I had not planned to do any first-impressions of the anime this season and just follow the picks I made with a series review but I watched Knights of Sidonia and wanted to write a few words, partly because fellow blogger Novroz was interested and partly to just give my take because I like the story and the anime has impressed me.
I am a big fan of Tsutomu Nihei and I think his art is distinctive, detailed, weird and very, very cinematic. His skill is clear to see in the architecture, the characters and the great use of art and frames to convey scale and movement. Whenever I read his manga I can always imagine them adapted into films so any adaptation of his work is going to get my attention. Of all the titles he has worked on, Knights of Sidonia is probably the best candidate, if only because the attempts at a coherent plot and narrative join up much better than in others and the story is epic enough to span a two-cours season.
First off, that intro by angela is suitably militaristic, electronic and bombastic enough to fit the show.
I expect nothing less after their performance on the intro for Coppelion.
I’ll probably start listening to more of their stuff.
The writing on the show’s first episode was enjoyably intriguing.
Nihei is not the strongest when it comes to plot and narrative but, just to remind everyone, the series composition is handled by Sadayuki Murai, writer of screenplays for Kino’s Journey and the great live-action Mushishi movie so I expect an intelligent handling of the series.
Knights of Sidonia seems to reference creatures and events from the manga Abara but apparently the two are unconnected, all we know is that Earth has been destroyed by polymorphous betentacled creatures known as Gauna.
Humanity was forced to flee into space and look for a new home using gigantic spaceships. One of these ships is called Sidonia and that’s where the story takes place. After a century of peace, the Gauna’s are back. To help fend off the threat of the Gauna’s, humanity has developed mecha and main character Nagate Tanikaze is training to be a pilot of one of these mecha.
So far so generic
What makes this different from something like Battlestar Galactica (another show where humanity is on the run from some great existential threat in spaceships) is how humanity has adapted.
There are three sexes – male, female and intersex (characters who are both genders and can reproduce asexually as well as with members of other sexes). People also have the ability to use photosynthesis (something our main character cannot do).
There is the military government which is running the show, something which irks the civilians who have experienced nothing but peace for a century.
Not so generic. It’s all told in incidental scenes – like the protest outside a hospital – and dialogue – show not tell. There are a lot of details and the world building has been entertaining mostly because it is intelligently done and there have been no info-dumps, excessive narration or obvious and tedious moments of exposition.
I found that the visual aspect of the anime looked good due to canny use of the direction – camera angles, character placement – and the art style made me adapt to the CGI pretty quickly.
Anime fandom pretty much dismisses CGI, especially when it is used for character models, and not without good reason because there are many films like Vexille which look somewhat lifeless and bland while the animation plays out in an anaemic way that lacks dynamism and force. Not so here.
The CGI present in the show looks good. The character models do capture some of the look Nihei creates for his cast, that sort of perfect and flawless beauty or discomfiting artificiality.
Perfect for the “undead” in the masks.
All those little details that Nihei makes for clothes are present as seen in Nagates tattered clothes and the second-hand jumpsuits the pilots wear.
The CGI works even better for the mecha battles where the models stand out in the battles and all the military details – HUDs and screens lit up – make an impact. The look, combined with camera placement, deliver the atmosphere really well and that feeling extends to the movement of the characters and machines. Watching the set piece battles and chases, there is a sense of speed and fluidity. Not quite exhilarating stuff like Attack on Titan, but well done nonetheless.
What the CGI does ever better is capture the landscapes and environments that Nihei is famous for. The bowels of the ship are cramped and dark places.
The surface of Sidonia is usually shot from high or low angles and gives a sense of the vertiginous drops and the overall look is like something a high-tech arthitect like Sir Norman Foster would love, all glass, concrete and exposed pipes, a place fit for a technocratic way of life.
Overall, I was left satisfied with the episode. The first episode ended with a battle and after that there is more story and world-building to come. Based on this episode alone, it’s currently one of my favourites this season.
The writing on the show’s first episode has been intelligently handled. Nihei is not the strongest when it comes to plot and narrative but, just to remind everyone, the series composition is handled by Sadayuki Murai, writer of screenplays for Kino’s Journey and the great live-action Mushishi movie so I expect.