Shows You Might Have Missed: Knights of Sidonia

Knight of Sidonia is a (as of now) two 12-episode anime adaptation of Nihei Tsutomu's manga of the same name. 

Travelling alone into uncharted space, Sidonia is one of the many human seed ships sent out to deep space after Earth's demise a millennia ago at the hands of terrifying alien lifeforms known as Gauna. Taking place mostly on the titular human space colony, the story chronicles the lives its people and the mecha pilots who defend them from the ever looming Gauna threat.

The story is told principally from the perspective of Tanikaze Nagate, who grew up isolated in the underbelly of Sidonia, and is quickly conscripted as a mecha pilot when he is caught wandering the surface of Sidonia proper for reason unbeknownst to him.  Plot wise, what follows is perhaps pretty standard fare for mecha/sci-fi, as it follows an ever escalating Gauna threat, Nagate's meteoric rise as an ace pilot for Sidonia's defense force, and the envy and romantic interest that comes with it. Influences from other classic mecha or even western sci-fiction is prominent throughout Nihei Tsutomu's work, and his love for the genre is clear to see. Many of the characters in this work of his also have trouble standing out, be it in personality or appearance, but perhaps that isn't the point, as the real star of the show is the world itself.

Having been in deep space and on the run from Gauna for over a millennia, live in Sidonia has changed much to suit its highly inhospitable environment. Scarce resources means everything is conserved, anything and everything (bodies included) are reprocessed and recycled, homes are stacked and packed into whatever space is available, and humans are even bio-engineered to be able to perform photosynthesis for nutrients, reducing food consumption to once a week. Most of Sidonia's design is deliberate and thought, such as the thick layer of ice surrounding Sidonia's surface acting as a secondary water source while doubling as shock absorbers from space debris. Everything in Sidonia has a worn down, patched-up look as everything is used and reused, from buildings, clothing and equipment to the mechs themselves.

Life in Sidonia is also highly colored by the threat of the Gauna. Far be it from a typical alien threat to be fought off and be done with, the strange always changing, always evolving Gauna are a persistent existence throughout many corners of the space and can be encountered at any time. The very real threat of the Gauna lead to its Sidonia's focus on its sizable defense force, with engineers and pilot having the status and privileges to match their importance. Historical catastrophic losses to Gauna incursions have also lead to various re-population efforts via genetic engineering, not limited to the aforementioned photosynthesis capable humans, cloning, accelerated growth, a third gender that adapts sexual characteristics depending on their partner's gender, and even dabbling into immortality and cybenetics. All these lore and details are slowly dolled out throughout the series at a steady pace, making Sidonia an extremely interesting place to explore and feels lived-in. Fairly realistic physics are also prominent in the series, what with things like rapid inertial changes to Sidonia's massive hull can cause catastrophic damage to inhabitants. The mechs are not exempt from these rules, with things like G-forces, fuel, gravity and oxygen being real worries less they suffer internal injuries or have inertia carry them far enough away from Sidonia to be unable to make a return trip.

The show also distinguishes itself for its ambitious, completely 3D-CG rendered production under Studio Polygon. Everything from the backgrounds, mechs, characters and special effects are all done using CG, and for my money this worked out really well and was probably the best choice for such a series. The use of CG allowed for the cost-effective production of impressively detailed clothing, mechs, lighting, surfaces and environments. Employing CG also massively benefits all the scenes in space, allowing for swift mech movement, a great sense of inertia and speed, amazing cockpit views, ludicrously complex debris fields and great special effects. If there is anything that the CG doesn't work well for, it would be the humans since animations can look a little stiff and transitions between facial expressions is sometimes awkward, but in its defense had impressive lip-syncing and wonderfully adapts Nihei Tsutomu's meticulous artstyle. All this is supported by a grand, almost orchestric soundtrack, which together with its strong opening and ending themes adds a nice sense of intensity and grandeur to the whole experience. 

The story told by the end of the 2 seasons is not yet complete with a 3rd season yet to be announced as Polygon is currently busy with Ajin, but the source manga has already concluded with perhaps another 2 seasons worth or material. The original features a much more detailed look into Sidonia with deeper exploration into the lore, additional missions that were not adapted and greater emphasis on the technical aspects of the arms-race between Sidonia and the ever-evolving Gauna. Luckily both the anime and manga offer significantly different experiences and are both worth checking out one after the other.

All in all, Knights of Sidonia is a mecha series with a unique aesthetic, good action sequences, and a world with rich lore to explore. Anyone remotely interested in a unique experience in the sci-fi or mecha genre will find much to love here and comes highly recommended as a standalone experience.


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