Knights Of Sidonia Complete Series 1 Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 305 minutes approx.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A thousand years ago humanity was forced to flee into space following near extinction after an attack by an alien race called Gauna. The remaining population now live on spaceship made from the remnants of the planet earth called Sidonia. A whole new civilisation has been created, governed by a group of immortals, complete with technological and biological advancements.
Nagate Tanikaze has lived underground all his life. Following the death of his grandfather he must finally venture out to the surface to feed himself. Nagate is caught stealing rice but is pardoned by senior authority Captain Kobayashi who offers to be his guardian. In return, Nagate must join Sidonia’s Guardian Training Academy to learn how to pilot a Garde, mecha weapons used to defend Sidonia against the Gauna.
The above summary could have come from just about every mecha series from the past thirty years, suggesting the viewer knows exactly what they are getting, and have their scorecards ready to tick off every trope and cliché associated with the genre. The first couple of episodes corroborate this theory, but as the series progresses we find the Knights Of Sidonia has big ideas for deviating from the norm.
Sidonia’s creator Tsutomu Nihei, upon whose manga this is based, piles layers of political, social and existential intrigue on this familiar concept, while director Kōbun Shizuno and animation studio Polygon have delivered a visually stunning and epic piece of sci-fi goodness to engage and delight the most jaded mecha fan.
Nagate’s zero to hero journey initially appears rushed in the opening episode – his years of playing flight simulator games underground have given him a natural talent as a pilot – but as the story progress, his growth and success rate is exponential. Nagate is thrown into the deep end almost immediately and causes havoc on his first mission despite single-handedly wiping out the first Gauna to appear in a hundred years which kills a colleague.
As an “underdweller” Nagate is slow to make friends as prejudice is rife among the surface folk, and one man in particular, Norio Kunato, refuses to play nice when Nagate is given the legendary mecha Tsugumori to pilot, which Kumato believed was his privilege to pilot. One person who is more convivial is Izana Shinatose, a non-binary genderless cadet who takes Nagate under her wing (I say “her” – Izana has a female form and female voice artist).
Later rivalling Izana for Nagate’s affections is Shizuka Hoshijiro, a top ranked pilot who provides the show with one its more uncomfortable moments when she and Nagate are left drifting in space. As surface dwellers can now photosynthesise they rarely need sustenance like Nagate does and when he badly dehydrates, Shizuka has one option left to help him. I will say no more other than it involves the built-in catheter their pilot suits have…
While the photosynthesis concept is a neat idea to further explore the biological developments of humanity in a futuristic setting, for this anime it means nudity – but justified under the circumstances. That said, fan service is thankfully one of the many conventions this show avoids, and while it yields to some familiar anime hallmarks it is never beholden to them, thus never suffers from predictability or incongruous time wasting asides.
Another strength is in its frankness in depicting the human cost of warfare and is never shy of killing off a featured character to further the story along. Whereas other shows will keep the central cast intact, Sidonia has no such qualms in shaking things up to heighten the drama. Indeed, while Nagate himself may have extraordinary piloting skills, he is still human and often pays a huge physical price for his involvement in this conflict; on more than one occasion his rash actions lead to fatalities which the civilians and other pilots won’t let him forget.
It is fair to say that Nagate is the only character to fully grow and develop over the course of the twelve episodes and yet, despite the support cast afforded only rough sketches in terms of their personalities and backgrounds, they don’t feel like second tier, disposable, periphery characters. Hands down, the most intriguing character is the Academy dorm matron Lala Hiyama who has a mechanical claw for a right hand. Oh, and she is also a bear!
With a densely plotted if a little hurried story to keep us mentally engaged, the need for the visuals to be of a high quality to meet the ambitious mecha/sci-fi concepts is paramount. Polygon presents us with something rather amazing thanks to the decision to make this as a CGI animation while keeping true to the standard 2D rendering of “regular” anime. In other words the figures may all be 3D for realism purposes and the artwork CGI created but it doesn’t look like CGI as you know it.
The results are spectacular, none more so than in the space battles against the Gauna, some of the most impressive looking action scenes in anime. The Garde are not your usual chunky mecha designs, more slim-line to resemble regular fighter craft, allowing for exhilarating moments of high speed dramatics and acrobatics. The climactic battle spans the final two episodes and is more akin to Star Wars than anything else – it is that exciting!
It takes a while to get used to, especially as the characters’ faces lack definitions and are largely expressionless, but the way the CGI is employed is an example of getting it right and the show would lose so much had it been animated in the “regular” 2D style. No surprises that it looks especially stunning in HD!
Knights Of Sidonia is a show which can boast as its greatest achievement the fact it has made the tired mecha concept fresh, exciting, invigorating and relevant again. A visual and cerebral treat that hits rare emotional and adrenaline fuelled highs.
English Language DTS-HD Master Audio
Spanish Language DTS-HD Master Audio
Japanese Language DTS-HD Master Audio with English, French and Spanish Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Behind the Scenes Part 1
Behind the Scenes Part 2
Sounds of Sidonia
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ****
Man In Black