As soon as I finished Knights of Sidonia season 2, I immediately messaged managing editor Mike Cecchini, “Everyone in America should be watching Knights of Sidonia.” Don’t be fooled by the lateness of this review (SDCC got in the way!): I watched the entire second season in a binge the Saturday after the episodes dropped on Netflix. It seems the only way to enjoy this series, basking in its manga spirit, experiencing the story from cover to cover. Knights of Sidonia is a fantastic little television novel that I pull off a shelf every summer on a lazy weekend.
There’s so much to enjoy about this show, much of which I outlined in an article last year. Its intense mech vs. kaiju battles in space, its emphasis on exploration—on both a cellular and universal level—and intimate moments between the characters that are as interesting (or more so, as is the case in season 2) as any of the action set pieces are definitely the big reasons to watch the show. And that’s not even mentioning the animation, which is just spectacular, as it combines both 3D sections with the more classic anime style.
For fans of the first season, there’s still plenty of the farm boy storyline that made the show so accessible to fans of other space operas like Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, as the underdog pilot becomes the Sidonia’s most celebrated soldier. By the beginning of the second season, Tanikaze, the main character, doesn’t have much to prove to his commanders or comrades. Instead, the story focuses on what Tanikaze must prove to himself personally and to his loved ones: that he can keep those he loves safe.
After losing his love interest in a dogfight in season one, Tanikaze continues to be haunted by the memory and spirit of Hoshijori. In a cool moment of body horror and weird science I still can’t quite wrap my head around, the gauna (the evil space kaiju that are the main villains of the show) kill Hoshijori and absorb her DNA to create a strange human-gauna hybrid version of Hoshijori known as the Crimson Hawk Moth that’s faster and bigger than any of the gardes (the mechs) in Sidonia’s fleet. This is all season one, by the way, and although the Hawk Moth is defeated, now the humans figure out a way to create a human-gauna hybrid for their own use against the enemy—that is also based on Hoshijori’s DNA…
Enter Tsumugi, whose monstrous form is no match for how freaking adorable she is. Like a child, she’s often overly emotional, often craving the company of others, since she’s kept in a secret warehouse on the ship for the protection of the humans. Even though she is very clearly the scariest character on the show, she is actually the source of much of the charm, humor, and lightheartedness of the season. Watching her develop a relationship with both Tanikaze and Izana, who we’ll get to in just a moment, is the best part of the season, and the story takes its time letting this all happen. It’s the intimate moments of character development, slow-churn drama, and humor that make up this season’s strong suit. It’s unfortunate then that the season doesn’t quite deliver on the story it builds for most of the beginning and middle episodes.
No, I have to say that the pacing is a little off, and when its time for space battles and the larger storyline (the last humans are trying to defeat a Death Star-like gauna), the tone takes a nose dive into the very grim. The action sequences aren’t quite as fun, still delivering cliffhangers left and right at the end of episodes, but then paying them off with predictable outcomes. It lacks the shock of something like, say, Hoshijori’s death, which pretty much tore me and Tanikaze in half at the time. I might be crazy, but I spent most of season 2 of a mech vs. kaiju space opera anime hoping that the action scenes would be over soon so we could get back to the characters.
It may be that there’s nothing else to say about the characters in terms of the space battles. Where last year’s scenes all had to do with Tanikaze and the other cadets proving themselves in a very dangerous, life-or-death coming-of-age story, the action isn’t much more than filler. Even when the fights are actually supposed to matter (there’s a big reveal at the end of the season that finally weaves character development with action), I just didn’t care all that much.
But then again, maybe that’s just a testament to how well the lighter, but way more personal stories are when the pilots are in their civilian clothes. Izana, Tanikaze’s genderless (Izana can choose to be a boy or a girl at any time) best friend and secret admirer, steals the spotlight from Tsumugi, who is by far the most eyebrow-raising portion of cool science fiction on the show. As she falls more deeply in love with Tanikaze, her body begins to go through the transformation into a woman. She starts acting more feminine, going as far as wearing a very revealing evening gown on a night out with her grandmother. Also, there are the unavoidable nude scenes that are signature anime fanboy fare.
Izana’s emotional depth will quickly entice you to dig deeper into the character, and by the end, root for her and Tanikaze, who remains oblivious to those who admire him for the most part. As is the anime boy aesthetic, of course. This actually raises another problem on the show: everybody loves Tanikaze. Literally everyone. This isn’t as much a love triangle between Tanikaze, Izana, and Tsumugi (who does have feelings for Tanikaze, but it seems more brought about by childish curiosity than anything else) as it is a love web, which also includes the green-haired Midorikawa and En Honoka, one of the pink-haired clone sisters who have the ability to photosynthesize. It makes for a pretty shallow approach to developing real, conflicted human relationships. But there’s enough girl fights, kink, and romance to keep you occupied if that’s what you want from your cartoon characters.
At least once the show decides to focus in on Tanikaze and Izana specifically, it really does deliver the complex human interaction that is the stuff of great writing. And it’s the emotional center of the season, whose weak point is whatever the big conflict is supposed to be about.
This is the big flaw of Knights of Sidonia season 2: the big plot points—there’s an evil plot involving mad scientists, a tyrant, a parasite, and a gauna death star monster—are just way too convoluted and hard to follow. And the pacing and storytelling focus doesn’t help. We spend too much time with the much better Tanikaze and Izana storyline to really get a sense for what is happening on the show as a whole. See, I know BIG things happened this season in terms of the larger picture, but I fail to understand them, and it’s because the writers choose to rush past most of that stuff, no consequences or debriefing at all, in exchange for the humor and romance. Which is fine, but then don’t add so many big picture things on top of all that.
By the end of the season, we are led in the direction of the epic, a coming storm that I can at least somewhat understand: the Sidonia is going to face a very big threat next season. And if it wants this to be the main focus of season three (by god, they build up this confrontation so much when Tanikaza and Izana aren’t running into each other naked), the show needs to slow it down and tell that big story. This is humanity’s last hope for survival after all. Season 2 plays like the b-side of a big story, and although the b-side is just so fantastic, it’s probably the big story that we should be focused on. We came for the space adventure, but stayed for the romance.