Friday, November 28, 2014

Knights of Sidonia Anime Review

Knights of Sidonia
Shidonia no Kishi
Netflix Original Series
300 mins. - 12 episodes
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Kobun Shizuno
Studio - Polygon Pictures

Synopsis: In the distant future the Earth has been destroyed by a fearsome alien species called the Gauna.  It has been one thousand years since humanity became adrift in space on massive colony ships.  They travel the galaxy looking for a new home and trying to stay one step ahead of the Gauna.  The ships were spread out in hopes of being harder to track and to improve chances of finding a suitable planet.  One such ship is the Sidonia and it could quite possibly be the last human population in the universe.
Tanikaze Nagate trained in the underworld to be an expert Garde pilot
Human culture and science have evolved on the Sidonia.  To bolster and safeguard the population cloning has been accepted and even a third, asexual gender was developed which adapts to their partner.  All humans now photosynthesize to conserve resources aboard the ship and are only required to eat once a week.  Even anthropomorphic animals exist and participate in the workforce.  Everyone wears a belt with a clip to attach to safety rails throughout the interior buildings when the ship performs maneuvers.
The Sidonia is a massive ship build around a fragment of the Earth
The Gauna are large alien creatures which can survive in the vacuum of space.  They are highly self-sufficient and can self-propel through the airless void.  Their bodies consist of an impenetrable core surrounded by a malleable proto-mass called Ena which can be manipulated to different needs of the core.  They remain a mystery, but one thing is clear - they are a near-impossible enemy to defeat and have pushed humanity to the brink of extinction.
The Gauna are a terrifying alien race which seem to be pursuing the human race
The Sidonia has not encountered a Gauna for almost a century after a hero from the last generation drove them off piloting a Garde Type 17 called the Tsugumori.  A special substance was discovered which could pierce a Gauna's core and destroy it.  Now nearly every able-bodied youth is trained to become a Garde pilot and defend the Sidonia.  Civil unrest has become more commonplace as protesters claim the Gauna are a hoax of the government.
The Sidonia is guided by the Immortal Council
Tanikaze Nagate was raised in the Underworld (the unpopulated areas of the Sidonia) by his grandfather, but is captured when venturing out to find food.  He has trained exhaustively on a simulator to be an expert pilot of the Garde Type 17, but has no social skills.  He is enlisted into the Guardian program to be a pilot when the Gauna reappear on his first assignment.  Now the Sidonia must send another generation of pilots to battle an impossible enemy for the survival of the human race.
From left - Midorikawa Yuhata, Shinatose Izana, Tanikaze Nagate,
Kunato Norio (background), Hoshijiro Shizuka, and Ren Honoka
Pros: Epic storyline as humanity teeters on the brink of total extinction, some exciting plot twists and reveals, Gauna are a fearsome enemy, character deaths are meaningful and tragic (Yoshiyuki Tomino would approve), killer opening theme and good ending theme, some actual science fiction with cool concepts (cloning, humans photosynthesizing), good series ending, suspenseful and made me want to watch each new episode immediately

Cons: Character animation looks awkward and artificial due to full CG rendering, characters and some mecha have too dark black flecks on them meant to look like weathering (too harsh, where's the color rendering?), looks kind of CG cheesy when a Gauna's body disintegrates after its core is destroyed, plot progresses a bit disjointedly and too many questions raised with few answered
Hiyama Lala is the bear lunch lady who takes Tanikaze under her wing
Mike Tells It Straight: Let's set the record straight - this series originally aired in Japan and was licensed by Netflix for broadcast distribution.  Netflix added a dub (for its various international audiences) and premiered it outside of Japan (the same way Funimation licenses anime series).  When I first saw the 'Netflix Original Series' label I thought they had produced the series and were moving into original animated content, but it's not true.  They're just cutting out the middleman (i.e. Funimation and other anime licensing companies) and doing the dub/sub themselves.  Netflix is a billion dollar company and depending on how successful this first series performs then they could become a player in the anime distribution game.  Could impact Funimation, the biggest anime licensing company, and possibly Cartoon Network, one of the bigger anime broadcasting channels.  Time will tell, but I think KoS was a good gamble.
Tanikaze gets in big trouble early on with the female pilots
While the series may only be available through streaming, rest assured it will eventually hit Blu-Ray/DVD soon (House of Cards did).  It was highly suspenseful and kept me enthralled to watch the next episode (binge watching fodder).  The series is based on the manga by Tsutomu Nihei (Blame!, NOiSE, Abara) and follows it very faithfully.  The manga is still ongoing and ending date is unknown.  In Abara, Nihei's protagonist is a Gauna who can form bone armor and weaponry from his body.  The Gauna in KoS appear to be a nod to this previous series.  Nihei is known for his futuristic storylines and unique art style which were both present.
Human cloning is now commonplace to bolster the population count
I found the series very enjoyable and had to watch the next episode to find out what happened next.  It was addictive and fun, but mildly disturbing as well.  The show is fairly mature and I don't recommend it for younger viewers.  The Gauna are a fearsome opponent and the pilots have a high mortality rate.  Yoshiyuki Tomino (creator of Mobile Suit Gundam and well known for killing off the majority of the main cast in his works) would definitely approve.  The science fiction concepts were pretty cool - humans photosynthesizing is a first, clones, and a third gender (transgender).  The mecha designs were decent and CG rendering was great.  Loved the opening theme by Angela and good soundtrack.  Characterization was well done and suspense was killer.  Reminded me of Attack on Titan which is high praise.
Tanikaze is an expert Garde 17 pilot as seen by this simulation footage
- too bad the current generation of mecha is the
Garde 18 with significant interface changes!
What didn't work for me were the CG character renderings, these were mostly terrible.  Movements were unrealistic, jerky, and the only way to tell characters apart were their hairstyles.  The characters and mecha had these black marks on them which were meant to be weathering/wear, but were just harsh black lines and too simple.  The plot progressed in a non-linear fashion and more questions were posed than answered.  I guess it sets groundwork for future reveals which will probably be spectacular.  I've read many complaints about Tanikaze's bland personality and I can rationalize his demeanor as being caused by living underground his whole life.  I wasn't very happy to see a makeshift harem forming around him which is an anime genre I'm not really into.
Hoshijiro and Tanikaze are shipwrecked in space after a battle
- Hoshijiro photosynthesizes while Tanikaze nervously looks away
Despite its flaws KoS was an epic series and I was hooked from the first episode.  It's mature and carries a sense of urgency as humanity fights for survival and characters die.  A nice mix of science fiction and storytelling among many familiar anime themes.  Tanikaze is the epitome of a last, best hope (at least he trained for it and it's not just inherent to his being).  I rank it among the new breed of anime which strives to surprise and engage the viewer instead of carrying down the familiar path.  If you have Netflix and enjoy anime then give it a shot.  Looking forward to the second season when it gets released.
The Gauna find a way to demoralize the human pilots by
using the fallen Garde pilots against them

TO BUY and Recommendations: