Knights of Sidonia
シドニアの騎士 (Sidonia no Kishi)
Seinen – Action, drama, ecchi, mature, mecha, sci-fi
15 Volumes (complete)
Nagate’s whole world consisted of just him and his grandfather. Now alone, the young man ventures to find food and is surprised to discover other people exist. Even more shocking is the fact humanity is under attack by creatures known as Gauna, and now Nagate is abruptly drafted to fight in the legendary spacesuit weapon Tsugumori!
Knights of Sidonia has a pretty atrocious introduction into its world, but it gets more interesting once you adjust to the choppiness.
Vertical describes this as “Nihei’s most accessible work”. Well, as I was reading the first couple volumes, I was convinced I better not read his other series. It’s been a long time since I felt this dumb while reading something. I had to keep checking to see if pages were sticking together because it seemed like I was skipping panels.
Let’s take the opening volume. In one volume, Nagate
- gets caught “stealing”;
- learns he’s not the only person in the world;
- learns there are people who have both reproductive organs;
- finds out he’s one of the few beings who needs to eat;
- gets control of a legendary mecha;
- enters a battle;
- gets into a couple of ecchi situations.
Those are not in the right order, but you get the idea. Seriously, this was like a Cliff’s Notes version of most anime and manga introductions. If I found out there were other people — and they operate differently than me — I’d have a whole bunch of questions. Not Nagate. He’s more interested in food than the talking bear that’s serving him. The first volume is like when someone is playing a movie in a room you keep walking in and out of. You understand the general gist, but the details just fly right over your head. This would feel pretty rushed if all this was a part of Nagate’s everyday life, but this world is new to him, too. Explain! Detail! Question!
The story gets a bit easier to understand once some of the setting and world’s (well, galaxy’s) situation is explained, but this is a series I feel is better marathoned over a couple of days than reading months apart. Volumes do not include a character guide or “story until now” section at the beginning, and often the next release doesn’t nicely pick up from the previous. You can have one end with group ecchi/harem antics and then suddenly be about a new weapon. Characters appear and disappear. If you want to get the most out of Knights of Sidonia, you really need to read it slowly and pay close attention. At times, I just gave up on analyzing things and just went for the ride.
But let me talk about the actual story. Like many space epics, Knights of Sidonia is set on a spaceship during a time when humanity is pushed to the brink of extinction. Strange alien beings known as Gauna roam the galaxy and attack the Sidonia. Only weapons called kabizashi can penetrate the Gauna’s protective placenta and destroy their core to truly kill them. Nagate has unknowingly trained his whole life to fight against Gauna, and his talents with a simulator transfer into real-world experience.
Let’s move on to the manga’s strengths. Fortunately, while it’s hinted very early in the manga that Nagate is special, we don’t have to deal with a lot of bullying or harassment. Most are surprised or a bit envious of his skills, but the pilots here are young adults who are risking their lives. Most bad attitudes toward him are from females who think he’s trying to peek on them naked or are just experiencing jealousy and embarrassment. (It’s always an accident though.)
Despite all the females in the series, though, Nagate is not someone who is bouncing from one girl to another. Nagate is drawn to one individual at first (then later another), but he just doesn’t see the inner turmoil in the other. This isn’t a case of sweet girl versus spicy girl or a jerk who waffles between two girls. He’s actually a pretty nice guy, never really losing his temper or being generally annoying. He risks his life to save his fellow cadets, and even when he dominates the battlefield, Nagate still practices on the simulator.
Like in most war-type series, leaders face the conundrum of whether it’s better to sacrifice the welfare of some for the good of many. This theme is prevalent throughout the manga. In the second half of the series, however, the bigger question is what makes someone human. While Nagate and his friend Izana view the being Tsugumi as a dear friend and ally, but can a science experiment really feel emotions, and is Tsugumi replaceable? As I mentioned, though, Nagate never views Tsugumi as disposable, as he always tries to find ways to make life better for her.
On the other hand, the ecchi and harem bits are less welcome. Ha ha, it’s so funny how Nagate accidentally barges in women changing and gets punched. Not. I can understand wanting to add some romcom hijinx, but the harem parts feel forced. The love triangle works fine without adding more girls to the picture or making Nagate get blamed for things he had little-to-no control over. I’ve already talked about the choppiness, but a few other plot points were also never really covered. The ending in particular tries to force a happily-ever-after (or happy-ish-ever-after) without explaining how it all happened. It’s disappointing to follow a series for 15 volumes and to feel let down by the lack of details.
I’ve already talked a bit about Nagate. He’s talented and confident in his skills, but he doesn’t boast about himself. I really won’t go in to the other characters, as I think you should be the one to discover who survives and who dies. I mentioned the abundance of females in the story. Only a couple of guys really play a role in this story. So if you’re looking for a good female character, it’s hard not to find one here. Izana is Nagate’s first real friend, and Izana goes through many similar struggles as Kuromaru of the UQ Holder! manga. Shizuka is another talented Garde pilot, and her feelings play quite a role in the story. We also meet the mysterious commander and even more female admirers for Nagate. I found the group of “sisters” pretty annoying, with one pretty much being nothing but the token tsundere.
Like the story, the art is not the hand-holding type. Readers are expected to fill in the gap, and this can be very tricky at times. Characters often have similar hair colors and styles, and sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was meeting someone new or not. Death is a part of war, but the actual violence is pretty minimal. It’s the naked girls that really drive up the rating of this manga.
The locations in the intricate Sidonia are impressive: tall towers, complex pipe systems, and traditional Japanese festivals and rooms. (Evidently, Western culture didn’t really take root in Sidonia.) These backgrounds can be incredibly detailed with its Escher-like designs. The Gauna are huge and would definitely strike fear into people, especially if they team up.
The pilots mostly fight with long-range cannons, but we do see some more physical, up-close battles in the second half of the series. It’s pretty hard not to find these battles more interesting than just flying around and blasting Gauna with artillery. The Guana tend to swarm together, and this just adds to the intrigue and impressiveness of the series. Tsumugi’s design is an quite interesting mix of both creepy and cute. All in all, just make sure to follow the art carefully. It’s easy to forget who is actually in the fights when the focus is so much on Nagate.
No honorifics are used. “Mr.” and “Ms.” are used in place of them. The genderless Izana is generally referred to with feminine pronouns; the Japanese version uses gender-neutral ones. “Morito” are “Gardes”. The source of energy is called “Higgs particles”, but other versions uses “Heigus particles”. There were a couple of phrases I was unfamiliar with, like “shite” and “whole hog”. I looked them up, and they seem to be British-English phrases. It’s really odd to have British phrases in a release for North American audiences for a very Japanese series. (Everyone has Japanese names, and life in space is very Japanese, unlike many Western-flavored mecha series.)
That’s about all I’m going to say. I must add I hate the font though.
I know Nihei’s series are very popular, but Knights of Sidionia just isn’t my cup of tea. I did enjoy parts of the manga, but I like tightly-knit narratives better. I often recommend checking out the first couple of volumes before investing in a series, but in this case, the beginning is quite rough on readers. I probably wouldn’t recommend this as a blind-buy for most manga fans. Either pick Knights of Sidonia up because you’re already a Nihei fan or because you borrowed it and liked it.
You can stream the anime on Netflix or buy the box sets from Sentai Filmworks.
Viz Media published Nihei’s Biomega. Tokyopop released Blame! and NOiSE, and the former has been rescued by Vertical. Nihei also wrote and drew Wolverine: Snikt! for Marvel.