Imagine a Sci-fi epic with the tenacity of becoming something of a psychological journey into the deep unknown. Many movies have captured the feelings of being out in the far reaches of interstellar travel in space rockets, or in this case, giant mechas. With the help of talented writers, that dream can become real, in order to prove to the viewers that it can retain that sci-fi glory and be significant to the genre. All it takes is something like Sidonia no Kishi to show that the genre is far from dead.
What sets Sidonia no Kishi at the top spot along with many great space epics in anime is how beautifully crafted it sets up the premise. Rich, with a well-developed lore that organizes the tension that we feel with the dilemma that the characters are facing. It’s clear from how the writers put all of their effort into crafting a great narrative to capsulize the drama to make us root for the characters, rather than apathetically rooting for their deaths. This includes genuine tragic emotion and a heart pounding climax that puts it on overdrive to appease the action fans. Even with its shallow ending that feels rather abrupt, that is only a minor issue to a story that has more things going for it on a larger scale.
Not only does Sidonia no Kishi nail it on the narrative aspect of story, but it enriches itself with a very deeply layered lore that feels relatively fresh. Sure, humans who are near extinction going out to settle in open space may not be “new” in the strictest sense. However, Sidonia no Kishi offers a slightly different approach to this setting. Rather than make a narrative that’s over encompassing with large factions and political strife, it’s more personal and first-person, following our hero Nagate. Through this approach, we have a relatively intimate experience with the characters and the story that helps navigate towards their dialogue and interactions with the world and other people. It’s here where the show sets a nice bar pretty high for a genre that hasn’t delved into this type of narrative, and doing it well no less.
What it has to amount to is how the characters portray themselves in the narrative to have a huge impact. Unfortunately, only a few of them standout as accomplishing this. The few that do are the main protagonists, Nagate and Izana. This is the fact of how they have a nicely written bond towards the halfway point into the plot, but also how they develop overtime, whether it’s their relationship or their own individual roles. Nagate is portrayed as dealing with the turbulent lifestyle of Sidonia’s poorer sub-culture and his growth is developed gradually and with intelligence. Meanwhile Izana starts out as a plain-old character that will be the obvious love interest, but they actually take a few risks in being written as a guide for Nagate. She isn’t just a love interest and nothing else, she has a hand in the development of Nagate and doesn’t appear as useless to the show.
So what is wrong with the rest of the cast? Nothing entirely major, it just all comes down to how much of an impact they have in their individual presence, which only range from decent to below average. The obvious choice for decent is Hoshijiro and how the writers treat her tragic role. All that comes down to for the rest aren’t that they are uninteresting, but all I can see in most of their archetypes are Characters A, B, C and nothing else. They don’t issue more of a response other than just look at them as tools to forward the plot. However, once the tragedy settles in either character, it still gets a reaction, but that’s only because of how well the atmosphere is created.
Where things get a little heated is the animation, particularly the CG-ness of Sidonia no Kishi. Following on the footsteps of the glorious CG shlock called, Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova, it decides to implement its animation into the CG format that had a divided reception in recent iterations of anime. However, unlike Ars Nova, the CG is actually well-made in this instance simply by the fact that the movements, for the most part, feel very fluid and smooth. Because this is set in a mecha environment, it does feel more appropriate implementing CG into the mix so that the artist can do more with what they are given. I wouldn’t go far as to say it’s groundbreaking, but it’s as close to greatness as one could get from it.
Since this is a mecha after all, it would be fair to critique the action sequences, since that’s what most fans of the genre look forward to. For someone like me who hasn’t delved into the genre as much as the next person, I found myself actually on edge throughout most of these sequences. This is thanks in no part to the animation and sound department and how intense they make the scenes, which are so kinetic and focused on what is going on. The final battle sequence alone garners needed praise to how greatly directed it portrays it with tight coordination and timing with how the characters try to overcome this dire dilemma. So if you have been waiting for an anime that is akin to past Gundam action sequences, this blows most of them out of the park.
Overall, we don’t get nearly enough anime that tries to attempt being basing around an intelligent story woven enough to where it’s actually coherent, while also being entertaining to watch at the same time. While I won’t consider this an instant sci-fi classic that many will appreciate for generations, it does have the hallmarks of leading some to treasure it. The two main leads definitely own their roles and are worth the watch for them alone. What will come of how they will continue this great trend and respect the source material, only time will tell. Either way, I’m happy to wait for that inevitable continuation.