Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Having loved 'Biomega' by Tsutomo Nihei, I was pretty excited when Vertical Inc. licensed his latest work, 'Knights of Sidonia'. The back cover blurb claims that this "may be Nihei's most accessible work to date", and that may be, but right now I'm not necessarily sure that's a good thing. After reading the first volume, I'm mildly intrigued, but slightly less excited for the second volume than I was for the first.
Several centuries ago, the solar system was destroyed by monstrous creatures known as "Guana". The human race continues on though in a giant seed ship called the "Sidonia" meant to ensure humanity's survival. Deep below the surface of this seed ship is a boy named Tanikaze Nagate, who has never seen the surface or met another human besides his now dead grandfather. One day, Nagate accidentally makes his way up above, and is selected to be a trainee Garde Pilot to protect the Sidonia from the growing Guana threat.
This volume was a pretty quick read. A lot of times, that can be a good thing, but I'm not so sure in this case. I was getting a little nervous by the time I was half way through and still hadn't found a likeable character to latch on to or anything much that particularly interested me. I feel like the general structure of the first half of the book was a bit odd and inorganic. Nagate just gets thrust into this new life out of nowhere with not much exposition, we get a few details on this new, weird world that he needs to get used to, there is a few scenes of unnecessary fan service, a few, mostly forgettable characters are introduced, and then the turning point is the first fight with a Guana. But it wasn't the fight that turned things around for me. That was actually poorly choreographed in my opinion. It was the human interactions that felt a bit more natural in the second half.
The characters feel a little more warm and human and things slow down a bit. Izana and Hoshijiro both have potential to be likeable characters, but there wasn't quite enough time left for that to occur. Nagate himself barely reached the "likeable" level for me and that wasn't until he stood up for Izana against Nagate's potential rival, Kunato. It wasn't until the very last major scene that I was intrigued by the actual tone of the series. Nagate and Izana are invited to a dinner with the Guana suppression force because of their earlier experience fighting a Guana. After passing out drunk, Nagate wakes up to search for the bathroom and overhears two of the suppression force, Akai and Momose, spending what may be their last night together and discussing their fears and worries about the situation to come. That scene just really set everything up for me and I hope that the next volume continues with the same "tone".
I was a little disappointed by the art in this series. The unique and quality art was one of my favorite features of 'Biomega', but I just didn't see it here in 'Knights of Sidonia'. While not bad, it just felt pretty standard and lackluster in comparison. Backgrounds, while well draw, where kind of just there. Especially within the spaceship. The outside areas where a little more lively and varied, but even then, they were just average looking structures compared to the gritty and unique cyberpunk architecture of 'Biomega'. The character art was also below average in my eyes. Character features were more soft, round, thick-lined and less detailed as opposed to the sharp, thin-lined and detailed features of 'Biomega'. I saw someone suggest that this may be to make the series more "anime ready". That is, to have an easier art style to adapt into animation. I'm not sure if that's true, but your theory is as good as mine as to why Nihei decided to drop the aspects of his art that made it stand out.
I see a lot of potential in world building and the slice-of-life aspect that this series gave glimpses of. We have this massive ship floating through space, which for all intents and purposes, is a brand new planet with landscapes, technology and cultures to explore. We already got a small taste of how things work differently on the Sidonia. There are new genders that can reproduce with a man or a woman and there are even clones. Humans are also able to photosynthesize and don't seem to need to eat very much anymore. They even seem to have their own sport using the Garde mecha suits. Learning more details like these could be a major plus for me. As mentioned above, I enjoyed the scene where Nagate was invited to dinner, and characters where just sitting around talking. Too bad that that was cut short by Nagate's drunkenness, but it's character interactions like this that will make me care about the characters while they are fighting for their lives against Guana.
If I wasn't so impressed with 'Biomega', I would stop reading this series right now. Not to be harsh, but it just wasn't a very good first volume. I'm simply not hooked. And with my budget, the quicker I am hooked, the better I can feel about investing in an ongoing series. Like I said, 'Biomega' inspires confidence in this author's capabilities, but after this volume's performance, I won't be anxiously counting down the days until volume two is released like I was for this volume.