Nagate Tanikaze lives in the underbelly of the seed ship Sidonia with his grandfather. Having met no one else his entire life, Nagate spends his childhood training on an old garde simulator, learning everything he can about the gauna, an alien race that hunts humanity. When his grandfather dies, Nagate emerges from the underbelly to protect Sidonia from the alien threat of which little is known.
The animation is the first thing I noticed about this show. Everything is CGI. While the characters’ movements were odd at first, the style grew on me. I stopped noticing it around the second or third episodes when the story starts to kick into gear. After a while, I started noticing something else: grungy details. When Nagate is walking around the food district, the floor is dirty like no one can scrub away the dents. The pilot suits are rough around the edges as if the current pilot was not the first pilot to wear it. These details underscore that Sidonia has been working for over a thousand years and sometimes non-essential maintenance can fall to the wayside..
Most of my favorite parts were the bits that built the world of the story. You learn that most of the citizens are able to photosynthesize and do so regularly in specially designed rooms that resemble locker rooms. Their meals when they take them are weekly. Enter Nagate who, for whatever reason, does not have this ability and must eat three times a day. This is usually met with disgust by other characters who see Nagate’s constant quest for food time consuming. In the beginning episodes, he always starts a scene eating an onigiri. This habit slowly disappears as Nagate’s constant quest for food becomes background and then nonessential. Another fascinating feature of the world is the use of cloning as reproduction. While this may seem like a cheap animation trick, and it probably is, you later learn of an event in the ship’s history that reduced the ship’s population to such dangerously low levels that the following generation was basically entirely modified clones. (That same generation was the first generation to photosynthesize because that same event whipped out a major food factory).
My interest, however, lies in the history of the ship, and I hope later seasons dive deeper into it. There was mention of seed ships other than Sidonia, which is certainly something can be explored later, and I want to learn more about the Immortal Council. They mention a scientist with work so controversial his brain had to be locked away inside an isolated computer, so that is another potential exploration for the series. Personally, I am looking for a creepy connection between the gauna and the humans. Are they parasites? Were they built from us? Why do they want to kill us?
I get excited about world building, especially when it is as well done as Knights of Sidonia. In this case, it distracted me from the plot which is a typical Chosen One Must Save Humanity type of plot. There is even an added “every female falls for the Chosen One” trope which I roll my eyes at, and of course he only has romantic feelings for the girl he almost dated if it weren’t for [spoilers]. The show has less fanservice than other mecha shows with the same tropes, so I appreciate it for that. There is still fanservice (i.e. we only see the women photosynthesizing), but bouncing boobs only exist on a single recurring character with few lines.
The cast has more female characters than male characters, which I appreciate, and one bigender character who plays a major role throughout most of the series. Honestly, because there are so many women characters in the show, I did not pay attention to gender politics. However, women are the only characters that run support; I think about the ladies on the bridge that launch planet-destroying missiles and scientists that observe captured alien samples and dorm mothers who fret over pilots suffering depression. If you are a male character, an aggressive role is the only place for you. I find this disappointing because males need more role models out of the dominate, macho roles they are typically shown in.
Perhaps, because cloning is a major part of reproduction, and in earlier iterations of the ship the males were the only ones to fight which decreased the male population. Therefore, most of the ship would be female because the dudes dying in mecha battles would have gone into battle before having offspring. Which explains why there are only a few male characters throughout the entire show.
This is the type of underhanded logic that comes out on occasion during the show. The narrative will not comment on it directly, but it is a reason behind something a viewer might not think about. Or the viewer would think about it one way (these girls look alike because the company is saving money on designing another background character) while the world sees it another (those sisters are clones because they may not have a second parent because reproducing is so important a partner is not required).
The pacing of the show is so well done I marathoned the whole show in twelve hours. I kept watching because the end of each episode ended at such a fantastic place. Events of one episode would be hinted at several episodes beforehand and afterward which gave the show a single continuity that was easy to follow. Watching this show was like reading a nicely paced novel. All the chapters ended at the right places on the right notes and the following chapter fed off the events of the previous chapter. And then it ended and I was sad.
I do have one major disappoint: the lack of a dystopian ruling body a la Legend by Marie Lu with twists similar to Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. I wanted a robust history between humanity and the gauna, and I wanted more creepy experiments for the sake of humanity’s survival. I expected a larger feeling of impending doom. The hints for a larger dystopian-type world came from dissenters among the civilians who would protest outside the garde pilot school and disturb the main characters. Captain Kobayashi often mentions things that happened in the ship’s history that were never elaborated by her, and that felt suspicious to me. It especially comes from Norio Kunato, heir to a small capitalist empire who starts to conduct secret research into Sidonia’s archives. Although these threads are still loose at the end of the season, there is a second season rumored to be released later in April 2015. I have my fingers crossed.
Review Rating: 4/5 retrieved kabizashi weapons
Netflix Rating: 5/5 hastily eaten onigiri