Tsutomu Nihei is a wild man of an artist and writer, probably best known for series like Blame! and Biomega. His visions of the future are dark and vividly illustrated; even if some of his stories aren’t exactly known for their coherency, they’re a joy to behold along the way. Knights of Sidonia, however, is a much more streamlined tale that uses Nihei’s illustrative skill to portray a fully realized world that’s similar in some ways, but ultimately wildly different, to our own. It won’t leave you scratching your head as much as some of Nihei’s other work, but it should spark the kind of curiosity that results in happily tumbling deeper into its setting along with our protagonist, Nagate Tanikaze.
Nagate is the perfect person to follow, because life aboard the majority of the seed ship known as the Sidonia is just as foreign to him as it is to us. After spending his entire life deep below the ship’s surface, Nagate emerges at the beginning of the story to find that humanity has adapted in myriad ways. While he remains a fairly typical human, the rest of society has achieved photosynthesis, and gender is blurred and split into new categories. Even the fact that he has to eat at regular intervals strikes everyone around him as bizarre, making his average human limitations the butt of more than a few casually thrown quips.
Things get really interesting for Nagate when he is selected and tested as a Garde pilot, a testament to skills honed over years of using and mastering an old Virtual Garde Training System. These massive mechs are dispatched to defend Sidonia against Gauna, alien creatures responsible for the destruction of Earth. Unfortunately for Nagate and the other pilots in his initial outing, the Gauna make an unexpected appearance, forcing Nagate into his first showdown against these pulsating, mutating monstrosities.
One of Knights of Sidonia‘s chief strengths is that it doesn’t bog down the intrigue of its world with too much unnecessary, bloated dialogue. Even Nagate himself is relatively quiet throughout the first volume, which makes a lot of sense considering the fact that he’s just now being introduced to a vastly altered state of humanity. Rather than getting terribly technical with how things work, or why things are the way they are, Nihei tends to let his artwork speak for itself.
There are plenty of subtle touches that are easy to miss during the first read-through. Even with sound effects interspersed, certain panels really evoke the silence of space, like this small one I keep coming back to that just shows a long, wide shot of jet trails as Gardes zoom out of Sidonia’s bays. The Gauna themselves are hulking organic beasts that would look right at home in a shooter like Irem’s R-Type.
Knights of Sidonia is currently ongoing, and was first serialized in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. It’s definitely a solid pick-up for Vertical; there’s not really anything else in their catalog like it. Dig into the first volume and see if Nihei’s gorgeously depicted wreck of a sci-fi future doesn’t secure an immediately tight grip.
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Story & Art: Tsutomu Nihei
© 2013 Tsutomu Nihei