“What is it that haunts space where matter is found?” – Arthur Eddington.
The year is 3394 A.D. A thousand years have passed since a race of gigantic aliens known as the Gauna came and destroyed the entire Solar System. What remains of humanity managed to escape in various “seed ships”, in the hope of colonising a different planet. One of these is the Sidonia, which has a population of around half a million people, and has not been in contact with any other seed ships for some time. For all they know, they are the last humans alive.
Nagate Tanikaze has been raised in the bowels of the ship by his grandfather, spending most of his time stealing rice from the stores and training himself on a simulator for one of the ship’s Gardes, a form of mecha which is used to combat the Gauna. (The only known way to kill the Gauna is with a special form of spear called a “kabizashi”.) While out looking for more rice, he is spotted by some of the ship’s crew. He escapes them for a period, but is eventually caught. The masked captain of the Sidonia and head of the ship’s “Immortal Crew”, Kobayashi, orders that Nagate be trained to fight. However, because he practiced on an older simulator, Nagate uses an older version of the Gardes. This version turns out to be one piloted by his grandfather, who also happened to be the top ace pilot on the Sidonia.
Nagate has trouble at first coping with living among his new crew members. Some are jealous of him, especially Norio Kunato, who wanted to pilot the old Gardes himself. Nagate has to get his head around some unusual concepts, such as the fact that in order to survive food shortages most people are now genetically engineered to photosynthesise in order to eat. Another of his crewmates, Izana Shinatose, is of a non-binary third gender; other crewmates are clones; a talking bear with an artificial hand is the head of Nagate’s dorm. However, Nagate soon settles down, with several crewmates even developing feelings for him.
However, the biggest conflicts are outside the Sidonia, with Nagate having to battle the Gauna in the depths of space. Many of his fellow soldiers are killed, while others are hurt both physically and psychologically. As the story progresses, we learn more about Nagate’s past and who he truly is.
The first thing that must be highlighted is that the 3D animation used to make Knights of Sidonia is poor. Very poor. At times you feel like you are watching a jittery YouTube video slowly load up as the characters seemingly jump rather than move normally. You get the feeling that the animators must have been relieved when they got to one of the many characters that wear masks, so that they didn’t need to animate the mouths moving. Also, while a series like World Trigger has occasional moments of bad animation throughout the course of the series, in Knights of Sidonia this shoddy 3D animation occurs all the time.
All of this detracts from the many positive elements. For starters, this horror series is set in a suitably grim-looking place. Sidonia is not a pretty looking spaceship. It is a huge octagonal slab with what looks like a cancerous growth sprouting out of it. An appropriately disturbing place for a series in which humanity is on its last legs.
Another aspect that works well is the more scientific elements of the programme: the way gender has changed and the genetic engineering of humans is just part of it. It ranges from the mundane to the cataclysmic. On the mundane side, there is one aspect this series deal with that I cannot recall appearing in any other mecha series I have seen, which is how you go to the toilet in a mecha. The answer is that the “skinsuits” the soldiers wear have a catheter built into them. On the cataclysmic side, when the ship needs to change course it affects the gravity on board, therefore everyone has safety belts with a special clip attached which they can use to fasten to a railing to secure themselves safely. There is one horrific scene in which the ship alters course to escape a Gauna, where many of the people are not wearing these belts or in a safe place. Therefore hundreds, if not thousands of people plummet to their deaths as the Sidonia tries to escape.
There are plenty of extras in this collection. There is clean opening and closing, footage of a press conference and an advance screening of the series, a two-part behind-the-scenes documentary, and a feature about the music (the soundtrack was composed by Noriyuki Asakura) used in the show.
While the plot and hard sci-fi elements make Knights of Sidonia an enjoyable story, the visual quality of the anime is infuriating. You are probably better off with the manga.