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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