A Delicate Balancing Act- Anime Critique: Akame ga Kiru!

Title: Akame ga Kiru! (Akame ga Kill! Akame Slashes!)
Format: TV anime
Genre: Shonen, fantasy, action, pseudo-harem, gore
Series Creators: Takahiro & Tetsuya Tashiro
Series Director: Kobayashi Tomoki
Studio: White Fox
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 6, 2014 – December 14, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs

Manga cover
Manga cover

Synopsis:

Tatsumi is a fighter who, accompanied by his two childhood friends, sets off to the Capital in search of a way to make money to assist his poverty-stricken village. After being separated from his friends, Tatsumi not only fails to enlist in the army, but is swindled out of all his money. He is then taken in by a noble family who offer him help, but intend to torture and kill him, just like they did with his friends and dozens of other people. Tatsumi is rescued by a group of assassins known as Night Raid; who are also part of the revolutionary forces assembled to overthrow Prime Minister Honest, who manipulates the young emperor for his and his men’s personal gain, leading the rest of the nation to poverty and strife.


Critique:

In my view, Akame ga Kiru! is one of those rare series that takes established genre tropes and not only subverts to a degree but comfortable balances them with other common & uncommon elements -such as humour, emotion, fan service & extreme (& I do mean extreme) violence.

This delicate balancing act is the key strength to the series -but it is also its greatest weakness to a degree- as it takes many of the ideas of your typical Shonen narrative -such as ideas of justice, self-empowerment, overcoming more powerful opponents through strength of will & ignoring powerful female characters- and skews them into something basically other to the narrative norm.
Akame-ga-Kill
Primary to this is the central protagonist, Tatsumi, who seems like your typical Shonen manga hero. In that he is idealistic, naive & stubborn in his beliefs. The way that he is set up in the beginning, as a teenager coming to the capital to meet up with his two best friends so they can make enough money to save their village which lies along the farthest boards of the empire. Even though he is rejected for the army, swindled & exposed to the corruption of the capital, he maintains his naive idealism & is eventually taken in by a young noble woman who promises to help him find his friends and get into the army with her father’s connections. When the noble girl and her family are targeted by the assassins, Night Raid, Tatsumi does his upmost to protect the girl he believes to be his saviour -even going blade to blade against the titular Akame- but when it is revealed that the girl and her family tortured & killed his friends for their own sadistic pleasure, he shows no hesitation in being the one to kill her where she stands.

This juxtaposition of being naive morality and responding to the harshness of reality is what makes Tatsumi -& the series as a whole- interesting. Because even though he wishes to be moral, freeing the citizens of the empire from the corrupt tyranny of the manipulative Prime Minister -ironically named Honest- he is aware of the practicalities of achieving this. He accepts that he must become a murderer -even if the people killed are the worst humanity has to offer- but he does not let such darkness cloud that what he does is for an ultimate good. Yet a good that must always come at an exceptionally high price as people will suffer & die, even if you have the power to stop it.

The majority of the characters are also subversion of the standard genre tropes & cliches -for the most part that is.

They often fall into the typical archetypes that we come to expect -such as the unemotional one, the tsundere, the perv and the homo (how they refer to him in the series)- yet, for the most part, the characters are given context as to why they are like they are and are even given a change for develop, so that they have an arc to journey. What gives another good twisting to convention is that this development is also offered to the major antagonists of the series -the Jaegers- so that they aren’t just cardboard cutouts being bad for the sake of it (for the most part that is).

While Tatsumi is the naive idealist who grows to accept his roll as a killer, he is never shown  having the typical weakness of trying to spare his enemies or get them to see his point of view (such as Emiya in Fate/Stay Night). He grits his sense of mercy against having to do what is right in the situation, even if that means performing a brutal or underhanded act to win. He does gain more strength and power as the series progresses, as well as gathers a kind of harem around him, which are typical of the Shonen genre yet his development is never as clear cut as it would be in a more down the line (cliched) story like Bleach or One Piece. Since the manga is still continuing, the team behind the anime made an exceptionally brave way to resolve Tatsumi’s story arc, which was extremely unexpected & whilst a lot of people will be upset by it, I salute them for such a brave way of ending.

Tatsumi isn’t the only one who undermines standard Shonen characterisation, because his friends & enemies -whilst being cliched or archetypes at time- tend to have fleshed out backgrounds to explain their personality & behaviour.
Akamegakillcast
The titular Akame seems to be the usual taciturn killer obsessed with food but because she was raised solely and brutally as an assassin she lacks social skills and she constantly needs to eat to fuel her incredible abilities; also: despite appearing utterly emotionless, she cares deeply for all of her comrades, even if Tatsumi can’t understand how she does this at first. The sniper Mine (pronounced like mine as in the game Minecraft) seems like your typical tsundere but her emotion and arrogance fuels the power of her Taiga (Relic/Imperial Arms) weapon, Pumpkin, which grows stronger the more trouble its wielder is in -as well as the fact she is a half-blood child, which meant she was ignored & bullied all of her life, so she uses her arrogance to hide her fragility. The lion-like Leone (see pun in name) seems like your typical morally dodgy hedonist, actually swindling Tatsumi out of all of his money when he arrived in the Capital, but she has an exceptionally deep sense of loyalty to her friends & believes in personally punishing those who commit the most wicked sins upon the innocent -acting both as Night Raid’s spy & powerhouse in a fight. She also has a softer side, caring for Night Raid, insisting that they all refer to her as “onee-san” (big sister), which Tatsumi dutifully does despite their 1st interaction. Lubbock is seen as your typical amoral pervert who’d do anything to see the female Night Raid members naked but he never lets himself fall for enemy tricks -especially those involving beautiful- because he will do absolutely anything for his beloved commander, Nijenda.

Unfortunately the two remaining characters, Bulat & Sheele don’t really get time to develop but do have interesting backstories.

Bulat at first is shown as the butch homo (the translator’s term for him) with flamboyant hair but he acts like an older brother and mentor to Tatsumi (who refers to him as “aneki”). Despite his pretty boy appearance, he is a powerful fighter who is trying to make amends for the slaughters he committed when he was a soldier in the imperial army. I would’ve liked to have seen him develop much more outside the tender tough guy/queer trope but, alas, media has no issue in killing off homosexuals or deviants.

Sheele isn’t deviant in the traditional sense but she also doesn’t get time to shine. She’s shown as clumsy, airheaded & a tad useless but one of the most brutal killers in the team when armed with her giant scissors (yes, scissors like you do Arts & Crafts with). She claims a neurological condition, a “twisting inside my brain”, makes her useless at everything life but fighting & killing. After saving her best friend from a brutal assault & near rape, she discovers her talent for murder, becoming an assassin before being recruited by Night Raid. Unfortunately she’s turned into a sacrifice to demonstrate the power & brutality of the series’ main antagonists, the Jaegers (German for Hunters even though Germany doesn’t exist within the series).

The Jaegers I find a really interesting set of characters, proving the axiom that for a series to work you must have deep, complex villains who are twisted reflections of the heroes. Each member of the Jaeger is given details on their backgrounds & time to develop on screen, with each not only mirroring Night Raid but also displaying the issues inherent within the corrupt Empire.
The_Jaegers
The Jaeger’s leader is the insanely powerful & brutal General (Shogun) Esdeath, who’s motto is “the strong survive and the weak die”. She also wields one of the most powerful Taiga in the series, the power to manifest ice in any shape or amount from out of nowhere. Her utter brutality lies in stark contrast to how she cares for her subordinates, even if she believes that if any of them die it was because of their inherent weaknesses (also blaming herself for not helping them overcome their weakness). She also wants to know what it is to be in love, falling for an undercover Tatsumi when he won a tournament set up to find her to perfect mate. Her devotion towards him boarders on the Yandere but she is shown to have genuine affection for him, even though he keeps trying to escape her.

The other really interesting members of the Jaegers include the flamethrower using Bols, who hides his face behind a gasmask & comes across as intimidating because of his huge, scarred body. Whereas, in truth, he is a gentle soul who cares for his team members, is a skill cooked & likes being as helpful as he can. He also has a loving wife & daughter but is fully aware of the atrocities that he has committed in the name of bringing peace to the empire -including burning an entire village to ash so to stop the spread of a plague. He knows that he will one day be judged & punished for the crimes that he has committed but that doesn’t stop him from being open & caring for everyone around him -despite his painfully shy nature & dark self awareness.

The other interesting member of the Jaegers is Seryu Ubiquitous but for opposite reasons as Bol. She’s utterly obsessed with justice & with becoming a Hero of Justice like those whom she idealised. Unfortunately those whom she idealised were either murderously corrupted -such as the Capital Guard leader Orge- or dangerously insane like Dr Stylish. Her version of justice is twisted & absolute, with no room for subtlety or reason; so she responses with extreme violence. Often using her dog-like Taiga, Koro, to devour the so-called “evil doers”. Her mentality is further twisted when Sheele severs her limbs at the cost of her own life, making her believe that “good” (herself) will always triumph over the forces of evil (everyone else). Though when she is introduced she is shown as your typical, bumbling & airheaded “ally of justice” type because that is what she believes herself to be. Except her mind is so twisted that even her comrades don’t trust her -especially Wave.

Wave is Tatsumi’s mirror. In that he is also naive & idealistic, believing that he must serve the Empire no matter how twisted it is. Because a righteous heart can heel any wound if they stick to their path. He isn’t entirely stupid, seeing the wrong doings enacted upon the populace -especially by other Jaegers (mainly Seryu)- but he still acts, along with Bol, as their anchor to normality & morality -especially for Kurome, Akame’s mentally-warped younger sister.
akame1
Both Kurome & Akame share many similar traits, such as insatiable appetites & incredible, inhuman fighting skills. Yet whereas Akame feels the burden of all the lives that she has taken, Kurome feels their comfort. More considering that her Taiga, Yatsufusa, can turn anyone it slays into undead puppets. Her sense of being abandoned, stemming from being separated from her sister & experimented on, shows through in the use of her weapon to keep those whom she loved close to her -usually by mercifully ending their lives or murdering them when she thinks that they’ll leave her. Her character arc is minor yet interesting in how she develops outside seeing herself only in relation to her sister, especially when dealing with people as emotionally open & supportive as Wave.

There are heaps of other characters in the series too but in translated many from an on-going manga to a 24 episode series meant that they often appear, are introduced & then killed off without much fanfare.

In fact, there are several aspects & characters from the original manga that are removed or completely changed to fit with the new format but this doesn’t detract from it. I actually like how they were brave to give a solid ending to an continuing narrative rather than leave everything up in the air for a series that may never come (oh, how you betrayed me Horizon In the Middle of Nowhere!). Whilst some may quibble with the ending, I felt that it fitted for the most part but do be prepared to have your heart torn out a little if you’d grown attached to characters.

As well as playing with narratives & tropes, this series is also exceptionally violent. Surprisingly so in fact if you’ve never read the original manga. With blood spumes & dismemberment par for the course. Often shown in unflinching & uncensored fashion (unlike the TV broadcasts of Tokyo Ghoul or Gokukoku no Brynhildr). Yet the series does flinch away from the more sexually violent aspect, such as hints of rape & molestation. This is a positive in my view but it does mean that they cut out one of the best mini-arcs from the manga, where naive girls from the country are brought to the Capital, spoilt for a day before being assaulted & molested then addicted to drugs until they die a brutal death. This segment is important to show how vile the Empire has become & the lengths Night Raid go to in order to dispense their brand of justice.

Yet, as it shies away from aspects of sexual assault & molestation, it still has a lot of blatant Fan Service. Which is many cleavage on display but occasionally taut male muscle for the ladies. The Fan Service is never graphic or ogling, never really lingering or shoving your face in it but it can distract from the overall scene and series. This was also an issue in the manga but felt more satirical there, whereas the anime just has the jugs out on display (although covered up in some aspect).

TITTIES!!! Covered but still titties!
TITTIES!!! Covered but still titties!

The Fan Service and Sexualisation aren’t deal breakers or annoying but they do feel jarring out of place at time.

The fight scenes are often exceptionally well depicted, with fast paced brutal action always centred so you know what’s going on. Unfortunately, it still falls into many annoying Shonen tropes, such as taking time to explain “Special Moves” and attacks as well as every character having a hidden “trump” (turumpu) card ability that they always expound upon during battle. I personally find this trope to be overused & very annoying but the fights themselves are bloody & enjoyable (bloody enjoyable you might say, gauffered laugh).

The series is also beautifully animated, with interesting anachronistic designs that juxtapose our modern with classic fantasy -especially in regards to clothing design. With Tatsumi & Akame both wearing what look like school uniforms. It’s also vividly colourful, using lots of scenery, such cityscapes & nature, but it does look all the same after a while because they reuse the same backgrounds a lot (cash saving measure).

Overall, I thought that this was a brilliant series that translated many of the positive & transgressive aspects of the manga to the TV medium whilst still maintain a delicate balancing act of using & subverting standard tropes & cliches.

Whilst it might not be for everyone, I still found it immensely enjoyable -especially with its tender moments and quick fire humour. Some may not be able to get passed the extreme violence with it’s rivers & fountains of blood or forgive it for killing off characters whom you’ve come to love but stick through it all before casting your judgement -just like I’ve done.

mt-inc-akagakill-01-214783a8-mkv_snapshot_15-30_2014-07-09_20-02-42

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Bishowiming (or Insert Homophobic Slur Here) – Anime Critique: Free! ~Eternal Summer

Title: Free! Eternal Summer
Format: TV series
Genre: sports, shonen, shonen ai, bishonen
Series Creator: Kōji Ōji
Series Director: Hiroko Utsumi
Studio: Kyoto Animation, Animation Do
Series length: 13 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 2 – September 24, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs

Free!_promotional_image_1


Synopsis:

Following the events of Free! ~ Iwatobi Swim Club, Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rei find themselves driven to compete as a stronger rely team. As they try to overcome their individual weaknesses in the poor, they also have to contend with what to do after high school as well as reach the national swimming championships in order to justify their club. Parallel to this, at rival Samezuka Academy, Rin is working to achieve his dream of competing on the world stage whilst dealing with the pressures of being made team captain, when a childhood friend returns to see that Rin doesn’t get distracted from reaching his dream.


Review:

Am going to start off by saying how much it pissed me off to see all the homophobic reactions to this & the first series -with fansubber group Commie even putting “Gay Swimming” into the titles. You know what? Fuck you all for having such attitudes. Just because a series doesn’t pander to your pathetic & limited heterosexual needs by having a pair of underaged tits bounce across the screen every 5 fucking seconds doesn’t give you the right to slam it because it’s more slanted more towards female and homosexual fandom groups. Fuck you & your pathetic narrowminded attitudes. You’re not the fucking target audience so fuck off & have a wank over your paedo-bait waifu, you pathetic pack of self-entitles little syphilis crusted cumstains!

You know you love it!
You know you love it!

OK, that being said, Free! ~Eternal Summer is the direct sequel to Free! ~Iwatobi Swim Club from 2013. Following on a few weeks after the ending of that series. The four members of the Iwatobi Swim Club have promised to do better so they can race together at the next big swim club meet (after they were disqualified from the last rely they entered by having Rin, a non-member, race with them). They attempt to become a better team as well as recruit new members. At the same time, Rin & the members of the Samezuka Academy swim team are coming to terms with their new roles as well as the inclusion of a supposedly powerful swim & Rin’s childhood friend, Sousuke -who has a heavy agenda of his own to enact.

Where the 1st season of Free! was about rediscovering one’s passion, the 2nd is more about finding &/or one’s dream. Now that Haruka, Mokoto & Rin are now all 3rd years in High School, they have to think about what they want to do in the future. If they have their ability to follow their truest dreams & if they really have any dreams at all.

This is a pretty standard narrative trope for the teen & shonen sports genres but unlike series like Haikyu!! or Slam Dunk, Free! is far more focussed on characters & their relationships rather than having them as padding to the sports centric narrative. The characters are all given fairly well developed backstories & relationships, which drive their actions & agency rather than simply being motivated by getting stronger & stronger. In Free! strength of the body is secondary to strength of will that is needed to push through any physical or mental blocks & gain a greater sense of self. Teamwork & functioning as a cohesive unit also takes precedent over individual victory & glory -since it’s about being a rely team rather than individuals pushing through in their own events (though that is part of the series).

They're keeping your attraction to them a secret.
They’re keeping your attraction to them a secret.

Despite the ensemble cast, the real focus is still on the swimming prodigy, Haruka (called Haru by his friends because Haruka is basically a feminine name) & his rivalry/friendship with his former friend from childhood Rin (who is drawn with shark-like teeth, which was a running gag in the 1st season). What’s between them -besides obvious boiling sexual tension- is a symbiotic form of competition; where they feed off each other to get better. Not out of some drive to be superior but because they bring out the best drive in each other. Haru is obsessed with water, believing it to be alive & symbiotic to his own life, but his swimming suffers the moment he thinks that he can no longer be free to swim how & when he wants. Whereas Rin wants to achieve his deceased father’s goal of swimming in the Olympics but he can only find his motivation from seeing Haru doing so well. They pull each other up to greater levels rather than the typical trope of pushing each other in heated contests but Haru still remains obsessed with only swimming “free” (which everyone assumes means freestyle) & his relationship with the ethereal medium of water.

Speaking of that, I honestly think that Haru might actually be a non-savant autistic because he features several markers of low spectrum autism. Including poor communication skills, the inability to make basic eye contact with people, obsessive likings & habits (such as always eating mackerel) & having very focussed skills/talents in limited fields -namely swimming & his obsession to always be doing that activity. Which is reflected in his sitting in the bath for hours on end, wearing his swimmers, so he can just be close to the water. These possible autistic traits aren’t really commented upon by the characters but if you look at the series through that lens it can go someway to explaining much of Haru’s odd behaviour. But Haru isn’t the only character with odd quirks.

Look at that. Hot!
Look at that. Hot!

The connecting thing for the 5 main male characters is that they all have feminine names, so people often tease them by adding chan, so Nagisa often does it anyway. Mainly to show his free spirit & affectionate nature but also because he’s the show’s main twink so has to do all the cute fairy-like things; despite being the cute, childish one, Nagisa is tenacious to get the club going because he wants to swim with his friends & will do almost anything to keep it going; he also swims the breaststroke leg in the rely. You then have Rei, who is the glasses wearing pretty boy who is obsessed with all things beautiful, loudly rejecting anything that he thinks is ugly; originally he couldn’t swim but joined the swimming club after witnessing the beauty of Haru’s swimming style; he’s since mastered the butterfly & has secretly trained with Rin to be able to do the other main strokes (*giggle*). Makoto is the mature, almost mother figure of the group; he cares deeply for Haru but is unable to bring himself to push Haru into the future that he thinks that he deserves; he swims the backstroke but is equally good with free style too.

Goh's sthenolagnia in full bloom.
Goh’s sthenolagnia in full bloom.

In reverse to the males with feminine names, you have Gō (also spelt Goh), Rin’s doting sister & manager, who has a serious case of sthenolagnia; basically being unable to do anything in the presence of nice muscles. She also believes that everyone else loves muscles as much as her, so she always tries to promote the swim club by getting them to show off the muscle groups that she thinks each individual member has. Gō is joined by club supervisor, Miho, who used to be a bikini model & despises anyone mentioning her past or even finding out about it; she often uses weird quotes to sum up arguments or offer encouragement. Their group is rounded off by former swim coach, Goro(-chan), who makes a greater appearance then he did in the 1st series as assistant coach to the club & owner of the rebuild public swimming pool where all the boys (minus Rei) first swam together. Rin’s swim team equally have their quirks but will spoil things too much to go into them.

Though the new to the 2nd season character Sousuke brings a new dynamic to the series. Initially telling Haru to stay away from Rin because he feels Haru’s lack of serious dedication to swimming will only drag Rin down. Yet he isn’t some 2nd dimension antagonist; he has his own reasons for joining Rin’s team & wishing to see his friend achieve his dreams. All which make him a more rounded, interesting character.

Sakura swimming
Sakura swimming

Like to many other series this season, Free! ~Eternal Summer is exceptionally beautiful to look at. It’s bright, almost luminous as you see light reflected off water. The water physics is also spot on, with how bodies move through it on the surface, when they dive, how to shifts & surges. So much detail is paid to getting it right. Just like the detail put into the character designs; with all the boys being pretty & the girls generally being cute. Everyone has fairly unique designs (although it can be hard to recognise Rei at a glance with his glasses off), with a lot of detail going into their bodies. Which a lot of idiots online seem to complain about. Honestly, how can you have a shower if you can’t stand seeing a male body? Fucking idiots.

Look at the light & those bubbles.
Look at the light & those bubbles.

Anyway, it’s clear that the creators loved swimming it also shows that someone in the creative team loved something else just as much: Australia.

In one episode, Rin & Haru travel to Australia -where Rin went to try to be a professional swimmer when he was a kid- & the detail that they put into trying to get Sydney right was pretty good. They naturally showed the Harbour Bridge & a few other landmarks around the place but they got the interior of Australia domestic homes rights & showed the little idiosyncratic designs of the hostels around the area known as The Rocks (a place I used to know well from working around the area) just right. They also seemed to have hired a few Australia voice actors (& some Yanks to do bad Aussie accents) because some are spot on (the female voices mainly). & the seiyu who plays Rin, Miyano Mamoru has exceptionally competent English skills in his scenes in Australia.

There’s also the recurring image & theme of a hawk appearing through the series. Yes, hawks have nothing to do with swimming but they do symbolise masculine power & freedom. Being unfettered by chains & weighed down to the Earth. Which is pretty much the core theme of the series: breaking free of what constrains you & doing what you love most in life with all the passion that you can. Even if you have to struggle to find or do what you love most.

In the end, I do highly recommend both seasons of Free! for their uniqueness in terms of characters & plots as well as pushing subtle homoeroticism on mainstream television in a still very homophobic country. Honestly, if you have an issue with this kind of thing, shut your fucking mouth & don’t watch it! But if you aren’t a narrowminded scumsucker & really enjoy great characters, pretty animation & quirky gags, this is a top tier series to watch. Pretty much banzai! woman & homosexuals being able to get their fan service in a show. I’m neither a woman or gay but I still support them getting their share of the service if it means reducing it in other shows in exchange for better plots & enhanced humour.

Come get some, son! You know you love that man-love shit!
Come get some, son! You know you love that man-love shit!

It’s like Shonen but not as we know it, captain – Anime Critique: Knights of Sidonia

KOS_1_CoverTitle: 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


Synopsis:

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.


Review:

What’s the best way to describe Knights of Sidonia?

It’s a show with a human-bear hybrid with a robot hand.

See, told you there was a bear with a robot hand!
See, told you there was a bear 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.

Right to left: Nagata, Shizuka & Izana
Right to left: Nagata, Shizuka & Izana

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.

the big nasty
the big nasty

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.

sidonia 01c