Review for Knights Of Sidonia Complete Series 1 Collection
I did my patently stupid, ‘judging an anime by the title’ thing again. Last time it was Attack on Titan, which I went into expecting a full-on space opera anime, a Star Wars clone set around the largest moon of Saturn. I have to admit that when I tried an episode online and found it to be Titans in the mythological sense, preying on a pseudo-feudal era human society, I dropped it like a hot potato until I had no choice but to review it. So when everyone started raving about Knights of Sidonia, my expectations plummeted. I wasn’t going to spend my valuable time on some sword and sorcery nonsense. And then the check discs arrived for review, and Knights of Sidonia is a bloody full-on space opera sci-fi! That thumping sound you hear is me, kicking myself.
One thing about Knights of Sidonia is that this is the 21st Century equivalent of anime going mainstream, what 15 years ago would have been anime on a terrestrial TV channel. Whereas most new anime gets streamed to the west on speciality websites such as Crunchyroll, Daisuki or Funimation, Knights of Sidonia was a Netflix exclusive, and it debuted in localised form, complete with dub. This might just be even bigger than Attack on Titan, which was anime’s last attempt on the mainstream. Also, it’s not traditional anime. It’s 3D CGI cel-shaded animation, a couple of generations removed from the Freedom Project OVAs (with which it has a couple of story commonalities), and up there with theatrical quality animation like Appleseed Ex Machina and Vexille.
The world has ended. The alien Gauna attacked and destroyed the solar system. The few survivors of humanity managed to escape in vast seedships, and one such seedship, the Sidonia now makes its way through space, guarding its precious human cargo in the hope that civilisation can once more be re-established on another world somewhere. That isn’t easy with Gauna still liable to attack. To defend, the Sidonia has a legion of Garde, giant space going robots equipped with the only (alien) technology able to defeat the Gauna. And to take the robots into battle, elite pilots are trained in an Academy.
No Gauna has been seen for a hundred years when Nagate Tanikaze joins the Academy. He’s a throwback, a human raised by his grandfather in the catacombs under the city, trained on vintage Garde simulators in how to battle the Gauna. The death of his grandfather and hunger drives him to the surface where initially he’s treated as a criminal. But the captain of the Sidonia recognises him, and the talent that his grandfather nurtured, and assigns him to the Academy, with the hope that he will be the next Knight of Sidonia, protector of humanity. For after a century, the Gauna have returned. But there are truths about this spaceship and humanity’s history that are yet to be revealed.
12 episodes of Knights of Sidonia Season 1, plus extra features are presented across two Blu-ray discs from Animatsu.
Knights of Sidonia gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer which follows the usual convention of HD anime releases, clear, sharp, with great detail and smooth animation, but with the only blight a smidge of digital banding. Knights of Sidonia is a 3D animation, with cel-shaded characters fitting in well with the CGI mechas and environments. The mecha aspects of the show look fantastic, great robot designs, intricate world designs, and truly daunting and epic Gauna manifestations. The action comes across well, and taking a leaf from J.J. Abrams book, there’s a whole lot of lens flare on screen to add... well flair. The character animation, specifically the facial animation is somewhat static and lacking in detail though, and the representation of emotion really has to be carried by the voice actors. You do get used to it after a while, but it really could have been better.
The images in this review have been supplied by the PR and aren't necessarily representative of the final retail release.
This is a turn up for the books, an anime which gets a native surround audio track, DTS-HD MA 5.1 Japanese and English on this disc, as well as DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Spanish. The Spanish tracks and English tracks come with signs only subs in those languages, while you can watch the Japanese audio with translated English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Annoyingly this is one of those releases with language options locked during playback, with the pop-up menu your only way to chop and change between the five options.
Knights of Sidonia is an aural treat. I opted for the Japanese as always, and got a full-blooded surround track for my trouble. This is an action packed show, and the speakers get a full workout when conveying the various battle sequences, highlight the quality surround design in creating an immersive representation of Sidonia’s world, and really do the show’s music justice as well. The actors are well cast for their roles, and give great performances that elevate the admittedly limited character animation. I gave the English dub a quick try and found it to be a surprising decent effort from Sentai; they obviously realised that they had a property that they couldn’t give one of their conveyor belt dubs to. The subtitles are accurately timed, and other than the odd typo are free of error.
A premium show like Knights of Sidonia gets more than the usual cursory textless credits when it comes to extra features. Both discs present their content with static menus, although disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Super Sonico first. While the episode credits are in English, a sign no doubt of the global target audience the creators had in mind for the show, each episode still gets four pages of localisation credits for the English and Spanish voice casts.
All of the extras are on disc 2, beginning with two behind the scenes featurettes, presented in 1080i, and running to 8:36 and 6:33 respectively. The first looks at how the show went from concept art and storyboards to the final CGI product, while the second pays closer attention to how the action sequences were accomplished.
The Press Conference (17:26) and Advance Screening (25:35) featurettes are those stage events which gather the voice cast and directors to indulge in a little moderated Q & A about the show. Again these are in 1080i.
Sound of Sidonia lasts 10:32, 1080i, and offers an interview with the music director of the show on how he composed the music, interspersed with some behind the scenes footage of an orchestra at work.
You get the textless credits in 1080p, and finally there are trailers on this disc for Soni-Ani: Super Sonico the Animation, Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse, Ninja Scroll, and Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky.
Note that given the three language options and the locked subtitles, you’ll have to remember to select Japanese audio with English subtitles, or there won’t be any subtitles displayed for the extra features.
The somewhat lacking character animation made me use a muscle that I haven’t used in quite a while. I had to use my willing suspension of disbelief. I had to meet the show halfway to fully accept its characters and the universe which they inhabit. It was more than worth it though, as Knights of Sidonia is the best sci-fi anime that I have seen since Psycho Pass, and in terms of portraying a believable outer space environment, the most well thought out since quite probably PlanetES. There’s no magical technology to make everything convenient here. Life in space is one of deprivation, hardship, and scarcity of resources, and you can well believe that in Knights of Sidonia.
It’s proper sci-fi too, well thought out and carefully considered speculative fiction, presented beneath the ever popular veneer of space opera. We have a future world where the solar system has been destroyed by the alien Gauna. The Gauna are an inscrutable force when we first see them, a conglomeration of amorphous matter that takes on whatever form it needs to achieve its ends, a controlling core protected by impervious Ena. The only weapon that the humans have that can stand against the Gauna is itself based on a mysterious alien artefact. But as the series unfolds, the very nature of the Gauna comes into question.
We start the series a millennium or so after the destruction of Earth, with humanity having escaped on a fleet of Seedships, of which the Sidonia is one. It’s making its way through space with its precious cargo of humanity, searching for a planet to colonise that will be safe from the Gauna. The first person we encounter, Nagate Tanikaze is recognisably human, but the rest of humanity is unrecognisable as a society. People now rarely eat, having developed the ability to photosynthesize like plants (photosynthesis now involves getting naked to take in as much light as possible, and it’s something that most males want to do with females). It turns out that this is due to the last Gauna attack a hundred years previously destroying much of their food supplies, and this being a radical form of genetic engineering to sustain the human race. That isn’t the only tinkering going on, as to restore the population after the last attack, there are a fair few clones around, and a new, third gender. And this society is governed by an almost mythical council of immortals (you don’t want the general population knowing that immortality exists).
In this world, Nagate Tanikaze is an evolutionary throwback, with his primitive need to eat three square meals a day. But there is more to Nagate than meets the eye. He’s been brought up in the underworld by his grandfather, who spent the years training him how to pilot a Garde and fight Gauna on a simulator. The captain of the Sidonia, Kobayashi recognises Tanikaze when he first appears and immediately puts him in the Garde Academy, ensuring that he’s on the fast track to elite pilot. It’s obvious that Kobayashi knows who Tanikaze is, and more importantly who his grandfather was. But it’s a decision that rankles many, and Tanikaze has to go a long way to prove himself. Thankfully his piloting skills are more than up to the task.
The main character arcs in Knights of Sidonia are comparatively mundane. It’s the usual teenage rivalries and passions of teenage drama. Tanikaze quickly picks up a rival in the elite Kunato (heir to one of the companies that manufacture the latest garde), layered with no little jealousy that Tanikaze gets to pilot the vintage garde that was last piloted by the hero of Sidonia. Tanikaze gets no little romantic interest as well from some of the girls in his class, as well as the third gendered Izana, who nurses a crush on Tanikaze, but is constantly thwarted by the girls that get to Tanikaze first (including one who infuriatingly insists on referring to Izana as male). The relationship angst is pretty mundane, but it’s leavened by the action sequences, for which the CG animation is put to spectacular use (I love the Clutch Formation in which the Gardes fly, especially when there are a lot of them). The Gauna insist on renewing their assault on Sidonia after a century of respite, and their attacks are regular, and increasingly more brutal. This is a show where no character is safe, and you might develop an emotional connection to someone, only for them to be unceremoniously wiped out of the show. But the battles are spectacular, and there is a whole lot of thought put into their dynamics, and the strategies the characters use, to keep them visually interesting.
For me, the third and most important strand is the science fiction. As the show unfolds, we meet more of the important characters in the command structure of the ship, and we also learn more of the secrets of Sidonia’s past, just who Nagate Tanikaze actually is, and more hints about the true nature of the Gauna. It makes Knights of Sidonia a fascinating watch as you learn more and more about this world and how it came to pass. In that respect it’s a story as well told, and just as compelling as From the New World. It isn’t profligate with its secrets either, dishing out just enough to keep you hooked without giving the game away.
The one problem I have with Knights of Sidonia Season 1 is that in its roundabout of teen angst, battle sequences and sci-fi, it ends on a note of teen angst that descends to pure melodrama, which for me is the wrong note to end the series on. Fortunately this is alleviated by the fact that there is a Knights of Sidonia Season 2 to come. Hopefully Animatsu won’t be tardy in announcing that they have that too. Don’t be put off by the character animation. Knights of Sidonia is a great sci-fi series that is well worth picking up.