Version 5.4 ~ Haruhi gave rock and roll to you.

4 September 2014: In re Aldnoah.Zero episode nine spoilers

I still don't know where this is. I hope it's not her bathroom.

I don't often indulge in text-heavy blog entries, but the events from the most recent episode of Aldnoah.Zero provide an opportune moment to deviate from my normal fare. I have a short window in which to speculate and ruminate before the next episode drops on Sunday. Obviously, this entire entry is emphatically spoiler-heavy for events leading up to and including episode nine. Moreover, the spoilers in questions are substantial enough that anyone who doesn't already know what happens and retains even a modest interest in watching Aldnoah.Zero should avoid reading this post altogether.

Rayet impulsively strangles Princess Asseylum at the conclusion of episode nine, apparently killing her. Princess Asseylum had already survived an assassination attempt in episode one; it was sheer chance she happened to be ill, leaving an anonymous (and unmourned) body double to take her place in the motorcade. Rayet is the daughter of one of the conspirators behind the assassination attempt and narrowly escaped death herself when the flunky assassination team was itself eliminated by a co-conspirator covering up the plot. In the subsequent episodes, Rayet has secretly struggled with obvious discomfort at Asseylum's proximity, finally snapping after a training scenario triggers her trauma. Rayet murders the princess when Asseylum chances to use a shower a few stalls away catching her entirely off guard and choking her to death with the (surprisingly strong) chain from the good luck charm Slaine had presented Asseylum before their separation in episode one. (This is precisely why necklaces and pendant chains are easily breakable, y'know.) Well, it appears Rayet kills Asseylum, but is she really dead? Schrödinger's princess has two states until I watch the next episode (or get carelessly spoiled by The Twitter) on Sunday. I think it's much more likely that Asseylum lives, but, at least from a narrative standpoint, I think Aldnoah.Zero will be much better off if she dies.

The viewer is clearly meant to dread that Asseylum may be dead. Rayet gets the chain around Asseylum's neck cleanly and pulls with all her might until Asseylum goes disquietingly limp, crashing heavily onto the shower floor face-first when Rayet releases her. Immediately afterward, the Deucalion loses power and falls out of the sky. (I guess it does work like Bluetooth.) Presumably this is supposed to be a clear sign that Asseylum is dead and not just unconscious, because otherwise they would have to power down the ship every time she went to sleep. On the other hand, Asseylum's useless handmaiden and the stoical (but reportedly internally thrilled) Inaho are both nearby. Rayet herself is catatonic, slumping over as the ship crashed (pulling the shower curtain off its rings as she falls so it can conveniently shield Asseylum's and her own nakedness when they are inevitably discovered). She's shocked at what she's done and mentally exhausted by her emotionally taxing ordeal.

Between the two of them, Inaho and Eddelrittuo should immediately realize the plummeting ship means Asseylum is dead (or at least mostly dead in a Dread Pirate Roberts sort of way). Since Eddelrittuo knows where Asseylum is, and Inaho hasn't spazzed out in a crisis yet, the two of them ought to be able to revive the princess so she can cheat death yet again. Naturally, Inaho will employ mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing to resuscitate Asseylum, since it's reasonable to believe he's received CPR training during combat care classes at mecha high school. Failing that, I would also expect a handmaiden to receive at least some first aid instruction before she being assigned to serve royalty, but we all know Eddelrittuo's useless. Let's ignore for now the likelihood Asseylum would end up with a broken sternum to go along with a crushed trachea, even in a best-case scenario. Seeing as how she was strong enough to suck water out of Slaine's lungs as a preteen, I'm sure she'll shake off Rayet's murder attempt with astounding speed. By the back half of episode 10, Assey will probably be in better shape than that poor dress Nina has been stretching out. That's my prediction for episode 10, anyway. (This is assuming Aldnoah.Zero doesn't drag out the cliffhanger by cutting away from the Deucalion and devoting all its scenes to crazy Martian antics and the all new adventures of Slaine's shitty life. Wouldn't that be a bitch?)

I think most viewers will agree that Asseylum's death is a red herring, and that it is extremely likely Inaho will save her in some fashion similar to what I've proposed above. From a conventional storytelling standpoint, it would be too great an opportunity to pass up. Inaho the imperturbable stoic will suddenly show some emotion and save the life of the princess in a fashion that echos the way she saved Slaine's life four years ago. When he encounters Inaho again and discovers how close the incident has made him and Asseylum, Slaine will burn with envy (and he's probably still angry at being shot down). Nevertheless, Slaine will be conflicted, grateful that Inaho saved Assey's life. What struggles await them all! I call it a great opportunity, but only in the sort of narrative where everything turns out okay and good triumphs over evil and justice prevails.

Despite my affection for Asseylum and my personal hope that she'll be okay ("What the fuck, man? We haven't even started the second cour, and what about all that shit in the OP and ED?"), it really would be better for the show if she's dead after all. Let's be clear. It's a lousy way to die. Asseylum, who has done nothing but Good all season long, is nearly killed by her own citizens to create a pretext for war. Then she's murdered by a psycho chick who doesn't even have any personal grievances against her—one who targeted Asseylum purely because of what she represents. Rayet surprises and kills her with the gift Slaine specifically gave to Asseylum for her protection. It's a death that's slow enough for surprise to change to fear before being engulfed by panic—slow enough for Asseylum to grasp what is happening and and for her mind to race through lingering regrets. But at the same time it's too quick to prevent and fast enough for Asseylum (and the viewer) to realize there will be no last-second rescue. (Disregarding mostly dead handwaves.) And now what? The struggling Earth forces suddenly lose their only means of powering their newly acquired battleship, and all of Slaine's heroic efforts for his beloved princess go for naught. He'll have to spend the rest of the show emptying out his refrigerator. (Hopefully there won't be some bullshit about Rayet also having Aldnoah powers.)

Like I said, it's a lousy way to die. But that's what death is like. It's rare enough for anime characters to die, but even more so for them to go in a way that isn't "heroic" or poignantly tragic, or perfectly timed to advance the growth of the other characters. (C.f. tearful farewells as tragic characters magically evaporate in a cloud of green sparkles.) I'll appreciate Aldnoah.Zero a lot more if it uses Asseylum's sudden death to disrupt preconceptions about how a story is "supposed" to advance. After all, I might personally strive to live to be 108, but that eighth heart attack could strike me when I least expect it. Or some Echo Boomer checking her Instagrams will drive her mother's massive (but ecologically friendly!) hybrid SUV into me on the 110 North the same week I decide to buy myself a Lotus Elise. My point is people die suddenly all the time for stupid reasons that aren't at all fair—particularly people who die when they are killed.

Will Aldnoah.Zero have the audacity to kill off a promising character so ignobly after manipulating its viewers to like her? It's no coincidence that Assey has been unwaveringly good-hearted and selfless all season, and doubly so that she was demonstrably strong when she needed to be yet so vulnerable during her final moments. I don't want Asseylum to be dead because I've been encouraged to care about what happens to her. Inaho's poor friend, What's-His-Name? Various pompous and/or cruel Martian aristocrats? John Humeray? Rayet's rat-bastard friends and family? Not so much. I guess I'll find out on Sunday. Thus far, Aldnoah.Zero has a basically unheard-of nine-week streak of exceptional episodes. I'd hate for it to falter for something as untoward as a character-death fake-out. Then again, I have to admit the show's great strengths derive more from its execution even as it recycles some familiar tropes and ideas. Perhaps I should have more faith that a living princess won't kill the show's considerable momentum.

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