Sidonia no Kishi – 01-03 Review

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The series never shies away from showing off the many ugly ways Nagate hurts himself. It really sets the tone of how far this show is willing to go in showing off the cruelty of the world.

Series like Sidonia no Kishi are hard to review, I feel like. There’s neither a simple arc-structure nor is there an easily summarised goal to the plot. It’s more about immediate events unfolding and how the characters deal with those, it’s about keeping a specific tone in how the characters react to those events and interact with each other and it’s about working towards some sort of revelation that is entirely unclear at the start of the series. In many ways Sidonia no Kishi seems like the series that would be more enjoyable to watch if you could watch the entirety of it within a couple of days. So it’s very likely that at the end of this anime-series I will have an entirely different opinion about it but for now, this is what I think of it…

Synopsis:
Humanity is fighting for survival (as if inventing the wheel and soap-operas hadn’t been hard enough already) in space (good view, poor air conditioning, 2 stars) against the monstrous Gaina (guess, space isn’t THAT big after all to not run into each other like ALL THE TIME).
One of the last strongholds of humanity is the spaceship Sidonia and for a hundred years it managed to evade the Gaina. But one day Nagate leaves his hideout deep in the bowels of Sidonia in search of food and stumbles on… civilization. And like civilization is wanton to do they immediately put him to work – as mecha-pilot. Turns out, though, the mole-boy actually knows how to kick ass with a mecha so I guess he has to save Sidonia or some shit. Anyway, with him arriving in Sidonia Gaina also start to appear again and they’re still as creepy as a century ago.

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I’m still not quite sure how exactly Nagate managed to fill Izuna’s boot with vomit while at the same time creating that splash at the side.

Review:
There are three things that make a hero appealing of which he has to have at least one: He’s either skillfull or is very active within the story or his personality is likeable. Personally I would say that if you have to go with only one of those being skillful is possibly the worst option. And that point is the one I always came back to when I think about Sidonia no Kishi. The main-character is a blank slate. And the only thing this blank slate has to offer is the ability to kick ass a little better than everyone else around him. Also, everyone can project their fears, hopes and desires onto him. Through the attention the blank slate receives he becomes the hero everyone wants him to be and because he can be that hero. But the process of seeing that happen is as riveting as seeing a statue coming to life and deal with becoming a member of our society. The biggest problem of Sidonia no Kishi is that at its heart is a character I really don’t care about.

And at the start of the series it isn’t actually a real problem because Nagate, the main-character just one day leaves his hideout and enters this strange sci-fi world. And it’s a bit heavy-handed how Nagate so obviously becomes the audience-stand-in for the exposition there but it’s a credit to the world-building and the interesting setting of this series that things don’t become boring. Strangely something most fictional worlds often lack is the feel of history, the sense that things have happened before we were introduced to the world. More often than not the typical fantasy or sci-fi setting is all about making up rules and facts for how and why the plot happens. But what Sidonia no Kishi does right here is having strange stuff like everyone having gained Photosynthesis due to a lack of food after these Gaina, the alien antagonists of the series destroyed the food-production. Or when they make Nagate do the safety-training for using this safety zipline in case the gravity-engines fail again. This stuff is less about moving forward the plot but more about just showing how it is like to be in that world.

And that leads to the sort of sci-fi-setting that is less used as a commentary on our contemporary world or an exercise in escapism but instead shows the far future as something alien. There’s something intriguing about a world that isn’t sort-of like ours or is inspired heavily by elements of history (although they did shove some Japanese stuff into the setting). The world in this series truly feels like a thing of its own and it gives the show a great deal of character to have something like this. Information-dumps which are usually pretty boring become instead something of a way to marvel at the strange nature of this sci-fi-setting. In fact the series could actually use some more slice-of-life-moments to show just how exactly this world works and what other cultural stuff it has to offer. What holds it back, though, is that by focusing on Nagate who’s an outsider in this world we as the audience also remain an outsider. Nagate remains a touchstone of perceived normalcy in the story through his blank-slate-outsider-status and keeps the audience from the sort of immersion where one truly has to accept und try to understand the social dynamics of this strange version of the future.

On the other hand, though, it created this strange atmosphere in the series for me. My perspective on the events was rather detached and removed from the stakes shown in the plot. For everything you see in this series I got this impression of it being somewhat ominous, as if something’s wrong with what’s going on. The “surface”, as Nagate calls it seems also very rugged and somewhat dirty like things aren’t going so well for the people there. And there’s also this isolation of the military where the military keeps so much from the civilian-population that they don’t even believe in the existence of the enemy anymore which combined with the rugged look makes this “surface” look more like a prison than anything else. And in that regard it’s a bit of a pity that the series really doesn’t seem to have any interest in exploring the setting outside of explaining it to Nagate and letting him quickly move forward to the fighting-stuff.

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You just know that you’re watching an interesting setting when in its description you can just go “Yeah and there’s talking animals… because… why not, right?”.

Overall those three episodes had a very deliberate pacing. There was always a clear sense of moving forward. In fact that it seemed at times a little bit too deliberate to me. It is one thing to imbue each scene with the single-minded determination of showing actions and reactions of the characters but another to be as blunt as this series sometimes can be. And it’s blunt to the point of being predictable at these times. While the world-building in this series is excellent enough to create a general mood for the events to unfold in, the specific scenes are often quite less immersive mood-wise. There’s a very bare feeling to what Sidonia no Kishi actually wants to do on a small scale in contrast to the overall plot linked to the world it is set in.

Most of the characters I would actually call angst-bait as they are all running around with a time-bomb in their hands ticking down to their own personal emotional meltdown. Like Neon Genesis Evangelion had Shinji choose the worst place and time to work through his daddy-issues by screaming and crying, what I consider angst-bait is having one or more characters with big emotional issues without having anyone around who seems to be able to talk to them about those problems. And then the story and the plot raise the stakes in some way only for those angst-bait-characters to collapse and go catatonic while they scream about their fears and other problems. But it’s not like Infinite Ryvius which was about a bunch of kids ending up being alone on a big spaceship without any sort of external support. That series was all about social power-dynamics à la Lord of the Flies. The problem with angst-bait is simply that it’s all about giving a character some sort of emotional issue and then set that character up to fail in dealing with the issue. And these characters are also often portrayed as cowardly or otherwise too weak to even try to tackle those issues. There should be struggle, though and even if the story ultimately deems the struggle worthless you can’t just let a character head into disaster without them even showing a little bit of resistance. Shingeki no Kyojin certainly is way better at portraying a nihilistic kind of death. But Sidonia no Kishi seems more like the angst-ridden kind of series that tries to create drama by having each death be accompanied by a psychological breakdown of some sort.

These little things in Sidonia no Kishi are its biggest problem. Until now these problems are mostly dwarfed by the sense of discovery experiencing this strange setting but it’s the basic stuff underlying it that just isn’t as interesting as looking at the world would make you think. And Nagate, the main-character really exemplifies this problem. There’s this young guy who almost accidentally stumbles onto the scene who may or may not have been raised by a veteran-mecha-pilot and seemingly all he did was kick ass in a VR-simulator. It’s not clear how he could’ve lived hidden away from the world from so long and also be satisfied with staying hidden until he had run out of food. He’s mysterious and he seems strange in the eyes of the world around him whereas the higher-ups seem to consider him some sort of destined hero. But the sad thing about this is that there really isn’t that much to him. Apparently all isolation had did to him was to make him a really skillful pilot of an old mecha-model. And, also, it made him bland. In fact he’s bland to the point of not really having much of a personality. He also doesn’t seem to understand the situation around him at all or strangely enough even himself. There are these scenes of him throwing up and blacking out while having this weird nightmare about the girl that died during his first mission. But like some sort of Neanderthal he’s just frightened by the imagery of the nightmare and embarrassed by the throwing up without actually considering the meaning of these things. And while it may make sense to characterize the effects of his isolation that way, it makes him a really odd choice for a main-character. He just isn’t a character that can carry a scene since he can’t really add much to it with his presence. Except in fighting-scenes where his skill distinct him as the main-character he’s mostly just irrelevant and gets dragged along by other people’s opinions of him.

I have talked a lot about the failings of this series or at least those I consider to be such after three episodes. But this series is also very slow-burning when it comes to its overarching plot so I’m not sure whether everything I complain about now will still a problem for me at the end of this series. The events of those three episodes are very immediate in that there’s no actual goal that plot works towards to as much as it’s mostly about the characters dealing with stuff that’s right in front of them. And that together with the excellent world-building is certainly the reason why I keep watching this series. Like the city with the walls in Shingeki no Kyojin there’s this inescapable sense of imprisonment in a haven. It’s not about adventurers going into the world to slay a dragon and find treasure, it’s about emotionally frail people having to stand between the seemingly unending aggression of alien monsters and the possibility of losing everything. And that’s what makes it compelling to watch.

 

Sidonia no Kishi’s strange world is certainly one of the better sci-fi-settings one could find in anime and the sense of discovery accompanying the exploration of it in the first three episodes makes for an entertaining viewing. And it’s easy to believe how this setting became so rugged when one is confronted with how traumatic the first two fights against the Gauna have turned out to be. But the bland main-character together with some rather predictable developments keep this series from having a plot that’s as interesting as the world it’s happening in.

Episode-Rating: 1st Episode: 8.5/10 2nd Episode: 8/10 3rd Episode: 7.5/10

Random Thoughts:

  • So… is there supposed to be some sort of love-triangle between Izana, Shizuna and Nagate? Right now it looks like Nagate is interested in Shizuna and Izana is interested in Nagate but hopefully Nagate doesn’t have to battle with some other guy to get Shizuna’s attention just to make things even more complicated. The best option is for this thing to clear up really soon in my opinion. The drama surrounding love-triangles usually isn’t that exciting to watch.
  • You know, in regards to when I said that this series is sometimes blunt to the point of being predictable. When the members of that elite-team in episode 3 get all melancholic about their mission à la “Man, I sure hope I’m not gonna die on that mission.” or “This is the last time we may have a chance to be together like this, beloved.” it was the equivalent of the series screaming “CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW SAD IT WILL BE IF THESE PEOPLE WOULD DIE? CARE FOR THEM, AUDIENCE, CARE FOR THEM!”. If anything I would’ve been more shocked actually if those four had died as a rather faceless elite, thereby showing how much Nagate’s skill as a mecha-pilot is needed. Because that whole drama-thingy just made it seem like those four elite-members were the least professional soldiers imaginable.

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on April 28, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, Sidonia no Kishi and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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