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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Aldnoah.Zero – 12 (Fin)

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This final episode earns full marks for adrenaline-pounding zeal and sheer boldness, as well as remaining true to its characters until the very end. In the final scene, in the castle’s Aldnoah chamber, the very place where Asseylum snatched a Terran victory out of the jaws of defeat, we not only lose her, but Inaho as well. That’s a steep butcher’s bill than we expected even for a show we thought would be one-cour-and-done; it’s even more daring considering a second season is coming next year.

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On the one hand, it sucks to see Inaho and Seylum go down so abruptly after they had achieved so much. On the other, both had fulfilled their purpose. Seylum shut the castle down, Inaho had held off the baddies long enough to let her, and after she dies, it’s almost a given that Inaho too will either keel over from blood loss or, as is the case, gets shot by Slaine. Both were friends of the princess, and she would have wanted them to get along, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

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It isn’t until his final moments that his memories and feelings of Seylum rush over him like a crashing wave, so on the whole I’m okay with this, it’s a tragic but also oddly logical end for both of them, and it shows that the good guys can’t have it all. (I will say I am extremely glad Inko is still alive and hope we see get to see more of her in the future.) What wasn’t so logical, and what prevents this final ep of A/Z from a higher rating, is what led up to this final scene.

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I don’t mind at all the crew of the Deucalion being too wounded to assist any further, nor do I have any particular qualms with Yuki and Inka making their way through the castle with the princess (Your Princess IS In This Castle!). What turned me off was that here was his already overpowered kataphrakt getting even more buffed up and combined with others into one big Mega-phrakt in a transformation scene that goes on too long in a show that never spent this kind of time on such things before. It was a bit too Gundam-y.

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And you can call it ironic if you will, but after all that build up to how huge and powerful and invincible this guy just became, Inaho is simply able to survive far too long. Even if he’s the best Terran kataphrakt pilot in the world, his primative orange kataphrakt should be crushed like a Coke can in the first minute of fighting. What’s the point of an super-powerful mecha if its shields have such an obvious weakness? This was yet another case of the Martians possessing ridiculously superior technology but no tactics to speak of.

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In earlier battles this might have been excusable, but in particular with Saazbaum, a dedicated, decorated veteran and otherwise capable commander, to fall so easily to the underdog. At least the overarching message that has endured throughout A/Z remains consistent: Inaho and the Terrans only survive as long as they do thanks mainly to appalling incompetence on the part of the Martians. You can’t even say they did a good job with the initial invasion, because they were never able to finish the job.

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Those issues aside, this was still a thrilling and satisfying end to the series (the music-less end credits were particularly stirring)…were that the case, that is. I’ll confess I wasn’t aware of a second season, and it’s not something I’m 100% sure I needed in my life, but A/Z has definitely earned the right to get a close look. Like Inaho, it’s been a mostly level-headed, dependable and proficient mecha show, and I’m curious to see where it goes without two of its leads. But that’s not for a few months yet. Till then, farewell A/Z, and RIP Inaho and Asseylum. You’ll be missed.

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Final Average Rating: 8.50
MAL Score: 8.13

Aldnoah.Zero – 11

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Unlike SAOII, A/Z has no episodes to spare, and so really brought it this week, throwing us into the decisive battle. Even then, it had to cut things short right in the middle, just when things were getting interesting. But despite the fact it left a lot on the table, this episode excelled on its own merits, heightening the peril and tension for the finale.

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The win was truly strong with this one. You had Saazbaum launching the assault on UE HQ, half-destroying the hall where Asseylum made her televised address (which he had blocked), leading to the rather unexpected sight of Eddelrittuo at the wheel of a Humvee, speeding her highness to safety. I also didn’t expect Rayet to have a change of heart and cover them, but I liked the move.

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Inaho continues to suggest totally insane shit with a straight face and calm voice—and Yuki even calls him out for it!—but it doesn’t mean he’s wrong, and Asseylum agrees to be used tactically now that shes been proven ineffective as a means of securing any kind of political solution. Asseylum, who last week said she believes Inaho is kind, still understands that this isn’t the time to be kind.

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The multiple subterranean layers of UE HQ fall like dominoes before Saazbaum’s bunker-buster bombing, and it isn’t long at all before enemy assets are inside messing up the place. As this is pretty much the Terrans’ last stand, the time for half-measures and retreat is over: either Saazbaum will fall, or they will. Saazy himself takes out the Deucelion, but Magbaredge manages to ram it into the castle, enabling access. They’re down, but far from out.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 10

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This week’s episode of A/Z was spectacularly efficient and moving right from the get-go, as Inaho figures out that the Deucalion is down because Seylum is. Does he panic or scream? Who do you think we’re talking about, fool? (You’re not a fool. I apologize.) He enters Inaho Lifesaver Mode, using the CPR he learned (and took seriously) in high school, not hesitating for a moment to do what needs to be done to bring the princess back.

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Lesser shows would have played up the embarrasment a teenage boy would have at having to suddenly be so intimate with the girl he likes, but A/Z is not a lesser show. The scene is immensely tense and thrilling, and as the sweat gathered on Inaho’s brow and Seylum isn’t waking up, I’ll admit to getting a little leaky-eyed. And while in real life only 7% of people undergoing CPR are successfully revived, this is thankfully part of that 7%. Her first gasp for air is a viscerally satisfying moment.

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Then Seylum fingers her attacker, Rayet grabs an automatic, and it’s Standoff Time. Rayet confesses, she’s a Martian too. All this time she’s been calling them the enemy and scum unworthy of trust, she’s also been talking about herself, or at least what she once was, as shes been trying to become a Terran since her father’s death. Seylum counters Rayet’s bile with contriteness and kindness, admitting her rash actions have only made Earth-Vers relations worse.

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Rayet’s frustration is rooted far less in politics, or even the fact her father died, than her jealousy over Seylum’s “transition” in the midst of all these intense events, and that the Terrans so readily accepted her. To Rayet’s eyes, she’s gotten everything so easily, and it has eaten her up inside. She’s so taken aback by Seylum’s response, she loses her cool altogether and turns the pistol on herself. That’s when BAM, INAHO ACTION MODE disarms and restrains her, quick as a flash. This kid is cool as shit.

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As awesome and powerful as this “shower standoff” was, it only took up the episode’s A-part, which also managed to squeeze Yagarai giving Magbaredge a DVD containing his interview with Lt. Morito, in which he lays out the tragic but also very understandable circumstances of her brother’s death during Heaven’s Fall, maybe paving the path for Magbaredge to forgive him. That’s quite a frikkin’ first half.

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That’s a nice segue into the second half, since the day of Heaven’s Fall also carries great weight with Count Saazbaum. He and his betrothed Viscountess Orlane were sent on an advance mission to Earth’s surface, and her kataphrakt’s flight systems failed after the moon shattered. He was forced to escape, leaving her behind to die just as Morito left Humeray.

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But he and Orlane wouldn’t have even been there if it weren’t for the Vers Royal Family, turning the peoples’ discontent over degrading conditions on Mars onto Earth by making Terrans the scapegoat. And while revenge is extremely important to Saazbaum, his motivation goes beyond that. He’s tired of pretending Vers is any kind of place to have a civilization, especially since that civilization has only survived thanks to Aldnoah, which is controlled by the royals.

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This is interesting, because Saazbaum isn’t your Vers true believer, and yet he isn’t simply in this for himself: he has no regard to the empire he hails from. He built up his lands and his wealth all by himself, as did other counts, but always he had to live in the same shadow of Aldnoah as everyone else. Inhabiting Mars is a “fool’s errand” to him; only Earth can properly accommodate them.

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That Earth is already inhabited is of no consequence to him…and in any case, there simply don’t seem to be a whole lot of Terrans left on Earth anyway. When the Deucalion finally arrives at United Earth HQ they find the undergound shelters under-inhabited and over-supplied. Still, it’s all they’ve got, and Saazbaum is headed there to put the Terrans out of their misery.

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Can Inaho and the others wriggle their way out of it? Is Rayet destined to sit out the remainder of the show in the brig? Will Darzana forgive Morito, and will Morito be able to move forward? Heck, Asseylum even made Inaho flinch by calling him a kind person, no matter what practical excuses he gives for all that he’s done for her. Will these two go anywhere? What side will Slaine pick? There’s an awful lot of questions to answer. I sure hope two episodes is enough to do it.

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