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Worlds Without End Blog

SF Manga 101: Knights of Sidonia Posted at 4:25 PM by Glenn Hough


Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on SF Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of science fiction within it.

Knights of SidoniaWay back at the start of the Appleseed blog, I mentioned that only one author got more than one series in this cavalcade of SF manga. Shirow has three entries. Time, money spent, and new material imported into the stateside SF manga scene has shown me there are always new treasures to find on these unending bookshelves. Tsutomu Nihei brought us Blame!, now it’s time for some Knights.

Vertical has this to say about Knights of Sidonia Vol. 1.

Outer space, the far future.

A lone seed ship, the Sidonia, plies the void, ten centuries since the obliteration of the solar system. The massive, nearly indestructible, yet barely sentient alien life forms that destroyed humanity’s home world continue to pose an existential threat.

Nagate Tanikaze has only known life in the vessel’s bowels deep below the sparkling strata where humans have achieved photosynthesis and new genders. Not long after he emerges from the Underground, however, the youth is bequeathed a treasured legacy by the spaceship’s cool-headed female captain.

Knight07If you come to Knights straight from Blame!, then what should stand out, aside from the architectural detail, which is a Nihei mainstay, should be another of his modus operandi: the loner. Killy is a loner. Zoichi from Nihei’s Biomega is a loner. Nagate was raised in isolation in the bowels of Sidonia, knowing no one but the man he called his grandfather. He certainly qualifies as a loner. This allows Nihei, through Nagate, and we the reader, through Nagate, to experience the world of Sidonia afresh.

The third thing which stands out to me is what I’d call the Gundam effect. That treasured legacy the intro talks about is a mecha. This should not surprise us. A mecha is more flexible when it comes to action sequences. You can do interstellar fighter ship style dogfights with mecha or engage an enemy in hand to hand. (And do most non-fighting exploratory work like any robotic powersuit.) So mecha, instead of fighter spaceships, is a design feature for this manga.

This design feature brings us to the first question. Ok, getting to be a garde pilot is about as hard as getting to be a fighter pilot now, so why is Nagate dumped into that role, by the Captain of Sidonia – no less, just after he emerges from the underground recesses? There’s definitely something there since Nagate’s “Grandfather” always had Nagate work garde fighter sims down there in the bowels. This triangle relationship between the Captain, Nagate, and his Grandfather is Nihei’s first mystery for us.

Knight04The second question concerns the issue of clones. The Sidonia is a seed ship. Genetic diversity should be at a premium and yet there are clones everywhere. No genetic diversity there. The character Izana Shinatose is a third sex. Izana can reproduce in the male or female role, or even give birth to her own clone. Where did all the genetic diversity on this seed ship go?

The third mystery is the alien race, the Gauna. With the destruction of the solar system ten centuries ago, how are we to judge their actions? Nihei has left things nice and vague. (Perhaps when Nihei was at this point in the story, not even he knew for sure.) Are the Gauna malicious? Are they just like a virus, doing what a virus does, but on the cosmic scale? Or are the Gauna blundering giants, trying to interact with Human ants, but size and difference led to unintended destruction? Or some fourth option…? What every the reason, the Gauna threat is a driving force, both overtly and subtlety in the society of Sidonia. It’s influence can’t be understated.

Knight06In the first volume, Nihei takes the time to introduce us to a character, her life and those who care for her, only to have her die in a training mission when the Gauna show up. There could be no better way to show how high the stakes are. The emotional consequences, spreading outward in concentric rings through all the new pilots, only adds depth and dimension to the story and society Nihei is building.

By the time Nihei gets us into the third and forth volumes we’ve added an immortality cult running Sidonia, divisive internal Sidonia politics which has led to catastrophe (subsequently covered up and mostly unknown, so the same underlying mistakes are about to be repeated), and scientific medical experiments upon the Gauna. The fruits of which both help to defend Sidonia from the Gauna and threaten all life on Sidonia.

Seed ship Sidonia is a busy place considering the English translation has only reached the fourth volume as I write this.

Knight05I feel it’s still to early to start throwing around words like “masterpiece” or “timeless” but the signs do seem to be pointing in that direction. So far, the action sequences are concise but not gratuitous. There’s humor in Nagate’s daily life. The unfolding of the basic storyline, with all it’s ancillary concerns and perturbations, proceeds apace but without undo haste. The characters and their concerns hold my attention. The basic mysteries I’ve mentioned will undoubtedly be cleared up in due time. (And will probably relate to each other in unexpected ways. And will probably be replaced by new concerns.) The Sidonia is a huge ship, with a thousand years of history. Nihei has really, to use the cliché, only scratched the surface of potentiality that Sidonia represents.

Yes, I’d say the signs are very good. This is high quality work. Good solid SF, which just happens to be manga.

Knights of Sidonia is brought to us by our friends over at Vertical. The series is in print and can be found or ordered easily from your favorite brick-n-mortar or online manga seller. If you really get into the story, and has the series. And their scanlation work is concurrent with the Japanese release schedule, so they’re several books ahead of the official English release. The word from Vertical is that they will be catching up since a Knights of Sidonia anime is in the works, which will prime a new wave of interest in the manga. I’m sure Vertical doesn’t want to miss that opportunity.


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