Knights Of Sidonia Is A Mecha Anime With A Realistic Twist

Knights of Sidonia Is a Mecha Anime with a Realistic Twist

An isolated human colony ship is on the run from aliens and the only effective defence they have left are giant robots. No doubt, you've heard similar setups before; but Knights of Sidonia plays the situation completely straight -- from the real world physics to the societal implications.

Good -- A Society Built for Space

Knights of Sidonia Is a Mecha Anime with a Realistic Twist

One of the most interesting points in Knights of Sidonia is the colony ship Sidonia itself and the society inside it. The Sidonia is basically built out of a fragment of the long since destroyed Earth. Thus, most things inside has a cobbled together look -- especially the buildings themselves. It is clear the humans who inhabit Sidonia had to adapt to their extreme circumstances as best they could.

Of course, this goes far beyond the setting itself. After years of war against the alien forces of the Gauna, the humans had suffered such losses that normal life looked to be impossible. To combat this, they adapted through genetic engineering. The humans of Sidonia rarely need to eat. Instead they draw most of the energy for daily life through photosynthesis. Thus, when Nagate, our main character who is genetically still like us, enters the story, he is a clear outsider -- for from their perspective, he eats and poops all the time.

Moreover, we see that Sidona also has a hermaphroditic third gender which can act as either male or female -- whichever is most needed to bolster the population of Sidonia. It is always interesting to see how this third gender is treated. Sometimes they are seen as "one of the boys" while at the same time look to be possible romantic interests. Exploring the society of Sidonia never ceases to be captivating.

Good -- Real World Physics

Knights of Sidonia Is a Mecha Anime with a Realistic Twist

Many science fiction tales -- especially space operas -- play it fast and loose with physics for the sake of a good story. Knights of Sidonia, on the other hand, embraces real world physics and uses them to build a compelling story.

The Sidonia is really just a normal city built inside a giant rock. Thus, even something as simple as turning the ship can have catastrophic consequences for those living inside. G-forces increase, buildings strain and collapse, and people fly into walls and splatter if they are not tied down in some way. It is a terrible sight but explores the consequences of realistic space travel in this situation.

The mecha also follow real world physics and so g-forces, power, and oxygen are all constant concerns in the story. Even inertia is a constant fear as once you get too far away from Sidonia, your inertia mixed with your remaining fuel can make it so that you'll never be able to return.

All in all, Knights of Sidonia makes you really think about how much we take for granted in other sci-fi stories.

Mixed -- Playing it Straight

Knights of Sidonia Is a Mecha Anime with a Realistic Twist

When it comes down to it, Knights of Sidonia is a clear deconstruction of space operas like Macross and Gundam. It takes a look at the tropes associated with this genre and plays them all straight -- as if it were the real world with the same physical laws. Thus, as mentioned above, the mecha pilots have to worry about fuel, and problems like food and water for the population of Sidonia are constant obstacles to be addressed.

Beyond that, something as simple as "young boy becomes Gundam pilot" is torn apart as the other characters react naturally to the absurdity of this idea. Some take it as a joke, while others react with jealousy.

Knights of Sidonia Is a Mecha Anime with a Realistic Twist

It also is very keen to show what would really happen when you send half-trained kids out to fight something as otherworldly as the Gauna -- i.e., a lot of pilots are going to die. Watching how Nagate and the rest of the cast react to the deconstruction of these tropes is half the fun of the series.

However, there is also a downside to building your entire show set firmly in the real world: It becomes harder and harder to suspend disbelief when something nonsensical comes up.

[Skip to the next section to avoid spoilers.]

The biggest example of this is when Norino, Nagate's squad commander, becomes jealous of Nagate's skills and prestige and thus decides to publicly shame him -- and possibly even kill him. Norino's plan to do this involves giving Nagate the order, over a private frequency, to detonate a bomb early. Thus, it will look like Nagate jumped the gun and caused the whole mission to be a wash. His plan, for the most part, succeeds -- though it has an unexpected death toll.

Of course, all I could think as the post mission drama played out was, "Do you mean in a world this realistic, Mecha don't have flight recorders?" It is an oversight so in contrast with the realistic world of Sidonia that it feels like the only reason the mecha don't have flight recorders was just so this drama could happen -- and that is just badly contrived writing.

Bad -- A Bit Heavy Handed

Knights of Sidonia Is a Mecha Anime with a Realistic Twist

Knights of Sidonia can be too heavy handed in its storytelling -- especially when it comes to trying to build emotional moments. Characters are introduced, given an episode of development and then killed off for a cheap emotional reaction. This is so obviously done that by just a few episodes in, the moment characters get a backstory they might as well be waving a giant flag while screaming that they are about to die. The first time a character we get to know dies, it's shocking -- further setting up the realism the story is trying to create. But from that point on, it's just a trick that is reused far too often to have any great impact.

But the oddest single ham-fisted bit of storytelling is when a character is given a character development scene after her death via flashback -- like the show is saying, "Oh, she died and this is why you should feel bad." It was not the least bit effective emotionally and fell completely flat.

Final Thoughts

Knights of Sidonia Is a Mecha Anime with a Realistic Twist

All in all, Knights of Sidonia is a great deconstruction of the space opera genre. The world it presents is well thought out and built to explore the implications of an isolated human colony ship fleeing through the stars. The inclusion of real world physics and worrying about things like food and fuel makes the series feel a lot like Battlestar Galactica (2004). So if you want a realistic twist on shows like Macross and Gundam or are just looking for an engaging science fiction anime, you should definitely give Knights of Sidonia a watch.

Knights of Sidonia aired on TBS in Japan. A second season will be airing in late 2014.


Comments

    Not defending the show on some of its absurd scenario choices, but the reactions of this "boy" who is really a young man in a society that trains their soldiers from a young age is kinda normal and when all things are said and done the only person who needs to be convinced in order for the story to go ahead are the commanding officers; which have a reason for not being shocked by the situation.

    That said the whole introducing characters to kill them did run a little thin, it got to the point where it felt like a game of throne in space setup... introduce every one half a book before hand as a reason for said character to do something, then kill them off to simplify the amount of interactions.

    The issue with characterisation comes from condensing the manga down & having to add & adjust characters before they were meant to.
    It also plays out a lot like a typical shonen manga but with some good twists to it.
    My take on it can be found here: http://andthegeekshall.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/its-like-shonen-but-not-as-we-know-it-captain-anime-critique-knights-of-sidonia/

    gee original name..... not. its a Muse song. knights of Cydonia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTABNAiuRus

      it makes sense here because cydonia is a topological part of mars, + robots, hence sidonya no kishi (in japanese).
      maybe the mangaka is a fan of muse!

      Last edited 13/07/14 10:06 am

      Incase you haven't heard of JoJo's Bizzarre Adventure, one of the longest rubbings gags is named inspired by actually things and people don't complain. You know why? Because its nice to see that kind of acknowledgement. Read up on something before you go jumping to conclusions.

    It's amazing. Love the manga and I'm a huge fan of Tsutomu Nehei's work, he's an amazing artist, if a strange story teller in the normative sense.

    The quality of the anime itself is great, feels like watching a movie for every episode. The twists will just keep coming, too.

    Unless you're a god like pilot for whatever reason, you're basically going up against 20% odds of actually coming back. So in essence, yes...everyone is pretty much at the mercy of this death sentence military structure.

    Hoping Biomega will get the go -ahead for an Anime after this!

    I really wanted to like this going in, it's adapted from a great manga by an awesome artist and everything looked good. The problem for me was the animation. The characters are all CG and looked incredibly cheaply done as well. There's been a few shows experimenting with shaded CG recently and Sidonia was one of the poorer examples of it, it just feels stilted and lifeless, plus all the characters look so incredibly similar to each other it was hard to follow who I was looking at. It hampered my enjoyment so severely I didn't make it through episode 1, which was pretty disappointing.

    Last edited 13/07/14 10:06 pm

      The style seems weird at first, but trust me you will get used to it. There is a reason why the characters look similar. Anyway, WATCH it, you will not be disappointed! I feel the fights in this CG style are actually damn cool.

    One wonders if this Richard Eisenbeis has any familiarity whatsoever with the Gundam franchise, or if he thinks it's all one long contrived series. He doesn't seem to have watched much, if any. Food (0083), fuel (Turn A), oxygen (Turn A), and physics (most of the series) all come into play at various points. They aren't completely ignored, it's just that they aren't the primary focus. Also, Gundams aren't super robots. They are mecha with power levels, i.e. they usually have quantifiable stats such as tonnage, reactor output, top speed, ammo capacity, and in some cases even a scale of sorts as compared to a specific prototype or grunt MS. There is a lot of attention to detail put into Gundam as a whole, don't dismiss it so readily on some misguided notion that it completely ignores reality. It's called science fiction for a reason, you know.

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