Rationality versus Irrationality in Aldnoah.Zero

Source: tumblr
Source: tumblr











Aldnoah. Zero‘s a funny anime for me. Although I was only ever capable of taking the narrative half-seriously at best (as my dumb shipping posts should attest), I actually did find the themes interesting on paper. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I found how others reacted to these themes interesting. After watching A.Z and reading the reactions on Twitter, Reddit and MAL, two questions have remained on my mind ever since: firstly, what does it mean to be rational? And secondly, is rationality an ideal worth pursuing?

I have never formally studied philosophy, so what I write here is no doubt a very truncated understanding of the subject. My understanding of rationality is that it is based on logical reasoning and provable fact. A rational argument is cohesive and – perhaps most importantly – falsifiable. By that, I mean the rational argument can be proven wrong if further information came to be known. This is in opposition to the faith-based argument, which is not falsifiable by its own logic, for otherwise that would invalidate the existence of faith.

This all sounds very cut and dry – and what does it even have to do with Aldnoah.Zero? Well, as it turns out, rationality versus irrationality is the core conflict in the story. It’s highlighted very clearly by the traits of its two protagonists, who act as foils for one another. The audience’s response to these characters is shaped by their understanding of rationality. To me, it says a lot more about how people perceive rationality than what rationality actually is. And that’s the great thing about fiction – people will always respond to it differently.

inaho vs slaine

Just a picture like this (which I found on 4chan, by the way…) says volumes not just about how fans perceive the characters, but also about how they perceive themselves. I’m pretty sure the above picture was drawn by an Inaho fan, for instance.

The implication is that Inaho fans identify with Inaho’s rationality and that Slaine fans identify with Slaine’s, uh, irrationality (to put it mildly).

Of course, identifying with a character is a way more complicated affair than that. People do tend to identify with characters they perceive as similar to themselves, but the extent to which that is wishful thinking or projection is harder to make out. In the case of Inaho, I’m sure projection must play at least a significant role – even for anime standards, Inaho is a very unrealistic character.


This isn’t to say that people who are generally calm in highly stressful situations like Inaho don’t exist. Appropriant makes a great point that some people are just naturally like that, no tragic backstory necessary. But Inaho’s calmness is more than just a natural reaction – in the context of the story, it’s idealised, glorified behaviour. I’ll quote Lemur here:

His competence is such that he comes off as a 1-dimensional badass godlike hero who can solve everything via the power of planning magic and general protagonistness. His solutions aren’t particularly inventive, mostly because the writing behind the scenarios he must solve is very poorly constructed, and very little is done to obfuscate this.

Overall, Inaho’s character strikes me as a power fantasy. In the face of death and destruction, he doesn’t whine or complain, but rather he just gets on with it. One oft-cited reason for liking Inaho is that he doesn’t act like the usual “whiny” MCs from mecha anime. To the “SHINJI, GET IN THE FUCKING ROBOT” school of viewers, he comes across as refreshing.

It’s very similar to how audiences have responded to Code GeassLike LelouchInaho invites the audience to project themselves onto him and to live vicariously through him. And just like Suzaku from Code Geass, Slaine is judged much more harshly for daring to act like a flawed human being. (There’s a subreddit called r/fuckslaine, just for reference.)

Of course, Aldnoah.Zero isn’t as successful as Code Geass at sustaining the power fantasy. Inaho is an extremely polarising character at best, perhaps because he comes across as so flat and emotionless. Still, he certainly does have his fair share of fans that side with him because they believe he is a rational thinker.

Rational or Just Lacking Empathy?













I’ll get my personal stance on this out of the way first. I don’t particularly dislike Inaho’s character. I find his nonchalance amusing for the most part, and I actually agree with his basic philosophy that wars are instigated primarily for the material gain of a small and powerful few, not necessarily out of ideological reasons or because humans are terrible.

But to me, there is a difference between being rational and wrapping up shaky assumptions in the language of rationality. In other words, you can be rational, or you can merely believe yourself to be rational. The problems start to occur when you place rationality on a higher pedestal than emotion. Rationality vs emotion is a false dichotomy to begin with, considering that logical thinking is prompted by emotion. But when you convince yourself that strong emotions are inferior, you construct a worldview that systematically marginalises all those who have not achieved the same degree of enlightenment. Those slave owners and colonialists were some of the most rational and civilised people of their time, but they sure as hell weren’t racist, eh?

And the thing is, that’s not just a thing of the past. The language of “rationality” and “objectivity” is still used today to stifle emotion and dissent. One form that it takes is the Devil’s Advocate, a kind of parlance that in theory attempts to look at both sides of an issue, but in practice feeds into the myth of false equivalence. You can also see it in the anime fandom when a fan demands a review to be more “objective”, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Naturally, I approached Inaho’s character with a healthy dose of skepticism. Is his character really that rational-thinking or does he perpetuate problematic ideas about what “rationality” is?


To his credit, Inaho is not portrayed entirely as an unfeeling robot. He does have emotions, as episode 12 shows very clearly. But (and this is a big but) his actions take place in the context of a narrative that punishes others for acting out on their emotions (see: the Slaine torture). Nearly every character besides Inaho displays lesser thinking capabilities. When everyone else is incompetent, Inaho’s ideas must be accepted as right.

Overall, Inaho really does suffer from the show’s tendency to “tell” the motivations of the characters instead of “showing” them. Other characters exist to tell us what Inaho is thinking or feeling. Although we are told that Inaho mourns for his dead friend and wants to protect everyone who is left, we do not get any sense of how his emotions and his logical thought interact – we are only left with his conclusions. In context, his “rational thinking” may as well be superpowers. It performs the same narrative function.

Slaine, as the show’s example of a hyper-emotional character to counteract Inaho’s hyper-rationality, comes out looking more like a plot device than a real person. Rather than his impulsive nature leading to actions that would make the most immediate sense in his context, he makes inconsistent decisions which are retroactively explained as being a result of his impulsiveness.

Consider this scene, for instance
For instance, why was Slaine able to shoot at Inaho in cold blood but not Saazbaum?


When the plot of A.Z doesn’t really respect its characters or the philosophies they hold and instead gleefully and sadistically manipulates them for cheap drama, what we end up with is a view on “rational thinking” I really don’t agree with. Stories are supposed to operate on emotional logic rather than cold logic, but A.Z failed to stay true to either logic. There’s really no point to a lot of what it does.

Since I also operate on emotional logic, it’s no surprise that the meat of A.Z‘s narrative failed to resonate with me – even if I did find the show highly entertaining for other reasons. Oh well.

In the end, I’ll put Aldnoah.Zero down as an interesting failure. As much as I primarily enjoyed this show for the hilarious memes that came out it, I did want to write a more critical piece too, so here we are. To its credit, A.Z did get me thinking a lot about the nature of rational thinking. I personally got a lot out of it, especially through interacting with the fandom. I’m still looking forward to season 2!

(Note: ZeroReq011 wrote a review a while back that covers some similar ground to this post, but takes a much broader perspective. You should check it out if you want to see some discussion about rationality, justice and war, as well as how all these concepts intersect.)





  1. “One oft-cited reason for liking Inaho is that he doesn’t act like the usual “whiny” MCs from mecha anime. To the “SHINJI, GET IN THE FUCKING ROBOT” school of viewers, he comes across as refreshing.”

    You’re not wrong, because I’ve seen people actually say they find this kind of character refreshing, but I don’t really get it. Not because the sentiment doesn’t make sense; it’s just, aren’t there a lot of these characters by now? The ones who will “get in the fucking robot” and aren’t “whiny” about it? I feel like you could get that fix in a ton of places at this point. Maybe it’s rarer in mecha shows?

    • I think maybe the whole hyper-competent MC trope is less common in mainstream mecha shows, but then you have to wonder just how much mecha anime the average anime fan actually watches.

  2. Whoa, who is this guy? They just wrote all my beliefs into one article.
    The problem with Aldnoah.Zero is that the show is not entirely being written by it’s own creator. Gen Urobutchi gave the major plot points to the writers, and told them to fill in the blanks basically. I want to say they didn’t do a good a job on it, but it’s not entirely their fault. Though from it, we get situations like Inaho shooting down Slaine. Not saying Inaho or Slaine did what was right or wrong, but they didn’t give any explanation on why Inaho interrogated Slaine so harshly or what he thought about Slaine. For all we know Inaho purposely shot down Slaine knowing he was on the Princess’s side, but fans claim that their speculation is correct. Usually “Oh Inaho is so smart, he knew that Slaine would just get in the way of things.” While that isn’t a bad assumption, the fact that you have to make an assumption makes me question the writing.

    Both the characters can be unlikeable. Slaine, because he does things that are kind of out of character, and also I’m waiting for the next season because many claim that he’s going to be a villain next season, which would be completely out of character, it would pretty pretty much confirm the “Filling in the blanks” theory. I don’t even see who that would make sense, but I somehow see it happening. Inaho’s character is poor, because he can’t develop. You nailed it on the head when you said fans describe Inaho’s character as “refreshing”, not saying he isn’t but even if he is, how long do people think that will last? Not only is it unrealistic, it’s bound to end at some point. Usually characters like that are there to help other characters develop. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Inaho isn’t a bad character because he hasn’t developed, he’s a bad character because he can’t develop.

    Honestly, I don’t think the creator wanted his characters to be received as unlikeable. There are so many Inaho fans that claim Slaine is downright unlikeable, which I understand but I don’t think that was what the creator original intended his characters to be perceived as. In a nutshell, Aldnoah.Zero is one big clusterfuck of misunderstandings. If a show is just a big misunderstanding, what’s the point? Why are we seeing favorite characters being killed by other favorite characters when they’re on the same side? It’s impossible for me to understand the point, even If I understand the message.

  3. Wow, i didn’t realize how A/Z glorified Inaho’s rationality. It makes sense considering how they use Slaine as contrast and foil. I wonder what’s going to happen in season 2. Will suffering and Slaine finally marry and have wonderful children together!? Will the princess survive from her death thrice!? Will Slaine became the next Inaho!? Tune in next time!

    On a side note you went to 4chan 0_o ???

    • Will suffering and Slaine finally marry and have wonderful children together!?

      The number one reason to watch season 2!

      On a side note you went to 4chan 0_o ???

      Yeah, occasionally I go looking for gifs there. I can’t bear to read the actual threads, though.

  4. Yo, I appreciate the ping. I’ll try to reciprocate on my Aldnoah.Zero post when I can.

    I’d temper criticism to Inaho by noting that Inaho’s “rational” beliefs got him losing Asseylum before his eyes before getting shot point-blank in the face (that sounds like an idea that carried over from Urobutchi, to be honest), but I also think it’s true that the show didn’t do a very good job with tempering Inaho’s “competence,” so that flaw about him and his “rational” ideology got drowned out by his “badassery.” The message I think the show was originally trying to convey (I suppose this because Urobutchi worked on the narrative framewor. Urobutchi’s all about his themes, and I doubt Urobutchi would agree to write anything for anyone unless he was able to self-insert those themes somewhere) was lost for “Inaho got gat by Slaine? —- Slaine.”

    I was holding out, hoping Inaho’s ultra “rational” demeanor would get explained, but c’est la vie. Outside of a few exceptions, I couldn’t really get into the show emotionally, but I did appreciate what it tried to do thematically.

    • Cool! I’d like to see what you make of the second season when it comes out.

      I’d temper criticism to Inaho by noting that Inaho’s “rational” beliefs got him losing Asseylum before his eyes before getting shot point-blank in the face

      That aspect of his characterisation did exist, but losing Asseylum was never really the fault of his “rational” beliefs. The whole scene comes across as more “WTF SLAINE” than “u dun goof, Inaho”. The implication is that he would have survived and gotten the girl if other characters had acted as rationally as he did. But sure, there was that element of pathos in that his rationality prevented him from fully appreciating the time he had with Asseylum.

      Basically, my problem with Inaho’s character was not so much the core idea behind his personality, but with the context of the narrative and how it uses his character. On paper, I’d say he actually had the makings of an interesting character.

      • I’ll definitely end up spilling some ink, though I’m likely going to be cooler about Aldnoah.Zero’s 2nd Season watching it than its 1st.

        Actually yeah, I’m inclined to believe Inaho and Asseylum would have survived if everyone was “rational,” in his terms. As a character, Inaho’s pretty two dimensional, but if we step back to look at the big thematic picture, Inaho’s a clear attempt by the show to demonstrate “rationality” personifed. I think of his “rationality” in similar terms to the modern liberal order of international relations. If everyone, every state actor respected the liberal status quo, the mass-scale armed conflict and resulting misery from engaging said conflict would probably be much less numerous and severe than it otherwise is. However, you always got those people, those states who want to tear it down because of its Western origins and principles. You have people and states that’ll fight to tear down the status quo because they historically ingrained, psychologically indoctrinated, prejudices.

        The fault with Inaho and those who take the modern liberal order for granted is that they’re dismissive of these constructivist prejudices. Their failure to appreciate and account for these prejudices before it’s too late makes them too late to do anything before untold damage is done. Hence WWII with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and 9/11 and the Bali bombings, with Al Qaeda and Jemaah al-Islamiyah, and Saazbaum successfully carrying out his revenge. It may not be solidly in terms of the logical progression of the plot (and the plot was kind of a mess here and there), but I think that that’s thematic message’s.

        I don’t have a huge problem when characters like Inaho are used for roles like these, as devices primarily, but the show tried very hard all the while to demonstrate he was more than that. What the show really needed to do to draw the potential of his character out (because I agree, I thought he had the makings of an interesting character too) was to better explain why he was so rationally judgmental and emotionally mute. I was waiting and waiting for this to get explored, but nothing panned up.

  5. And here I was just marvelling at the fancy CG mech battles… I didn’t watch this show through such an analytical lens as yourself, but this post certainly provoked some thoughts. I thought the beginning of this anime was quite poorly executed, and as a result, I lost interest in the semi non-existant plot quickly and progressed onto shipping hime and Slaine. This initial liking was simply out of pity. Admittedly, I’m quite a sucker for characters that are often on the receiving end of abuse, so I found Slaine to be quite endearing. I was somewhat ambivalent when it came to my perception of Inaho, but his character wasn’t sufficiently flawed to allow me to like him. This probably came about due to my constant exposure to irritatingly infallible characters like Kirito from SAO and Tatsuya from Mahouka. But after a while, Slaine’s mercurial behavior started to get on my nerves. You put it perfectly when you said that he was more of a plot device than an actual characters. In the end, I’m on Inaho’s side, but more out of my dislike for Slaine’s charactarisation rather than my liking towards Inaho.

    One thing that really got under my skin was the show’s need to display Inaho’s logical nature through his plethora of scientific knowledge. Especially since some of his explanations for phenomena exhibited in the show were staggeringly difficult to believe (I point out the part where he quotes the leidenfrost effect as being the cause for a bullet to be deflected as a particular example) As someone who aims to pursue a career in this field, I thought that his character was somewhat modelled off a stereotyped perception of a scientist; emotionless geniuses that ruthlessly pursue their goals without much regard for others. It got me thinking about things in a wider context. As strange is it might seem, rationality is not always a trait which is held in high esteem. This seems particularly evident in politics, where traits of charisma and passion are some of the main driving forces behind a politician’s success. The anime fandom is comparatively small, so opinions held within it are not good reflectors of society’s view as a whole. The Inaho vs Slaine battle is pretty balanced within this community, but I have little doubt that Slaine would be overwhelmingly more popular if this show was to be viewed by much of the common public. I’m not sure why exactly why rationality is somewhat demonised, but it can largely be accredited to religion. It’s the reason why an atheist president is probably less likely to be elected than a gay one in the US. Even if this was a pretty poor show, it certainly raises some interesting questions.

    • Ah, you bring up a great point about anime fandom being different from mainstream society. I avoided projecting in my post proper, but I will say off the record that my perception of Inaho fans is that they tend to be middle-class young males in their late teens. I think this demographic is particularly prone to glorifying logic and rationality, especially if they’re also into geek hobbies. So yes, they’re not good reflectors of society’s perception of rationality as a whole.

      Your other point about the common public being suspicious of rationality also brings up a lot of interesting questions. I think it’s because rationality is poorly understood, and it’s easy to be suspicious of scientists in general when their ideas wield so much power. Religion certainly contributes to the attitude of mistrust, I agree. That being said, Australia is a much more secular country than America and anti-intellectualism is pretty much the cultural norm over here.

      Also, I’m sorry Maki is not my favourite Love Live girl, even though I like her a lot. I must remain faithful to Nico. Please be rational about this.

  6. Contradiction, Contradiction, Contradiction,… One major flaw of Anime, as I believe it, is exceedingly embodies ideals onto characters – the same with our fans. It’s not a bad thing, I admit – Dickens and Romanticism artists had gone far before us in this. However, it’s done half-ass here: They usually pick the characters, not the ideals themselves to focus one. Or more exactly, ideals and far-fetched features (-dere would be one) glorify the person that they’re attached to.

    It’s a matter to polygon – You have to see all the side if you want to create a 3D persona.

  7. At least it wasn’t as boring as Mahouka?

    Where is the NGNL/AZ fusion AU where Inaho and Hime are uber-gamer step-siblings from Earth, and pick up Imanity prince Slaine as their first…what is the male term for haremette? Haremite? Hareman? Haremer?

  8. Plenty of famous stories have done perfectly-rational characters before to great success. The best anime example that rolls off my head is Oberstein from Legend of the Galactic Heroes, who never allows ethics or emotions to impair his judgment once in the entire show (which, consequently made most of the other admirals hate his guts).

    The greatest failure of Inaho isn’t himself. As you noted near the end, it’s the fact he is surrounded by utter incompetents, with his slightest idea a god-given recipe for success. The show was written in such a way where he seemed the only character who is actually scrubbing more than three brain cells together (there’s a few others who managed two, I’ll admit). Even Lelouch met plenty of challenge in the strategy and planning department. Inaho? His opponents were too retarded to think, let alone post their IQs.

    His final plan was the worst. That stupid drop operation should have been blown right out of the sky by any competent military, let alone succeed without a single major character dying. Perhaps Japan forgot the lessons they once learned in the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

  9. 1. Wake up.
    2. Grab coffee.
    3. Still blurry eyed, checks out anime blog post online.
    4. Spends an hour pondering ‘rationality/emotion’ as a concept and how I felt about it’s use in a show I thought as nothing but mild amusement.

    My day just took a sharp turn, great post Froggy.

    I’ll probably re-read it when I am slightly more awake though!

  10. I guess It’s a little late to comment in this post but… It’s better late than never.

    I read the whole post and the point of view about the rationality/emotion topic is quite interesting. I guess it is assertive to say that the individuals rationalise (including anime characters) depending on their surroundings and how they perceive reality.

    For example, for a psycho, i guess it should be common to kill a person before noon and then go to a cafeteria to eat a turkey sandwich.

    But the two things that caught my attention the most in this particular post were:

    1st. The image about Inaho and Slaine average fans, specifically the word ‘Boypussy’.XD English isn’t my native language, but i do read a lot in english (books, manga, visual novels, light novels, etc…) and this is the first time I’ve read or heard the word ‘Boypussy’. does that word even exists? Does people use it a lot? XD (PD: looking forward to the answer of those questions)

    and 2nd. the question “why was Slaine able to shoot at Inaho in cold blood but not Saazbaum?”

    I think my answer would be: If we recall one of the previous episodes, when Inaho and Slaine cooperated to beat one of the Mars Knights (The girl with the Kataphrakt who could throw her fists, I can´t remember her name now), Inaho and Slaine had a ‘little’ disagreement in a conversation about ‘using’ the Vers’ Princess. After they defeated the target Inaho attacked Slaine’s aircraft, that’s why the Count Cluteo was able to catch Slaine; If he hadn’t attacked Slaine perhaps he would’ve never been caught (Just assuming though)

    Technically, It was Inaho’s fault that Slaine got caught, and it was his fault that he got tortured by Cluteo. Since Slaine passed out after some torture, he didn’t knew that Cluteo discovered the truth behind the princess’ death and that he wanted to treat his wounds and save him.

    To Slaine, despite that Saazbaum betrayed the princess, planned her assassination, killed Cluteo, he did saved his life, also I think that the fact that Saazbaum knew Slaine’s father was also a support point that justified why he ‘Joined’ Saazbaum’s army.

    Finally, I think that Slaine thought he could save the princess and prevent Saazbaum to lay a finger on her, but since what happened was a little different from what he expected, he killed Inaho because he was tortured because of him, he practically abducted and endangered his beloved Asseylum Princess.

    I’m not a big fan of Mecha anime, i haven’t even watched the great-criticised Code Geass, but I do like this particular anime a lot, probably because I’m a big fan of Urobuchi Gen.

    Great post froggy!

    • re: boypussy

      This word refers to the male anus. I don’t see it used very much, possibly because it is really homophobic. It’s typical 4chan lingo, though.

      As for the “why was Slaine able to shoot at Inaho in cold blood but not Saazbaum?” question, I do like and accept your answer, but here’s an interesting thing to consider (which goes back to the rationality theme I was talking about in the post).

      It’s very easy for people to begin with a conclusion and to come up with logic that supports that conclusion afterward. You mentioned this yourself when you said, “individuals rationalise (including anime characters) depending on their surroundings and how they perceive reality.”

      Arguing that Slaine Did Nothing Wrong ™ sort of follows the same principle. Either you intuitively empathise with his actions based on your emotional reaction to the final episode or you don’t. Then, to rationalise your gut reaction, you look back on everything that happened in the series with the assumption that his earlier actions must logically flow into his later actions.

      Those who argue that Slaine was just callously manipulated by the plot – in other words, that his actions didn’t make rational sense – start from a different conclusion. Instead of assuming that earlier events in the series must logically flow into later events, however, they assume that somewhere along the line, a disconnect happened.

      Now, which is the correct assumption to make? You can theoretically read a logical narrative progression into anything, as this famous psychological experiment shows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9TWwG4SFWQ

      I guess what I am trying to say is that I can follow your interpretation since you articulate your logic clearly, but whether that consistent logic is shared by the narrative itself is much harder to say. Or are you just being selective with the events and characterisation you point to?

      Having said all that, my gut interpretation matches yours, because like you, I did enjoy the series quite a bit :) Hope you’re looking forward to the second season as much as I am! I don’t think Urobuchi is at all involved with the second season, though, unfortunately.

      • Wa-wait… so, the word ‘Boypussy’ refers to the male anus? I guess I was wrong interpreting the image, that leads me to the next question: So, according to the one who did the meme, Slaine Fans want to fuck him from behind? 0.o (Well… he looks a little cute, No! wait, that wasn’t what I meant! … … Oh, well)

        I think I DID assume everything that lead to the climax of episode 12, but I think I didn’t really empathise with Slaine and didn’t have any emotional reaction, I just used my logical thinking and realise that from what I know about human behaviour, if someone (Inaho) did all those things to someone else (Slaine) the second someone would like to take revenge on the first someone.

        The video was a little confusing 0.o but after giving it some thought I guess most of people see plot where there isn’t (Talking about triangles and circles XD) and assume the climax they see on the plot by making some emotional/rational thinking.

        I wasn’t trying to be selective on the events and characterisation, Again, I used rational thinking and since I know some of Urobuchi’s work I assumed that was the way the story goes. to conclude, I guess since every individual interprets any plot by rationalisation you could say that every plot is subjective.

        Looking forward to the second season! I was impressed with the teaser image of the second season (The image where Asseylum Princess is seated in a wheel chair in what seems to be a conference press).

        Hopefully, Urobuchi will at least take a little participation on the second season.

  11. This puts into words so many of the problems that I have with Inaho as a protagonist. His actions don’t seem realistic, and sometimes he feels more like a deliberate anti-trope than a fleshed out character. Like most of the fandom, I hate Slaine also. I can’t really explain why, but I continue to enjoy the show despite not liking either protagonist.

    • Thanks for the comment! I think Aldnoah Zero is one of those shows that’s fairly easy to watch as a spectacle without feeling any particular attachment towards the characters.

  12. >For instance, why was Slaine able to shoot at Inaho in cold blood but not Saazbaum?
    The only reason that comes to my mind was he was the enemy. This was similar to episode 7 where because Inaho knew that Slaine was a Martian looking for the princess, he tried to kill him.
    The part with Saazbaum is a bit harder to explain. I just thought of it as this was Slaine’s chance to engage war (maybe for revenge since he thought that Asseylum was exploited,I’m not really sure).

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