Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Anime Review: Knights of Sidonia

And so it's time for my first Summer 2014 anime review although I feel like I'm a bit behind the curve since nearly everyone else already has their review of this show up! Which probably made a few people double-take and look at the calendar, Knights of Sidonia is a unique show since instead of being licensed by a traditional licensor it was actually picked up by Netflix who, instead of releasing it as a simulcast in the spring, released the entire show subbed and dubbed back in July which certainly got the attention of more mainstream nerd sites. And it sounds like the show has done well thus far, I had been worried when I heard that Netflix was using this show to test their new idea since I didn't think it would be a hit but it seems like if you put anything on Netflix then tons of people will watch it anyway (plus, given it's status on the "Recently Popular" when I was watching it, that sounds like people are watching it because they like it, not just the first episode out of curiosity and then not following it up).

Knights of Sidonia

In the far off future Earth is no more after being ripped in half by the alien gauna and what remained of humanity fled Earth in giant seed ships. Millennia have passed at the Sidonia continues it's lonely mission, they passed out of communication range with other ships centuries earlier but at least there haven't been any gauna attacks in a hundred years. It's at this time that Nagate emerges from the underbelly of the ship, hungry after his grandfather died and completely ignorant of the human world. Due to his extensive garde training however he's put in a school with other potential garde pilots just waiting for the day when the gauna return and humanity is once again on the defensive.

As noted in the last review funny enough, while I like sci-fi I don't have the best track record for finding great sci-fi or even okay sci-fi in some of the subgenres. Space opera sci-fi is one of them, I only ever seem to come across in a visual medium which immediately narrows the field down, so I was surprised when I got a few episodes into Sidonia and realized that wow, this isn't just a story in a sci-fi setting, this truly is a science fiction work. The setting is well-thought out and detailed, not only would I totally read a "100 sights of Sidonia" guidebook but I didn't have any trouble buying into most of the technology. Minus the mechs to a degree and the fact that the ship has been around for close to if not more than a thousand years, and both of those are because of just how fragile technology really is and yet you do get a sense of both fragility and durability from the setting, just look at how worn and patched up everything is. I'm going to talk more about the art of the show later but I did really like the general design aesthetic, "science fiction" conquers a very specific sort of costume and scenery in most people's minds and this show deliberately avoids the cool lines and dim lights of gritty sci-fi stories, I was actually reminded of the manga series Saturn Apartments more than anything else. 

I should mention that this actually isn't my first experience with the series, after I saw everyone talking about the show during the Japanese series run I went ahead and looked at a few chapters of the manga and they really didn't click with me. The pacing felt very strange, it was one event after another with no time to breath and get to know the characters so I was turned off by it, thank goodness all the positive buzz about the anime made me try it out after all (I'm even interested in giving the manga a second shot). Here I didn't have that problem, the pacing felt much more natural and then when the story would do something different (such as, skipping what would normally be a big, dramatic event in order to have the aftermath pack more of a punch) it felt startling and resonated more. Nagate still seems like a fairly generic main character to me, which is strange since the rest of the cast is fairly interesting and engaging, but since he's only the center of a larger story that's not a dealbreaker for me and he can always develop later down the line.

The biggest reason I was worried that this show wouldn't do well for Netflix is because it's completely computer animated, it's not the first show to do this and, well, it just doesn't look as good as the computer animation that US movie studios have been doing for years. I will admit that I became so engrossed in the story that I didn't notice it as much as I feared which is good, and I saw the manga-ka joking around that the reason the character's faces look so flat is because he designed them to be so flat which made me laugh. There are two big short comings however, the lighting throughout the series and whenever a character makes a big movement on screen. The small movements or close up shots look just fine and it does allow for some variety in face shapes (see Izana's silly pudgy faces) but whenever a character has to move around a lot the movements just don't look right, as if they're too fluid compared to what I'm used to and that would throw me out of the show every time. The entire show also seems to be lit by a single light source which looks bad and is a problem I remember seeing in a lot of earlier CGI productions so I'm not sure if these problems in the show come from the animators just being inexperienced, not having the right equipment, or if the budget isn't big enough to allow for time to fine tune those details. I don't expect the second season of the show, coming to Japan in October, to look any better but I hope that future CGI shows do since, while this wasn't as terrible as I expected and I did enjoy the show despite it, there's a lot that can still be improved.

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