PSYCHO-PASS creator Gen Urobuchi’s superb hard SF mecha show Aldnoah.Zero seemed to reach a final and tragic finale at the end of its first season. That tale, of renewed hostilities between the Mars-based VERS Empire (former human colonists living in a feudal society based around control of alien tech) and the United Forces of Earth, took place in an alternative timeline where earlier conflict led to the fracturing of the Moon and the warping of the Earth’s crust. It followed characters in both Earth’s resistance and the VERS Clans of Orbital Knights through a false flag assassination, invasion, defence and what seemed to be a last-ditch attempt by Earth forces to inflict maximum damage on the VERS. All the surviving players in the drama found themselves pushed to the limits of their abilities and ideals, and it seemed like most died for them, too.
However, as with many an actual conflict in human history, what might seem to be a lynchpin operation, a final throw of the dice, turns out to be just one more battle in a more protracted campaign. This second season picks up eighteen months on, with the surviving players in various states of recovery from their injuries, or in the case of some, missing. The conflict has continued, with the VERS Princess Asseylum egging on the Knights via regular propaganda broadcasts, supported by VER-loyal Terran Slaine Troyard, now knighted by Count Saazbaum following the sparing of the latter by the former. The crew of the Deucalion, meanwhile, remains highly effective in action but is treated with suspicion at best and outright hostility at worst by UFE HQ, given the ship’s Aldnoah drive and its association with the Princess. Then Inoh returns to the fray, newly augmented with an ocular analytical engine that enhances his near-autistic ability to absorb data and act on it in combat, and the revelation of what really happened to the Princess reveals the larger stakes Troyard and Saazbaum are playing for.
Returning creatives director Ei Aoki (Fate/Zero), writer Katsuhiko Takayama (Baka and Test), designer/animation director Masako Matsumoto (Silver Spoon) and musician Hiroyuki Sawano (Kill La Kill) all bring their A-game, but also elevate the show to new heights. The political scheming on the VERS side is here matched by the decisions taken by the UFE, with the Captain and crew of the Deucalion having to weigh their duty against their distaste for the manipulation and sometimes outright insult they face. Battles are truly spectacular, with the previous Earth-based ones here augmented with some stunning fights between Kataphrakts (mechs) in the orbital debris belt. The Deucalion itself is easily one of the great anime spaceships, more than a little reminiscent (up until its final refit) of Captain Harlock’s beloved Arcadia, and is often shot like it.
It is the characters, however, who engage our interest beyond the tech and combat, and they not only continue to be true to themselves, they all develop emotionally from the traumatic events of the previous season while still having the capacity to surprise. The same themes resonate through this season, the same subtexts are explored further, yet despite the sense of further tragedy impending it becomes shot through with more hope than before. In short, Aldnoah.Zero Season 2 is a fantastic sequel, making the whole series one of the best hard SF anime of recent years, and leaves one hankering for more stories from this universe.
Aldnoah.Zero, the second season, is released in the UK by Anime Limited.