SPOILERS FOR KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA
SPOILER SPACE THE 2ND
Taken as a whole: I have a love/hate relationship with anime. There are days when I watch something like Attack on Titan, generally agreed upon to be very good, and find myself in agreement with the general consensus. Then there are days when I watch something like Madoka Magica, and think the general consensus is off base, for lack of a better term. Yet I keep coming back to it, since there are good series and it’s the main way I can enjoy giant robots or mecha. Enter Knights of Sidonia, one of the darlings of this year and if the title didn’t give it away, it’s in the latter category for me. So because it is the hot new thing I figured I may as well talk about it and anime in general this week.
First off, I watched this via Netflix streaming. Why am I mentioning this? Cause it’s advertised as one of their “original” series*, meaning they have the license to it in the States near as I can tell. This is general a smart move for them, as their anime selection is sparse, especially compared to what I can get on Hulu. While there is a certain fear of fragmentation with all these service providers, it’s not really as big a concern with anime given the nature of the product. That being said onto the show it’self.
Knights of Sidonia follows the seed ship Sidonia as it moves through space, fleeing the alien Gauna who destroyed Earth 1000 years ago. In order to fight the Gauna, humanity has developed mecha known as garde who yield Kabizashis. The last time the Gauna appeared, Sidonia was driven to the brink of extinction 100 years ago. Our protagonist, Nagato Taniguchi has lived “underground” and has spent his entire life training on a garde simulator. stumbles into the wider world to find food. Conveniently timed by the powers of plot as the Gauna have reappeared and the main plot kicks off.
Before going any further, yes you can describe this show as Attack on Titan with mecha. It’s an unfair comparison as while the set up is incredibly similar, they’re doing quite different things. I”m uncertain about the timing involved in when they both started/were conceptualized but I choose to see it more as a painful coincidence than any sort of copying or harbinger of a bunch of knock offs.**
Given that this is a mecha series, it makes sense to me that I’ll start looking at the technical elements of production first. I’ll put up with a lot of stupid if I get cool giant robots (see second season of Gundam 00,8th MS Team, Vandread). That being said, the animation by and large is very good. It’s all very pretty and unique in it’s own ways. The only flaw here are the characters, who look way too much alike. There used to be a joke about Gundam SEED that if you shaved all the characters you coudln’t tell them apart; while true that ignores the fact that their hair could be used to tell them apart. Not so much here, which is mildly problematic when said characters are two thirds of a love triangle. When it comes to the garde, they have their own charm. They’re definitely Real Robots*** and kinda bland to be honest. But it’s that blandness that gives them their own character. Also the music is excellent, I’m usually not one who picks up on music on the first watch of something; but this time I did and it’s usage in the show is solid. It’s not say Yoko Kanno or Yuki Kajiuri in that it’s something I’ll listen to outside of the show on it’s own, but it does it’s job.
Sadly these are the only things it does well, the actual source material is dull more than anything else. I have a number of problems with the plot and characters of the show and I’ll be looking at them in more detail. But first, there’s the biggest failing of the show to address.
The fight choreography is atrocious. This is the result of two problems, one in setup, the other in execution. The Gauna are not visually compelling villains, they’re the world’s worst kaiju. The garde and the kabizashi are equally dull against them. Beam spamming a bunch of tenacles to enable a squadmate to pierce the brain isn’t that cool to look at. In terms of execution, it’s a bunch of fast, jerky shots that stop me from actually being able to immerse myself in the action. It’s just hard to follow what’s going on.
Speaking of the Gauna not being compelling, this extends beyond their visual design to be their defining trait. They aren’t scary, they aren’t characterized, they’re just giant squid things who want to kill people for reasons.
To be fair, it’s not like Sidonia is characterized much better. There’s an immortal council and a military that enjoys some privileges and anti-war protestors. That’s it, that’s not me summarizing the situation, that’s really the entirety of what we’re told about Sidonia. The council is vague and threatening, the military is your generic vaguely military anime group and the anti-war protesters are there…to be contrarian? They’re never given any characterization or treated as anything more than a nuisance. Empathy borne out of being the same species isn’t enough for me to be invested.
This effect rolls down to individuals as well, there’s really one person who has much character: the protagonist Nagato Taniguchi, who is essentially Jesus. He is literally the second coming of Sidonia’s savior and has an unlimited capacity for forgiveness. That’s it, he doesn’t have any flaws or actual character. Oh and he’s the center of a harem love plot, which is one of those things that I cannot stand in anime.
The supporting cast is worse. At best they’ll have one defining characteristic, which is fine. The problem is that more of them don’t have much character at all and are vectors for the plot to happen. This again isn’t inherently a problem, except….
The plot is all build up, no pay off. This is admittedly more of a flaw with the anime in that so very little happens that actually meaningfully moves the plot forward. There are hints and teases of what could be and what’s to come, but nothing actually gets answered. It’s entirely possible that had the first season been 25 episodes long I would be much more amicable to it, but that’s not the world we live in.
So in a nutshell, Knights of Sidonia is a very pretty show that is essentially 12 episodes of stuff happening with no dramatic tension to characters I don’t care about and in some cases can’t tell apart.
Feel free to leave a comment as always. Next week, I remember what the this blog is actually called and look at a new DCG, War of Omens.
*I really wish they would distinguish between actual original series and other things that are special on Netflix like say Arrested Development or Clone Wars.
**I watch on average, one series a year at this point so take that comment with a grain of salt.
***Mecha are divided into two broad category, Real Robots and Super Robots. The former have a pretense of paying attention to reality and are more grittier as if they were weapons in a war. Super Robots throw reality right out the door and are more akin to epic heroes.