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Knights of Sidonia – Review

by Alex Vargas

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I’m a big manga reader, but have basically nothing to do with the world of anime. To me, anime’s that one friend who you live near, know the name of, have mutual friends, but basically spend NO time with. Well it was through one of those mutual friends that I heard about the anime Knights of Sidonia and traced it back to the manga Sidonia no Kishi.

The most striking thing about Sidonia is the art style. Nihei Tsutomu is easily one of the best mangakas at drawing LARGE scale objects and actually conveying how mind bogglingly huge space is. The space mech battle scenes are a thing of beauty, even with their preposterous design. But with this artistic greatness comes one of Nihei Tsutomu old bug bears. This is exceptionally difficult to explain, but here goes: There isn’t much transition between panels. Its one of the most basic things about sequential art; making sure the audience can keep up with the constantly shifting static frame. About 75% of this manga doesn’t do that. Now I’ve noticed this before with Nihei’s work. But in Blame! (arguably the authors biggest hit), the story was more of a travelogue of Killy wandering around aimlessly since he didn’t know where is goal was. Knights of Sidonia is a linear story, with characters who develop. So the bad transitions make this an extremely janky read.

The story itself is this bizarre mix of Hi-sci concepts….and a high school romance sex comedy. The eponymous Sidonia is the spaceship carrying the last of humanity. They must constantly fend off attacks from strange space creatures known as Guanas, the same creatures that destroyed earth. And in the thousands of years that humanity has been fleeing, they have evolved either naturally or through genetic engineering. Most humans primarily subsist on photosynthesis, asexual reproduction is now possible and some people can change gender based on their partners’ gender. All this and more fascinating ideas are presented on the fringes of a story ripped straight out of Infinite Stratos. Nagate is a naturally gifted, SUPER MECH PILOT, who gets fast tracked in spite of his zero social skills. All the girls at the military academy are inexplicably attracted to him and he routinely stumbles in on them changing, for which he gets beat up.

All these stupid clichés are really tiresome in most harem comedies. Here isn’t really an exception, but they aren’t used very much. Maybe every ten chapters or so those old gags will get dragged out. And that weirdly keeps them feeling fresh. Normally such old schtick would bug me, but I actually appreciated the breaks from the nearly constant and brutal space battles. I didn’t laugh, but I could at least enjoy the break in the pacing. And the battles are gruesome: the Guanas are constantly adapting their tactics and death is a constant threat for the ENTIRE station.

Now most of the characters don’t get nearly enough lines to really develop in any meaningful sense, but one in particular steals the whole show. Tsumugi is a human-guana hybrid, created through very sketchy and disgusting science. Her true form is of a mech sized monster thing that vaguely resembles a women in a ball gown. But she has such an endearing, ready to please, friendly demeanor that its no wonder the Guana hating spaceship so readily accepted her help. And she is capable of producing an extendable tentacle thing (which she uses to check out parts of the ship her main body can’t fit in) that falls squarely in that adorably ugly zone that puggs trademarked.

I am reminded very much of the movie AI when I sat down to think about this manga. Stanley Kubrick had a very distinct, not at all mainstream style, but set out to make a crowd-pleasing fairy tail with AI. The result was mixed. Similarly, here we have Nihei strange and grand sci-fi sensibilities, filtered through the lens of a bog standard harem-romance-comedy that you’ve seen a thousand times before. I guess I can give this a tentative recommendation. The more cliche-ridden elements are non-offensive at least and the Sci-fi is still fascinating, if underdeveloped – and the battle scenes are compulsively readable.

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Author: Alex Vargas

Alex Vargas studied engineering in college, but wasted his evenings marinating in reviews of basically anything and reading manga. Now he is leveraging two of those things into a being a manga critic. He loves romance mangas, but is basically not in the least bit choosy as to what type of manga he reads. His favorite thing about manga is the glimpse of another culture it grants him, no matter how skewed that vision may be. And before you ask, no he has not seen that anime you like. He has long since stopped watching anime.

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