Above is the FULL video review for Knights of Sidonia. Enjoy! You can still see the audio review below as well as its written review.
Japan arguably produces some of the best giant robot series out there. The genre is engrained in the DNA of anime enthusiasts, writers, production companies and visionaries everywhere. Countless series have been made in the last half century, so where do you go from there? How do you make your series stand out from the crowd? It’s hard, but the team at Polygon Pictures have tried with their production of Sidonia no Kishi or Knights of Sidonia by pushing the anime medium into the third dimension entirely; not just backgrounds or props, everything. It’s a bold move but it’s a thoroughly respectable one.
Let’s make one thing clear, 3D animation has been used in anime for a long time in some shape or form. Most of the time it has been used for layering 2D content on top of one another in 3D space; a sort of 2.5D hybrid you could say. Sidonia no Kishi takes the ambitious step of taking the character models into the third plain of space. I shall go into detail about that later but for now, let’s focus on the story. If you’ve seen Attack on Titan, you’ll get it immediately and feel right at home. Sidonia is [as far as we know] the last haven for mankind after a biological terror known as the Gauna destroyed not just the Earth but the ENTIRE SOLAR SYSTEM. It makes Eren’s struggle with the Titans look like a picnic in comparison. The Gauna have rarely been defeated, all humanity can do is poke it in the eye with some blades known as Kabizashi and run away. In a little over a thousand years, humans have had to adapt to interstellar habitation and constant threats from the Gauna. These adaptations include the ability to absorb energy from light akin to photosynthesis thus reducing the need to eat food and preserving supplies as well as a whole new gender that can procreate with either men or women depending on the neutral gender’s preference. Every human on Sidonia can do this except our main character Nagate Tanikaze. He has been living in the depths of the colony with his now dead grandfather living off scraps and playing video games [virtual reality simulations of the Guardian battle robots that protect Sidonia] and as such missed out on the genetic enhancements. He is a natural at piloting giant robots. However one day, on a foray for some rice, he is spotted by guards and taken into custody. His name though saves his bacon and he is recruited to pilot the Guardians alongside the majority of the main cast including the androgynous Izana who becomes Nagate’s best friend, Shizuka [Nagate’s crush] and Norio [the pretty boy rival to Nagate who feels immense amounts of jealousy.]. All this character introduction leads to the end point of the initial exposition; the return of the Gauna after one hundred years of ‘peace’. Sound familiar?
Let’s get one thing straight; Sidonia no Kishi’s manga was developed and released five months prior to Attack on Titan in 2009. Therefore it is wrong to assume that this show is copying the other. It’s more along the lines that television networks are now more likely to commission a similar production; the whole “If you liked that, you’ll love this!” philosophy. In my opinion, I feel that Nagate’s story is like the sci-fi genre having a go at the apocalyptic beast angle of storytelling and coming up with something grander, more threatening and far more bleak. Attack on Titan is epic but its universe is a lot more eccentric and fantastical; Sidonia no Kishi is more grounded surprisingly. Granted it’s set in space and way in the future, but it’s more familiar to those who enjoy sci-fi. It’s safer, quieter and yet just as epic as the story about Titans. Sidonia’s story in some places got really dark and really introspective, pushing my emotions to the limit and leaving me feeling really shaken; there’s one place in the early episodes that resonated with me the most but I’ll leave that for you to find out and trust me, you’ll understand why I found it disturbing. Nagate is a good main character because he is more flawed and primitive than those around him and yet he’s better than all of them in the pilot’s seat. It just goes to show that it’s best to not judge people on their biology. Izana is interesting too. He is more male at the start of the show and explains his gender immediately in a mature and sensical fashion; humans have fashioned genetically a new breed of human to reproduce with whatever gender it grows affection towards or has most contact with. It makes sense and doesn’t feel shoehorned in; it also adds the dilemma of whether Izana is a love interest or simply being Nagate’s foil.
I think it’s a wonderfully put together show. If you take out the 3D character models and look at everything else, it’s as polished as a new car that’s been polished to within an inch of its life. It’s a show that Polygon Pictures is proud to present after testing its animation techniques with the American series Tron: Uprising using a similar style. Its epic detail and finish is a site for sore eyes and something you simply have to watch in HD so as to fully appreciate the time and effort that the animators put into creating such intricate models and shots. When we get to the character models though, it’s less rosy. I will applaud Polygon for taking such a big risk in making everything three dimensional, it’s a more integrated workflow where everything is one place and can be manipulated together. Movements are easier to make and tweak and the models themselves can be swapped out at any time meaning that if a character goes under a massive overhaul, it’s less time consuming to replace potentially. My problem with the opening episodes is that the framerate is so patchy. In some sequences, the movement is as smooth as butter and much like a film and then in some places, particularly the more comedic actions, it’s like I’m watching an internet video from 1998 or something. It’s so jittery and unnatural that it ruins the illusion for me. My hope is that this is something that will be fixed for the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD releases as time must have been against the team to produce the TV version in time. 3D animation takes a fair bit longer to render than most anime so it’s understandable to a degree. The models themselves though are well made and in some places shots looked like a regular 2D anime, the lighting and camera position working perfectly with one another. I approve of this style ultimately, I just hope that the framerate issues are reduced in later episodes.
So does Sidonia no Kishi impress? You bet it does! It stands out as a great show on its own back and is to be regarded as one of the best examples of anime moving into the fully three dimensional animation workflow. Anime has been embracing 3D design for the past decade and it’s now ready to make the leap full-time. I feel bad comparing this show to Attack on Titan, but the similarities cannot be ignored. One thing to remember though is that apocalyptic anime are not new, there will be shows similar to the two I have mentioned produced in the years to come and people will becomes fans of them. Mankind is always curious to bring its existence to its knees in narrative form and that’s not going to go away. These two shows are paragons of that genre and should both be respected and not vilified because they just so happen to have common traits. Love anime! Love Sidonia no Kishi.
Sidonia no Kishi is available to stream on Netflix.
RATING: CONTINUE [A candidate for the top 5 anime of this season. A turning point in anime production.]
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