Knights with her proclamation. “The arrow is loosed,” as Slaine later says; there’s no putting it back in its quiver, making it that much tougher for those on the sidelines—Asseylum and Inaho—to make a measurable impact.

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The brass is pleased with the incremental progress they’ve made against the Orbital Knights (due mostly to Inaho, which, yes, is ridiculous, but I’ve moved on from that fact), to the point they seem to be pussyfooting, which pisses off Captain Magbaredge to no end. They also dismiss the princess’ address as inconsequential, which is pretty damn stupid, as it proves to be an immensely morale-boosting rallying call to the Knights. All of Earth’s small gains could go away in a flash because of that speech.

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One reason Asseylum’s eyes opening doesn’t have a marked impact on present events is that when Eddelrittuo reports it to Slaine, he doesn’t tell anyone else, including Lemrina. In fact, he lies to Lemrina that shes taken a turn for the worst. Lying is not a great way to start a marriage, and it’s clear this is a stopgap move to keep Lemrina—and the power she commands under her sisters’ guise—in his good graces.

While alone in her fancy Roman Space Bath, Lemrina tears up. Is she apprehensive about her sister dying for good…or des she know on some unconscious leve that Slaine is deceiving her?

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Of course, Slaine may have lied because while Asseylum’s eyes opened, at that point she hadn’t actually fully awakened. When she does, Slaine forgets about all the complications and lets himself be overcome by elation as he hears her say his name again.

Down on Earth, Orbital Knights loyal to (or at least tolerant of) him are confidently advancing against the Earth resistance forces; hundreds of people are being killed; his power is being consolidated thanks to Lemrina and Harklight; but in this moment Slaine couldn’t care less about any of that shit. All that matters is that Asseylum is awake and talking. And while not quite on par with Inaho waking up before Yuki, it’s still a fine, moving scene.

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Mazuurek is back from a far shorter hiatus than the princess, but he’s still amazed at how much has changed in his absence. His cordial conversation with Barouhcruz takes a turn for the disquieting when his rumors about Slaine having killed Saazbaum fall on deaf, and at least on the surface, outraged ears. With the loss of Marylcian, Barouchcruz has bent the knee to Slaine, and warns Mazuurek to choose wisely.

Slaine has so utterly taken control of the situation, and his rise so high and swift, those who once openly opposed him fall in line, grudgingly or not, to the point even if those all those rumors are true, it doesn’t matter anymore. Slaine is holding all the cards.

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Well…not all of them. Everything he has done has been for Asseylum…even if the truth is, she neither asks for nor wants any of it. And that seems to be all the more true when Slaine, about to present Asseylum with some very unironic blue roses, overhears Asseylum remembering watching the birds with Kaizuka, his nemesis in all things.

Yes, for all the power he has, he is still unable to capture that which he wants most: Asseylum’s heart. While en route to his next battle, Inaho himself almost seems to sense Asseylum talking about him—similar to how someone sneezes when they’re being talked about while they’re not around.

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It’s a very overt and uncomplicated irony Slaine is laden with, but I consider it a strong and compelling irony all the same. Slaine is only here because of Asseylum, but not only by his choice. The episode takes us back to his crashed capsule where he met the princess and became her ward and tutor.

Destiny has been on his side since that day, but now he must keep the existence of Asseylum saved him with her compassion secret from her sister, even while Asseylum harbors feelings for another. Not only would Lemrina discovering her sister is up and about crush her, the knowledge that Slaine had lied to her would crush her even more.

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Speaking of crushing, though, as all this drama goes on at the moon base, the Orbital Knights are finally starting to crush it on the battlefield, now that they have been (mostly) united under a single leader. They’re working together now, tabling their arrogance and closing one another’s weaknesses.

All of this simply gives Slaine, for all his romantic problems, all of the momentum in the world. So much so that even someone like Inaho—whose shipmates once again found time to reiterate how indispensable and awesome he is—seems caught off guard by the sheer pace of it all. If Earth is to have any chance at all, far stronger measures are going to have to be devised.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 18

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A blue rose, which represents love because it’s a rose, but also either a miracle or impossibility because it’s blue (because it doesn’t occur in nature) is one of those symbols that’s instantly obvious once you hear of it. Another example is a golden violin: looks great but can’t play music.

Our two protagonists Count Troyard and Ensign Kaizuka are both holding blue roses, but aren’t yet sure whether they represent the love that will never be, or the love that will triumph against all odds. But the fact they have them motivates everything they do.

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For Inaho, it’s taking every measure, both inside and outside the UE chain of command, to secure his princess. He and Rayet let Mazuurek free for this purpose, something they don’t disclose to Inko. Inko’s not-so-subtle and unsuccessful probing of Rayet for info keeps her left out of the loop, something Rayet regrets but can’t do anything about.

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As for Slaine, he’s been challenged to a duel, and he’s going through with it, reporting to less hard-line counts his intention to lead the battle once the duel is over, and getting their support based on the unique perspective he has as a non-Vers-born. He can see how Verisan hubris and arrogance has blinded them. That their unswerving belief that a sustained Terran resistance is impossible is the very opening that allows it to be possible.

Of course, the duel is happening because Lemrina invited Marylcian to the base. Whether she expected that exact outcome is unclear, but now, as I said last week, she will see if Slaine can truly be the one she can depend on. She offers herself to Slaine, even if she’ll only ever be a substitute for her sister. I have to think she has to be invested in Slaine’s victory, since Marylcian probably wouldn’t be happy when he finds out she’s not really Asseylum.

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Down on Earth, the Deucalion faces off against a generic Count-of-the-Week with a highly-specialized kataphrakt whose primary weapon only fires in straight lines. That means a surface battleship can use the curvature of the earth to stay out of the Count’s range, while her cannons’ parabolic trajectories can reach the Count’s kat.

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While not overly complicated or important in its scope, this is a nice little battle that perfectly illustrates (once again) the very flaws in the Orbital Knights Slaine seeks to root out. While he wasn’t planning to duel with Marylcian, backing out would have been pointless and probably sealed his doom.

Instead, by defeating this relic of outmoded thinking that isn’t getting the job done on Earth, Slaine stands to gain more legitimacy among his peers, and offer unassailable proof that the flaws he speaks of are real and are crippling progress.

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But first, he has to actually defeat Marylcian, whose Herschel makes for a bad match-up, as he attacks from every direction with his cloud of Bits-like drone cannons, so great in number and complex in motion even Tharsis’ predictive abilities are taxed to the hilt. There’s a point when Slaine is in retreat and really getting knocked around that I momentarily entertained the possibility that his blue rose meant impossibility, rather than miracle.

There’s also a nice moment after the Count-of-the-Week battle where Inaho is simply looking up with his robo-eye, watching the duel from the dock as a confused Inko looks on. It’s a great way to connect the two protags in three-dimensional space, and the fact that the distance between them is quickly closing.

Slaine has been making all the big bold moves while Inaho continues to observe and wait patiently for his chance.

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Of course, there’s no way Marylcian beats Slaine. It’s been beaten into us at this point that he’s far to stodgy an Orbital Knight to survive a plucky Terran gambit. Slaine, like Inaho has done countless times before, equips his opponent’s pride and superiority as a weapon against him, retreating into one of the moon base’s supply shafts in an apparent act of desperation or even cowardice.

Marylcian unwisely follows him in, unwittingly greatly lessening the unpredictability of his weapon. From then on, it’s elementary, with Slaine popping the hatch off Marylcian’s cockpit and ejecting him into space, thus ending the duel. A witnessing Barouhcruz grudgingly accepts the result, and Slaine’s grand rise proceeds apace.

In fact, after the duel it rises higher and faster than I thought it would, with Lemrina-as-Asseylum proclaiming she is starting a new kingdom on Earth, independent from Vers, and will take Slaine as her husband. His win over Marylcian sealed the deal for her, leaving just one complication: her comatose sister.

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In a creepy post-credits scene, she nearly shuts off all of Asseylum’s life-support systems before switching them back on, unable to outright kill her sister, but perfectly fine with replacing her in the world. She can float in that tube for the rest of her life while she rules her new kingdom. Here, Lemrina is starting to fall victim to the same Versian hubris that has claimed so many Orbital Knights: underestimating her enemy: in this case, her sister, who finally opens her eyes when Lemrina leaves the room.

Slaine’s big battles in orbit, Inaho’s smaller battles below, and Lemrina’s scheming and maneuvering continue to satisfy, all of it building to what should be one hell of a final confrontation. The main trio’s larger arcs have been nicely supplemented by smaller, more down-to-earth running stories of Inko, Rayet and Yuki. Finally activating the dormant Asseylum at this point is a welcome move I hope A/Z follows through on.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 17

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This episode was titled “Dawn of Intrigue: The Turning Wheel”, and not for nothing. A/Z went into full-on Space Opera Mode this week, as in a soap opera in a sci-fi setting. The enjoyment you derived from this episode depends on how much you like this kind of thing: beautiful people wearing their hearts on their sleeve, clashing plots and motivations, intrigue, betrayal, tests, tears…all delivered with a slightly amplified emotional intensity.

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I for one enjoyed it immensely. For all the lack of physical action, this episode kept me happy with ample duels of wits and wills everywhere you look, and a number of character expressions oozing with depth, starting with Rayet’s look when she’s locking Count Mazuurek away.

Yuki finally tracks down Inaho and asks her straight up why he’s come back to the Deucalion. She became a soldier to protect him, but she can’t very well do that when he’s a soldier too. But he tells his sister he knows Seylum—the real Seylum—is still alive. She tried to help him, and now he’s going to help her. It’s a simple as that. If Yuki has to find a new reason to fight, that’s her problem.

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Frankly, of the two Kaizukas, Inaho is the more resourceful and versatile soldier, which he proves in his talk with Mazuurek, during which we hear my favorite musical theme from the first season for the first time in the second.

It’s well-placed here, as Inaho steadily brings the arrogant count around to his line of thinking, not with brainwashing, but just by knowing and saying the right things at the right time. As Inaho puts it so eloquently, a man who doesn’t look or sound at all like a man who would sell out his country is the perfect man to ask.

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Meanwhile, Slaine is a little drunk on power, as he’s already using visual aids from David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds in his monologues to his audience of one (Eddelrittuo, unless Asseylum can hear him in that tube). He talks about flightless birds (like he used to be) being well suited to survival without flight, and the pity that must be bestowed upon birds who can fly but are placed in cages.

While Slaine is partly correct that birds are put in cages “because they are so beautiful”, in Lemrina’s case she’s a bird in a cage because she is the key to Slaine’s power. Right now, she’s feeling restless, useless (or at least under-utilized), and in the dark about far too much.

She hoped for an equal partnership, but she just feels used right now…and she’s not entirely incorrect, because at the end of the day, she is not the princess Slaine is most intent on protecting. If the real Asseylum wakes up, Slaine will have another key, a no need for Lemrina.

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When Rayet hears that Inaho is interrogating the count, she comes down to offer her own two cents and proceeds to have all her buttons pushed by said count. Inaho gets her out of there, but Rayet’s point is that she’s no different than that count, or Saazbaum, or any other Martian, which is why she’ll always hate them, and herself. Inaho thinks otherwise, and is prepared to prove it.

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Lemrina uses Count Marylcian’s desire to speak with her (believing she’s Asseylum) as an in to the intrigue she’s been missing out on, and also to assert her authority; with Asseylum in a coma, she is the senior member of royalty in orbit. She avails herself of that fact, granting Marylcian an audience, and the wheels start to turn…against Slaine.

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For one brief moment I thought Mazuurek had broken out on his own, but then I realized that was unlikely after they had given him a full body search. When Rayet is the first person he encounters, I thought for another brief moment that Rayet was going back to the side she hated to punish herself, or something.

Then we see Inaho is in on it, and it’s all clear: Inaho knows Mazuurek wants to preserve Earth at all costs, so after convincing him Asseylum is an impostor, he sets him free, where he can be far more effective than if he remained a captive, because he can find out where Asseylum is, keep her safe, and learn what Slaine is up to. It seems mutually beneficial. Mazuurek seems sincere in his interest in earth beyond conquest; we’ll see if he honors the agreement.

But Inaho also involved Rayet, who’d be alone with the count as part of the plan, and thus in a position to kill one of the Martians she hates so much, like she tried to kill Asseylum many moons ago. She doesn’t, and that, to Inaho, says that despite what she says, she’s not the same person she was, and she’s not someone to be hated.

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So Slaine should expect Mazuurek to invite himself over at some point, he already finds himself outmaneuvered by Count Marylcian, who arrives at the base with Cuont Barouhcruz to challenge Slaine to a duel. There’s so much win in this entire situation, what with Lemrina, the scorned princess reduced to Slaine’s pawn, believing she’s controlling this chess game as Queen now.

But she could just as likely have fallen for Marylcian egging her on about being a caged bird, as I seriously doubt Marylcian cares about her beyond how much power he can gain by being her Royal Guard. Heck, he doesn’t even know she’s an impostor; I wonder how he’d react to learning he’d booted out the earth mongrel to take his place protecting a bastard princess.

Like sand through the hourglass…

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Aldnoah.Zero – 16

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Oho…A/Z straight up brought it this week. Not to be outdone by Durarara!!’s best episode to date, it fielded its best as well. I held back a 10 last week purely due to the pure dumb (non-Kuma) shock from the suddenness of what had unfolded. This episode had no such shortcomings, and not only had time for a decent amount of well-paced, efficient action, but also time and room to paint some nice character strokes.

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That started with Inaho’s sister and guardian Yuki, whom we’d only seen in flashback form when she accidentally discovered Inaho could activate Aldnoah cores. That turned out to be a curse for a big sister, or any parent figure, for that matter, as his new ability meant things were only going to get harder for him as the earth leans more and more heavily upon him. She feels that again when he wakes up in the hospital.

Like us, Yuki thinks it’s all just too much for one young lad to bear, to say nothing of the strategic vulnerabilities of staking all your hopes to one prized thoroughbred. But her mothering ended up getting her separated from Inaho and reassigned to the Gulf of Aden, along with Marito. When news comes that the Deucalion is coming to port, the tee-totaling Marito declines Calvados, but Yuki drowns her tea in it. Being Inaho’s family is a stressful thing.

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Speaking of bearing burdens, Count Slaine is enjoying a brief honeymoon free of criticism from other counts who find it distasteful to gang up on him while Vers is still mourning the loss of Saazbaum, who despite his later decisions remains well-regarded in the empire. Slaine doesn’t just inherit his lands, titles, and equipment, but guardianship of Princess Asseylum, as well as the care of Princess Lemrina.

Lemrina tells Slaine she was the product of an affair by her father on the Moon, which is now in tatters. The only one who came to her aid was Saazbaum, and while she will never know his true intentions, she cannot deny that he owes her, as well as whomever succeeds him. She’s no Lady MacBeth—yet—but Lemrina and Slaine have the makings of an epic power couple. And at this point, Lemrina would really prefer if her sister never wakes up.

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Things seem calm and leisurely on the UE side as the Deucalion prepares to return to the surface, but Slaine wastes no time making his next move. He knows it’s only a matter of time before other counts start to move against him (we see two of those dandy counts indeed planning to accuse him of killing Saazbaum), but he also knows simply destroying them will accomplish nothing.

Instead, he will wrap himself in the very glory and honor of Vers: “The key is to show yourself to be so superior that they will not defy you in the first place.” This is Slaine at the top of his game, focused and merciless, and prepared to use any and all of the considerable resources he has come into to reach his goals.

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The same sentiment about demonstrating overwhelming superiority in order to crush your foes’ spirits is what fuels Count Mazuurek, who is one of the counts who wants to avoid unnecessary destruction and death so as many as the earth’s resources are preserved. He has been convinced/nudged into attacking Aden by his fellow counts Marylcian and Barouhcruz, and his victory is meant as the foundation for a coalition they mean to build against Slaine.

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They fail miserably, because as awesome as Mazuurek’s Gravity-Tornado Kataphrakt is, he’s only focused on the forces in front of him, not the battleship directly above him in low earth orbit, where Inaho disables him with one shot.

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Marito is able to distract him the proper amount of time because he’s able to overcome the traumatic flashbacks. Where they used to cause him to freeze up and become useless in battle, now they seem to fire him up. Souma believes that’s worth some celebratory hooch.

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But because Inaho and the Deucalion helped Marito and Yuki out, Trident Base was left unprotected. This wasn’t necessarily a foolish choice under the circumstances, as it was believed an attack would be highly unlikely so soon after the last battle, especially with the huge debris field to contend with.

But the UE brass probably weren’t thinking that someone like Slaine would pilot the Tharsis through the debris and blow up transport shuttles packed with the brim with munitions as they were in the process of docking. By the time the Deucalion hears of the attack, the base has been obliterated.

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Slaine returns to base triumphant, and one by one, everyone, aristocrat and mechanic alike, salute him, for doing what he set out to do, and doing it brilliantly. Not only did he deal a serious blow to the enemy and make them feel weak and helpless than ever, but he headed off any potential moves against him by his cowardly fellow counts. The mangy cur has become a wolf, and they can no longer touch him and come away unscathed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Slaine’s troubles are over—far from it—but he’s in a far stronger position now than he was at the beginning of the episode, and he knows it. Bravo, Slaine. You are doing all the heavy lifting and power consolidation, while Inaho is content with small operations.

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…Or is he? Frankly, I think that Inaho would prefer not to do any of the shit he’s had to do. He does it because he’s the only one who can, and because he can’t close his eyes and will the war away. He, his friends, and his planet’s existence is at stake, so as always, he will try to use what he has to make a difference, and step up his game when necessary. And Inaho doesn’t complain or hesitate, even for a second.

He discovers pretty quickly that his nemesis is responsible for Trident’s fall, which he admits has forced his hand. I’m glad the gloves are coming off, but has Slaine progressed too far for Inaho to ever hope to catch up?

I’m gonna say no. And that can only mean good things for this show moving forward.

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Stray Observations:

  • I have to mention Sawao Hiroyuki’s musical contributions to this show, which hit new heights of awe and cinematic grandeur this week, particularly in the scene between Slaine and Lemrina, and his triumphant return to base.
  • Yuki’s reunion with Inko, Rayet, Nina and Calm is a sweet little scene I’m glad was included.
  • Along with the drinking scenes, that reunion was proof that even in an episode and a show packed with Huge Events, it doesn’t forget about the little moments.
  • The episode’s title is “Soldier’s Pay,” with significant scenes of Yuki and Marito. Marito’s “pay” are his dark memories he must make work for him; Yuki’s “pay” is her beloved little brother she’d tried so hard to protect. But consider what they’re both buying: Not just survival or pride, but freedom and victory over Vers. If Inaho pans out.

Aldnoah.Zero – 15

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As Captain Magbaredge and Inaho’s pre-battle match so subtly implies, this episode is a game of chess being played by Troyard Slaine, and his opponent doesn’t even know he’s playing until it’s too late.

The match is also a chance for Darzana to note just how valuable Inaho has become to Earth’s defense, now that he has the Aldnoah activation factor. Even so, she’s doesn’t feel it’s right to keep him away from battle.

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A couple of garden variety racist counts try to put Sir Slayne in his place, but Saazbaum stops them, going so far as to name Slaine his son. Sure, it sounds sudden, but he’s surely been thinking about this in the last ten months since Slaine came back to him, and the situation called for a gesture that would make any action the counts take against Slaine a act of war against Saazbaum, something they’re far to cowardly to try in the open.

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Now that Slaine has been named Saazbaum’s son an heir in the presence of witnesses both common and elite, his manservant Harklight congratulates this next step towards achieving his dreams, to which Slaine responds above. Sure you don’t, Slaine.

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With his new skills, Inaho isn’t just a hero. He’s become The Hero. With Vers’ overwhelming military superiority, if they lose him, they lose everything. Some have expressed frustration that Inaho and Only Inaho is the only one who can do much of anything, but that’s the natural result of the events.

Earth’s survival dangles by a thread, and he’s that thread, grabbing and clawing and maintaining his grip, finding every advantage and blind spot…yet as his quips indicate, the same old Inaho is still in there somewhere. Inko, Rayet, Calm and Nina are there to keep him grounded, but he’s always threatening to float out of their reach.

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Then the battle dawns (last week was just a glancing taste), and, well, A/Z has always been pretty unassailable when it comes to combat, and the orbital setting continues to dazzle. Here we see the UE kats protected (for a time) by energy-absorbing umbrellas, along with Inaho’s Space Tarzan-like use of swinging cables against the rocks to speed up his maneuvers.

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Still, Inaho’s out here to fight Slaine, as Slaine is apparently out here to fight Inaho. Inaho suspects Slaine is able to somehow see a hint of the near future in order to dodge attacks, so he tries to launch an attack he won’t be able to totally dodge in time But events force us to consider the possibility that Slaine allowed Inaho to hit him (an outcome that surprised even Inaho), so that Saazbaum would come to his son’s aid.

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He does, right on cue, aboard his new kat Dioscuria II, and suddenly Inaho is a bug being swatted at by a raging papa bear. When Inko flies in to offer relief, my heart sinks, warning A/Z “If you kill Inko here, I’m through with you”, but she obeys Inaho and stays put, which is wise, because Inaho gets Saazbaum into the precise position to be pelleted by high-speed debris he detected was incoming.

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What Inaho didn’t know is that the debris was a cloud of bullets, fired by Slaine in the Tharsis using the maximum extent of its time-bending ability. Originally a gambit meant for his face-off with Inaho, Slaine pivots and instead uses Inaho as a chess piece in order to cripple and destroy…Count Saazbaum.

The count might have shout “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”, if he weren’t simultaneously heartbroken and proud of how Slaine played him. Saazbaum, in his typical Versian arrogance, believed he’d won Slaine over, but Slaine wasn’t going to serve under the man who shot his princess a second longer than he needed to.

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As Inaho is busy becoming the Savior of Earth, Slaine ascends to the rank of count, vowing via broadcast to exterminate all remaining Earth resistance in the name of Princess Asseylum before slipping on the burgundy coat. Both lads have risen higher than ever…but even this only feels like one more step on a long road for Count Slaine. Those dreams he claims not to have: what are they, truly? And will Inaho be able to divine a way to stop him?

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Aldnoah.Zero – 14

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I don’t usually pay much attention to episode titles, but “The Beautiful and Damned” is pretty damned apropos. Beautiful, damned people are fighting for their respective beautiful, damned worlds.

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Let’s start with Inaho. His new eye (flawed though it still is), has greatly increased his ability to measure and assess situations and formulate tweaks to existing resources and strategy in realtime. It also allows him to determine not only that Inko has put on weight, but whose words are accompanied by a vocal “tell” indicating she’s not being entirely honest with him (due to her feelings for him).

Using Inko as a test subject for his new eye is a dick move, sure, but it’s Pure Inaho. Rayet rightly calls him a dick (well, an idiot, at least), but this is how Inaho flirts. He detects a similar tell in the “Princess Asseylum’s” speech. If he survives the war, he’d make a badass detective.

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To my relief, it turns out Asseylum is in a persistent coma, not intentionally imprisoned in that tube, which makes sense considering her injuries last season (I can see either she or Inaho surviving relatively unscathed, but both? Nah-ah). Eddelrittuo isn’t strictly allowed to see her, but Slaine’s a nice guy so he won’t tell anyone, and promises her the princess will wake up someday.

Listening from the other side of the heavy metal door (she must have really good ears) is Princess Lemrina, who doesn’t seem to like Slaine’s regular visits to Asseylum one bit. To the point she deactivates Tharsis’ Aldnoah drive just when Slaine is about to embark on a mission.

Slaine and Lemrina stand out among all the beautiful, damned people in the world of A/Z. Up to this point, many people were asking ‘Hey, where the heck did this chick come from?”…turns out, that was the point. All her life, Lemrina has been the ignored and forgotten princess; Asseylum’s sister by another mother; the Kato Megumi of the Vers Royal Family.

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No one ever had any cause to admire or love or even take notice of her, until Asseylum was out of the picture. Only then is she unique and indispensable to Count Saazbaum and Slaine. In this context, it’s perfectly understandable that we’ve never seen hide nor tail of her.

When she calls Slaine out on this bullshit, he’s ready, showing her he’s dealt with hardship and isolation as well (and still has the back scars to prove it), getting on one knee, and earning a kiss that gives him the power to activate Tharsis once by himself.

There’s so much good stuff going on in this exchange: Slaine is either being extremely manipulative or extremely sincere (or both), and Lemrina either totally believes him or is willing to let the display appease her. Regardless of whether either or both harbor deceit, the fact is they need one another: Lemrina wants to take over everything her sister once had, and Slaine needs his kat to move.

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Speaking of beautiful and damned, how ’bout that view of Earth from the Satellite Belt? I haven’t mentioned the fact that this week we get a space battle, and a damned good one, at that. The setup is simple: like two ships passing in the night, UE and Vers bases are about to cross paths along their orbits.

The largest UE space force since the very beginning of the war (which didn’t go well for Earth) has been amassed at Trident, while a similarly large force is making the trip to Marineros. When those forces meet, there are lovely fireworks, but the build-up is handled nicely, particularly the logistics of transporting Slaine, Saazbaum, and the Stygis Platoon where it needs to be.

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The tension also builds on the EU side, allowing Darzana to get another little dig in on her uncharacteristically nervous XO. Not surprisingly, Inaho isn’t the slightest bit flustered at the prospect of his first space battle. He simply floats over to his by now highly-modded but still orange trainer, steps into his office and gets to work.

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There are few backdrops to a space battle more attractive than the big ol’ Blue Marble itself, partially obscured by clusters of satellites, which we learn create a gravity gradient that must be compensated for in order for weapon shots to hit their targets (gravity gradient=”wind”).

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Inevitably, Orange and Bat encounter one another, but between Inaho’s mad skillz and Tharsis’ superior stats, neither Inaho nor Slaine are even able to land a love tap on the other. Their brief skirmish this week was a stalemate, but now Slaine knows Inaho is alive, and Inaho knows what’s become of Slaine.

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I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’d truly like to see these two not only at each others’ throats on the battlefield, but trading dry insults in person. We’ll see how and when the show decides to bring them back together in either setting, and when Chekhov’s Comatose Princess wakes up and puts the kibosh on both Saazbaum and Lemrina’s ambitions.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 13

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A/Z’s second cour picks up nineteen months after the incident at Saazbaum’s castle. Slaine is now a Vers Knight piloting Tharsis and taking it to Terran Kataphrakts raiding the satellite belt.

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Meanwhile, Princess Asseylum (who IS still alive) delivers a propaganda speech voicing her newfound support for the war against Earth and praising the Orbital Knights. I buy that she may have recovered from her wounds, but my first thoughts were that she’s either an impostor or being forced to toe the hard line. In any case, something’s not quite right.

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Down on Earth, Inko, Nina (who was watching the speech on her phone) and Rayet are enjoying R&R, and Inaho seems to be on Inko’s mind.

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Up in orbit, Count Saazbaum (also not dead!) welcomes Sir Slaine back aboard and praises him for his prowess in battle. We’re also introduced to the frail Princess Lemrina, who is clearly the one posing as Princess Asseylum in those videos.

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When Martian Count Yacoym launches an assault against UEF headquarters, the girls are recalled. Inko is weary, but Rayet assures her, they “don’t have time do die.” In fact, as they form up to defend their base, Rayet seems to have replaced Inaho as the calm, cool squad leader. But neither she nor Inko can get close to Yacoym’s Kat, “Frozen Elysium”, because it freezes solid all enemy kats that come near him, along with the pilots inside.

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Things are about to go bad when Inaho surprises both girls by coming up from behind them in Orange and taking control of the situation. At this point, come-from-behind wins are his specialty, and he’s got it down to a science, using his new bionic eye to analyze all of the variables needed to determine the proper way of taking Yacoym out.

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Inaho still has that insufferable Martian arrogance and overconfidence aiding him, as he times his shots to his advance until he’s in point-blank-range, and it’s bang, Game Over. Slaine may have been badly wounded by that kat crash, but in a year and a half he seems to be back on top of his game.

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It seems to have been many months since Inko and Rayet have seen Inaho, so their reunion is appropriately warm and touching, even though Inaho is as stiff as a board. Inko’s joy and relief are palpable, while even Rayet cracks a joke about how Inaho’s people skills have improved since they last met.

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As for what happened after episode 12 went dark, Slaine chooses Vers and escapes with Saazbaum and Asseylum, while Inaho’s sister finds him and brings him to the bridge of the powerless Deucalion. He needs surgery, but there’s no way to get him there. But then, when Inko’s tears mix with Asseylum’s spattered blood on his face and runs into his mouth, his body suddenly glows with the light of Aldnoah, and the core starts back up, saving everyone. Jeez, even while passed out Inaho even manages to come through big when it counts.

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Back in the present, Inaho, Inko and Rayet catch another one of Asseylum’s sketchy broadcasts, and in a nice callback to the time Inaho corrected Asseylum on why the sky was blue, the Princess on air makes the same mistake a second time. If I were Inaho, that could be enough to suspect the girl they’re watching is not the real Asseylum.

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That fact is confirms when the broadcast is over and Saazbaum and Slaine thank Princess Lemrina for her help. Slaine then pays a visit to the real Asseylum, who is floating in a stasis tube surprisingly, not naked. I wonder if she’s in there because they can’t fully save her, or if she’s there for security’s sake?

In any case, I’m not dwelling on the somewhat irritating fact A/Z couldn’t wrap up in one cour, and chose not to kill anyone important off. There’s still a lot of Martians holding territory on Terran soil, and Saazbaum was just one victory, and a costly one. Earth will need a lot more of them to turn the war around, and I’m looking forward to watching Inaho, Inko, and Rayet achieve them.

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