ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:00 - 29th September 2015, by NEO Staff

Knights of Sidonia

It’s been almost a thousand years since the gauna – a terrifying, shape-shifting alien species – destroyed the Earth, driving the last remnants of humanity out into deep space to eke out their existence. Their home, the Sidonia (part asteroid, part space station) is now all they have left, with its Garde Pilots standing as the last defence between its people, and total extinction.

For Nagate Tanikaze, raised deep within the station’s bowels and in virtual isolation, it’s a strange new world that he is introduced to when, at his grandfather’s passing, he is finally forced to make his way to the surface. The people have adapted to centuries of intergalactic flight (in both senses of the word), modifying themselves so that they can photosynthesise for nourishment, and even creating a third, biologically-interchangeable gender. Only interested in tracking down his next meal, he instead finds himself scooped up into the Garde Pilot cadets. Fortunately, thanks to his grandfather’s training on his old virtual simulator, he’s not half bad, and is right on time to confront the gauna who, after a century of peace, have re-emerged hell-bent on destroying what little of humanity remains.

If you’re already a fan of sci-fi anime, then there’s plenty to love about Knights of Sidonia. Making full use of the latest CGI animation techniques, the action sequences play out in a way that feels every bit as dynamic and immersive as a Hollywood blockbuster or AAA-game. But these set-pieces, well executed as they are, are only one part of the show’s brilliantly executed narrative. Instead, it’s the human dynamic and political tensions that make this a cut above your generic mecha fare.

For all that the show centres on the battle between mankind and a horrifying alien force, there’s as much tension and drama to be found within the walls of Sidonia itself. As well as the personal struggle for acceptance that Nagate must face as the ‘underdweller’, there’s also some seriously dystopian stuff going on beneath the surface (figuratively and literally) of this supposedly highly-functioning society. As he and his friends simultaneously defend and question the civilisation they have previously taken for granted, it becomes harder and harder to know what is really worth saving.

In terms of character development, there’s not much here that would come as a shock. Nagate’s story is that of your typical hero, coming to terms with his responsibilities and becoming the man people need him to be, and most of the characters around him don’t develop beyond roughly sketched background figures. While they are occasionally called upon to deliver information, or are thrown in to raise some quick emotional stakes, they are not given the fully-fleshed back-stories and conflicting motivations that could have seen this series elevated to the highest ranks. The voice acting in both the English and Japanese versions can’t be faulted, but the characters themselves aren’t distinctive enough to lend any of them that sought-after ‘iconic’ status.

When it first hit screens in 2014, Knights of Sidonia made quite a splash with fans and creators alike, with even the increasingly mysterious Hideo Kojima weighing in to sing its praises. It’s unsurprising that a man so synonymous with gaming would find plenty to like; its meaningful, well-paced combat sequences and camera angles that could have been taken straight out of a shooter mean that many gamers will feel instantly at home. Throw in some Mass Effect-esque storytelling and you’ve really got the ingredients for an immersive and creative universe.

As first seasons go, Knights of Sidonia is seriously entertaining stuff. A well-balanced blend of action and drama, it’s infinitely watchable, and yet still manages to give you some things to think about. Bring on season two.

An anime that’s much greater than the sum of its mechanical parts, Knights of Sidonia is a well-paced and hugely entertaining sci-fi romp.
SCORE: 4/5
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