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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