This Knights of Sidonia article contains spoilers.
Knights of Sidonia, the first “original” anime from Netflix, is one of the best sci-fi shows I’ve ever seen. One part Gundam, two parts Battlestar Galactica, wrap that all up with the sense of wonder induced by classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and you get a spectacular adventure among the stars.
If you’re a science fiction fan, as soon as you hear the premise of the show and the manga it’s based on, you recognize the story as familiar:
The last remaining humans in the galaxy have been floating in space for a thousand years on a ship called Sidonia after space monsters known as the “gauna” destroyed Earth. Now the humans are forced to defend their ship from the gauna with giant mechs called “guardians.” There is a high council of immortal wise men, a strong military presence, and protestors who believe they’re being duped and that there is no threat to the survival of mankind. Sprinkle in a civilian population with more casualities than anyone can count and social class disparity, and you have the makings of a great sci-fi epic about mankind’s place and purpose in the galaxy.
Is humanity’s purpose to survive in a galaxy that no longer welcomes the species? Or is it better to burn and end the suffering once and for all? And who exactly are the monstrous gauna? As they begin to shapeshift into beings that resemble humans, the heroes of Knights of Sidonia quickly discover that both species are more alike than they previously thought.
Without giving too much away, here is a list of reasons why you should be watching this show:
The guardians are awesome. Much of the story revolves around the main character, Nagate Tanikaze, becoming a star garde pilot in order to defend his home from gauna. Guardians aren’t exactly all that unique when it comes to mechs, but they are powered by some weird space energy called “heiges particles” — which explains how a ship could travel through space for a thousand years and not break down during the umpteenth gauna attack.
Against the gauna, the guardians are formidable. They carry machine guns, high-powered jets, huge energy cannons, and lances that can mow down gauna in a duel to the death. That’s not to say gauna are very easy to kill…
2. KAIJU LOVE
You can tell Tsutomu Nihei, the original manga’s creator, loves monsters. Gauna, the vicious, meaty monsters that prey on Sidonia are not unlike something you might find in the pages of Akira. They’re enormous, gross monsters whose only goal is the complete destruction of human civilization (sure, there’s that part where the immortal wise men MIGHT be attracting the monsters to the ship, but whatever).
Gauna come in many shapes and sizes. Some take a humanoid form to match their mech enemies, while others are the size of asteroids. There are also ones with giant tentacles.
And don’t forget the part where they can shapeshift into humans…
After assimilating a guardian pilot during a dogfight, the gauna create a badass monster version of the pilot in order to confuse the other humans. Not only is the gauna pilot bloodthirsty, but its also got its very own gauna guardian mech. For those who are mourning the death of their fallen comrade, is there still a trace of the human the now-gauna pilot once was?
3. JOSEPH CAMPBELL’S HERO
Tanikaze might as well be an innocent farm boy living on a desert planet with two suns. Born an under-dweller — someone who lives in the lowest levels of Sidonia‘s city — Tanikaze is suddenly thrust into a mech and declared the new best hope for humanity’s survival almost overnight. After being captured for stealing a bag of rice (he’s always hungry, but we’ll get that in a bit), Tanikaze catches the attention of Captain Kobayashi, the military leader of Sidonia, who knows more about Tanikaze’s past than she lets on. Needless to say, the poor, starving under-dweller is more important to the survival of mankind than he could ever imagine. In essence, the story of Knights of Sidonia is about a farm boy who must fulfill his destiny.
By the end of season 1, you can already sense Tanikaze’s ultimate trial. His guilt over the death of the guardian pilot who is assimilated by the gauna haunts Tanikaze for much of the second half of the season. After the gauna pilot (now known as Hawk Moth) is captured by Tanikaze, he becomes obsessed with her. He visits Hawk Moth often in the secret research center where it’s being kept, bringing it markers so that it can write him messages on the glass that separates them. Tanikaze believes Hawk Moth can become human again. But the other pilots begin to worry that he’s getting too close to the enemy.
Tanikaze will have to pull it together because he’s undoubtedly humanity’s only hope for survival.
4. GENETIC ENGINEERING
A thousand years was enough time for humanity to adapt around its unique situation. Always, the people of Sidonia are concerned with survival and furthering the species. Through advancements in science, humanity has triggered its own evolution.
Cloning, asexual reproduction, and human photosynthesis are commonplace in Knights of Sidonia. That means not all humans are natural-born, there is a third gender, and citizens of Sidonia only need to eat once a week (except Tanikaze, who has a normal metabolism because he was born underneath the city).
But there are some even more peculiar mutations, such as human/bear hybrids and immortals. You can kinda guess how the bear woman came about, but the immortals raise many questions. Not only are there few of them, most of them prefer to live away from the public eye. The Immortal Ship Committee runs Sidonia from the shadows, their true goal to prolong their own lives while the citizens die protecting the ship.
The diversity within the ship proves to be one of the most interesting aspects of the show. Who doesn’t love a cool mutant?
5. THE LAST HUMAN SHIP
There’s something about being the last human ship that really builds the tension. The Galactica. Interstellar arks from Pandorum and 2001 Nights. The arc of humanity’s last ship is simple: If the ship fails in its mission (undoubtedly to find a new planet to settle), you can kiss humanity goodbye.
Every time the gauna attack, humanity is inches away from being completely annihiliated. One false move from the guardian defense force and it’s curtains. But the struggle doesn’t just stem from space monster problem.
The immortals who basically run the ship benefit from humanity’s sustained space flight. As long as Sidonia continues to drift aimlessly, they can keep their hold on the people of the city.
Not to mention that there might still be other human ships in the galaxy. When Earth was destroyed, several human ships escaped the catastrophe. It’s been a thousand years since that day, and Sidonia hasn’t found another ship. How would things change if the ship made contact with other humans?
The last human ship inherits its own history, ecosystem, and culture. Unsurprisingly, the city becomes a giant Neo-Tokyo. Japanese architecture, myths, traditions, art, and philosophy mold Sidonia‘s society. It makes for a beautiful setting amidst the artificial sky.
The city stretches across the entire ship. The “sea” is on one of the top levels. And you need elevators to travel anywhere.
Oh, and since artificial gravity is what keeps people from floating all over the ship, there are hand rails all over the city for people to grapple on to when Sidonia has to perform evasive manuevers during a battle. It’s pretty zany, but it’s the only sci-fi show I’ve ever seen that really addresses the big gravity issue.
The objective is to find a new planet to settle, far from the reaches of the gauna. Knights of Sidonia‘s endgame is that the people of the ship will be able to begin a new human civilization somewhere in space.
People against the war effort on Sidonia abandon the ship in order to colonize a new planet, but are quickly attacked by a gauna. I’m sure once the gauna threat is out of the way, colonizing will be the main mission.
8. SPACE BATTLES
For all the drama and character development, half the show is about the epic space battles between the gauna and the guardians. The gauna have huge laser beams and tentacles they can easily use to murder humans. More often than not, the gauna have the upperhand over the humans. Still, watching guardians zoom past alien tentacles and stab a gauna in its throat with a lance is very entertaining.
The dog fights of Knights of Sidonia bring all the tension of movies such as Star Wars. By the end of season 1, the guardians face off against a gauna version of a Death Star. Awesome television ensues.
9. SOCIAL COMMENTARY
One of the things that made Battlestar Galactica great was that not all humans wanted the same thing. Some wanted to eradicate the Cylons, others wanted to peacefully settle a new planet, and yet others wanted spiritual salvation.
It’s the same situation on Sidonia. Some people believe that the fight against the gauna is righteous. But there are those citizens who believe that there is no threat, and that the government is manipulating its citizens in order to further its agenda.
Social inequality is rampant on the ship. Tanikaze is discriminated throughout the show for being an under-dweller. And elders are euthanized when they reach a certain age.
Although there is imminent death awaiting humans outside the ship, the real problem might be at home…
10. THE MONOLITH & THE BIG QUESTION
The absolute best part of 2001: A Space Odyssey is the mystery. Who built the monoliths and what do they want?
Early in their journey, Sidonia discovered an ancient alien artifact (pictured above) which allowed them to make many of the scientific advancements you see on the show. Who made the artifact? No one knows, and after a thousand years, no one seems to question it. Still, there’s something a bigger mystery in the galaxy than the gauna threat. I’m sure that by the end of the series, we’ll have the answer.
And what is there to say about humanity’s place in the galaxy? It seems that our time is up, and that we’re at the bottom of the food chain. Are we meant to survive? Should we be allowed? What is our purpose?
Knights of Sidonia is headed towards an answer.