Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine – 01-04 Review

_C12__Knights_of_Sidonia_S2_-_The_Ninth_Planet_Crusade_-_02.mp4 - 00001Tentacle-Rape: It’s what monsters do to investigate the human body.

After a short hiatus I’m back to reviewing some animes. And I start with the second season of Knights of Sidonia which is certainly one of the more entertaining ones this season. I’ve liked the first season but it had its flaws. So far, though, the second season fares much better. Mostly because its style is much more confident and consistent so far this time around.

Review:

_C12__Knights_of_Sidonia_S2_-_The_Ninth_Planet_Crusade_-_01.mp4 - 00002This scene is the closest this series has come to horror in this season and it’s a pretty good horror-scene. Pacing-wise it’s a little bit weird in terms of it happening in the first episode but the tone is perfect. But overall, moments like this are the exception now instead of the rule.

At one point Sidonia no Kishi had been a horror-series. Living on the Sidonia and defending it against the Gauna had been a form of existential horror as even the greatest victory was a pyrrhic one and the end of each battle was just the prelude for the next one. The Gauna were the inhuman face of a merciless universe. Over time, though, Sidonia no Kishi distanced itself from such bleakness and its plots became more character-driven. This transition has slowly turned Sidonia no Kishi into an action-series. There were a few bumps on the road along the way but if anything this season’s start has proven that the series has finally learned to fall into a comfortable rhythm of action and character-driven quiet moments. So, it’s no wonder that this second seasons starts by introducing a villain with a name, personality and whatnot.

The series draws a smaller circle this time around as a few well-known characters get to stand in the limelight. Things are becoming very dramatic as the series starts to focus on individual character-driven arcs instead of bigger-than-life theme-driven storytelling. Nagato, Izana, Kobayashi, Yuhata and Hoshijiro/Tsumugi – they all have their own little stories to tell. These stories create conflicts of course but what this series wants to sell now isn’t the world of Sidonia but these few characters amongst many who live in it. By limiting its scope in this way, the series gains more space to explore said characters. You can already see how the series maneuvers itself to focus on these characters in how the cast seldom interacts with characters we don’t know. Where the first season suffered a little bit from this transition, this season can commit to its story-beats without having to wonder about matters of consistency.

Plot-wise, this is a very direct sequel in how it picks up right where the previous season had ended. Pacing-wise the series has made some weird decisions here, though. Norio’s exploration of Ochiai’s laboratory which ends with Ochiai taking over Norio’s body should’ve been how the first season should’ve ended. After all, Norio standing before that gate as he was about to enter that laboratory had been the cliffhanger of the first season. It’s a tad weird to resolve such a cliffhanger with a plottwist. It’s like you’re watching some innocent mountain-climber-team about to fall from a cliff and then this “cliffhanger” gets resolved by having one of the mountain-climbers sprout wings and become an infernal demon who kills the rest of the team. It’s kinda overwhelming how Norio’s character-arc basically gets scrapped here as he becomes the vessel of the new villain.

As the series has transitioned to action-territory the series’ battle-scenes have become more tense and less tense at the same time. The tension in the battle-scenes isn’t concerned with horror anymore. There isn’t this clear sense of the writer being a sadist anymore and instead of fearing the worst to happen, now you get the kind of action relying on you hoping for the best. I’ve already mentioned how the series has become more character-focused and the story-bits of the battle-scenes are very concerned with the actions of specific characters.

At the same time, though, this series is currently one of the best shounen-action-series of recent years. Because the series didn’t start out wanting to do action it never established the usual patterns a typical shounen-series might choose. When the series does action now, it does so with the help of an interesting setting and a tone that (despite not being in horror-territory anymore) is still quite dark in comparison to other shounen-series. And it has to be said: If the emphasis had remained on this series being about existential horror, the series would’ve been hard-pressed at some point to make the audience give a shit about what’s happening. The shift to character-driven action has given this series a chance to make its story more personal and the conflicts have become more tangible as well since the transition. Of course, in that regard you can say that transitioning to the action-genre is the sensible chance but actually trying to keep up the existential horror while telling a good story would’ve been the obvious challenge. In the end, I can’t say that the series has become worse because of the transition. But it certainly has changed and the way it changed in the first season wasn’t very smooth. Enough about that transition, though.

_C12__Knights_of_Sidonia_S2_-_The_Ninth_Planet_Crusade_-_01.mp4 - 00003Now that’s a bad horror-scene: Nagate never noticing how weird this character’s behavior is in this scene is stupid. You just need to look at her to know that something’s wrong with her!

Tsumugi, the new chimera-mecha created by Ochiai, fulfills a couple tropes. She’s Frankenstein’s monster with a nice personality and it’s the kind of monster that only can relate to the good guys because those can see past her monstrous nature. Then the battle-scenes also demonstrate how her abilities raise the bar for the power-levels of this series.

Because of that you got a battle-scene whose plottwist wasn’t only the appearance of Tsumugi but also her power. One has to give credit to this series, though, for actually toning down powerfulness of Tsumugi. The battle still is a struggle despite Tsumugi’s presence and people still die – although like I’ve mentioned the impact of those deaths was weaker here in comparison to the first season.

Where this series really starts to shine is when the character-dynamics come into play. The way Nagate, Izana and Tusgumi behaved in the battle wasn’t only tense because of how they had to fight the Gauna but the tension was also motivated by their friendship. And that’s something you can sympathize with. With the horror gone, stuff like that is vitally important and these four episodes have done a decent job of making you care about these relationships.

What suffers, though, are the themes of this series. After all, what is Sidonia no Kishi really about at this point? Without the horror the story of this series seems a lot less spicy. It’s very clear who’s good and who’s bad and the intentions are pure on both sides, it seems. The good guys want to do good-guy-stuff and the evil guys don’t. Simple as that. But what exactly is the point of this series now? Survival would seem obvious but it isn’t like the series actually cares about that as how this series is character-driven (which has led to the very nasty feeling that some characters have a sort of plot-armor now). Right now, this series nails the immediacy of action and character-driven drama but it does feel like the series doesn’t seem to go anywhere interesting. Does anyone care if a more dangerous Gauna shows up in the next episode? I don’t. I care about the character but I don’t care about the Gauna-stuff anymore. With Ochiai running about, Tsumugi doing the whole sympathy-for-the-monster-thingy and Nagate/Izana continue their respective character-arcs. The setting is interesting but the series’ worldbuilding has grown stale. Considering how interesting the series’ setting is, it’s sad to see how little this series is doing with its worldbuilding nowadays.

What makes this series interesting is less what it’s currently doing but more how it has used an interesting premise as a jumpboard for a solid action-storyline. The series doesn’t do enough right now, though, to make you think that this will sustain a whole season. What the series has done with Ochiai and Tsugumi are good ideas but character-stuff like that isn’t enough to create compelling drama. The series’ setting is one of its most interesting elements and right now it feels like the series is forgetting that. Sidonia no Kishi is a really solid action-series right now but it isn’t very ambitious right now which makes me worry for its future.

Episodes-Rating: 8.0/10

Random Thoughts:

  • The animation is… well, it is what it is. It has its strengths but also its flaws. Especially facial expressions need to be better with this animation-style. The characters aren’t exactly expressionless but I feel like the voice-acting is currently doing a better job of selling the characters than this animation-style does. But when it comes to three-dimensional movement in battles this animation-style is great. This animation-style produces a far more energetic kind of movement. Even fancy stuff like what ufotable does in Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works isn’t that energetic.
  • Again, there are people protesting against the chimera and again the series is seemingly doing nothing more than telling us that there are common non-soldier people around who have a different opinion. Not that their opinion matters anyway. Actually, since the transition to action-series it feels like the series has distanced itself even further from those common people. Nagate, Izana & co kinda live in their own world as far as Sidonia is concerned.

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on May 2, 2015, in Anime, Reviews, Sidonia no Kishi and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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