For years Netflix dangled Knights of Sidonia in front of me as a recommended show to check out. But as I noted several posts back, I was generally resistant to anime for a long time. I did try to take up the show once, but remember struggling with the standard anime female tropes and the mecha aspect of the series. When I started my anime binge a few months ago, Knights of Sidonia was one I meant to get back to.
But it turned out it wasn’t on Netflix anymore. (At least not in the US.) Not only that, it didn’t appear to be available anywhere for streaming. It seemed to have completely disappeared. The only place I could find it was on Blu-ray via Amazon. I considered ordering it, but there was enough other anime keeping me busy, so I never got around to it. Then I came across Blame! After reading the original manga by Tsutomu Nihei, I was interested in what else he had produced, and discovered he was the creator of the Knights of Sidonia manga.
I was slowly working my way through it when I came across news that a theatrical movie is coming to complete the anime version. And that the show itself would be available for streaming on Funimation. Sure enough, it became available on August 3 and I binged through the two seasons in a few days. But then I couldn’t wait for the movie, and so went back to the manga and started again where the show ended (volume 10) and read it through to the end.
The premise is that Earth has been destroyed by shapeshifting aliens called the Guana. The remnants of humanity fled in large ark type vessels, one of which is the Sidonia. However, the Sidonia has not had contact with any of the other ships in several centuries. It may be the last bastion of humanity. Throughout its history, the Sidonia has had to fight off the Guana numerous times, although they haven’t been seen in the last century.
At first I took the Sidonia to be a slower than light ship deep in interstellar space, but the narrative seems to imply that, while it is a generation ship, with an entire enclosed society within it, it has the ability to move between star systems fairly quickly.
Nagate Tanikaze is raised by his grandfather in a hidden “underground” location (hidden lower levels of the ship). His grandfather has him train from a very young age in a Garde flight simulator. Gardes are the mecha units used to fight the Guana, although the mecha aspect itself isn’t emphasized very much, to the point that I mostly thought of the Gardes as fighter craft with extra capabilities. When his grandfather dies, Tanikaze is forced to go to the higher levels to find food, where he is discovered and captured.
Tanikaze learns a few strange things about the general population of Sidonia. For one, many of them are clones of a small number of phenotypes. For another, many of them can photosynthesize, and so don’t have to eat more than once a week or so. Photosynthesizing together is implied to be a very sensual experience. Tanikaze himself doesn’t have this capability, so he has to eat regularly. He discovers the wide variety of food available in the society, and it’s a running gag how much he enjoys eating, along with the sheer quantity he takes in. He also appears able to heal much faster than everyone else.
Tanikaze is surprised when he is quickly ushered in to meet the captain, a woman who usually carries out her duties while wearing a mask. The captain enrolls Tanikaze in Garde training. This is seen by some as scandalous since Garde training is a highly sought after thing, usually only open to those who have proven to be the best of the best. The Guana suddenly show up while Tanikaze is on a training mission and he ends up having to fight them. It quickly becomes apparent that the training from his grandfather has made him phenomenally skilled, something the captain somehow knew would be the case.
In addition to the captain, the leadership of Sidonia appears to include a secret council, often referred to as “the Immortal Council” because its members all use technology to preserve their lives, growing clones and transferring their minds when necessary. There are tensions between the captain and the council (which she is technically a member of), as well as a number of other political tensions that exist in the society. And there is also a recorded mind of a disgraced scientist that apparently is revived occasionally for information.
The Guana are shapeshifting aliens that for some reason attack humanity. Often they will eat humans (usually Garde and all), and then appear able to take the rough shape of what they ate. Often their recreation of the humans they consume is disturbingly similar to the originals, to the extent that the recreations seem to have some of the memories and inclinations of the original person. The series regularly asks what it would mean if a Guana had the same personality of the original human.
So obviously there’s a lot going on in this series. In addition to the existential and science fiction aspects, there’s also a large amount of teenage wrangling over Tanikaze’s love life, which at times I found exasperating. But it does eventually flow into the existential aspects of the story, particularly in terms of who Tanikaze finally ends up with.
Overall, like much of Nihei’s work, I enjoyed this series for the range of ideas it explores, as well as the action. I wouldn’t say it’s the best anime / manga series I’ve encountered, but well worth checking out for die hard science fiction and space opera fans. Unfortunately, as far as I know, it’s currently only on Funimation. I’m looking forward to seeing the final movie.