Aldnoah.Zero Is A Dark Twist On Gundam

Aldnoah.Zero is a Dark Twist on Gundam

Each season, there are guaranteed to be a few mecha anime — usually following a young male protagonist who ends up as the pilot of a super powerful giant robot and becomes the good guys' only hope for victory. Aldnoah.Zero takes this common formula and turns it on its head.

Good — A War Never Ended

Aldnoah.Zero is a Dark Twist on Gundam

Aldnoah.Zero is set in a reality similar to our own but with one major twist: The Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972 found an alien hypergate connecting the Moon and Mars. In the years afterward, Mars was colonized — eventually leading to war between the worlds. Because of alien relics found on Mars — specifically the physics-bending Aldnoah drive engine — the Martians were able to attack with technology far beyond that of the Terrans. However, the war ended suddenly with the destruction of the hypergate itself — leaving thousands of Martians stranded on their spaceships in Earth orbit and under orders not to attack.

The story proper begins 15 years later when, much like the assassination of Duke Ferdinand started World War I, the assassination of the Martian princess while on a diplomatic mission to earth re-ignites the war, killing millions in the initial attack.

Of course, the trick is that it is not the Terrans who are responsible for the assassination, but rather rogue elements of Mars who, after essentially idling in orbit for 15 years, have finally had enough. Forced to stop the attack on the edge of victory and then forced to live in pseudo-exile from Mars with Earth just sitting there in reach finally proves too much for them. And while their actions are horrible, the anime does a great job of showing their point of view in — if not a sympathetic, then at least a reluctantly understanding — light.

Good — Two Sides to the War

Aldnoah.Zero is a Dark Twist on Gundam

Aldnoah is structured largely as two plot threads mirroring each other. On one hand, we have Slaine, a boy from Earth who crash landed with his father on Mars, only to become a pseudo-slave to one of the Martian counts. However, as this situation ended up allowing him to befriend the Princess of Mars, he doesn't hate his role in life; rather he has become fiercely loyal to the Princess and Mars despite the horrible treatment his outsider status causes. It is through his eyes we see the Martian side of the war and the conflicting elements of its own political landscape.

The mirror to this is the Princess' story. Not as dead as those behind the conspiracy to kill her believe, she is forced to hide incognito among the refugees fleeing Tokyo. Thus, she is learning about Terran society much as Slaine was forced to learn about Martian society. And like Slaine, the Princess also becomes fiercely loyal to her new companions, going so far as to reveal her true identity if they are in any danger she feels able to combat.

Between Slaine and the Princess, we are able to see both sides of the war on a personal level. We meet the major players on both sides and see that, despite their chosen motives and intentions, no one is simply "evil." Everyone believes their own cause is just.

Good — Gundam Where Only the Villains Have Gundams

Aldnoah.Zero is a Dark Twist on Gundam

Interestingly, however, the main protagonist of Aldnoah is neither Slaine nor the Princess. Rather it is Inaho, a student in the government-mandated school mecha piloting program. Much like Mars, Earth has humanoid mecha; however, they are far inferior to the Martian mecha in every possible way. Put in context an anime fan would understand, the Martians have Gundams while the Terrans have the mobile suits that the Gundams can easily dispatch by the hundreds.

More than that though, to protect his small group of friends and refugees, it falls to Inaho to dispatch these powerful mobile suits despite their seeming invincibility — and with a mecha that is laughably weak even by earth mecha standards.

This is where a lot of the fun of Aldnoah comes from. Inaho is a smart main character. Faced with the crisis of these Gundam-like mecha, he logically gathers information and then makes a plan to defeat them. More than anything, he takes advantage of the one weakness that all the Gundams share: the arrogance of their pilots. The Martians simply expect to be invincible and unstoppable. So when faced with a real fight, their lack of skill as pilots always comes to the forefront. And in their panic, Inaho's calm, collected, and logical mind wins every time.

Good — The Willingness to Break All the Rules

Aldnoah.Zero is a Dark Twist on Gundam

[Skip to the next section to avoid spoilers.] Aldnoah is a show willing to break many of the "rules" of fiction — especially when it comes to the end. While it has happened before in a handful of anime in the past, this is an anime that most definitely does not have a happy ending. Yes, the final battle is won — though with catastrophic losses — but the war is far from over. More than that, of the three main characters, Slaine, Inaho, and the Princess, two are shot in the head — with the third being the shooter of one of the other two. This is even more shocking when you realise that 12 more episodes of this anime are on the way this January and there is effectively no lead character anymore. This is something almost never done in popular fiction and it opens up the story in numerous ways. Simply put, it's an ending that — even if you're enraged by the character deaths — you'll be back to see what happens next.

Mixed — Dark and Disturbing

Aldnoah.Zero is a Dark Twist on Gundam

Like Madoka Magica, Psycho Pass, Fate/Zero, and Song of Saya, Aldnoah.Zero is a story created by Gen Urobuchi — a writer who is well known for disturbing twists and dark deconstructions of various anime genres. Thus it is no surprise this series comes complete with graphic violence and characters pushed to their breaking points psychologically. In other words, you'll see death, mass murder, executions, strangulation, PTSD attacks, and other mental breakdowns. All work well in the series, excellently serving the plot and characters. But if you're looking for an upbeat anime, this is not the one for you.

Final Thoughts

Aldnoah.Zero is a Dark Twist on Gundam

Aldnoah.Zero is a mecha anime for people who long for a twist on the typical mecha anime tropes. It is an interesting alternate universe war story with characters that serve to flesh out both sides of the conflict in very human ways. If you like smart characters, a well thought-out world, and a story that's not afraid to break some of popular fiction's most common rules, this anime is for you. Just keep in mind, it's one heck of a dark story.

Aldnoah.Zero aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be viewed for free with English subtitles in the US at Crunchyroll, Daisuki, and Hulu.

For a second opinion on this series, check out the review over at TAY, our reader run blog.


    On the anime front - I am very close to the end of Psycho-Pass season 1. What a brilliant series. Really looking forward to the dubbed Season 2 starting in a couple of days.

    Parasyte is continuing to be horribly disturbing whilst very entertaining and World Trigger isn't too bad despite being a bit kid mode for my taste.

    None of them are the next Monster or Death Note but they are mighty entertaining in their own right. Nice jerb Japan. Nice jerb.

      Just got halfway through season one of Psycho-Pass, absolutely love it and I am so glad to hear this is written by the same writer.

      You just reminded me to watch Psycho Pass.

        I do what I can buddy. Its ace. There are a few 'wtf needless long trippy dialogue' moments but outside of that its outstanding.

      Psychopaths is one of those really rare really good ones. There's a special place in my heart for it alongside Requiem for the Phantom and Steins;Gate.

      A second one is news to me. If it's half as good as the first, it's still good watching.

    I don't understand.

    A hyper gate from the moon to Mars.
    Mars is colonised and finds alien relics.
    War between the two worlds breaks out.
    The gate is lost with an armada of Mars ships around earth.
    The sit there for fifteen years before getting pissy enough to reignite the war.

    It takes less than fifteen years to get from Earth Mars.

      Don't bother trying to understand. Very very little makes sense in that anime. Overall it's just crap. The more detail you dig up, the less sense it makes.

      The reason is basically because mars is actually pretty shit. Yeah they got advanced super technologies, but they don't have a decent atmosphere, oceans, plant-life or animals and they can barely support their growing population. The knights sat there for fifteen years because they never had any intention of going back to mars without some system set up to shift the luxuries of earth back home.

      The great failing of this anime is it's refusal to reveal some important details until way too late. Their intention with holding back these details was obviously to add some mystery to everything going on but it just ends up making the basis of the whole story look really damn stupid for 90% of the anime.
      Prime example is how the how a bunch of scientists and early earth colonists devolved into an empirical society with feudal knights in just a few decades. It just sounds stupid for almost the entire show, then you find out that the ancient alien technology basically gave exclusive admin rights to the scientist who became emperor and made it a genetically inherited trait. Suddenly it makes sense that this random scientist could just arbitrarily declare himself a monarch and start picking favorites to be his knights.

      Last edited 06/11/14 12:36 pm

        I wish I had a proper keyboard and computer access at the moment. If I did, I probably wouldn't be on kotaku. Probably would be playing games.


        They explain that or throw hints of it in the first 5 eps. That referring to their system. They have super awesome tech but can't create or manipulate environments, yet when they come to earth they bomb the living fuck out of it.

        You said it's 90% stupid. You'd be a crappy salesman. I would love to have you sell me things I'm after, as you speak honestly. You wouldnt sell much, but you would speak the truth. Hence people would be happier buying things they want.

        Im not saying anything bad here, other than the anime is crap. Nothing makes much sense. The characters too are just either completely plain or have like 1 thing about them that goes as deep as a layer paint on a wall.

        Story overall is lame too. All the reasons are crap and the whole thing is a mess of crap reasons. The physics of the world don't make sense either. It betrays it's own rules on a number of occasions just to try to sound or look cool, Only to become so difficult to just take seriously and follow it.

        How do you watch something you find 90% crap? I could not be able to do that.

    I cannot watch aldnoah zero anymore. I really really tried. It just delivers crap. I just can't. Evrything they try to explain falls flat and ends up sounding really stupid. The characters are crap. The story is dark, but it's crap because of everything else. It tried way too hard and just focuses on the wrong areas in my opinion.

      Have you got any good suggestions for mecha anime outside of gundam/macross/eva?

        I'm not much of a fan of mecha anime. Eva was good but you know that.

        Only other I really liked was code geass. And it wasnt the mechas that made the story interesting. Drawing style took a bit to get used to; though it didn't take long. First 4 eps were meh, but after that it's all tension and cliff hangers.

          Thanks! Seen that as well, always keen for Mecha that matches macross. If anything capture your eye be sure to give me a holler :)

        Watch Armored Trooper VOTOMS, it's a hard sci-fi real robot anime from the 80's. It's about a war that's gone on so long that nobody even remembers why they're fighting it, and stars a blue haired Steve Mcqueen who goes around kicking ass and breaking hearts.

        It's definitely aged but I've never seen an anime that does straight atmosphere better. It's also easily one of the most respected real robot shows that there is.

    Went on tvtropes to read about this show, *spoilers* Gur cevaprff znl abg or qrnq, nf gurer vf fcrphyngvba gung fur zvtug bs fheivirq qhr gb univat cbffvoyl fheivivat ure urnqfubg, juvpu jnf svyzrq ng na natyr. This coming from the infamous urobachi aka urobutcher who infamously gave us kyubey

    - Every episode in Aldnoah Zero -

    1. Show earthlings standing around, brooding over the war and how it affected them personally.
    2. Show pompous martians in space, talking in baritone Japanese.
    3. Show earthlings gathering resources to plan an escape.
    4. Cue earthling and martian racism.
    5. Show giant badguy mech incoming.
    6. Earth generals, "Fire everything we've got!" And everyone who isn't a main character will die.
    7. Main character shows up in his orange mech, finds a weakness immediately, exploits weakness, combat music turns cheery and celebratory.
    8. Earthlings escape.
    9. Blonde kid gets physically or verbally abused in some way.

    Regardless, I liked it, especially how they beat the first guy with the invisible shield, it felt witty.

    I didn't like how the main character was a souless highschool deathnote detective, instantly coming up with battlefield theories that every single hardened war general couldn't comprehend.

    I don't know how this is a dark twist on Gundam. Gundam was full of anime tropes, mechs, and death. This is the same, except MUCH shorter, which I quite enjoyed.

    I referred to it as the anti-Gundam in my review, which can be found here:

    I'm sorry, but just what part of this show is crap?
    You didn't provide any examples or references, thus your saying sounds very empty. It sounds more like a whine actually.

    This show, frankly, is only for those who likes sci-fi and have a patience for it.
    This show doesn't hold your hand, in fact it outright slaps your hand and ask you to use your head to figure it out whats happening
    DO NOT watch this show if you are here for Urobuchi
    DO NOT watch this show if you want shounen super powered mecha
    DO NOT watch this show if you don't know why the sky is blue

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