Aldnoah.Zero Ep. 1: Echoes of Japan’s past

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Asseylum and Eddelrittuo (yeah, the spelling for these names are going to be annoying to memorize) share an interesting conversation midway through the episode.But for the conversation to make any sense, I’m going to have to provide some context. Aldnoah.Zero takes place in an alternate universe where the Apollo 17 mission had discovered “an artifact belonging to an ancient Martian civilization” on the moon. More specifically, it was a Hyper Gate to Mars. What’s a Hyper Gate? Eh, just imagine it to be some high-tech thingamajig that allowed humans to travel to Mars from the moon with ease. How? Wormholes, quantum mechanics, etc. Just take your pick. The Vers Empire, however, appeared out of nowhere and assumed control of the ancient alien technology. Since then, there have been numerous conflicts between the two planets. Why? I’m not sure yet, but I’m sure Aldnoah.Zero will fill us in on the details eventually. On one fateful day, fighting on the surface of the moon caused the Hyper Gate to go out of control. As a result, our poor satellite got destroyed. My tides! My lovely tides! Plus, all those abnormal disasters that the Earth is now facing are probably due to the fact that the moon is no longer there to stabilize our axis of rotation, but I digress.

The big question, however, is… why? Why would we go to war with the Vers Empire, a nation of space colonists from our very own planet? Finally, here’s where the conversation between Asseylum and Edder… Edderrito? Ah, fuck it. From now on, I’m calling her Eddy. Ahem, here’s where the conversation between Asseylum and Eddy makes it mark. Y’see, Asseylum is a princess of the Vers Empire, and she’s coming to Earth on a goodwill mission. She wants everlasting peace between the two planet, so naturally, she asks, “Why do we hate them so?” Eddy replies, “…we subjects of the empire became a new race distinct from the old humanity we left on Earth when Emperor Vers inherited the authority of Aldnoah.” Whoa, what? But there’s more: “As one who embodies the power of the gods, Milady… you should not say such things.” So right off the bat, people of the Vers Empire (Versians?) believe that they are the gods’ chosen people. Not only that, I’m sure Emperor Vers probably believes that he’s the living embodiment of the divine will. At first glance, I couldn’t help but think, “How can an entire polity of people buy into such a divisive, hateful belief in such a short period of time?”

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The Apollo 17 mission was when? Back in the 1970s? So in such a short period of time, not only has an empire appeared overnight (in relative terms), but its people are fundamentalists as well? That’s wild! But questions of plausibility aside — and I’m not saying the situation that has developed here is impossible — there’s something very familiar about Aldnoah.Zero‘s premise. Way back when, a group of people came upon a group of islands after crossing the wide, open sea. Bringing with them technology and culture from the mainland, they eventually intermingled with the indigenous population of the islands. As a result, a new race of people sprung forth! Eventually, these whippersnappers would go on to form a strong, powerful nation. Islands, however, are typically limited in resources. To fuel the grand ambitions of the people’s leaders, they would have to turn their attention back to the mainland, the home they had once left behind. But gosh, the mainland is already inhabited by others! Others somewhat like us! No… not like us! We’re a new race. A better race. And our emperor is a living god himself! We should conquer the rest of the world, and bring peace to them. In fact, the divine will has ordained it! I’ll even call this… Hakkō ichiu. Yeah, that sounds good. Of course, seeing as how this is the very first episode of a two-cour series, I have no idea where the anime is going with this.

Needless to say, however, Urobochi has never been very shy about packing his stories with rather overt commentaries on the nature of humankind and the world around us. You could remark, “Isn’t it interesting how the tables have been turned and we are now the victims? After all, aren’t the viewers supposed to identify with the downtrodden Earthlings? And isn’t it interesting how the people of the Vers Empire seem vaguely European in their appearance and mannerisms?” On the other hand, perhaps this is the only way to get the message across. How can you sympathize with the victims of Imperial Japan unless you can put yourself in their shoes? One of the major criticisms directed at Japan even now is how unwilling it has been to acknowledge its wartime past. And is this perhaps what Aldnoah.Zero hopes to accomplish? To let its viewers know what it feels like to be on the other end of a nation’s military aggression? Eh… it depends on how charitable you want to be with your interpretation. I’m inclined to think Urobochi doesn’t have, shall we say, unsavory intentions, but we’ll definitely find out what he and the rest of the show’s writers are trying to convey as we watch more of the series. I can only hope that the anime won’t be too heavy-handed with its message. Who knows? Maybe by the end of the series, Emperor Vers will be making his own Humanity Declaration

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Yes, war is inevitable. It seems that there are many people from both sides of the divide who are against the princess’s goodwill mission. The haughty Cruhteo guy had been trying to dissuade the girl from making the trip to Earth for quite some time now, but being the pure-hearted maiden that she is, I’m sure her resolve never once wavered. Everlasting peace, man! As soon as she arrives, however, she immediately comes under attack. Homemade bombs and automatic rifles are one thing; having the capability to launch missiles, however, is something else entirely. This alone should tell you that the attackers are not just some ragtag group. It’s likely that they’re backed by an entity with considerable power and influence, and that should be enough to shatter the shaky peace between the two planets. You’d think Asseylum would’ve arrived at a safer location, but then again, the episode had earlier implied that the Heavens Fall incident really did a number to the entire planet. Even fifteen years after the fact, the rebuilding process is far from complete. Imagine arriving in a disaster zone. Now imagine that the entire planet is Detroit a disaster zone. Maybe this whole mission was a folly from the very start. Can you really achieve peace in such non-ideal circumstances?

Maybe it’s even worse than we think. Who’s to say that the princess’s assassination isn’t just an excuse to carry out an invasion of the planet? I mean, why would such an important individual be so poorly protected by both the Vers Empire and the Earth Alliance? Sure enough, the Vers Empire has decided to send its Orbital Knights and their space castles to come crashing down upon our planet. Yes, the empire’s military force even seems to be organized much like a bunch of contentious feudal lords. According to Kochirou, these Orbital Knights have been waging a war in the wreckage of the moon. Goody, now they can wage a holy crusade against Earth: “We subjects of the Vers Empire must resolutely bring down the hammer of righteousness in response to this atrocity….” Again, the setup feels very familiar. Eventually, we see New Orleans’ utter destruction (hasn’t the city been through enough?!) come about as one of the castles touch down upon the surface, creating an explosion that must evoke memories of the atomic bombings. A mushroom cloud appears. The entire skyline is ablaze. Windows shatter simultaneously across all the skyscrapers. You don’t even get to see the actual loss of human lives because death comes that quick. Again, the symbolism is overt… perhaps too overt. Plus, I’m not too keen with blasting an insert song at full volume as millions of lives go up in flames in a matter of seconds, but maybe that’s just me.

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Right before the ending credits begin to roll, the anime even has to sneak in a dark moment of irony as a pair of kids mistake the military invasion for shooting stars. As such, they make a wish for everlasting peace across the world. If only they knew what was really happening. But ah, that’s a little too cheeky there, Urobochi. I know you’re excited about the new series, but c’mon, man, where’s the restraint? Perhaps the restraint is to be found in Inaho, our main character. He seems aloof and detached from the world around him. Most individuals would panic at the sight of a missile careening just above their heads. Our protagonist, however, calmly turns to his friends and suggest that they leave the vicinity of the area. What I appreciate, though, is how the first episode doesn’t actually revolve around him. He has yet to go through his obligatory “rite of passage” where he finally accepts his role as humanity’s hero and is thus bestowed a ton of power. Rather, he is nothing more than an observer in this opening episode. Sure, I imagine him undergoing those same, trite anime-isms eventually, but by merely adjusting the story’s pacing to distinguish it from other like-minded series is enough to make Aldnoah.Zero seem like a breath of fresh air. But that is jumping the gun quite a bit. The anime hasn’t proven itself just yet; it’s merely off to a solid start.

As for the show’s other characters, a single episode can’t hope to do much more than to touch upon their personalities. I’m not quite sure what to make of Yuki, Inaho’s sister, just yet. She seems a bit careless at the moment, serving as a bit of contrast to Inaho’s more subdued and collected persona. As for the previously mentioned Kochirou, he will probably play that wise, but imperfect mentor with the dark past. Will he play a role in getting Inaho to come out of his shell? Will his memories and alcohol abuse haunt him too much to do so? None of Inaho’s friends, on other hand, seem to stand out at the moment. But ah, how can we forget Slaine, a soldier currently under Cruhteo’s charge? Every hero needs a foil, and perhaps Slaine will be Inaho’s foil. He appears to be a soft-hearted character caught on the wrong side of the divide. Hell, Cruhteo himself doesn’t have much respect for the former Terran. Nevertheless, with the princess’s presumed death, the planet Slaine once called home no longer shines like a radiant blue star in the endless expanse of space. There’s a very attention-grabbing scene in which Slaine’s view of his home planet becomes awashed in flames. Is this a reflection of his anger and rage? He is likely caught between two sides: his former home and the need to avenge the princess. Which of these two feelings will ultimately win out? The answer probably doesn’t exist. Well, there’s no way Asseylum is dead already, right?

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Alright, let’s wrap this up. What do I think about Aldnoah.Zero‘s first episode? It’s very intriguing. Not only that, nothing in the first episode makes me roll my eyes in either disbelief or just plain incredulity. The anime certainly has potential. Like most Urobochi-led works, however, Aldnoah.Zero runs the risk of being too blunt and heavy-handed in its message. But who knows? Maybe this time around, he and the other writers can rein it in.


14 Replies to “Aldnoah.Zero Ep. 1: Echoes of Japan’s past”

  1. I sat around for a while thinking, “Whoa, wait is Mars Imperial Japan? Is…this Japan in Aldnoah actually…China?” The bombing of New Orleans was another clue-in with the WW2 parallels too. I was scared I was overthinking things again but nice to know someone ended up on a similar path.

    What I also like is how the alcoholic veteran laments how so much of what their children know are based on lies and now it’s this younger generation that has to deal with the circumstances of those lies. Urobuchi isn’t the most subtle writer in the world but the themes he introduces to his narratives are always rich, layered and provides some really good discussion.

  2. “n the other hand, perhaps this is the only way to get the message across. How can you sympathize with the victims of Imperial Japan unless you can put yourself in their shoes? One of the major criticisms directed at Japan even now is how unwilling it has been to acknowledge its wartime past. And is this perhaps what Aldnoah.Zero hopes to accomplish? To let its viewers know what it feels like to be on the other end of a nation’s military aggression? ”

    I’m seriously of the opinion that this was what Code Geass was attempting to do, in spite of the blatant nationalism.

    On yet the other hand, Hollywood recently remade Red Dawn post ’03. There’s no reason to not believe that Japan could be just as incapable of irony as the west. So it’s difficult to say this was the author’s intention.

    1. Nick: You’re not the first person to notice that, since the Britannian occupation of Code Geass Japan actually had a number of similarities to the policies implemented by World War II Imperial Japan in its conquered territories. I believe they openly referenced this in an early magazine article at the time. However, I would argue that just poking at it was as far as the comparison went, since the show was more interested in entertainment than in making any political statement (not to mention their representation of Japan wasn’t exactly a nationalist’s wet dream either, contrary to what many tend to believe, but I digress).

      Speaking of similar cases, another example that comes to mind might be the second half of Blue Comet SPT Layzner, albeit preceded by a sort of Cold War-inspired scenario. In the end, the series was too rushed due to cancellation -and the emerging Fist of the North Star influences were a bit too much of a distraction- but that’s still a valid example of a Japanese anime showing the brutality of an invading and occupying force, which once again reflects what WWII Japan did to other nations. Sometimes even Gundam’s Zeon faction pales in comparison.

      Now then, I do think people should exercise a little caution before attempting to give Urobuchi too much credit in terms of trying to making some grand political statement here, especially when he is only writing three episodes of this series and then moving on. I believe it’s fair to say he might have been inspired by Japan’s previous treatment of its own Emperor (although in all fairness the divine right of kings and all its associated implications or trappings, so to speak, were never historically limited to Japan). But it’s rather premature to jump to conclusions. Something tells me the story might be heading in a different direction sooner rather than later, given the expectation there will be a game-changing twist in or around said third episode.

      For the record, I did find the episode to be solid enough as a starting point, with particularly impressive direction, even though the exposition was quite unnatural at times and the characters aren’t really particularly impressive so far. We’re still in the introduction after all..

      1. Not sure where we’re giving Urobochi too much credit. The post is loaded with “I don’t know where the show is going with this” sentiments. But for at least the first episode, the similarities are striking enough. And I don’t think it’s fair to say he’s only writing three episodes and moving on. Yes, he’s literally only writing three episodes, but I’m sure he has done much to contribute to the story’s overall direction and framework.

        1. E Minor: Granted, I might have stressed the point a bit more than what was strictly necessary. I simply think we’ll have a better idea about whether that will be a focus point or not in due time, after receiving more information, rather than letting our imagination connect the dots too early, even before the introductory arc has ended.

          Concerning Urobuchi’s role, I think the fact he isn’t credited for the actual Series Structure of Composition but only as the “Original Creator” who is limited to writing three episodes suggests a few things…Urobuchi might have come in to help flesh out the concept and setting -he surely has already made important contributions to that effect- but without really assuming a full-time commitment or even a formal supervisory role it’s inevitable that, beyond the big picture, the specifics and many details are going to be someone else’s responsibility past a certain point.

          1. rather than letting our imagination connect the dots too early, even before the introductory arc has ended.

            For at least the first episode, the similarities between the story and Japan’s history aren’t even subtle. As a result, I don’t think anyone here is really jumping to any outrageous conclusions. We’re merely discussing the possibilities. Even so, if anything I’ve written proves to be wrong, so be it. That’s the whole point of these posts, is it not? To discuss what I’ve seen, then discuss what it might all mean. I’m not trying to be a 100% correct. So I’m not sure why we need to hedge so much? Will I be tarred and feathered if the show takes a wild turn in its direction? It’s pretty much assumed that there’s going to be a healthy mix of speculation in a post about the first episode.

            but without really assuming a full-time commitment or even a formal supervisory role it’s inevitable that, beyond the big picture, the specifics and many details are going to be someone else’s responsibility past a certain point.

            Sure. No one’s denying that other writers will impart their own influence to the story. Still, I also know what it’s like to work on what someone else has started. You want to stay true to what they’ve laid out within reason. Urobochi’s also a well known figure in the industry, so I doubt anything he’s laid out will be brushed aside willy-nilly.

  3. “There’s a very attention-grabbing scene in which Slaine’s view of his home planet becomes awashed in flames.”

    Or the spaceship/fortress just reenters Earth’s atmosphere?

  4. Really like your theory that the Martians are an analogue for imperial Japan. The assassination looks to be a Manchurian incident by rogue Martian forces as well, making the comparison even stronger.

  5. Yeah, I wonder if they are going for Mukden or Sarajevo with the princess. Also note that the destruction of New Orleans was given the time 20:05; a reference to Hurricane Katrina, perhaps?

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