Knights of Sidonia (シドニアの騎士) is a Japanese animated series based on a mecha manga by Tsutomu Nihei. It is directed by Hiroyuki Seshita and written by Tsutomu Nihei. The music is by Noriyuki Asakura.
The anime takes place a thousand years after the fall of Earth on a large seed ship called Sidonia. It follows a young man named Nagate Tanikaze. Tanikaze was raised in the “underground” of the ship by his grandfather, Hiroki Saitou. He has a talent for Garde (mecha) piloting and seems to have extremely quick healing. Other important characters include Tanikaze’s fellow cadets: Shizuka Hoshijiro, Izana Shinatose, and Yuhata Midorikawa, as well as the captain of Sidonia, Tsumugi Shiraui. The central conflict of the show is between humanity and the Gauna, a species of near-invulnerable, giant, shape-shifting aliens which destroyed the Earth. Along with the mysteries of the Gauna’s origins, motivations, and changing abilities, the show reveals that there is more to Sidonia than meets the eye, with lost technology, secret meetings and an alleged immortal council controlling everything.
What Knights sets out to do, it does well. The action feels intense, the stakes feel high and they’re not afraid to kill. The characters don’t feel invincible and react to death believably. The interpersonal dialogue, though sometimes a bit stilted, gives each character depth. Even those that become just another mark on the mass gravestones get some development. The world feels futuristic, with most humans being able to photosynthesize and having a third gendered main character (nonbinary representation, yo). It isn’t by any stretch a utopia, though, with bodies being sent to an organic conversion reactor after death, deep tunnels that have gone unused since a past war that decimated the population, and the overall militaristic feel of a society developed inside a ship. Knights has some flaws, such as the central character being a bit dense at times, there being a few slapstick moments that might feel a bit out of place, and the all-too-common “everybody loves the main character” syndrome. Luckily these are nitpicks in an otherwise engaging and fun show. Also, they have yet to explain why one of the characters is a bear, but that’s more of a plus than a minus to me.
The animation of Knights of Sidonia is something else. It’s an entirely 3D animation with anime-style textures. 3D is a turn-off for a lot of animation fans, but they did a hell of a job with this one. Don’t believe me? Listen to Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear fame:
It’s a kind of anime that we haven’t seen for a while that has that sci-fi spirit. Using digital technology cultivated through games, it creates animation that encapsulates Japan’s cultural assets like manga, cel animation, kanji, giant robots, etc. What’s born is a unique made-in-Japan work that could never be cooked up in Hollywood. Japanese culture has lost its “cool,” and Knights of Sidonia will be the white knight that saves it.
I don’t think I could put it better than that. Knights combines new technology with modern style and makes something really fun to watch. This also fixes the inherent problem with shows like Zoids where the 3D robots are clearly distinct from the 2D characters. When you see Tanikaze next to his Garde, there’s no seam to spot.
The sound design of Knights is also a huge strength. The opening theme is hella fun. A weird mix of techno and war-march. Just listen:
Beyond the music, the sound effects are all great. The sound of a Gauna’s core being pierced or a Heigus particle cannon being fired; it all sounds awesome and memorable. The voice acting in the English dub is great. Johnny Yong Bosch as Nagate, Stephanie Sheh (Alexi Shi)* as Hoshijiro, and Melissa Fahn (Joie Marlowe)* as Izana. They all do a good job to make believable characters. Fahn’s previous experience with Edward on Cowboy Bebop made her an especially good choice for Izana.
*I have no idea why they used pseudonyms, probably non-compete or union things.
If you’re into sci-fi, animation, good stories, or fun characters I highly recommend checking Knights of Sidonia out. It is available on Netflix.