After running out of food, Nagate Tanikaze is forced to disobey his grandfather’s last wishes, leaving behind the only home he has ever known and a pilot simulator in order to survive. Upon reaching the food processing plant, he is apprehended and taken into custody. Afterwards, Captain Kobayashi takes an interest in Nagate and requests he enlist as a pilot in the continuing struggle against the ‘Gauna’, a race of alien beings who were responsible for the destruction of Earth.
An anime that uses cel shading animation almost exclusively is still an uncommon sight. Rarer is when this is done well, and Sidonia nails it. Everything on the screen comes across as fluid and in good detail (more on this in the ‘Setting’). For most of the time, the animation is rather restricted as the majority of the screentime is devoted to large scenes of dialogue where the characters don’t necessarily need to use a lot of motions. However, this allows for most of the animation budget to be spared for the fight scenes, and these become the standout pieces of the show. The animation in them is fluid and the amount of assets on the screen at any given time makes these scenes really feel like fights with hundreds of soldiers rather than just a small crew, helping to provide a sense of scale that would otherwise be unavailable with more standard animation methods.
Using cel shading primarily has another benefit to the immersion in the story. Typically, a modern anime will use cel shading for the mecha and then standard animation for backgrounds and characters, which makes the mechs clash with other assets and ruins the said immersion. However, because in Sidonia all of it is in Cel shading, the Gardes fit into the backgrounds just as well as the characters and because of this, it all blends together more seamlessly than another anime would.
No One is Safe
The premise of Sidonia means that at any time, if a battle occurs, characters can die. This tone is established as early as episode one to show us how terrifying and ruthless the Garna can be. What I particularly like about this is that character development becomes a double-edged sword. It creates tension by actually making us care about the characters that die rather than just killing characters simply for ‘drama’, and whilst I feel that Tanikaze won’t be getting killed anytime soon, anyone else is fair game. This also allows us to empathise with the cast who do not know if they will survive either and creates the same emotional turmoil when we know that if anything goes wrong, they could all die.
One of the aspects I really enjoyed was the way the world was presented on the Sidonia. If you look at the backgrounds, you can see scuff marks and broken items such as hand-rails. The Gardes appear in a similar fashion as well and uniforms are rather unkempt. All of this culminates to present a ‘used-future’ aesthetic that I really enjoyed and helps present the feeling that the ship and everything on it has to be constantly maintained as well as the dire situation that the Sidona’s citizens find themselves in, outrunning an unstoppable force with barely enough resources.
Turning Tropes on their Head
One of the things I particularly enjoyed about Sidonia was that it did not avoid the common tropes often found in similar anime and instead embraced them. However rather than subvert these tropes at every turn, Sidonia gives them an in-universe reason for existing which in itself is a refreshing twist. The typical Anime Hero is often a big eater and used to denote strength (more food = more energy to hit things with). However, Tanikaze eats an average amount of food. Compared to the ‘altered’ humans of Sidonia who only have to eat once a week, Tanikaze’s need to eat often invokes the big eater in a different light.
Likewise, the Tsugumori in-universe can be considered an antique weapon but Tanikaze is able to pilot it to greater success than what other pilots can do with the current generation “Type-18” Gardes. This is an improvement on other mecha anime when a character enters the cockpit and is then suddenly an ace pilot despite having no prior knowledge on how to pilot (e.g Suzaku in Code Geass or any handful of Gundam series) this automatic level of skill has an impact on suspension of disbelief as we have to wonder when, where and how they acquired this knowledge rather than focusing on the scene. However, the first scene in this series establishes Tanikaze‘s skills as a pilot and it highlights his skills specifically in the Tsugumori so when he actually comes to pilot it, his skills as an “ace” have already been justified in-universe and is less jarring because his abilities have already been established so his skills are still impressive to us because they look good but we know why he is such a good pilot we can just focus on the action rather than question it.
The World Building
The universe in which Sidonia exists is an interesting one. A lot of thought has been taken in creating a more hard sci-fi setting, but glancing past the surface reveals the problems underneath. This is because many points are made and then dropped into the background, never to really be explored.
The primary example of this would be the council. We know that they make executive decisions and they are supposedly immortal but all they do is lay around and say the have “plans”. An indication of what these plans are would have gone a long way to actually make me care about what they were doing but the they never explain anything in detail. Add to this that they all wear masks also makes them a literal faceless entity that seemingly had no bearing on any of the main plot it is not interesting.
Whilst it might not be important to the overall story, I would like to know why Lala, is a human mind in the body of a bear…
In season 1 at least, we are introduced to a “backup” copy of all of Ochiai’s memories and they will be put to “good use” we don’t hear about this again.
Izana, one of Nagato’s friends, is neither male or female and belongs to a third gender that will develop into either male or female after choosing a mate of the then opposite sex. So is there any dialogue pertaining to this third gender or how this affects Izana’s relationships with other crew (positive or negative) or the politics surrounding a third gender? NOPE. And it is a shame because it really could have opened up the world building and character development options (not the PLOT). For all the interesting points that occur as a result of Izana’s gender i.e. none, Izana should have just started as female.
Another issue I have is the aesthetic on the Sidonia. In a sci-fi show you don’t have to be held back by restrictions based on Earth cultures and create something vastly different. New worlds and cultures is one of the staples on the genre and could have added another dimension to KoS. However this is not utilized in show to any great degree and basically seems to be just a carbon copy (culturally anyway) to Japan. This does have a bonus of reducing time that would have to be otherwise spent on exposition but if you have no understanding or familiarity with Japanese culture you might be in the dark.
However, my main gripe might also be the smallest. At the start of the series, Nagate is shown a line of people walking towards the kilns as they have basically lived-out their lives and so they will be recycled. This scene is meant to show us how desperate this struggle is, the need for resources, the cost of war and what Nagate must strive to protect. So now we know that Sidonia literally recycles people to avoid resources running out. Okay, good so far. Later we are introduced to Yuhata Midorikawa and her hobby is… model kits. How can they spare the resources for this? The amount of plastic in that store is no small amount and given what they are shown to do for resources, the abundance of plastic just left on these shelves is both stupid and mind boggling.
The Rival - Norio Kunato
Kunato is rather flat as a character. When we first meet him, we can see that he is ambitious and that some of his bravado may be justified by his skill as a pilot. This sets him up to be the main rival for Tanikaze, but when they finally meet he just whines about not having the Tsugumori for himself. Kunato makes only one major contribution to the entirety of season 1 and then rather than use the experience to develop the character he actually seems to regress but keeps his disdain for not being able to pilot the Tsugumori.
Kunato’s main issue is that he seems much better on paper than he was in execution, as a brilliant and talented pilot at the top of his class who was usurped from the position by a nobody and now can’t handle it. Kunato could be an interesting character but as it stands he is not as interesting to watch as he could be nor is he as utilised as he should be for a rival.
Did Anyone Check The Audio Logs?
The events that take place in Knights of Sidonia are not character driven which in some ways makes sense, as the conflicts that occur are all supposed to be gauna and therefore external threats in the vastness of space “bumping” into gauna has to happen for the plot.
The above example is one from the series that had it have been used (and the Gardes definitely have audio logs) would have changed some of the outcomes of later events. Instead, omitting this makes the rest of the cast seem incompetent and it ruined my immersion within the series as I just kept questioning decisions that I felt had a rather straightforward and logical answer. The audio logs seemed to be skipped over because only by doing so could the plot unfold as it did.
Plot driven stories can be good, but when this creates problems with simple logic in the narrative they moves from being plot driven to contrivance in order to keep the story on a certain narrative.
Knights of Sidonia can be a bit of mixed bag. The action scenes are fun and the world building was interesting, but, this was countered by character development, or rather the lack of it for certain characters who were still integral to the plot as well as a lack of insight into how the council operates and who they are. However, it is possible that these issues could all be addressed in season 2.
Despite the minor flaws, the show holds together well and manages to be an entertaining ride through a mecha anime that tries to shed and/or send up the usual tropes to become something else. If you are looking for a fun mecha series then you do not need to look any further than Knights of Sidonia.
Special thanks to ProtonStorm for helping me editing this article.