Tuesday, February 19, 2013

QUICK LOOK: Knights of Sidonia

Fans of Tsutomu Nihei (BLAMe!, Biomega) have a new manga series to get into! 

Described as a 'space opera comedy' paying homage to all of Nehei's youthful interests from gaming and manga, 'KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA' is a story much in the same vein as Macross. It takes place on a huge interstellar vessel travelling through space to seek out and eliminate an alien threat using flying humanoid mechs! A young man named Nagata Tanikaze has for a long time been alone with the corpse of his grandfather scavenging food from the rice factory above, while spending his days playing mech simulators. One day he ventures further than he normally would and is spotted and caught by the citizens of Sidonia who have him integrate himself into society as a pilot candidate.

Nagata is very much your average guy, if prone to hurting himself unwittingly, and unlike the newly engineered humanity that now lives on board Sidonia who don't require much food because their bodies can photosynthesize, Nagat is always hungry. Nagata must train to become a pilot fighting for Sidonia while also settling into his new life and getting along with others who are different from him, some whom are kind, while others are not so welcoming, and a good number who are engineered clones who posess organs of both sexes.

While fans of Nihei who love his dark sci-fi might be put off by the idea of him doing a manga 'comedy', this really isn't something along the lines of what one typically imagines when someone mentions comedy in relation to manga. You might imagine it's something requiring a lot of spoken dialogue, which directly contrasts with Nihei's usual style of minimizing it in favour of visual storytelling; but this is not what Nihei does. You'll be glad to know that despite that Nehei includes far more dialogue and characters in Knights of Sidonia than he ever has before, it is still very minimal compared to most manga and Nihei does not sacrifice visual storytelling in favour of a bunch of dialogue bubbles.

What is comedic here is also more of a clipped kind of humour that seems more intent on paying quick homage to typical manga tropes we tend to think of played out nowadays; for example, take the classic scene of a boy wandering unintentionally into the girl's changing room only to be beaten. It doesn't get overplayed here in the typical cliche fashion, and Nihei adds his own twist to the event that elevates it to become something more amusing, and once Nihei does it, he moves on. Humor is Knights of Sidonia is also more subtle and primarily played off of Nagata's own pension for getting himself injured, but 'School Rumble' this is not. Knights of Sidonia also has its moments of dark levity and serious drama aside from the obvious humor.

There is also an additional added element of budding romantic conflict and drama under the surface which is also handled well by Nihei, particularly considering such a thing is normally absent or downplayed in his previous works. It'll be interesting to see if he develops it more here, as Nagata, while resembling Nihei's previous protagonists in appearance is more open and social. Rivals to Nagata are also present setting the groundwork for what is the typical arch rival competitive plot of shonen manga.

Knights of Sidonia's story continues Nihei's fine work of creating intrigue through mysterious character motives and architectural landscapes. You see a lot, but still aren't grasping the entire picture yet, and that's just the way his fans like it! Who or what are these alien creatures? What began this war? What is the origin of Sidonia? What makes Nagata special enough to be suddenly sponsored as a pilot, and furthermore given control of a prized valuable old customized prototype mech?

Nihei has found a good line to straddle where he can make a more accessible work for newcomers and fans of commonly popular manga series while still catering to those of us who loved Blame & even the suddenly ended Biomega for standing apart from the norm as unorthodox works. Nihei's background art work is once again a great accompaniment to the main story making the world a character in itself. The alien creatures we first encounter are also very much in the same style and dynamism we'd expect given Nihei's previous work, and fans of manga, anime and games will appreciate all the neat little visual references and gags that are peppered throughout the story and art which is rich with Nihei's imagination!
The first volume of 'Knights of Sidonia' is now available! So drop by out store if you're looking for it. While Blame is out of print, we do have volumes of Biomega available for anyone else curious about Nihei's previous work; as well as the Halo Graphic Novel anthology of the game franchise that features an original story by the artist!