Created By: Tsutomu Nihei (Blame, Biomega)Published: Netflix
Netflix is a huge part of entertainment nowadays. I always thought their initial premise was brilliant. They started as a DVD rental service that let you receive a DVD in the mail, you watched it and sent it back, then got the next one you wanted. It was fairly priced and their selection was unbelievable. As the prominence of the internet increased and videos on demand became increasingly popular, they made another brilliant move. They added the ability to stream the larger part of their library for streaming through almost any device that can establish an internet connection. Netflix grew to such a powerhouse they started creating their own content and even managed to nab big names to show exclusively through their service. While most of the content they have created has been live action series, they have recognized the prominence of Anime, leading them to sponsor a series of their own, giving birth to Knights of Sidonia.
Drifting Through the Void…
Knights of Sidonia is a series created by manga artist Tsutomu Nihei (Blame, Biomega). The story takes place on a huge colony ship known as “Sidonia”. The concept of a post apocalyptic world is shattered in the most literal sense possible. Earth has been destroyed, and Sidonia’s mission is to find a new habitable planet and colonize. To preserve our species, we have been genetically modified to be able to photo synthesize. They have also evolved to the point where reproduction asexually is possible, also creating gender neutral humans. The human race as we’d come to know is in danger of being wiped. There exists a dangerous creature, one that can consume planets in a grotesque fashion. They are the Guana. Strange, fleshy creatures that cannot speak, but their actions and abilities speak for themselves. As Sidonia moves on to its seemingly endless journey, they are protected by their knights in armor; mech pilots known as the Knights of Sidonia, along with the protagonist Tanikaze Nagatte; a young man whom trains to become a pilot to protect the only home he has ever known. The story itself is actually quite well, if not a bit sluggish at the beginning. It does a good job of avoiding being a gigantic Deus Ex Machina like many of the genre predecessors before it. The science aspect of it is genuinely believable and does a good job of not being to complicated to follow. If only science could save it from being colorless.
A Dull Sea of tars
Unfortunately, Sidonia starts off on kind of a faulty foot. When watching an animated series one of the biggest factors is the animation itself. The animation here has a serious self labeling of “Tight Budget”. I will not claim to know what the budget was for the animation department, but it’s not easy to adjust to – I’ll say that much. This is especially disappointing to me because the animation was done by a studio that has a good track record. Polygon Pictures Inc. was tasked with the animation for this series; with tenure from films like Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and the popular animated series Star Wars the Clone Wars. Both shows had excellent animation, even if the latter was intentionally cartoony. The animation style is rigid in more ways than one. The characters tend to have very unusual edges for their hair and especially around the face. This unfortunate bit is magnified with the multitude of facial close ups and both the body movements and mouth movements are also stale. Watching characters interact with each other or using objects in the environment is like watching a stop-motion feature missing frames. The action sequences tend to be better, though in truth it’s not by a large margin.
On the design side, things are a bit dull. In the manga series Nihei’s character designs were a little on the dull side. This gets some unfortunate emphasis in the animation as well. There is a small saving grace; the mecha design (known as Gardes) and . The Gardes are not the coolest mechs you will ever see, but they are pretty cool. They have a small variety of weapons to use, but the way they are used makes up for that. The Guana are in a word, creepy. They appear to be almost gelatinous, but have hard exteriors and long flexible tentacles. They can also take the shape of things it’s consumed and changes it’s abilities based on it’s prey. The biggest issue with them is they look…well like ass. I’m not sure if they looked better in the manga, but they are beyond unappealing in this show. The fact that only one material in the universe can kill them is definitely something that helps. It’s one thing to be extremely dangerous, but not looking the part can detract from the sense of threat. They often come in one of two colors, gray and brown (though a red variety does appear briefly). The lack of color is almost a turn off. As some one who’s color spectrum is already limited, the excessive amounts of white, blacks and grays was a tad depressing. I would never have thought I would be happy to see the color brown! Seriously! Sidonia has many interesting locations within it, but many of them are quite boring when it comes to the visual side of them. It is also well known the galaxy is a colorful place. Despite that, we get nothing but black and some gray from an asteroid here and there. The characters are bit more colorful in their personality ate least.
The characters are supposed to be a strong draw for these kind of shows. The series attempts to place a strong emphasis on its characters in order to make them a huge draw, this is where the show falters a bit as well. Tanikaze is kind of generic. He is your typical “He can save us all” archetype. He is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he is constantly hungry. But he is a light-hearted person and has exceptional piloting and survival skills. He is also not capable of photosynthesis, but gets regenerative abilities in exchange. Most of the characters are a bit on the bland side. Many of the follow a formula. You have very white, ghostly skin and have pure black hair. Or you may be luck and have slightly darker skin and a different hair color. It’s sad that it’s so limited. The cast does evolve in terms of personality. But this growth is limited. It could be due to the limited span of the season, but it’s still very lack luster. Luckily for us, the story is not.
Saga of the Stars
The story of this series is where it really shines. The concept while not entirely original is still well executed. And it’s well thought out and almost seamless. The idea of making humans capable of photosynthesis to reduce the amount of resources they have to consume is brilliant. The use of a material they refer to as “heigus” or “heigus particles” to use as a major energy to fuel their ship and mechs is kind of cool. There is one thing in this show that could have been a cheap throw in for the sake of convenience. And that is the Kabizashi, the only substance known to be able to kill a Guana. This was cleverly countered by making it an extremely limited material that humanity is unable to process or mass produce. They simply take small amounts of the raw material, sharpen them and turn them into spear blades. The loss of one of these weapons is considered a huge blow to tell the human race. This was probably the best example of how every resource counts when you drift through space but the story is not perfect. Sadly there are a few things that hold it back. Such as the tiny detail of the younger female characters have a tendency to fall for our somewhat clueless protagonist. While this is normally not a problem, there’s no build up to it. Almost immediately, you can tell they are head over heels. On their first meeting, with no major trigger. This is built upon throughout the show so I’ll cut it a bit of slack. If there is a second season this is something that will probably be heavily expanded on. It also doesn’t help that the writing for these characters is kind of flat. Which brings me to my next point. Sound design.
In Space, No One Can Hear You Speak Out of Lip-sync
Despite questionable writing for both versions of the dubbing, the sound design is a 60/40. The 60 is the the use of sound effects and the composition. The sound quality for this show is very crisp. Buttons make beeps when they are pressed, Sidonia creeks and groans when it makes hard turns, etc. The sound is appropriate in both the effect and mixing. Watching the Guards launch sequence is exhilarating because the sound of the thrusters is both booming and appropriate. The composing for the show was done by composing veteran, Noriyuki Asakura (Ruroni Kenshin, Way of the Samurai). While the sound track is not something I found myself listening to outside of the show, the songs contained within are very good and appropriate to the scenes. The opening “Sidonia” by Angela is nice way to open up the show with some very nice vocals and a sound that is appropriate to the source material. The ending, “Show” by Eri Kitamura is a bit more to my tastes. It’s a fast rock song with really solid vocals and lyrics that help to set the tone for the will to survive, a strong theme in the show. The voice acting on the other hand, is not so fantastic. I watched the entire series with both dubs. And honestly, the Japanese dub takes this one by a narrow margin. The dubbing has some inconsistency issues. Some of the voices sound like they fit the character, and some don’t. It really doesn’t help that the lines the voice actors are required to speak are kind of cheesy. There is another problem that ties into the animation. I noticed a couple of times that not only did the mouth movements look awkward, but sometimes the words didn’t match. This struck me as weird seeing as the show had a fairly good bevvy of talent. In the English dub you have such famous voices as Johnny Young Bosch (Bleach, Code Geass), Todd Haberkorn (Attack On Titan, Fairy Tail), and Christina Valenzuela (Blazblue, Bloodlad). It’s a classic case of having a great concept ruined by bad writing. While it’s not always bad, it felt as if the majority of the time they simply didn’t care. Which is sad because during some of the action sequences there is some fantastic dub moments (when the situation hits the fan). It’s so mixed that it makes it hard to render judgement.
At the End of the Universe…
This show struggles in many departments, and others it does really well. Between the awkward dubbing and really stiff animation, there is redemption in its sound design, action sequences and well thought out sci-fi elements. I can recommend Knights of Sidonia if you have a netflix subscription. I ask only that you try it with an open mind. It appears there has been a second season announced so I hope they take certain things into consideration. I’m always willing to give something a second chance. Bearing everything that makes Sidonia unique and the things it does well, I’m going to give Knights of Sidonia a passing grade.