Both of this month’s space stories are great. Each series are complete, with Knights of Sidonia being newer and Planetes being a little older and worth seeking out. While they both take place in space, they vary wildly in the stories they tell with Planetes being more a futuristic slice-of-life story focused on natural and authentic characters, Knights of Sidonia is hard sci-fi action depicting the last remnants of humanity in a pitted battle against aliens seemingly bent on our destruction. So, regardless of whether you are an Aliens fan or more into Apollo 13, one or both manga series will be appealing to you.
By: Makoto Yukimura
Publisher: Originally in U.S. by Tokyopop and later rescued by Dark Horse
Number of Volumes: 4; Tokyopop published as 5 volumes; Dark Horse 2 omnibus volumes
Manga Review: Planetes Vol.#01 Omnibus
Planetes was written and drawn by Makoto Yukimura, who is more recently known for the very manly epic Vinland Saga. Planetes takes place in Earth’s near future and tackles a problem we are beginning to see in today’s Near-Earth orbit. Today, manmade space junk from satellites and manned missions are beginning to clutter space around our planet which can cause problems for man. Right now, we just don’t have the technology to clean up this “junk”, but Planetes takes place in a future where we do have the technology to recapture space junk. It is a dangerous and thankless job, and this is where Planetes characters come to life.
In the future world of Planetes, mankind has established colonies on the moon and near-Earth space travel is an everyday occurrence. Unfortunately, space is unforgiving in many ways. Over the decades, man has created a large amount of space trash, which has remained trapped in Earth’s gravity. Something as small as a nut or bolt has the power to rip right through any spaceship or station. Not too surprising considering it could be traveling at 11,000 mph! Planetes follows the dreams and fears of Hachi, a space debris collector with a dream of owning his own spaceship. Debris collecting is probably the most dangerous job in space, but everyone in his crew has their own personal reason for doing what they do. Even if they are all a little mentally unhinged.
While in space, Hachi faces the fear of dying in any number of ways. Not only is the physical act of capturing space debris incredibly dangerous, but Hachi also faces attacks by environmental terrorists trying to stop space exploration. He doesn’t make much money hauling debris and spaceships are exorbitantly expensive, but if he can join the first manned mission to Jupiter then he will enjoy riding a wave of fame and fortune. Assuming the mission successfully reaches Jupiter and he can return to Earth alive. Will he reject his chance at love, his family, even his humanity for achieving his goal of traveling to Jupiter and ultimately owning his own spaceship? Or will his personal demons prove more dangerous than any physical danger in space?
Knights of Sidonia
By: Tsutomu Nihei
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Number of Volumes: 15
Manga Reviews: Various Volumes
Anime Adaptation Reviews: Season One Review HERE and HERE and HERE; Season Two Review HERE
Knights of Sidonia was written and drawn by Tsutomu Nihei, well-known for his cyberpunk series Blame! and Biomega. His art is riddled with detail and a level of thought put into the worlds he creates that isn’t repeated by many artists. For example, in Knights of Sidonia the characters are stuck on a spaceship with no way of acquiring additional resources, so things like spacesuits must be re-used for decades and the art always shows characters with patches sprawling over their suits. The other thing his art is known for is cyborgs and massive structural drawings, be they buildings or spaceships. Characters also mostly have solid black eyes. It is a little odd and they remind me of pupil-less shark eyes.
Knights of Sidonia is set in the far future, a thousand years after man abandoned Earth when it was destroyed by an alien species called the Gauna. After a thousand years of fighting the Gauna, mankind still knows relatively little about this species with hive-like behaviors. Initially, humanity escaped on hundreds of spaceships that could carry hundreds of thousands of occupants. But over time, the ships were destroyed and others lost contact with each other. This story focuses on a ship called Sidonia, that houses half a million residents.
Amidst the human genetic engineering and cyborgs, some residents are part of the fighting force that pilot mecha called Gardes. The story focuses on Nagate Tanikaze, a pilot that was raised by his grandfather in an isolation area with nothing but a pilot training simulator. When Tanikaze joins the rest of the residents of the Sidonia after his grandfather’s death, Tanikaze proves to be amazing at piloting and lacking in human interaction skills. The series fluctuates between intense space battles, political intrigue amongst Sidonia’s leaders, and Tanikaze’s awkward attempt to be human. As the series progresses, the examination of how aliens can be more humanlike than Tanikaze creates some fascinating scenarios.
In Knights of Sidonia, regular humans, human clones, genetically engineered asexual humans, and cyborgs roam the ship of Sidonia where the human existence is trapped on a spaceship hurtling through deep, often uncharted space. The story ultimately revolves around the remaining members of the human species pitted in a life and extinction struggle against a mysterious alien race. However, add to that likable characters, some dastardly ones, almost daily life-and-death struggles for the members of the Knights, and the notion that those in charge aren’t sharing the whole truth; and Knights of Sidonia is an entertaining read that can reach out beyond the hardcore sci-fi/mecha crowd.
Where Knights of Sidonia is a rollercoaster thrill ride of space battles and awkward romance, Planetes is a more realistic slice-of-life story. Planetes is centered around the hard lesson that man is learning about disregarding his environment; essentially man versus himself. In our real world, humans are proving to be very good at setting themselves up for destruction and Planetes shows a very likely near-future outcome of man’s carelessness. Where this type of story could quickly dissolve into a boring mess, Planetes shines with likable and deep characters that are easy for readers to connect with. Plus, at just a few volumes, Planetes is an easy story to jump into and digest in its whole.
If you are ready for some Manly Manga in Space, you won’t be disappointed by either Planetes or Knights of Sidonia.