Knights of Sidonia, Vol 1 by Tsutomu Nihei
I was excited to see that Vertical was releasing Nihei’s Knights of Sidonia, because I greatly enjoyed Biomega. As I was reading this manga, I realized that there really is a dearth of giant mecha manga being published in English. One viewing of the Evangelion anime was enough for me, so I haven’t been following the various manga spinoffs. Most shonen seems to be more of the monster of the week/fantasy variety now, and it wasn’t until I was reading Knights of Sidonia that I realized how much I missed GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING IN SPACE!
Nihei’s manga centers on Nagate Tanikaze, a human on the seed spaceship Sidonia which is carrying humanity away from the destruction of the solar system by aliens called Guana. Nagate lives in an underground area, sharing his cramped apartment with his grandfather’s corpse and spending his time training in an alien combat simulation fighter. The human race has been split to an extent, with most opting for a procedure that allows them to photosynthesize. Nagate still needs regular human food and he is captured by others on the spaceship when he ventures out for rice. Nagate begins to assimilate into current human society, and he gets signed up to pilot a Garde – the mecha who fight the Guana that attack the Sidonia. Nagate is socially awkward but seems to have an odd ability to tolerate pain and heals up very quickly. Being a regular human might give him a bit of an edge over his modified compatriots?
As Nagate trains to fight he meets Izana, a human who can be both genders. He also meets a variety of photosynthesizing clones. Nagate’s isolation causes him to be several years behind with recent developments, but he throws himself into piloting the Tsugumori, the Guarde unit he is assigned to. There isn’t anything else going on with his life. The space battles are where a horror element comes in as the semi-sentient Guana can shift their shapes, even taking on the outward appearance of a human that they’ve killed. They’re blobby and somewhat fetus-like, if a fetus was a giant shifting alien.
One of the things I like about Nihei’s work is that he tells a compelling story without over-explaining everything. I’m getting to the point where having an origin spelled out in the first couple chapters of a manga starts making my eyes glaze over, but Knights of Sidonia manages to be intriguing without being frustrating. I’m interested to find out more about the human society on the Sidonia, the reasons for Nagate’s previous exile, and to learn more about his progress as a Guarde pilot. Knights of Sidonia doesn’t yet have some of the great desolate scenes of beauty that I enjoyed so much in Biomega, but one of the things I enjoy about Nihei’s art is his ability to convey scale and space in his backgrounds. When Nagate falls through a hole into an enormous rice storage bin, it is easy to get a sense of just how massive the Sidonia is.
Most importantly for fans of Biomega, there is a talking bear in Knights of Sidonia. She doesn’t have a machine gun yet, but she does have an artificial arm. Seriously, a talking bear in outer space with an artificial arm is reason enough to buy this manga, and all the great mecha/alien battle scenes and Nagate’s journey are really just a bonus.