Title: Knights of Sidonia (Shidonia no Kishi)
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, shonen, space opera, mecha
Series Creator: Tsutomu Nihei
Series Director: Kobun Shizuno
Studio: Polygon Pictures
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 11, 2014 – June 27, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs
“The story follows the exploits of Nagate Tanikaze, who lived in the underground layer of Sidonia since birth, raised by his grandfather. Never having met anyone else, he trains himself in an old Guardian pilot simulator every day, eventually mastering it. After his grandfather’s death he is found by the rest of the population and selected as a Guardian pilot, in hopes of defending Sidonia from the mysterious aliens known as Gauna’s attack using all the combat expertise he learned from him.”
What’s the best way to describe Knights of Sidonia?
It’s a show with a human-bear hybrid with a robot hand.
That’s a good start & the best way to describe the ideas involved with the series.
What instantly appealed to me about the manga when I read about it earlier in the year is how they use the notion of the post-human & the trans-human. Within the narrative universe of Knights of Sidonia, human has had to force itself to adapt in what we would consider shocking ways in order to repopulate after the seed ship Sidonia was nearly wiped up by the semi-amorphous aliens known as the Gauna. This include fusing human DNA with plant in order to use photosynthesis for sustenance to lessen the need for food production; the creation of a third gender that is able to switch to a preferred dominant gender in order to match their chosen partner/mate but they can also breed with either gender without changing their own. Cloning is also commonplace, with many clones having individual personalities despite having the same appearances.
Yet for all the interesting new sci-fi ideas, there are some tropes that the series sticks far too rigidly too.
These are mainly found within the central protagonists, Nagate, who comes out of the pretty typical Son Goku (Dragon Ball [Z]) shonen style. That is a character raised solely by a ‘grandfather’, who has no social understanding & only trained to fight finding their way back into civilisation & being pretty thick in regards to social customs & behaviours -especially around females/gender neutrals.
Despite coming from a cliched start, Nagate’s ignorance is given context; in that he was raised by his ‘grandfather’ (note or ignore repeated use of quotation marks) in the inner passages & workings of the massive starship, Sidonia, without any other human contact. Put into a Guardian (the name for their mecha units) training simulator every hour of the day, until he could beat ever virtual Gauna he fought. Yet his ‘grandfather’ dies of old age & Nagate is forced to the populated areas, where he (though actually his grandfather) is referred to as the “mole man”, in order to get food because he lacks the ability to photosynthesize. He then hurts himself & is captured, meeting various characters & rivals, before being enrolled in the Guardian academy to make use of his highly trained skills.
The academy part of KoS is interesting, because it shows that even post-humans still show intolerances for anything that is different. In Nagate’s case it’s because he lacks photosynthesis & must constantly eat, which is seen as a freakish thing by the new post-humans. Everything about him is seen as abnormal until he can prove himself, so Nagate was often at the end of beatings & abuse (some accidental) from various characters over the course of the first few episodes. Yet it remained entirely in context & was used to build the character of Nagate & the character of those around him.
In closest proximity to Nagate are his varied love interests, which, because he is a typical shonen genre male protagonist, is completely ignorant of their sexual affections for him. 1st is Shizuka, who is one of the top ranked students from the Academy, & one of the first people to show Nagate basic kindness. Next in line is the third gendered Izana, who acts as both masculine best friend & feminine emotional supports. Whilst Izana is meant to be of the third gender, it acts & looks more like a female in general & eventually starts the processes of femininisation in order to get closer to Nagate. 3rd & lastly is Yuhata, who is actually introduced a bit later in the manga, but is brought forward in the anime to be more forward in chasing Nagate because of his prodigious piloting ability, often clashing with Izana with Nagate blissfully unaware but making eyes at Shizuka.
Nagate also has rivals & antagonists. These are mainly seen in (at first) the female clone batch called the Honoka sisters, who dislike him for not being post-human but mainly because he accidentally walked into open passageway of the female changes rooms whilst the Honoka sisters were getting dressed (causing one to break his nose). Nagate’s primary rival is the arrogant & egotistical Kunato Norio, who is the heir of the prestigious Kunato family. Norio believes that he is born to win & to rule, so sees Nagate’s sudden acceptance into the academy as well as his incredible abilities as a pilot as an affront. Especially when he believes that Nagate has taken what he [Norio] deserves; being the former Ace’s Guardian unit as the affections of Shizuka. Naturally he plots to discredit Nagate & that plays ut exceptionally well over the course of the 1st half of the series.
If I were to make two major complaints they would be as follows.
In episode 5, Shizuka & Nagate are trapped floating in space after Nagate tried to rescue Shizuka after a Gauna destroyed her Guardian, leaving her floating in a protective sphere in the void. This episode whilst doing great things to build character & emotion kills all pacing that had previously been developed. It’s not a bad episode. In terms of pushing narrative & character, it is vital, it’s just really slow & a bit awkward.
My other major complaint is the animation style.
It’s that annoying cell shaded style that you see in French productions like Skyland. It’s not horrid but in the absence of cute designs, I wanted to see a more raw brutal look akin to the legendary Berserk. Yet one thing that this style of animation does well (because it utter sucks at faces & expressions) is showing how rough everything looks.
This is not a bright shiny everything new & shmick looking sci-fi. Everything from the walls to the uniforms are lived in, beaten & recycled. The pilot suits that the characters wear & scratched & dented; showing the lack of resources that Sidonia has to make anything new other than weapons & weapon parts. All to fight the perpetual war against the Gauna. The series is also very bloody & brutal, not shying about from death & maiming, especially in the outer space battles with the Gauna.
Who are the other brilliant part of the series.
Gauna are large pink lumps of creatures with massively expanding snaking tentacles (yes, hentai & all that) that can only be destroyed but a rare substance & only after their core has been exposed. They are also very adaptable creatures, able to learn from previous attacks as well as seemingly absorb humans into their bodies, transforming into monstrous gigantic images of those whom they consumed. They are so non-human yet entirely unknown. Even their motivations, with their 1st attack on Earth being speculated as a failed effort to communicate with humans, who are so vastly different from the Gauna.
The 12 episode series doesn’t get time to really explore the human/Gauna relationship, passed some very interesting ideas, so I hope that it’s something picked up in the 2nd series of the show, which airs in the last week of November this year (2014 for any readers in the relative future).
The theme by Angela is also fantastic (except for the autotune vocal part), really fits the space opera notion of the series. The ending theme is also pretty cool.
In the end, whilst it’s not as good as the original manga (mixing up some things & removing others), Knights of Sidonia stands above so many other series this past season because of it’s originality & willingness not to hand wave things. If you love you deep yet fluffy sci-fi, this is the series for you.