If you’re a subscriber to Netflix, then it’s a safe bet that you’ve seen the screenshot for the anime Knights of Sidonia. Though I’m unsure about the phrasing of calling it a “Netflix Original” due to the fact that it’s based off of the manga which made its debut in 2009. [Editor’s note: The manga is available from Vertical Inc. in the US. Also, I wouldn’t really call it a “Netflix Original” since Netflix only localized a translation, just like FUNimation or Nozomi Entertainment would.] The anime had also already been released earlier this year, but whatever the reason it did get my attention. If you also add to that there’s only twelve episodes, it’s a perfect jumping in point, so that’s exactly what I did. [Editor’s note: A second season is scheduled to air in Japan this November.] Though since there were time constraints, this article will only be an overview of the first six episodes.
Nagate Tanikaze, unlike most of civilization on board Sidonia, grew up underground with his Grandfather, who has been dead for some time. After breaking into the rice factory for food, his unsuccessful attempt lands him in the hospital and in the eye of Captain Kobayashi. For reasons all her own, she insists he becomes a Garde pilot. These men and women are training to fight and destroy the Guana, a multi-tentacle mass of shape shifting aliens that destroyed the Earth and are the cause for the human race being scattered across the galaxy in massive ships like the Sidonia. However, they haven’t been seen in over one hundred years, which has also prompted some civilians to think the government is lying to the masses about the “war” they’re in. So it’s a bit of bad timing that during a routine mining mission, Nagate and his squad come across the first Guana seen in over a century, and it kills one of their pilots in seconds. That would be the “good news,” since they were unable to destroy it, and the Guana is making its way to the Sidonia. It’s also not directly stated this early in the series, but there is something special about Nagate which is hinted at in several episodes.
Knights of Sidonia immediately lets you know that the action will be fast, dynamic, and brutal. Seeing the way the Garde mechs dart between the overwhelmingly large number of tentacles never disappoints, and whether a mech falls or the Guana explodes the eye candy is worth it. There are several times when the action is moving too fast that things get a bit confusing, which is also made complicated by the design of the Gardes themselves. The animation as a whole does seem to skip around a bit as the space and battle scenes look much better than when events take place on Sidonia. The shift is a bit annoying at first, but it’s easy to acclimate as it’s not that big of a distraction from the story.
As for the characters, there’s the usual group of tropes that you’ll either love or hate. Norio Kunato is Nagate’s nemesis, and makes no excuses for his actions. He’s the guy that has put in a lot of work to get to where he is and has proved himself. However, Nagate ends up piloting a classic Garde called Tsugumori that Kunato had coveted for quite some time. So he’s a little resentful of the fact that this new under dweller is getting special treatment. There’s also the potential love interest, Shizuka Hoshijiro, who isn’t all that interesting. Then the dark and mysterious governing body that is holding its own interests above the people’s. The most engaging character seems to be Captain Kobayashi, who overshadows the protagonist at times. There are several more scattered among these, though it’s the voice acting that really helps to convince that these characters are worth sticking around for.
However, as much as I found myself liking Knights of Sidonia, certain plot devices kept popping up that were either silly or just confusing. Maybe it’s because certain parts of this were reminiscent of Robotech: The Macross Saga, but with some common sense left out. This group of people has been aboard this ship for centuries, yet there is a maneuver performed that causes mass destruction inside of the ship, resulting in a large number of casualties. You would think that with all of that time not facing Guana, finding a way not to kill the dwindling population during maneuvers would be a priority. The only way for the inhabitants to “save” themselves was to use the “gravity belts.” This sequence actually made me laugh, because the characters were running around in a frenzy trying to find a guard rail to clasp their belts to. After that they pretty much just stand there hoping huge chunks of debris don’t crush and smear their bodies across the hallways. Kind of seems silly since these characters live in a society where they fight in giant mechs and sight see the “ocean” in automated translucent bubbles, but their safety protocols equate to “just hold on tight!”
Despite that tactical disaster of an episode, Knights of Sidonia has still proved to be entertaining, and is a nice departure from a lot of the anime that is on Netflix. We get a nice grasp of who these characters are and what they’re up against, as well as some background characters who I hope have a larger impact later. Hopefully the next six episodes shift away from those issues mentioned earlier while more is revealed about Nagate and the war against the Guana.