Knights of Sidonia Series Review

July 30, 2014

/ by Tin Salamunic

"In something of a first (as far as anime is concerned), Knights of Sidonia is a Netflix exclusive series."

The Netflix exclusive Knights of Sidonia is a mecha/science fiction anime that successfully navigates through many of the potential narrative pitfalls encountered by similar series in the past, while also presenting an engrossing (albeit dystopian) vision of the future that encourages the “binge-watching” Netflix has recently become known for.

Knights of Sidonia, based on the manga of the same name by Tsutomu Nihei (and the first of his works to be animated), chronicles the journey of the eponymous star ship, one of many such ”seed ships” that fled the Sol system following Earth’s destruction at the hands of the extraterrestrial Gauna. Generations upon generations of human beings are born, live their lives, and die aboard Sidonia; a select few join the military and pilot humanoid battle suits called Gardes, tasked with protecting Sidonia from predatory Gauna, scouring space for what remains of the human race. Nagate Tanikaze , a youth raised in the “underground” of the city/ship and trained since birth to pilot the legendary Gardes unit known as Tsugumori, is recruited by the captain of Sidonia personally, and initiates a sequence of events that considerably alters mankind’s understanding of, and connections to, the Gauna.

In something of a first (as far as anime is concerned), Knights of Sidonia is a Netflix exclusive series. Sidonia’s description as a “Netflix Original Series” is something of a misnomer, however, as Netflix did not provide any funding or direction for the series, but rather acquired Sidonia’s North American license, much like Funimation or the now-defunct ADV Films would acquire rights to anime, and release them via DVD or Blu-ray stateside. While Netflix should be lauded for venturing into this new territory, the firm’s relative unfamiliarity with the medium is noticeable, particularly when it comes to subtitles – often, when a character is off-screen (and even when they are not) their name is placed as a heading before the subtitles of their dialogue, and while this may not sound like a problem, it becomes surprisingly confusing. A veteran subtitle-reader knows how to differentiate between who is speaking to whom, true enough – but we also automatically and instinctively read what appears on screen, and reading names alongside dialogue unintentionally creates some confusion between who is speaking, and who is being spoken to.

"While the CG may (or may not) irk some viewers, the closeness, visually, to Nihei’s original manga cannot be disputed."

Knights of Sidonia is computer-animated, as are a majority (if not all) of anime today – the days of hand-animated cels and dougas are long-gone. Sidonia’s animation, while clear and of evidently high quality, at times however resembles less a traditional, cel-drawn anime (something many CG shows attempt to mimic) and more so cut-scenes from a video game – this is not a question of quality, but rather of personal aesthetics, and the noticeable difference in composition may irritate some longtime anime enthusiasts. While the CG may (or may not) irk some viewers, the closeness, visually, to Nihei’s original manga cannot be disputed; Sidonia is one of the best examples of an anime staying true to the manga-ka’s original character and structural designs.

Narratively-speaking, Sidonia moves along at a good stride, and owing to the brevity that inevitably comes with a 12-episode season, does not suffer from many of the cliché tropes found in many mecha anime – the predictable plotlines regarding the protagonist’s losing faith in his abilities for an episode or two, or the abandoning of his mecha during a bout with self-angst, etc. In fact, Nagate Tanikaze differs, thankfully, from many established mecha pilots – unlike Shinji Ikari (Neon Genesis Evangelion), Amuro Ray (Mobile Suit Gundam) or scores of other pilots, Nagate actually wants to pilot the Tsugumori from the start and continues to do so, recognizing an obligation to his grandfather (who trained him in his youth, for reasons revealed as the series progresses), his new friends and fellow pilots, and himself. Sidonia’s story encompasses several layers of mysteries and machinations – while some ambiguities are explained by season’s end, enough are left open to speculation and postulating, generating expectations on the viewer’s part regarding the upcoming second season, due to air (in Japan) in the fall of 2014.

"Sidonia moves along at a good stride, and owing to the brevity that inevitably comes with a 12-episode season, does not suffer from many of the cliché tropes found in many mecha anime."

Knights of Sidonia is a well-written, well-plotted modern science fiction anime, with its only real shortcomings being largely determined by each viewer’s personal preferences as they relate to animation and subtitle stylings; a unique and engaging combination of sf and secrecies, Knights of Sidonia is a welcome addition to the mecha genre, a field which is all too often susceptible to repetitiveness and unoriginality. 

Review by: Nathan Madison | Review Format: Netflix Streaming


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