A moody, dystopian sci-fi anime with mechas, a mysterious council, and aliens? Well, why didn’t you say so!
• Hm, right from the very start, the cold opening indicates that the anime’s frame rate can get rather choppy when things get hectic on screen.
• It seems as though Nagate, our hero of the story, has been living deep in the bowels of Sidonia, a manmade space city, for all of his young life. How has he survived this long without sunlight? And the air down there must be stagnant, no?
• Ooh, there are some painful early moments in this episode. First, those mangled fingers of his:
Then, our hero getting his head struck as he attempted to make his getaway. The CGI’s not bad so far.
• Just as I say that, I get some computer-sculpted asses thrown in my face. Touché, anime, touché.
• The faces are where the show’s aesthetics falter a bit. It’s the most relatable part of a character’s design, so yeah, I’m a bit let down when I see just how stiff and clunky these girls’ faces are. As a result, the faces don’t do a very good job of conveying the emotional states of the characters. The eyes, in particular, seem to be missing that essential spark of life behind them. There’s just this uncanny valley-ish feel to the characters’ eyes despite the fact that the show has adopted the anime aesthetics through and through.
• Norio certainly isn’t shy: “Hoshijiro. Let’s go to my place after this. Saying you personally know the current head of Kunato Development is no doubt going to help your career once you’re a pilot.”
• In any case, there’s something rather Ender’s Game-esque in the way he talks about this Ace, a former hero of Sidonia. And let’s not forget all about the faceless alien threat, and the abundance of training through simulation. Let’s just hope our main character doesn’t turn into a mini-Hitler as well.
• Well, this is certainly a different twist on the “conspirators in a dark room” trope:
The idea that society is being ruled by a council of faceless, undying leaders is sort of unsettling. These individuals have entrenched themselves in their seats of power, and there’s no real incentive for them to relinquish any of it.
• So this particular society is under constant militarization despite the fact that a Gauna, the alien threat, hasn’t been encountered in a century. As such, civil unrest is starting to foment in the streets. As the audience, however, we know that an imminent Gauna threat is very real. Is this enough to justify the government’s actions? One of the young girl says, “This is why I hate pacifists.” Is she justified? It’s too early to say, but conspirators in a dark room don’t usually turn out to be the good guys in the long run.
• Graves would seem impractical on some manmade, space city. As such, death on Sidonia results in a trip down to the biothermal reactor. You are essentially incinerated until you’re nothing left but space dust.
• Despite our futuristic setting, there’s a very rundown feel to the world surrounding our characters. In most science fiction shows, the color palette is typically cool and/or cold. This results in imbuing the image heavily with tones of blue. Take, for example, this shot of J.J. Abrams on the set of Star Trek: Into Darkness:
The set is very cold and metallic. Not only that, it’s all highlighted by the glossy surfaces and the random sources of light throughout the scene. Knights of Sidonia takes a different approach in the early scenes of the episode:
If I hadn’t told you anything about the anime, you wouldn’t think that the characters are currently living on a manmade city that is floating through space just from looking at the screenshot above. Instead of metallic surfaces, we have concrete surfaces. The paint job on the walls is even chipping, showing us the wear and tear of Sidonia. Whereas Star Trek is cold and austere, the lower levels of our manmade city is constantly bathe in a yellow light. We’re told that our hero has reached the surface of Sidonia, but is it really the surface? Is the light actually from the sun? Or is the light, much like the city, a manmade construct as well? Now, the differences between the aesthetics of the two science fiction stories can be chalked up to the fact that Star Trek seeks to portray some sort of post-scarcity technologist utopia. Meanwhile, Sidonia is under constant martial law, which implies that resources are perhaps limited and being rationed as a result.
So is the yellow light thus a reflection of Sidonia’s imperfections in comparison to Star Trek‘s pristine interiors?
Or is there an even more profound reason for why warm tones dominate these early scenes?
• By the way, most of Sidonia’s civilians do not need to constantly eat to sustain themselves. Apparently, they’ve adapted to the photosynthetic process. Nagate has not had the same luxury, which would explain the man’s comments during this elevator scene.
• Shortly after the long elevator ride, Sidonia’s appearance drastically changes as our hero reaches the upper levels. All of a sudden, it does feel as though we’ve stumbled upon a futuristic setting:
The next shot is even more telling:
The screenshot above is not exactly blue, but it is nevertheless dominated by cool tones as opposed to the warm tones that we’ve been getting. What does this say about the differences between the elites and the average civilians of Sidonia? What does it also say about the apparent conflict between the anti-military demonstrators and the city’s shadowy leaders? Is this a hint that the city’s elites are truly exploiting its people? Would this explain why there’s such a stark contrast between the interiors with the chipped paint of the civilian realm and the futuristic, metallic insides of the upper levels of Sidonia?
• Later, Nagate returns to the civilian realm where he is assigned a cramped room for his lodgings. Amusingly, the “person” who runs his dorms is literally a walking, talking mama bear.
• Wow, I thought those three girls from earlier were just triplets or something, but there’s a whole host of girls with the exact same look and appearance. Eleven, to be exact:
Cost-cutting measure disguised as a bunch of futuristic clones?
• The scenes where the students wander about the school’s campus is rather neutral. It is neither warm nor cold:
The lighting is purely white.
• Izuna apparently belongs to a third gender that is neither male nor female. Instead, she (I’ll use the ‘she’ pronoun just for expediency’s sake) is an hermaphrodite, but what’s even more remarkable is how an hermaphrodite’s body can adapt to his or her partner. I wonder, therefore, if Izuna’s more feminine appearance says something about her character or role to come in this story.
• In these later scenes, tones of blue begin to seep into the picture, but unlike Star Trek‘s bright settings, much of these Sidonia’s interiors are now shrouded in darkness. The screenshot above with the girls in the classroom is one example. Here’s another:
At this moment, Nagate is preparing himself for his very first sortie. But even though our hero is tasked with piloting the most sought-after Gardes, the level of wear and tear on both the vehicle and our pilot’s suit is quite apparent. This is certainly not a post-scarcity utopia. Sidonia’s excess appears to be confined solely to the upper levels of its society, and this is perhaps why the blue tones are not matched by a Star Trek‘s level of brightness. Star Trek seems optimistic; in comparison, there’s an ill omen surrounding our hero’s first mission and that is perhaps reflected by the grungy darkness permeating the scenes.
The closer and closer we get to space, the darker everything seems to become. Again, this raises questions about how Sidonia keeps itself illuminated on the inside.
• And this is what Sidonia looks like from the outside:
The interior is thus more or less concealed from the outside universe, which is fittingly empty and cold.
• The ice mining mission, however, quickly turns into a disaster when our trainee pilots stumble across a Gauna on the dwarf planet. Nagate’s guardian specifically included him on this mission for a reason: Kobayashi must have known that this would happen. She likely wanted to put his theoretical skills to a real test. After all, there’s only so much you can learn from a simulation (Kobayashi Maru, anyone?). Kobayashi’s mask merely allows her to conceal her true intentions (plus, it makes her look all freaky and shit). If I am correct here about her aims, it would show that the leaders of Sidonia are not hesitant to use its militarized students as nothing more than fodder, and this perhaps lends a bit of credence to our anti-military demonstrators.
I rather enjoyed this first episode. Going in, I knew that the CGI wasn’t going to be perfect, so the few odd blemishes sprinkled throughout the episode don’t really bother me all that much. On the othe rhand, I think the setting is fascinating, and while the characters haven’t exactly had much to say, there’s still room for them to grow. Most of all, there’s just a level of gravitas to the story. There has been a recent trend in anime for characters to knowingly wink at the audience in acknowledgement of a show’s own self-referential nature. It’s thus nice to get a straightforward story being told here without all of the meta nonsense that has been plaguing the genre.