I’ve read several of Tsutomu Nihei’s previous series and reviewed them for Bureau42, and in part here – Biomega and Blame, and I’d reviewed a couple of volumes of Knights of Sidonia at the Bureau, but I might as well get up to speed here.
Knights of Sidonia, as a manga, is probably the most unlike Nihei’s other works. Biomega and Blame featured isolated loaner protagonists in bleak apocalyptic scenarios with lots of desolation, with a serious side of body horror – especially in the case of Biomega. Knights of Sidonia, while still postapocalyptic, and still retaining the body horror, leans a lot more into some of the tropes that are widely thought of in anime.
The World of Sidonia
The series is set on the Sidonia, a slow-boat colony ship fleeing an Earth that was wiped out by a group of aliens called the Gauna, in what almost would work as a semi-sequel to Biomega, if the zombie contagion from that work was part of an alien invasion plan instead of a manmade virus. As far as the passengers and crew of the Sidonia know, they are the sole remnants of humanity.
Further, over the course of their journey prior to the start of the series, their metabolism has changed dramatically from that of humanity – they can generate energy through photosynthesis, and the population reproduces through cloning instead of sexual reproduction (this isn’t to say they don’t think about sex – we’ll get into that later – it’s just that’s not the primary mode of reproduction).
However, the Gauna are not idle, they are pursuing the Sidonia, forcing it to defend itself, through various mecha called Gardes – if the Gardes can pierce the core of a Gauna, the Gauna will be destroyed. However, being a Garde pilot is a dangerous job, with tremendous risk to a pilot and high possibility of death (not unlike those who fight against the Titans in Attack on Titan).
Our protagonist is Nagate Tanikaze, a teenager who has been raised in the depths of Sidonia by his grandfather, who kept him secluded from society, with only an old Guarde simulator training pod for entertainment. After Tanikaze’s grandfather dies, he ends up trying to rejoin society, and due to his piloting skill is recruited to pilot a Garde unit.
Tanikaze’s social isolation, while a stretch considering the environment, does make him an excellent audience perspective character – as he is introduced to the society, and societal norms of Sidonia so is the audience.
This is where we get into sex, sexuality, and how very anime this show is. This is because once Tanikaze starts getting integrated into society, the harem anime antics begin, and we’re talking some of the classic beats. Tanikaze walks into the girls’ locker room while they’re changing on accident – multiple times. Course changes by the Sidonia causing Tanikaze to engage in sexual slapstick like accidentally groping girls or falling into their cleavage causing him to get punched. Multiple girls who are interested in Tanikaze, some of whom are somewhat tsundere. That sort of thing.
It’s not that it’s done badly, it’s serviceable. It’s just that it’s so incredibly different from Nihei’s regular fare to the point that I got a bit of whiplash. It also explains why Sidonia got an anime adaptation before Biomega or Blame really did.
This is not to say that Nihei’s usual body horror is absent – the Gauna are really gross flesh monsters, which look like a more developed version of some of the body-horror critters from games like Lifeforce and R-Type, with lots of gross fleshy bits that, if in motion, you can imagine pulsing and writhing. These are definitely the parts where Nihei’s skill with body horror is in full effect.
The interior of Sidonia itself doesn’t quite have much of the Industrial Gothic elements of his art thus far, as the residential areas are generally more warm and welcoming than the urban hellscapes of the two series I’ve read earlier. On the occasions where we venture into the guts of Sidonia, we get his form of industrial design, but it still doesn’t quite have that gothic tone.
In all, Knights of Sidonia, thus far, is a fun, solid manga, and is definitely lighter far than Nihei’s other work, making it more approachable for new readers, especially those who are familiar with other series like Attack on Titan.
As of this writing, the manga is available from Amazon (Paperback), and RightStuf – links are to Master Edition Vol 1, which covers volumes 1 & 2, and the first half of volume 3. Buying anything through those links helps to support the site.