Humanity created vast space-faring vessels to escape a world consumed by alien monstrosities known only as the Guana, whose motives for assaulting humanity remain unknown. A millennium after Earth was destroyed, Nagate Tanikaze exhausts the last of his food supplies, Nagate Tanikaze ventures outside home to look for food when he is spotted and captured by the local security while trying to steal some rice. Interrogated by Sidonia’s military, it turns out that Nagate is a highly skilled pilot, having trained every day while living underground in Sidonia. He is soon drafted to be a Guardian Pilot to defend Sidonia from the Guana menace. Thus is the core premise of one of the more exciting science fiction offerings for the Spring 2014 season, and with its first season now over, I’m left looking forwards to a second season that will continue the story.
- Despite being a seemingly nobody, Nagate is in fact Hiroki Saitō’s clone, inheriting the latter’s proficiency with the Guardians and an accelerated healing factor. He lacks the ability to photosynthesise and must eat as a means of sustenance, and in fact, only encounters the rest of Sidonia after his food supplies are depleted.
- Sidonia is a vast 28-kilometer long space vessel not dissimilar to that of the colony cylinders from the Universal Century, featuring diverse areas, including the military complex, a Japanese town area (where a festival is held), and the Norio manor.
- There’s an artificial ocean in Sidonia; this is a place only fully-qualified pilots are allowed to visit, and holds much of Sidonia’s water supply. I was considering skipping this review, despite being quite willing to recommend it, because I did not initially feel that I had too much to say about it. However, over its twelve episode run, Sidonia no Kishi touches on some topics, including the ethics of research that aims to aid humanity’s survival, and whether or not a military presence is justified in a given society.
- The Guana are shape-shifting aliens that are composed of two major components: the core, and the placenta, an impregnable, regenerating mass that surrounds the core. As grotesque as the Flood, their origins and objectives are completely unknown, but they present an active threat to humanity.
- The Guardians are mechanised platforms capable of wielding the “Kabizashi” spears, which are tipped with a unique material that can destroy a Guana’s core. Guardians are also equipped with a variety of weapons, such as the Hyggs Particle beams and missiles; these can damage the placenta, but only the Kibizashi are capable of finishing a Guana for good. The last time I heard about cores and a rapidly regenerating, durable super-structure, I was watching the Strike Witches movie, and the aliens in question were the Neuroi.
- After his first successful kill, Nagate becomes stranded in space after he goes out of the Type-17’s operational range to save Shizuka Hoshijiro. The two become closer to one another during the process, and as supplies dwindle, a squad of Guardian pilots, against orders, are deployed to retrieve the two.
- Izana Shinatose is another fellow trainee who becomes fast friends with Nagate. Being of the new third gender, Izana eventually falls in love with Nagate in the manga, and in the anime, is seen getting jealous whenever she sees another girl with Nagate.
- Lala Hiyama is a human/bear hybrid who acts as the dormitory keeper and is an excellent cook. She was a former Guardian pilot, alongside Captain Kobayashi and Nagate’s grandfather. Lala’s design is a callback to Nihei’s manga, Biomega; Kozlov, a supporting character, is also a bear and lost his hand.
- After Nagate’s efforts lead to the first Guana being slain, the Kunato squad is promoted to full-time pilot status. Kunato Norio, to the left, is one of the top-seeded trainees but despises Nagate for surpassing him and being made the Type-17’s pilot. His jealousy leads him to give deliberate orders that eventually lead to Shizuka’s assimilation and death. To the right is Captain Kobayashi, who commands Sidonia and wears a mask most of the time.
- I am tempted to say that Sidonia no Kishi is quite short on more exposition because it is trying to paint a picture of the current world, and status quo, before delving into any further details. Thus, as a viewer, though there are things that I’m uncertain of, I am also pulled towards any sort of continuation to see what awaits Sidonia, and also, how their world came to be.
It becomes immediately apparent that Sidonia no Kishi was not meant to be condensed into one season: the first season excels in the world-building and setting up some of the history behind how things came to be, but like reality, the further back in time one looks, the less reliable and consistent records become. No one knows why the Guana are attacking humanity, or what their objectives are; instead, what’s clear is that the Guana’s existence threatens Sidonia, and efforts are fully dedicated towards annihilating any that threaten Sidonia. While the pilots are not locked in combat with the Guana, they are training, or dealing with various things. From the surface, this is quite formulaic, and one might even go so far as to compare the setup to Strike Witches, where the 501st defeat any Neuroi that threaten European Locales, and are otherwise training or relaxing in their downtime. As with Strike Witches, Sidonia no Kishi presents bits and pieces of the history in flashbacks and through character interactions. However, there is a marked change in the atmospherics, with Knights of Sidonia having a significantly darker approach towards fighting an alien enemy: whereas Strike Witches is more about the dynamics between the different 501st operators, Sidonia no Kishi is focussed on the implications of the conflict. Whether it be Ochiai’s unethical research on the Guana (and the results it produces), the anti-militarization’s beliefs that the Kabizashi (dedicated anti-Guana weapons) are causing the war or the pilots’ constant risks of dying/losing loved ones, it is apparent that the war between humanity and the Guana are taking a toll on Sidonia and its populace.
- Despite being a little rough around the edges in places, Sidonia no Kishi looks and feels good. It’s one of those anime that are completely done in CGI: Sidonia no Kishi was done by Polygon Pictures, who also lent their talents towards making Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Quite personally, the characters look a little minimalist, but the details in the environment, Guardian cockpits and battle sequences all look polished.
- Shizuka’s death allows one of the Guardians to fall into Guana hands, leading to a squad of Guana-Guardians, including the Benisuzume, which displays a frightening level of combat capability. Most of these Guana are destroyed, save one, and Nagate eventually isolates a piece of its placenta for study.
- Nagate’s experience with a Type-17 simulator makes him particularly suited for piloting the Tsugumori, but his experience means that Sidonia’s military allow him to equip experimental weapons, including a next-generation rifle firing rounds that can destroy a Guana’s core.
- Despite its more serious nature, Sidonia no Kishi does allow its characters to share moments of triumph together, and outside of combat, the anime explores the different aspects of life on Sidonia. Living under the constant threat of extinction is grim, but people manage to find a way to make the most of their lives nonetheless.
- A Guana placenta is able to replicate Shizuka, including a limited number of her memories. While it is only mentioned and seen briefly, Sidonia is home to some questionable research on captured Guana specimens: Ochiai is a researcher who created Guana-human hybrids and developed a means of procuring the materials that line the Kabizashi.
- Judging from what is said, Sidonia has seen numerous wars with the Guana and internal strife, which caused the near-annihilation of Sidonia on at least one occasion. With a millennium of history, much of Sidonia’s past is shrouded in an engima, and on occasion, Sidonia’s scientists continue to make discoveries that were actively fielded in the past centuries.
- Nagate’s skill is demonstrated time and time again: even when an uncalibrated rifle throws his Guardian around, he manages to stabilise it and single-handedly destroy a Guana. Following Shizuka’s death, Nagate becomes despondent, but is shaken out of his stupor and soon returns to the battlefield with a renewed resolve to protect Sidonia. Conversely, haunted by guilt, Kunato resigns from his post and sulks around in his manor.
- I imagine that the 200-suit formations would have been a pain to animate by hand: since everything in Sidonia no Kishi was done using CGI, the battles are characterised by exaggerated scales, whether it be the number of Guardians on screen at any given time, their actions, or the Guana’s movements.
- The final battle is against a planet-sized Guana. Two squads are sent out to eliminate enough of the placenta and propulsion so that the planetoid the Guana has enveloped can be destroyed. While both squads face considerable trouble, eventually, the Guana is defeated, allowing Sidonia to fire a missile into the planetoid, destroying it. To keep his squad safe, Nagate spends much of the final two episodes engaging the Benisuzume and uses Ren’s last bullet to destroy it.
- Thus ends Sidonia no Kishi, or more appropriately, the first season of Sidonia no Kishi. The news that there would be a continuation turns my opinion around: initially, I felt that Sidonia no Kishi, though intriguing to watch, seemed a little deficient with respect to world-building. However, with a continuation in mind, the first season ends up being composed as to capture a viewer’s interest as to what daily life in present-day Sidonia, and gives an idea of what Nagate aims to defend, lending weight to humanity’s fight against the Guana.
Folks need heroes, and Nagate Tanikaze fulfils this role to Sidonia. His innate piloting skills allow him to rapidly rise through the ranks, and although sabotage from Norio Kunato occasionally drags down Nagate, his experiences and resolve eventually lead him to accept his duty as a pilot to protect Sidonia. Ultimately, watching him adapt quickly to his environment and lay down everything to fulfil his role, as well as earning the trust of those around him, wound up being the most enjoyable part of the show. All of this development on Nagate’s end, however, means that despite the world-building seen, there are still far too many mysteries surrounding the Guana and Sidonia itself. This would have easily been a weaker point in Sidonia no Kishi, but the presence of a second season means that some of these questions could be answered, and I find myself looking forwards to a second season for further exposition: there is simply so much detail in this world that it would be a shame not to explore more of it. I also wonder how romance is going to turn out in the second season, but this is the part where I will exercise some patience and await things.