When I saw the announcement that Netflix was going to be the US distributor of the anime for Knights of Sidonia, I was intrigued. I’ve been trying to keep on top of the content wars vis a vis Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime, etc.
Adapted from a manga series by Tsutomu Nihei, Knights of Sidonia is a space opera that follows a seed ship of human survivors who have left the Earth after its descrution. Reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica, Macross/Robotech, and other stories, it also includes some elements of hard SF that enrich the fairly standard plot.
And this, for me, is the nature of the whole series — very interesting conceptual work and worldbuilding wrapped around a fairly standard, if grim, space opera plot with mecha pilots and giant monster invaders.
You’ve got a Chosen One young male pilot who skyrockets up the ranks Because Reasons, a mysterious and implacable commander/captain, desperate odds, squad dynamics (arrogant bishonen rival, girl-next-door love interest, etc.), and so on. But these elements are complicated and enriched by cool concepts and worldbuilding — the design of the monstrous Gauna is intriguing, modifying the ‘tentacle monster’ model in some interesting ways. Humanity hacked itself several generations ago to photosynthesize, there is serial cloning, and there are now three biological sexes (called bigender in the subtitles).
However, many of these sociological, biological, and cultural elements take a distant backseat to the space opera combat plots. The main bi-gender character, Izana, is constantly mis-gendered (when gendered as male, she is frustrated, and yet uses a masculine pronoun in the Japanese) and yet is basically the only character in the series who is positioned as bigender, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be fairly commonplace (common enough that they have separate photosynthesis chambers).
AND NOW, SPOILERS.
The implications of cloning are investigated in several cool ways, which I have to acknowledge — especially as it provides a cool twist explaining the Chosen One trope. In addition, the narrow focus on the military plot makes it harder to get a rounded view of the larger social world of Sidonia, similar to the way that Battlestar Galactica tended to stay focused on the political and military aspects of the fleet.
The ena version of Hoshijiro raises some interesting questions about humanity, the possible connection and communication between humanity and the Gauna, but that plot is mostly developed in season one along the romantic connection between Tanikaze and Hoshijiro.
I am looking forward to the second season, and for the show to develop the sociological aspects of the world. I hear that the manga develops these cultural elements more than the anime, so if you watch the anime and have the reaction I did, you may want to check out the manga.