No matter how much I like an anime series, I hesitate to make blanket recommendations. I’d hate for my writing to entice someone to watch anime for the first time and have them come away thinking I have terrible taste in TV. See, there’s a learning curve to watching anime. (The giant anime sweat drop? It means he’s embarrassed.) Without “anime literacy” an anime newbie can watch even the best series and think it’s silly, or worse, a product for children. Knights of Sidonia is definitely not for children.
Also, even the best anime suffers from radical swings in quality over the course of a long season. Think of Joss Whedon TV shows—Buffy, Dollhouse, Firefly. We love them for their high highs, despite the admittedly horrid lows.
That said, Knights of Sidonia (KOS), a recent Netflix Original Series, is some of the most thrilling military science fiction I’ve seen in a long time. It’s certainly not without its shortcomings. Its relationship drama doesn’t succeed the way the military aspect does; the several love-triangles and the central rivalry between the hero and his nemesis are so thinly drawn as to feel tacked on. Yet the stunning battle scenes–the eye-popping visions of sci-fi adventure futurism–make the series more than worth one’s while.
Although I don’t have time to review KOS in full, here, I’ll drop a few observations.
1) How to Repopulate the Human Race
The show’s renderings of deep-space survival create an intriguingly realized future. Sidonia is a “seed ship.” It’s a Battlestar Galactica setup. When the earth was overrun by aliens, the last survivors escaped on Sidonia and survived seven centuries drifting about the galaxy. How did the seed ship repopulate the human race? Successful cloning explains all the look-alike characters in the cast. Others form a “third gender,” changing sexes depending on available partners. Apparently there are limits to seeding “success”: Sidonia holds regular mass funerals for compulsory deaths to keep its fragile ecosystem in check. An “organic converter reactor” processes all the bodies and human excrement for fuel that powers Sidonia.
2) Hillarious Site Gags
KOS re-imagines space travel in (ahem) compelling detail, like the skin-suit catheter (see image). Not only is the catheter necessary for spending many hours (or even days) in the tiny cockpit of a giant robot, the skin suit also filters urine for drinking water.
In one quiet scene our hero averts his gaze to leave his co-pilot her privacy while she photosynthesizes. (Yes, in the future we will only eat once a week because, via genetic modification, we will all photosynthesize.) But because they’re in the glass-bubble cockpit, he can’t escape her nude reflection. Hence, he doubles over in discomfort at the emergence of his catheterized erection!
3) Space Opera!
The space opera (i.e., soap opera in space) elements are by turns wonderful and awful. In quieter moments, the romance between the hero and his love interest can be quite affecting, like when the two are stranded in deep space together, trying not to freak out in the face of dwindling food and water rations.
Sadly, the show’s fan service tends towards the sleazy: untold millions were spent to animate the zero-gravity jiggling of curvy female figures in skin-tight space suits.
4) Warning: It Goes Fast
That the script doesn’t wait for slower viewers can be a bit frustrating at times. Like any good cyberpunk fiction, KOS respects the intelligence of its audience, rarely overexplaining its backstory and future-tech. The show assumes fans will take multiple passes by hitting rewind or will binge-watch the whole season again later, anyway.
For instance, there appears to be a blunder of failed script-supervisor continuity when we watch a pilot eject from her exploding robot in only her space suit. But in the next scene we see her floating in a spherical, escape-pod lifeboat (see image at very top of this post).
Where’d that come from? Turns out the escape pod is stored in each pilot’s backpack, in some futuristic wonder of nanotechnology. Very cool. I definitely missed it the first time around.
5) The Good with the Bad
It’s a shame the first half of Episode 5 gives us one of the most exciting battle scenes ever filmed, a thrill negated by the episode’s second half: an overlong, ham-fisted delivery of backstory, all in unnecessary and terribly written dialogue. When Captain Kobayashi argues with Dorm Mother Lala, she reminds her of a factoid neither could have possibly forgotten: “We’re the last two surviving members of the first strike team in human history to have destroyed a gauna, 600 years ago.” Ugh.
I guess it’s no worse than Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead talking out loud to God, the empty chapel amplifying his cartoonish Southern accent.
6) Coincidence or Cosmic Convergence?
Though spelled differently, the series shares its title with the Muse album “Knights of Cydonia.” Coincidence or cosmic convergence? Judge for yourself by watching the hilarious, sci-fi/kung-fu/spaghetti Western mashup video of Muse’s song on YouTube: