Aldnoah.Zero: The Children's Echelon (Boys on the Battlefield)
July 24, 2014 4:20 PM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Inaho and his friends are holed up in their school, having been ordered by 2nd Lt. Marito to distract the Vers Kataphrakt while a rescue operation can be organized. Based on what he's observed first-hand of the Kataphrakt, Inaho comes up with a plan to fight back against it.

Rayet and Princess Asseylum, who has not yet revealed her identity, volunteer to participate in Inaho's plan. The plan is successful in taking down Nilokeras, during which Asseylum reveals her true identity. Slaine learns from Trillram that the assassination attempt was a Vers plot.
posted by needled (11 comments total)
And now we are finally caught up with the episodes already aired - beginning this weekend, episode updates will follow the show airing schedule.

This also marks the end of the episodes penned by Urobuchi Gen himself. So how did everybody do on Butcher Bingo?
posted by needled at 4:35 PM on July 24, 2014

I wonder how far the conspiracy goes. Are all the Knights in on it, but not the grunts?

Obviously the biggest obstacle to peace besides the conspirators is the communications blackout. The whole invasion could collapse if the Vers populace knew that Asseylum was still alive and that the assassination attempt was a false flag, considering they bothered to fabricate a pretext at all.
posted by Small Dollar at 7:08 PM on July 24, 2014

It doesn't seem like anyone missed it, but just in case someone did: unlike the other two episodes, this one has a post-credits scene.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:31 PM on July 24, 2014

It was exhilarating watching Inaho's plan unfold, but thinking about it later the episode (and the 3-episode mini-arc) left me with a heavy heart. As the episode name indicates, Inaho and friends, and Slaine, too, are child soldiers. His friend Calm is a refugee *and* child soldier. Slaine, who was so hesitant to shoot at Earth soldiers, has now killed somebody, shooting him at point blank range. I thought "Oh no, Slaine," when he kept firing that gun. There's no turning back for anybody now, and I feel things are going to get much grimmer for everybody.

My understanding of the factions so far is that there are the Earth forces, the Mars-based Vers Knights, and the moon-based Vers Knights. Once a route between the moon and Mars was re-established, the stranded Vers Knights should all have returned to Mars according to the ceasefire terms. But they refused to return and stayed there for the past 15 years. From scenes in ep. 1, it appears that Cruhteo is one of the Mars-based Knights, as Asseylum traveled for two months in his landing castle (does this mean that there are more than 37 landing castles, if the 37 mentioned were all moon-based and there are more on Mars?). So think of a feudal society, like feudal Japan or the middle ages in Europe. Cruhteo is a nobleman of the court, with close ties to the Emperor and his family. I am not sure where Saazbaum falls, but he seems to be siding with the moon-based Knights, whom we can consider landholders far away from the center of power. The Emperor doesn't have absolute power over the Knights, while the Knights are constantly shifting alliances as they play power games to gain what advantage they can.

This probably means that within the Vers empire, there will be isolationists, those who want to promote peace and trade with Earth, and those who just want to conquer Earth. The Imperial family, including Asseylum, appear to be on the peace and trade side. Saazbaum and the moon-based Knights want to take Earth for themselves. Cruhteo doesn't appear to be part of the expansionist faction. I don't think the invasion would collapse if the Vers populace found out that Asseylum was alive - at this point it's not clear if the populace even knows that there was an assassination attempt. Even if the rest of Vers found out about the assassination attempt, I think this would make the moon-based Knights more determined to take over the Earth, so they would have a stronghold from which to rebel against their government in Mars. They're going to be branded as traitors anyway, so why not go all out?

(Am I overthinking this enough?)
posted by needled at 7:17 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

This also marks the end of the episodes penned by Urobuchi Gen himself.

Well, if Gargantia is any indicator, that means that we'll have a beach party fan service episode soon...

I hope the kids get a chance to change out of their school clothes soon, as it remains difficult to tell them apart. Well, for me anyway. For example, I wasn't entirely sure who the black-haired kid was who died last episode.

I love the character designs themselves, of course, though that "halo" in their hair really bugs me for some reason. Not the thing itself so much that it's on every character in every scene.

I really liked your analysis, needled. I don't think you're overthinking it...anime creators (but not just anime creators) have this interesting ability to both overthink and somehow underthink their plots at the same time. You know? Like they overthink the setup but underthink the implications, maybe.

I'm not super-interested in Inaho at the moment; I feel like Death Note is sort of the last word in "hyper-analytical anime boy" storylines, but Urobuchi has surprised me before.

Looking back, all my comments have been negative or at least critical, which is too bad because I'm really enjoying the show quite a bit. It's just that Fanfare comments like "that was great!" don't exactly contribute to the conversation. That Random Curiosity review linked in the sidebar really nails my feeling about the show: I'm not yet sure what I think about it, but I do know how I feel about it...and I really like it even if all the parts don't line up exactly.

Also, I'm really happy that you started posting these, needled. It's fun to have an ongoing, still-unfolding anime series that I can talk about with other adults.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:27 AM on July 25, 2014

I wonder how far the conspiracy goes. Are all the Knights in on it, but not the grunts?

Not all the Knights - Cruhteo was out of the loop, given the task to dissuade the princess from going to earth. Maybe his underling was in on it, maybe not.

I'm also a bit mixed on this show - I feel that so much of it is built from cliches, but I had to wonder if there is really any way to break cliches when you have so much history behind you. Perhaps it's because the characters feel rather one dimensional at this point: you have the cute, giggling girl (the magical [?] princess), who also can wield a smoke grenade gun; the analytical kid who is cold to the world, but smart and will figure some way to save the day; the man who's seen too much and drinks to cope, but is still a good guy who will pull through; etc ... oh, and the save-the-day crew are in high school! At least that wasn't the initial fighting crew (picked because full-grown adults can't fit into these giant mecha were recently built by normal sized adults).

But this episode was also a lot of fun, especially with the team figuring out how to defeat the Martian suit (compared to Now and Then, Here and There, for example, which is heart-breaking in the number of times that success slips through the fingers of the un-hero and his friends). It's more fun entertainment than thought-provoking anime, so I'm not seeing why it would be particularly hyped. Then again, I'm completely out of touch with current anime, and I really appreciate these episode discussions to get me back into current anime, even just for a moment.

To anyone who hasn't watched the episodes yet, they're fun and pretty light, and only 20+ minutes long each. After watching all of Breaking Bad over the course of a few months, I'm glad to watch something ... softer.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:38 PM on July 25, 2014

I think this episode established that Asseylum is a princess and magical both. So what this proves is that she (or her grandfather) signed a Contract, and the lunar Knights are pawns in Kyubey's manipulations. The Martians' Cataphracts's incredible powers are the products of the souls of dead Vers Knights.
posted by ardgedee at 2:16 PM on July 25, 2014

Sorry. Not really. Well, the story really does have a magical princess in it, but probably not the rest.

What I've liked about the series to date, though what I hope won't be the narrative template in the shorter story arcs, is that an indomitable force will be introduced (eg, the Cataphracts), run roughshod over Earth for a while, and then the clever kids will find the Achille's heel while the adults can only see fit to solve the problem with escalated firepower. I think I cheered when they took down the Cataphract, addressing in detail every issue I had with how that thing worked.

I wouldn't call the stories light, per se. It's alternate-Earth's grim meathook future, the Martians are all fuckers, even the nominally sympathetic ones, and our central hero thus far -- or at least the dude we're supposed to understand this world through -- is a seeming orphan of unfathomable emotional restraint, assuming he's not emotionally stunted entirely (which doesn't seem to be the case).

On the other hand, the magical princess I find a little more disruptive than Slaine's turn. What's revealed in this episode is that while Slaine's sense of alliance remain unfixed (except for his loyalty to the princess, but that's more personal faithfulness than politics), several of the other major characters also find their affiliations on shifting ground. Some more literally than others.

The weakness of the show is probably going to be its attempts to keep all objectionable plot devices explainable. Such as the energy shield. It makes for a more concise and self-contained story, and keeps the deus ex machina moments to a minimum, but might also end up making the show less of a roller coaster ride, since we'll have a week between episodes to mull over how the kids are going to solve the next plot device. Introducing magical princess magic into the series might work, or it might be the narrative crutch to keep the audience guessing but also feeling a wee little bit cheated whenever a sub-plot is wrapped up.
posted by ardgedee at 2:30 PM on July 25, 2014

I read an Urobuchi Gen interviw on the series, and he sees it as a story of how war changes two boys. He and the people he'd worked with on Fate/Zero were interested on doing a mecha series, where they would get to include what they'd liked in previous mecha series. So I guess one way to view the series is as being built from cliches, but another perspective is to see it as a remix.

Some series influences I've seen mentioned on Korean anime boards:

Armored Trooper Votoms - the main character using mass produced mecha, instead of some super special model with super special powers only the main character can use.

Nadesico - similarities between the Earth-Jupiter war in Nadesico and the Earth-Mars war in Aldnoah.Zero, including appropriation of alien technology.

Gundam, in particular Turn A Gundam - parallels between the Moonrace and the Vers, and the Moonrace queen and Asseylum.

Valvrave the Liberator - Inaho and Slaine appear to parallel the two main characters of Valvrave, L-elf and Haruto. One thing to note is that in Valvrave L-elf changes sides from being the enemy to being an ally of Haruto.

Personally I see Aldnoah.Zero so far as Valvrave done right. Valvrave was at times interesting but often a frustrating series to watch. In particular the female characters were very poorly written, which contrasted with the way the male characters, not just L-elf and Haruto, were presented. Aldnoah is managing to avoid head-scratching / WTF aspects of Valvrave while treading some common territory. It will be interesting to see how Aldnoah navigates its way though genre tropes in subsequent episodes.
posted by needled at 3:25 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay, this was much better than the first two episodes and I can see why they were the way they were to build up to this one. I like the way the inevitable "student kids learn to defeat the invincible alien menace the army is powerless to stop" plot was handled here. It was clever, it made sense, it wasn't just a question of pluck or protagonist power. Hopefully the rest of the series won't forget the solution they came up with fighting the next threats.

The magical princess scene I didn't read as magical, more as advanced hologram technology.

So far it's been moving along quickly enough and I hope the series keeps it up so that things like the survival of the princess are resolved rather than remain in limbo. As needled said, this is pretty much built out of cliches, but they're used cleverly in this episode.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:42 AM on July 26, 2014

I wonder how far the conspiracy goes. Are all the Knights in on it, but not the grunts?

As far as I can tell the conspiracy is just that Germanic named knight from the first episode and the "rat catcher" that bought it this episode. Not sure anybody else was in on it other than happy to use it as a pretext.

Count Teutonic mcBlonde looks to be set up as the leader of the noble faction of the martians.

Like they overthink the setup but underthink the implications, maybe.

Yeah, that struck me here; technology seems to be similar to our 2014 on Earth, but with not very advanced mecha while the Martians are centuries ahead. So why did they stop their invasion fifteen years ago when it's heavily implied the same was true then?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:48 AM on July 26, 2014

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