I had the strangest experience with the first episode of this science fiction-mech series about a post-apocalyptic universe.
I laughed my ass off for about ten minutes straight. But this did not occur until two days after I had seen the pilot.
I was attempting to give my anime friends a quick blurb about it, when I crafted this wholly accurate sentence, “The dorm monitor is a talking bear with a robot arm”.
Realizing that this was dead serious, I completely lost my composure, almost waking up my wife in the process. And thus I knew it had earned its place in our line up.
But not just for itself. “Sidonia no Kishi” shares lots of common elements, it would seem, with Black Bullet, another show we’ll be getting into. And yet they approach their subject matter from completely different angles. Comparing and contrasting may be in our future…maybe. I’ll give it another week or two.
But Knights of Sidona wins by being a science fiction piece, and there is no doubt that it is. And despite my blog name having origins in a camp sci-fi show, I haven’t REALLY gotten to explore the genre in great detail. Knights offers me that opportunity, so here you have it. It’s also combined with mecha, and I still feel bad not having a good “comfort zone” series to test my boundaries. So this also happens to help fill that role, a mixed blood series to ease my temperament, if you will.
Judging by a lot of the imagery and themes involved, along with one not entirely subtle nod, I think it’s safe to say this series is inspired, at least in part, by Battlestar Galactica (which, if you haven’t heard, is getting ANOTHER reboot).
You may be familiar with the premise, as Ron Moore’s version was quite popular some years back. But in case you aren’t: Humans created AI called Cylons. They rebelled, and after a back and forth conflict, the Cylons retreated into uncharted space with a tenuous peace treaty with the Human colonies. At the start of the series, they’ve broken the treaty, and nuke the entirety of the Human race, some few thousand survivors escape with the only Human warship left, the Galactica. They are pursued by the Cylons, trying to find refuge at a lost Human colony called Earth.
Knights of Sidonia takes that initial concept, and runs it to its most extreme conclusion. That this chase after the essential extermination of the Human race just keeps going and going, with no safe haven to be found. There are obviously some changes, the big one being Earth isn’t a haven, but the seat of Humanity wiped out during the apocalypse.
And the enemy is not robotic, but biological. This is mostly just a reflection of the times. AI was a pretty big issue. It dominated science fiction from the late 60s to the 1980s. 2001: A Space Odyssey had HAL9000, there were the Terminator movies. And even the original Battlestar Galactica itself.
Today, our fears are less that technology will overthrow us, and more directed at the biological. Super viruses, zombie apocalypses, these are what our doomsday scenarios look like these days in media. So thus in Knights we have a reflection of that, with an organic menace decimating the Human race, rather than robotic. They’re made of tentacles because….it’s Japan.
First let’s talk about the aesthetics. I find them quite charming. The CG-nature of the animation has thrown a lot of people off, but to me? It’s basically like watching an extended video game cut scene, in a sense. So it doesn’t bug me. As for the designs themselves…well the Humans are rather bland on the whole (which may be a style choice), but I love certain elements. The settings and backgrounds are effective. And the commanders’ masks…they are so creepy and I find them fascinating from a sociological angle. Really, the fucking MASK bought half of the goodwill points I offered this show. It’s silly, but in an otherwise well thought out sci-fi universe, it feels more like that feature is there for a REASON, and not just because it was edgy to make it that way.
Opening on our pilot episode (no pun intended) has a young man in some sort of training simulator, where he flawlessly defeats the computer baddie. Huzzah?
Then our OP…I kind of like it, I cannot lie. It’s very…Flash Gordon in the sense that it doesn’t seem to realize what decade it was made for. The series as a whole is like this. It’s woefully sure of itself in a rather jaded, cynical age, and that’s actually pretty refreshing.
Our apparent lead is now, it seems, coming to the surface. I guess. He’s hunting for food, it seems, his stomach growling all the way. But it doesn’t go well, he falls into a thresher, and the result is…well..you see that top screenshot. He makes a quick getaway on a rail cart…and hits his head.
We’re treated to some…pink haired triplets? Talking about the “mole man”, these girls seem to be studying in an academy, but they’re planning to put the rumors to the test by going to the hospital to see if he exists.
Our hero awakens, and after a failed escape attempt finds himself with one of the students. And a…police officer? I guess? He names our hero, Tanikaze Nagate, and apparently his grandfather was a bigshot around these parts years ago. A bureaucrat arrives to bring him to the captain of this little colony-ship. One of the details we get is that most humans have been engineered to be partially photosynthetic, which is not true of sodium-gate (it’s the only time I use that joke, I swear). They eat very little, which all makes sense for a civilization on the brink. It’s one of these many little details that make the Sidonia universe very rich.
Unlike the very run down look of the colony below (like the police station or the academy catwalks), Command is spotless white, like a J.J. Abrams movie. The Captain introduces herself as his new legal guardian, and embraces him appropriately. It’s strange when the woman is known to the public (we had seen an anti-military demonstration at the hospital…for some reason) by her mask. She discards it so easily here, it adds a layer of mystery to her behavior. She wants him to be a GARDES pilot (the mecha of this universe, though it may have been intended to be “guards”, but whatever, the spelling is committed in the VR!)
After being introduced to the class, Nagate is walking with a girl from the hospital, Shinatose Izana. This conversation is dull as hell. The only interesting thing is we learn there’s a third gender now. Like, a literal third gender, that can mate with either male or female. Again, makes a lot of sense for a Humanity on the brink. The number of compatible partners (if we assume a roughly even distribution of this gender) for any given human rises from ~50% of your peers to ~66%. It’s a good survival backup when you’re expecting high casualties on a species-wide level. Of course, perhaps anime has dulled my senses, but they don’t LOOK any more andro-blobish than any of the other characters. Probably an instance where line-drawn would have served this series well.
I am focusing a lot on universe building here, because…frankly…Sidonia is science fiction in more ways than one. One of the big problems with sci-fi as a literary genre, and later film genre, is that the characters tend to be rather flat. They are more movable chess pieces to carry the drama of the theme or story concept. And that is sadly so far the case here. Our characters aren’t nearly as interesting as the universe around them.
The new “prodigy” is brought to the VR room, but these are for a later model than the ones Nagate has practiced on, so his perfect scores end up crashing near the bottom. I like that, he isn’t just naturally awesome with equipment different than he’s used to. Like moving from a Gamecube to Wii-mote, it’ll take some adjusting even if it’s just one generation apart.
We see the students in pilot class. One of the things to note is that we know there hasn’t been a Gauna attack in over 100 years. So while it’s all very professional, in the back of our minds we know that this is all textbook learning, and outdated ones at that. No Human has done field work on combat with Gauna in over a century. We also learn there are only 28 weapons, the kabizashi, spears that the mechs use to fight Gauna.
Presumably these spears are hard to make, or made of a limited material, otherwise I’d think there would be more than 28, especially after a century of peace (and not losing them, etc). In this sense, we have a decent justification for the mech. Take Pacific Rim, why spend so much time and money on a giant robot when it just uses conventional weapons? But these are limited resources, so using spears as a melee weapon makes much more sense, because it can be recycled. Making this special metal or tech into bullets means they can’t be used again once lost. Sure you might recover a couple from the kill shot, though as you need to, basically, detach a Gauna’s brain, using projectiles to do that probably guarantees they are lost. It’s slightly more well thought out, at least at this point. Perhaps, though, the show will trump us.
The students are going on an ice-gathering mission, which is where most water in space is to be had: asteroids. And the Commander even gifted Nagate with his grandfather’s old Type 17. How sweet. Using students on a mission seems odd, but, judging by the fact that they were learning tactics, it seems like they are past the “push the red button to open the cockpit” part of their schooling. So they’re likely nearing graduation. They combine four mechs together to go to warp, or whatever. Gee, sure hope you have a backup plan if a number of mechs survive with a not-divisible-by-four number.
But, of course, there’s a monster under the ice. A tentacle mess Gauna.
I made the comparison to Flash Gordon earlier. Now here, where the Captain stares at the monitor and calmly delivers “One Hundred Years now ends,” is so over-the-top it is endearing. It’s an enthusiasm that you can’t help but say “Okay that’s cornball, but bring on Brian Blessed.”
I really liked this first crack at the series. It is such an honest approach to the concept that I can’t help but enjoy the ride. We’ll be examining it more seriously as time goes on, I’m sure, but for now? It’s established itself as a pretty serious science fiction piece. Now Sidonia must rise to the challenge of keeping our interest.