*Warning – Spoilers Below*
Zenko and I both agree here. Yes, we know it’s one of the most recent mecha anime, but it really stands out. Yes, even over Evangelion (it was close though). Before I go into Aldnoah Zero, I need to explain a little bit about mecha anime. I love the genre, even though I realize that most of it is highly, highly flawed. That said, there are two general approaches to mecha anime – the Original Gundam approach and the Gundam Wing approach. Each camp has a fairly strong fanbase. The approaches are radically different and result in two different kinds of anime.
Under the Original Gundam approach, the mechs are little more than tools of war – really cool tanks. They suffer from limitations and vulnerabilities. Yes, there are machine upgrades and more advanced models, but they are “better tanks,” rather than flashy weapons. The main focus is usually on larger political themes, while characters serve to give perspective and highlight everything going on around them. The overall tone is darker and more realistic… or as realistic as you can be with giant robots shooting each other.
The Gundam Wing approach is often described as “the rule of cool.” These series focus on the pilots and treat their machines almost as characters in themselves. The result is super-powered machines that can do really neat things, often while wading through hordes of “small fry.” Why does it have a scythe? Cuz it’s cool, and is descriptive of the character of the pilot and the machine.
Now to Aldnoah Zero. It is a worthy successor to the Original Gundam approach. The mechs are cool, but they’re not the star of the show. Even the Martian mechs, while powerful, suffer from weaknesses, including hubris. The mech fighting often involves some very clever tactics and strategies. What keeps you on the edge of your seat is not the heroes thinking “how spectacularly am I going to blow up the enemy mech?” It’s “how am I going to not die in this situation?” In that same line, the whole tone and mood of the world is very definitely that we are following the losing side.
Now, I have heard a good amount of complaints about the main character, and cast, being too flat. I think this avoids the bulk of the problems that plague the mecha genre. Most mecha characters detract from what’s going on by either mistaking mental problems for character depth (lookin’ at you Gundam 00) or the characters are too whiny and angst-ridden. The characters in Aldnoah Zero become really interesting when the spotlight is on them and their place in the world. One thing that we both greatly appreciated was that the “princess sweepstakes” trope didn’t apply here. Really, the character/ politics focus in the second season was what clinched this anime as our favorite mecha anime.
Some final thoughts – this anime includes both the artist group Kalafina and the composer Sawano Hiroyuki (man, we love that guy.) Also, how many anime start off like this?
“Let Justice Be Done, Through the Heaven’s Fall”
Zenko’s Honorable Mention
Robot Family – Tonari no Seki-kun.
This is their theme song. I’m serious.