The exposition in Aldnoah.Zero is awfully wonky and forced. Early on when our Earthling protoganist Inaho enters the bus to school, his schoolmates are reading some online article explaining the origins of the Martian empire; who found some ancient civilization’s technology, and eventually used it to become their own state separate from Earth. Kind of weird that these kids would be looking that up when I would assume it’d be common knowledge. But then after that their bus leaves the city and they gaze upon a wasteland left by the war fifteen years ago. “I guess even in Shingawa, once you leave the city proper, things are still being rebuilt.” says one of Inaho’s classmates as they all look at the ruins in sadness…even though this obviously isn’t the first time they’ve driven a bus to school on this route, so why this kid is pointing this out is beyond me.
Later when Yuki, Inaho’s older sister who works as a drill sergeant for the highschool, enters a control room near the training grounds. A radio is playing explaining what went down with the war fifteen years ago, giving a basic description of what it is, even though that was only fifteen years ago and must be common knowledge for people.
But the scene which really screamed “forced exposition!” was when the Martian princess Vers asks her little servant friend why it is that they must treat the lower class of humans like Slaine so poorly; to which her servant friend gives a long and detailed explanation about how the Martians became “a new race distinct from the old humanity we left on Earth,” and whom “embody the power of the gods.” But Ver’s question was obviously rhetorical, yet this kid feels the need to inform the princess something that she would obviously know. But maybe this little kid is just dumb. All these examples of forced exposition could technically be explained; maybe the highschoolers were just looking up details on the Martian Empire’s story, maybe the loli servant is just dumb, maybe all these characters have short term memories. But still, the point I’m making is that it just feels forced, and not natural.
Granted, there were also a few moments of exposition that were more tactfully handled. For example the opening scene in which Vers and Slaine talk about the blue sky and water of the Earth was a nice and even captivating way to show that they’re from somewhere else and not Earthlings. And then they do a nice job of clearly establishing just what a huge disadvantage Earth is compared to the Martian Empire, from the way that Kouchirou talks about what he witnessed back in the war, to the way in which the visuals are presented to us.
The training grounds for the school is just some old, withering concrete building at the edge of a field, apparently at the ruins of where another building once stood. The inside of the control rooms which Kouchirou and Yuki talk is rusting and rundown within. And it’s the same elsewhere too. In the scene where Vers is being driven towards the peace conference, we see multiple buildings in construction, all the concrete buildings are terrible chipped, and the painted lines on the road are fading away. It also happens to be autumn, with trees losing their leaves and clouds hovering overhead everywhere just to make the atmosphere even more dreary. And since this is where Vers is being driven through, we can assume that this is the nice part of town.
In contrast, each scene with see of within the Martian airships is full of slick, clean and shiny metal, with plenty of futuristic technology. Just from the visuals, it’s evident that Earth is decaying, while the Martian Empire is much more advanced technologically.
What really hits the point home though is the ending of the episode, in which all 37 of the Martian Empire’s distinct military forces, led by 37 “knights,” comes crashing down onto Earth all at once. One cocky lad at the military briefing cracks about how these Martians are just attacking mindless like a bunch of buffoons, completely uncoordinated with their attacks. But then Kouichirou walks in he kindly spells it out for us: “They’re each trying to land first in a race to be kind of the hill…They were never concerned about counterattacks from the surface.” The Martians are just so much more advanced that they don’t need to coordinate in a way that takes into account possible opposition. And then just to really add credence to that, the episode finally concludes with a ship landing on a city, and causing a giant, devastating explosion on its impact.
So far there’s a total of two characters here that I find genuinely interesting. One of them being Kouichirou, the cynical veteran traumatized by the devastation caused by the war fifteen years prior. Having been one of the few people to see firsthand just how impossibly strong Martian technology is and live to tell about it, he knows better than most others just how hopeless the situation is, and it really shows. Each scene he’s scene drinking his worries away, even when in the middle of training some highschool soldiers or attending the briefing at the brink of the Martian attack; being intoxicated is the only way he can cope with the knowledge he has.
Then there’s Slaine, apparently part of a lower class of Martians who haven’t been infused with “the power of Gods,” i.e. a normal human. It’s interesting seeing him interacting with Princess Ver and responding to her kindness to him. He wants to be friends with her too, but he’s clearly uncomfortable about her kindness at the same time, knowing that getting chummy with her is enough reason for the higher-ups to beat him up.
In comparison, Inaho is awfully bland without much of a personality. We’re introduced to him by him making food and teasing his older sister in a deadpan manner. He’s awfully stoic around his friends, and never makes an expression throughout the episode. Even when he notices a missile heading towards Princess Ver’s vehicle, he just stares at it for a few seconds, and then calmly in the same deadpan manner tells his friends that they need to leave, almost as if he’s just telling a joke.
It’s also not really the same as Smile from last season’s Ping Pong, another character who was initially thoroughly stoic and deadpan. With the first episode of Ping Pong we still got to see Smile hang out and interact with Peco and the other characters, and we got a clear sense of what his relationship was with the cast, with plenty of hints at what his character was like beneath the mask. With Inaho though, we don’t even really see him interact with these friends of his much; he just sits quietly on the bus, and later browses sales on his phone as his friends watch Ver drive towards them. His character just doesn’t send off any impression. Perhaps that’s the point, and I’m sure we’ll see more of his character in later episodes. But hey, I still managed to get an impression of Slaine with just a few scenes, so the blandness of Inaho still leaves me unimpressed.
The Martian Empire seems almost cartoonish with how villainous, if only because they obviously assassinated their own princess to give them an excuse to go off to war. One of the Knights Saazbaum explains to another, Cruhteo: “If something were to happen to Her Highness, the 37 clans herr in orbit would not take it sitting down. Even the Terrans must know this…Or perhaps if their intent all along was to provoke a fight, that would be a blessing for us in its own right.” Then just after that we see a couple men driving towards the peace conference, and one of them says “All these years of lying low is about to pay off.” These two men turn out to be the ones who assassinate Vers. Pretty obvious that the Martian Empire conducted the whole thing.
Now, I get why a technologically advanced race of super humans might want to conquer a planet like Earth just for the sake of it. I mean hey, that’s a pretty bad thing to do just for the sake of conquering, but plenty of empires throughout history have done the same. The issue is that right now the conflict is being portrayed in a very black and white manner, with the Martians being completely black aside from Ver and Slaine. So I wouldn’t exactly call it unrealistic, but at the moment it’s not all that thought-provoking either. But we’ll see what Aldnoah.Zero does with it.
Overall, the first episode of Aldnoah.Zero is held back by forced exposition, and most of the characters so far don’t leave much of an impression on me, but I am quite intrigued by the general setting and set-up here. I’m looking forward to seeing what direction this show goes in.
Lastly, I’d like to mention that this is known as Gen “The Buther” Urobuchi’s latest work, though he’s just creditted as the Creator while the actual script writing was done by Katsuhiko Takuyama. So I just wonder how much creative influence Urobuchi really had on the project, since for all I know “creator” could mean he sat down with Takayama throughout the entire writing process, or he just wrote the basic plot outline and left the rest to Takayama and Aoki. Not that it matters too much, but like I said, I’m curious because this is being discussed as another Gen the Butcher show.