Rule of Three Review: Aldnoah.Zero – Episodes 2-3

Saying that Argevollen and Aldnoah.Zero are both mecha anime is a little like saying Anheuser-Busch and Ommegang are both breweries. I mean, you’re not wrong, but…

Hot damn, but I like this show a lot. I gave it my first “gold nugget alert” during Premiere Week, and while my opinion of the series has adjusted slightly, that high score definitely has not.

So let’s talk a little about exactly Why Aldoah.Zero Works For Me:

Grabs You By The Throat
While the series hasn’t quite achieved the levels of intrigue and moral ambiguity that you’d expect from a show with Urobuchi Gen’s hands on it (more on that later), it’s continued to be thoroughly entertaining, from the opening credits all the way to Dat Final Scene Tho in the third episode (remember to always sit through the end credits, kids!).

Excellently paced with an equal focus on well-animated action and clever strategy, this show is smart, tense, and – perhaps most importantly – damned confident. It’s a lot easier to believe in a show when it believes in itself, and so far A.Z feels like it knows exactly where it wants to go and how best to get there. I get the feeling I’m in the hands of capable storytellers here.

Characters I Can Care About
I know this is purely subjective, but I just flat-out like the people in this show. It’s got a large cast, but (unlike its mecha brethren Argevollen) each character has already established themselves as distinct without being an archetype. With the exception of the recent villain – a 2-D psychopath if ever there was one –  the rest of the characters feel like fully-realized people to me, and the story is driven as much by their personal motivations as it is by the plot.

Even our MC Inaho finally clicked for me, and I was really worried that he wouldn’t. He doesn’t emote much, but this week he showed us there’s a beating heart beneath his poker face. I also like that he’s not really your stereotypical “stoic” type – he’s not withdrawn so much as controlled, calm but not unapproachable. Is he a little too smart for believability? Maybe, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief here given his upbringing at a military academy (and with a sister soldier, too). He’s not my favorite character, certainly, but as long as we’re allowed to keep seeing some cracks in his armor, then I think we’ll get along just fine.

Glimmers of Potential Brilliance
Right now I would describe A.Z as “great” but not “excellent,” because while it’s very well executed it isn’t really doing anything new in terms of ideas and themes. The bad guys have been bad, the good guys good, and we know who to cheer for and why. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I feel like A.Z has the potential to be more complicated than it currently is. 

Fortunately I also think we’re seeing signs that the show is moving into an Act Two that will be a good deal more complex than what’s come before it. We’re shuffling the “guys in black” off the playing field and replacing them with some gray suits (Slaine, Count Cruhteo), and recent revelations about certain royals are sure to shake up characters and storylines alike.

If the show can execute its Bigger Ideas with as much intelligence and confidence as it has so far, A.Z could very well reach that next level of excellence. Even if it doesn’t, just maintaining this kind of blockbuster entertainment would make it a worthy addition to any summer watchlist. Either way, I’ll be here to see who’s left standing when the smoke clears and the battle’s one. I strongly recommend you do the same.

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