Fans of Tsutomu Nihei, the author best known for whacked-out head trips such as BLAME! and Biomega that are iffy on the story side but typically so well illustrated that most people ignore the problems with narrative consistency have another hit to look forward to in Knights of Sidonia.
Unlike Nihei’s past works, this one is set in a far future where humanity’s existence as we know it is dead and gone, replaced by a race of evolved humans which can do neat things we currently can’t, like photosynthesize light, eat once a week and generally are stronger. That is until we’re put in the shoes of one Nagate Tanikaze, a normal human being who has spent his entire life in the underground levels of a spacefaring ship in the Sidonia.
Life on the Sidonia for Nagate is hard, what with struggling to find enough food for himself and his elderly grandfather while always being curious about what life on the upper levels of the Sidonia is like.
His grandfather warns him never to take the left-hand path outside of the underground level when foraging for food before he dies, but in a stroke of bullheadedness, Nagate takes the path which leads him to a food storage facility stocked with rice, only to drop into a previously unknown to him residence district which features the more advanced humans after being caught stealing rice for himself.
It’s at this point where the story really begins to get moving, when he’s discovered by one of the more advanced residents and is sponsored for residency, which comes with its own set of rules and responsibilities, which include becoming a part of the ship’s defense force against the alien race antagonists in the series, known as the Gauna.
The Gauna have essentially destroyed the human race and ships like the Sidonia house the last vestiges while fighting against them. The alien beings themselves resemble a cross between a Gradius/R-Type mid-boss and a xenomorph while attacking the Sidonia’s defense forces by devouring them whole and assimilating them in order to fool the rest, in an impressively detailed, yet gruesome display of violence. Nagate is thrust head first into fighting the Gauna while struggling to adapt to his new home, but the overall pacing of the story doesn’t get bogged down with overly expository dialogue or breaking apart the action into segments with flashbacks.
The action scenes themselves are the real meat of the first volume as the are detailed in Nihei’s unique style, with sparse sound effects for the scenes in space really setting the mood of desolation, only to be interrupted by the destructive force of the Gauna, as they take one of Nagate’s companions for themselves and subsequently devour her and assimilate her whole in gruesome detail, with slight nods to Urotsukidoji for the more experienced readers and just as graphic in terms of sheer violence, all of which leads into Nagate’s first experience with the death of a comrade in battle, even though he used an old combat simulator during his underground dweller days as a means to pass the time.
Knights of Sidonia has the advantage of being a currently serialized title, so this one will continue for awhile. Publisher Vertical Inc. also did a great job with the treatment of the first volume by including color insert pages at the beginning of the book which heighten the sense of scale and desolation in the Sidonia’s seemingly never ending battle against the Gauna while foreshadowing the events in the book itself. Knights of Sidonia is Nihei at his best visually while offering up a tighter narrative compared to his previous works.
If he can keep the narrative this coherent and avoid getting sidetracked, Knights of Sidonia is another hit for Vertical while continuing its pattern of releasing riskier fare compared to other publishers. Let’s just hope it isn’t doomed to obscurity due to lower than expected sales.
Knights of Sidonia is published by Vertical Inc. The first volume was released on February 5th and a review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The book can be purchased through the following storefronts: Amazon|RightStuf|