Humanity drifts through the lonely ocean of space, constantly under attack by mysterious alien creatures. They fight, but survival is never guaranteed—even for the best among them.
What They Say:
A thousand years after the alien Gauna destroyed the Earth, a small remnant of humanity still fights on to survive, fleeing on the gargantuan asteroid-based spaceship Sidonia. But centuries of flight and warfare have changed mankind in incredible ways: genetic engineering has allowed humans to photosynthesize like plants, reproduction occurs through cloning, and a third gender has been created to balance the population. Even though it’s been a century since the last encounter with the Gauna, military service is mandatory, with all those able enough enlisted to pilot the Garde robots that stand as Sidonia’s front line of defense. For Nagate Tanikaze, whose grandfather secretly hid him in the forgotten bowels of the asteroid, it’s a strange new world as he’s forced to come to the surface and join the ranks of defenders. Yet his recruitment comes just in time, for the Gauna have suddenly reappeared, and what could be man’s last battle will require every resource humanity has left. And what no one knows, yet, is that Nagate is not exactly what he seems, and a secret buried in his past may change the fate of all mankind!
Sentai Filmworks’ release of Knights of Sidonia includes a number of language options, hosting both the English and Japanese tracks in surround sound, as well as a Spanish track in a less dynamic stereo sound option. However, whichever language option you choose, the audio of Knights of Sidonia covers an impressively wide range of levels, from the deep rumbling of massive engines in space to the high-pitched tones of mecha battles. Sound director Yoshikazu Iwanami’s stunning, alternately sublime, alternately visceral effort is one of the show’s greatest strengths, carefully balancing sound effects, ambient sounds, and composer Noriyuki Asakura’s atmospheric, haunting soundtrack. Sidonia frequently leans into its sonic elements, using them to establish mood, modulate tone, or simply immerse the audience into its world. As it moves between vast, nearly empty soundscapes and claustrophobic barrages of sonic weight, Knights of Sidonia functions equally well as an ethereal, alien space setting and as a more familiar, deeply physical human one.
It’s undeniable that the elephant in the room when talking about Knights of Sidonia is the fact that the series was animated entirely using 3D CGI. For Polygon Pictures, the studio in charge of animation production, Sidonia was their first anime production, having previously worked on video games and other projects. However, although the CG animation and style take a few episodes to get used to, Polygon and director Kobun Shizuno have undeniably put together a visually strong offering. Shizuno’s direction emphasizes the vastness and isolation of space, using long shots and shots that frame the characters against open backgrounds to impress the emptiness of space through which Sidonia (the ship) is traveling. Shizuno also has an excellent eye for fight choreography—amidst the often visually chaotic fights (which are generally among the show’s most impressive visual moments), his strong direction holds the action together and makes it easy to follow. In general, the CG isn’t a handicap for the show; in fact, the effects of the less familiar (to most anime fans) CG animation and CG art often end up contributing to the alien feel of the show’s general aesthetic. Although Sentai Filmworks’ DVD release doesn’t host onboard HD graphics, it upscaled nicely on my Bluray player, with the occasional breakups in quality during the very action-heavy moments.
There’s nothing much remarkable about the packaging for Sentai’s DVD release, which features protagonist Nagase Tanikaze and his mecha, the Tsugumori on the front cover. Heroine Shizuka Hoshijiro is the focal point on the reverse of the case, and the three discs depict Izana, Captain Kobayashi, and Nagase’s rival, Norio Kunato, respectively. The red and black color scheme of the packing is among the most attractive and cohesive I’ve seen from a Sentai release, complementing the black plastic of the case well. This is certainly a case I’ll enjoy seeing on my shelves.
The menu screen, accompanied by a shortened version of the show’s opening song, looks nice, with each disc’s four episodes laid out neatly on the right side of the screen. The language options occupy their own section, with the special features menu underneath. Navigation is simple and intuitive, and the design recalls slightly outdated future computer screen look that many of screens in the show itself have.
While the first disc contains only clean versions of the opening and closing animation sequences, the second and third discs contain a relative wealth of special features, including the “Sounds of Sidonia” special, which details composer Noriyuki Asakura’s work on the show’s soundtrack, a 2-part “Behind the Scenes” special on the production of the show, and recordings of the show’s initial press conference and advance screening. In particular, the “Sounds of Sidonia” special and the advance screen stand out as the highlights of this particular package, each offering fascinating insights into the creation of the show.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Within Knights of Sidonia, there exist three separate shows. The first of these is the headlining act—an intense, dramatic, suspenseful story about a human colony riding a self-sustaining ship through the depths of space and fighting the mysterious aliens, the Gauna, that apparently seek to destroy them. The second is an atmospheric, almost gaspingly fascinated show enamored with the exotic, frightening, melancholic wonders of space. And the third is a light-hearted, silly, almost-out-of-place-but-not-quite romantic comedy with a cadre of potential matches for the ofttimes romantically hapless male lead. Somehow, though, each of these seemingly disparate pieces wind together in a single anime that successfully manages to be about all three at once. Sidonia takes on casualty-ridden battles for survival, and succeeds. It takes on scenes that simply bask in the unreal beauty of show’s word, and is beautiful. It takes on the awkwardness of adolescence amidst all of this, and it…well, it doesn’t entirely fail!
Based on the eponymous manga by Tsutomu Nihei, Knights of Sidonia follows the journey of one-time underdweller Nagase Tanikaze, who emerges from the depths of the earth to find himself in the midst of a bustling city. Except, the place where Nagase finds himself isn’t a planet—it’s a single, solitary space ship called the Sidonia, and it’s humanity’s last hope against extinction. After the Earth was attacked by formless, morphing aliens called Gauna, Sidonia was one of a number of “seed ships,” vessels meant to protect and cultivate humanity until they could rid themselves of or escape the Guana threat, launched into the depths of space. It is into this strange world that Nagase tumbles, a world where a third gender (one that evolves into either male or female after choosing a mate) has been genetically engineered to preserve humanity’s reproductive abilities, a world where humans now photosynthesize in order to reduce the amount of food they need to consume. In many ways, Sidonia‘s setting dwells in an uncanny valley. This is an undeniably human world, yet it is also one of uncomfortable strangeness, all the technical advances—the expression of humanity’s capacity for freedom of thought—bent towards the sole purpose of sustaining a population unable to escape from a single, confined space.
Sidonia‘s world is a rich one—full of small details and interesting quirks—but far more enthralling is seeing the way this setting impacts the characters who live within it. I do make a distinction here between watching the world impress itself upon the characters and watching the characters themselves because on the whole Sidonia‘s cast is rather lacking—aside from delightful Izana. Nagase himself is rather bland—a generic nice guy destined by birth to be the ship’s hero—and lacks initiative and agency except for when he goes into hero mode. Hoshijiro is better, but her quiet personality is such that she ends up feeling more like a faceless entity than just an introverted person. Among the rest of the side cast, some stand out more than others, but (unfortunately) few actually survive long enough to end up contributing anything of much significance to the show. In terms of the three-show nature of Sidonia, this why the rom-com hijinks, while amusing, typically end up being the least effective part of the show.
This isn’t to say that Sidonia isn’t engaging on a character level, because (as I noted above) the best parts of Sidonia engage the characters with the setting. In particular, episode 5 stands out as the best example of this, as Nagase and Hoshijiro’s days stuck adrift in the Tsugumori without fuel not only make the best use of Sidonia‘s fascinating sci-fi elements but also work the characters through the setting in fascinating ways. It’s an episode that needs to be experienced to really be understood, in the best way possible. It’s weird, alien, human, and warm, all at the same time. The rest of the show returns to moments like these on occasion, but never with such complete grace as in episode 5. This is atmospheric, space-world-loving Sidonia at its best.
Of course, none of this has much to do with the first and main show within Sidonia, the war for survival against the Guana. Of the three sub-shows, the war story is by far the most consistent (in both appearance and ability to entertain). While I wouldn’t call Sidonia a show with great writing by most standards, Sadayuki Murai’s work on series composition is stellar, balancing these three version of Sidonia against each other with skill and always making sure that the story’s moving forward. There’s never a time when Sidonia drags or feels like its wasting time—from beginning to end it’s a captivating, thrilling watch. Although some may tire of the constant stream of cliffhanger ending, I never found them to be overly calculated. Rather, the each cliffhanger feels like the show just happened to run out of time in the episode—and only coincidentally in the middle of intense moments. Watching it in big chunks is easy.
If there’s one thing that holds Knights of Sidonia back from being a truly great show, it’s the relative lack of thematic depth. Although there are certainly some themes present in the abstract—the idea of escalation, the wonder of space, concerns about what makes up the human identity, the struggle to communicate—none of them are really expounded on in any meaningful way beside the practical implications they have the crew of the Sidonia. Said another way, Knights of Sidonia isn’t concerned with making grand philosophical statements that apply to any world besides its own. And that’s fine—it lets the show feel consistent and confident within its own context. However, because of the difficulty of connecting with easily lovable, yet less-than-compelling cast, this lack of thematic weights leaves the whole Sidonia experience feeling like a fun one, but a somewhat insubstantial one.
In the final estimation, Knights of Sidonia turns out as an excellent entry into the “last bastion of humanity battles alien creatures” genre. With excellent production and sharp series composition, it’s an easy show to watch and like. Unfortunately, the somewhat sketchbook characters and lack of true thematic exploration leaves Sidonia feeling easy to forget—it’s a fun and engrossing show to watch on its own terms, but there’s little here that leaves a lasting impression beyond the occasional appearances of the purely atmospheric. However, in the end it’s a solid sci-fi show—highly recommended to those inclined towards the genre or those who simply like the thrilling experience of a show making use of solid plot fundamentals in the service of an intense, sometimes frightening war for survival.
Japanese 5.1, English 5.1, and Spanish 2.0 Language; English, Spanish, and French subtitles; Alternate Angle Version – Uncensored; Behind the Scenes Parts 1-2; Press Conference; Advance Screening; Sounds of Sidonia; Clean Opening Animation; Clean Closing Animation.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 9th, 2015
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Insignia NS-32D511NA15 32″ LED 1080P HDTV and Samsung BD-H6500 HDTV Blu-ray player (2014 model) via HDMI set to 1080p.