Sidonia no Kishi – 05-12 Review
Haha, yeah, that’s the past for ye: Always ready to unveil another embarrassing secret! Mostly because you were too drunk at the time to do anything useful, I assume…
Sidonia no Kishi was actually one of those series, I had high hopes for. The first four chapters of the manga seemed good so I figure, ‘Hey, why not as well watch the manga -adaptation!’. After all, most animes who adapt manga don’t have the balls to change the source-material (unless the original writer is a nobody, then that guy’s fucked)… well, unless the manga isn’t finished and there isn’t enough money for multiple-season-long faithful adaptation of that manga (and if the original writer is a nobody that guy’s doubly fucked at this point). There will be an ending nonetheless. Not a very good one, of course, because nobody gives a shit that late into the game of making ar- *cough* I mean, money, of course.
Destiny is a journey to a specific place or a specific event undertaken by a hero. There are challenges and tests on that journey but ultimately the hero will reach his destiny because that’s what’s supposed to happen. And there’s the troubling part of destiny: It’s a force beyond the control of the hero. How much is the triumph of a hero an event happening by choice instead of predetermination? The way destiny usually works in stories is about the hero who’s supposed to be something and then in the end he does become that very thing, which makes it all feel like wish-fulfillment.
Whatever faith the other characters have in the hero is rewarded by fulfilling the hope that fuelled the destiny. And maybe the story will say that it was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, that by knowing what he was supposed to be the hero became the hero and not because he was already the hero from the very beginning. But the end-result is the same. And so destiny is always a plot-device that questions the freedom of the hero. Nagate is such a hero and after this first season I wonder: How much of his heroism is him making a choice? And how much is him being destined to be a hero because of forces greater than him?
Sidonia no Kishi started out with a very suffocating atmosphere. The ship Sidonia was a rugged place overshadowed by the constant battle for survival and the knowledge that catastrophes could hit it at any moment. And it was also a very strange place. Despite its familiarity (meaning the Japanese-culture-elements that got shoved into this sci-fi setting), Nagate began his journey in the story as an outsider who really didn’t understand what was going on in this world. The focus quickly changed from this setting to the battle with the Gauna. The suffocating, dark atmosphere was still present even when the story started to focus on Nagate and other mecha-pilots who left the confines of the ship to battle the Gauna. The show spends a lot of time in these battles ruminating the brutal cost of this conflict. At least one pilot dies in nearly every space-battle shown in this first season. And the suddenness with which these Gauna-attacks are introduced by the story only adds to this suffocating pressure.
Izana should look at Nagate like that, like, all the time, actually!
But Gauna are the central mystery of the story as well. It’s never clear why they are hunting Sidonia, what exactly they are even doing in space when they’re not attacking Sidonia and where they originally came from. And the first season has a clear dramatic arc of escalating the threat the Gauna pose and furthermore humanizes them bit by bit instead of making them more alien. For Nagata and the other young characters it doesn’t seem to be an immediate concern to understand the Gauna. Because for them the Gauna are simply the enemy and the Gauna don’t behave in any way that would suggest otherwise, except when they act mysteriously, but the point is that they never seem friendly. It’s a rather frustrating approach to a mystery where it’s clear that the story has to say something but neither the characters nor the plot do much to make that an issue. Rather than being a puzzling riddle, the Gauna are a danger with more to it than meets the eye but not enough to stop being a danger.
The ones with the answers are, of course, the older characters in the story of Sidonia no Kishi. Actually if you look at the cast of the series you could split them up into two general groups. On one side you have the young characters gathering around Nagate, the hero and on the other side you have the older characters, the adults. There’s a clear notion of a generational conflict within the story where the adults are the ones calling the shots and keeping the young characters in the dark in regards to some truths. Over the course of the first season this conflict has been lessened somewhat by the younger characters gaining more responsibility and becoming more inquisitive about the past of Sidonia. The problem is, though, that there’s still a great divide between these generations and the POV of Kobayashi, the captain, dispenses reveals about the story rather leisurely. And what the younger characters discover feels more accidental and like a small piece of the puzzle while it’s obvious that the older characters are comfortably sitting on all the answers.
Strangely as the series progresses the dark, suffocating atmosphere of the beginning sort-of disappears. There are still a couple shock-twists in the second half but Nagata starts to become the shining hero he was destined to be. And with that there’s a very uplifting atmosphere surrounding the battles, especially once Nagate starts showing off his idealistic sense of honor in the middle of the battle. The whole gung-ho attitude of the other mecha-pilots that seemed so foolish in the first half now becomes elated joy that gets rewarded with success. It gets even weirder when it becomes apparent that this hopefulness forces the older generation to reflect on their decisions. Sidonia is a brooding place with secretive oligarchs at the top that did whatever was necessary to survive but then Nagate turns up with his naïve idealism and all of a sudden the whole universe’s like “Huh, had already forgotten that THAT’s how you’re supposed to do things around here…”.
The consistency of the series’ atmosphere gets lost in an effort to make Nagate look like the hero he’s supposed to be. And it’s weird to see Kobayashi treat him like he’s some sort of revelation. She acts like she’s forgotten how to be a good person and now needs the optimistic Nagate and his friends to remind herself how this shit called ‘good deeds’ works. But you don’t just forget that, there should be a reason why she has abandoned the notion of doing good no matter what the consequences are. That would call for flashbacks, of course, and those would also have some plot-reveals to offer. But this series clearly wants to treat each reveal as a big twist. Therefore the audience gets to hear the truth only one tiny bit at a time.
I just hate it when it’s clear that a series artificially paces itself with telling the whole background-story for the current plot. Secrets are fine and dandy but they should never taunt the audience by teasing a reveal at a later point in the story. Imagine a version of the first Lords Of The Rings movie being about Gandalf sending out Frodo to destroy the Ring… except it’s unclear how exactly they are gonna do that. But then the movie ends with Frodo somehow stumbling over the solution that he has to go to Morder to throw it into some dumb volcano and then Gandalf reveals he already suspected that and it’s at that point he explains to them the history of the Ring as shown in the opening-scene of the actual Fellowship Of The Ring movie. It would’ve been a whole movie of a shrug-worthy “Well, we gotta do something, right?” only to end at the exact moment when the characters could finally do something.
What sort of snobbish buffoon would sit upon a treasure-trove of knowledge that can be visited on a whim – and wait THAT long to access it…?!
And Sidonia no Kishi does the same dumb thing, because seriously: What the hell are they doing? Are the Gauna evil? Maybe, who knows…? Maybe they aren’t even the true enemy! But I don’t know that. The adult-characters would know that… maybe. I just don’t know! And it wouldn’t matter what the answer to those questions is, if the series still had this oppressive atmosphere from the beginning. But with Nagate’s heroics the plot becomes more uplifting and driven. And that gives the plot this energetic feeling that needs to have point. Since the series needlessly paces itself with its truths, though, the story ultimately gets less impactful because of Nagate’s heroic character. All the characters celebrate stopping that dwarf-planet from destroying Sidonia but you really gotta wonder: What’s the point? But the series really doesn’t want to tell you that.
This isn’t some atmosphere-driven space-survival-story; it’s a mystery-story. These Gauna have a hell of a story to share with the audience, I assume! But I guess the audience is just supposed to sit through whatever other crap is also going on, until the story feels like allowing that story to be told!
It also doesn’t help that I still don’t give a rat’s ass about Nagate.
- That whole antagonism between the pacifistic movement who are all for settling on a random planet and the militaristic oligarchy of Sidonia totally reminded me of the Battlestar Galactica reboot from a couple years ago. Who knows, maybe the Gauna and the humans on Sidonia will work together to re-discover Earth, right?
- Nothing really came out of the Gauna humanizing themselves by copying the DNA of Hoshijiro. They’ve got an avatar with somewhat human-like abilities and they use it… to demonstrate that the most important thing for Hoshijiro is to demonstrate her love towards Nagate! Great, that’s JUST what the guy needed after becoming a fucking war-hero! They really should’ve made her more expressive instead of turning this Hoshijiro-copy into a moeblob.
- Didn’t the first mecha-mission in the series start with the objective to harvest necessary resources for the ship? That thing should be VERY necessary for the survial of the ship and YET it never becomes an issue again.
- Izana would’ve made a way more compelling protagonist. Her neutral gender alone makes her more interesting than Nagate. Also, the Wunderkind-spiel associated with Nagate is just dull.