Hello and welcome to the first ever official anime review; yeah, the name sucks. If you have any ideas, put them in the comments.
Anyway, the first show on the chopping block is Aldnoah:Zero. Now, like most people, I was interested in the show because of it's "writer" Gen Urobuchi who is famous for Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Psycho-Pass which happen to be two of my favorite shows. But, well, I'll explain the parenthesis later. With all that out of the way, lets head into the review
Our story starts in an alternate 1972; humanity found a hypergate on the moon and sent people through it to Mars. They found the remnants of an ancient civilization known as Aldnoah and, in particular, its power source which enabled the people to create a new civilization: The Vers Empire. Vers, however, had resentment with humanity due to the abundance of water and air and went to war in 1999. However, during the war, the Hypergate exploded which shattered the moon; this caused massive tidal shifts, impacts and stranded the Vers attacking force in an event called Heaven's Fall. The war ended as a result and the Vers started making orbiting stations. 15 years later, in 2014, a peace mission by the Vers princess, Asseylum Vers Allusia, is attacked and the Vers attack earth to conquer it.
Now, I had writer in parenthesis and that's because Gen only actually wrote the first three episodes and the series outline while the rest was handled by Katsuhiko Takayama who is infamously known for Boku no Pico and has also written Mirai Nikki and Baka no Test to Shoukanjuu. The shift in writing is very clear as in the first three episodes, it was well paced and tense with the action working well with the characterization and the charcters themselves were able to convey a lot of emotion through their subtle actions and dialogue. After episode 3 however, the entire thing ground to a halt with more focus on superfluous character interaction and the action became more ensemble based and not as impactful as the first fight. In addition, this leads into the 12th and last episode of the series which I have commented on here but I will sum it up to prevent spoiling anything: it's horrible and destroys the entire premise. The whole thematic impact of the show withers away because of the ending.
Now on to the main cast:
First is Asseylum Vers Allusia, who spoilers (though the opening and advertisement do it for me), actually was not killed in the attack due to being ill from the differences in gravity between the stations and Earth and had sent a body double. She is basically Lacus Clyne but not as good. She is very peaceful and friendly even to Earthlings or "Terrans" as they are called, is curious about Earth and wants the war to end. I see no real issue with her but she's not that developed. Yes, she can activate the Aldnoah power source (the activation sequence is passed genetically down or can be granted to people) and is a target but we don't see much more than her peaceful attitude. At least with Lacus, we had more time to establish her personality, we saw her political pull and we saw much clearer indication of the relationship between her and Kira. We really don't see much here or her interaction with Inaho who I will talk about next
Next is Inaho Kaizuka, sister of a drill sergeant and one of our two main male heroes. He has a cold stoic façade and is the only one able to come up with plans to take down Vers mechs. I reaaaaly hate this character because of his stoicism. We, the audience, were not shown any reason a person would become like Inaho who is so very detached from the war and the horrors of it that it goes into disturbing. In addition, he seems to be almost perfect: able to defeat highly advanced Vers mechs in just a trainer, able to come up with plans to counter said mechs while the actual captains and lieutenants are unable to do anything, basically more capable than any other solider in the army. In a scene that is the epitome of stupid, He knows CPR but the trained solders just stand back and let him do it. It also seems the least like a Urobuchi character since he seems too perfect and unscarred by the events: most stoic characters that Gen writes are either anti-heroes who ignore emotion to their detriment or are villains that can be agreed to some extent.
There is also Slaine Troyard, a Terran who had crashed on Vers, was rescued by Asseylum and now serves under her. He is treated poorly by his Vers superiors but remains loyal to the end. In addition, he is the first one on the Vers side to know of the conspiracy against the princess and tries to inform people. He is the better of the male leads by a landslide since thematically; he is the outsider trying to prove himself while sticking true to his ideal of loyalty. He is the one who actually goes through hardships and trails but the last episode ultimately undoes all of his development.
The other characters sadly feel a bit peripheral. They serve basic thematic reasons: the traumatized war veteran, the civilian which the Vers Empire subjugates and puts down, the royal disillusioned with the ruling family and so on. They feel under developed and generally feel underused.
This and the sound are actually the high points of the show. The mechs are all well drawn and animated with earth mechs being drawn in more geometric forms while the Vers mechs have a very smooth look at times or can look very exotic and threatening. Colors are fairly bright but there is also a range of colors from bright reds and purples to chromes and dark colors. It is not overly stylish like Kill la Kill and is not as good as say Unicorn Gundam but performs its job very well. The animation is very smooth with no major hiccups and it all moves as expected of design of the mechs.
Sound and Music
Sound is also top notch with the opening and ending sung by Kalafina of Kara no Kyokai fame. The BGM is composed by Hiroyuki Sawano who did the music for Kill la Kill and Attack on Titan. The big invasion has a nice operatic sound to it and the fights have a nice tone to it. The SFX is also well toned to each scene and fits well.
While the fights and sound are top notch for the medium, the writing ultimately brings it down to the pits of hell. The promising characters are sidelined and underutilized or completely undone, the characters we follow are either framed in very idiotic ways or really don't get development. After the first three episodes, the whole thing drops off a cliff and never recovers with its writing becoming more trite and simple.
Fans will declare this to be a "Gundam Killer" but the show fails in matching the thematic strength of Gundam and ultimately shoots itself in the foot in the last episode
I will watch the continuation just because I've been too invested in the show but if you want to come in new, avoid at all costs.
For those still interested, Aldnoah: Zero can be found on Crunchyroll.
P.S. this is the first in what i hope is a series of reviews, any advice on format and language would be appreciated. Also, please suggest names for the series, the current on is a placeholder.