Based on the recent anime from A-1 Pictures, Aldnoah.Zero’s (Arudonoa Zero) manga adaptation features the work of newcomer mangaka Pinakes. The series was originally serialized in Houbunsha’s Manga Time Kirara Forward, a monthly seinen publication that’s also new to the manga stage. Sheldon Drzka, known for his work on the Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) manga and Fairy Tale anime, provides the English translation for Yen Press’s adaptation.
The year is 2014 on the eve of Martian Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia’s goodwill visit to Earth. Five years ago, Mars and Earth were at war in a conflict that that destroyed the moon and its hypergate that had made Martian colonization possible. As a result, all high school students on Earth are trained in combat operations with giant mecha called kataphrakt in case Mars’s Vers empire ever stages another invasion. Kaizuka Inaho, your standard high school everyman, simply wants to watch the reception parade for Princess Asseylum when suddenly disaster strikes. The Princess’s limousine is hit by missiles from a mysterious attacker and the princess herself is killed. Instantly, the Vers army declares war on Earth, launching an invasion from their strongholds orbiting Earth in the debris belt left by the moon’s destruction. With the specter of all-out war and the mystery of the princess’s assassination plot looming over them all, Inaho and his companions find themselves caught in a fight for their lives against the superior might of the seemingly-invincible Martian kataphrakts.
It’s not very common to see a manga adaptation of a popular anime instead of the other way around. Unfortunately, the Aldnoah.Zero manga doesn’t make a strong argument for this reversal. While Drzka’s translation is adept and subtle in showcasing the nuanced differences between the characters in their dialogue and the story from Olympus Knights shows just enough enticing promise for political intrigue and subterfuge, it’s Pinakes who fails to capitalize on the art in the volume.
Pinakes’ focus in character expression and paneling seems to be solely devoted to making each character look as much like they’re drawn from the anime’s design sheets as possible. Perhaps the most evident example of this is the serious case of same-face throughout the volume. Aside from the adults–who look young enough to be teenagers–the characters’ haircuts and clothes seem to be they only distinct features they have.
Furthering the problem with Pinakes’s art is the fact that each character’s gestures and expressions fall flat on the page. Nearly every panel seems to be a talking head in either a straight on or three-quarter view, with no real shift in perspective. One of the more climactic scenes in the volume where Inaho fails to save his classmate Okojo from the invading Martian army completely loses its emotional impact when the only reactions we see are Inaho’s eyes widening slightly and one of his friends punching a wall with the sort of look and posture you’d expect from failing a test or something trivial. The scene itself also lacks any sense of dynamism or movement in its paneling. It’s simply two panels in sequence from the same angle. One panel, Okojo’s there. The next one, he’s gone. For a mecha story about a heated war between Earth and Mars, the lack of good fight sequences in the manga is a definite failure.
Though there are some series such as the Evangelion where an artist has taken a beloved title and reimagined it in a way that does the story justice in graphic novel format, for Aldnoah.Zero, you’re probably better off watching the anime.