Ten centuries have passed since the Earth and its solar system was destroyed by the Gauna, a massive, nearly indestructible, yet barely sentient life form. Mankind escaped out into space, in massive seed ships that carry the remnants of humanity who search for a new planet to call home, without the threat of the Gauna hanging over them. But it seems the Gauna are everywhere, as the lone seed ship, the Sidonia, is hunted by one.
Knights of Sidonia Volume 1-2
By Tsutomu Nihei
Vertical, Inc., February & April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-935654-80-3 / 978–935654-81-0
186 pgs., $12.95
At the 2014 American Library Association Midwinter conventions, YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association announced their Great Graphic Novels list for 2014. Of the 78 titles listed, 10 of them were manga. Knights of Sidonia volumes 1-2 were among them. This hard sci-fi series follows the young pilots who fight to protect their home from a seemingly impossible-to-defeat enemy.
Knights of Sidonia follows Nagate Tanikaze, a teen who has lived his whole life in the bowels of the seed ship Sidonia with his grandfather, training in a simulator to pilot a garde, the individual fighters that are used to defend the ship from the Gauna. While searching for food, Tanikaze finds his way to the inhabited part of the ship and is introduced to humanity as it now exists. Humans have evolved from their time in space. Most use photosynthesis for their nutrients, though they can eat normally as well. There is also a new gender, one that can be with either a man or a woman, and can carry their own clone. He is quickly made a garde pilot and is given the Tsugumori, a fighter from the last war, and he joins his fellow trainee pilots as the Gauna reappear.
Tanikaze is an interesting lead. Right from the start, he faces bullying and prejudice from the people around him. Because he eats exclusively, he has a smell that he is harassed about through the first volume. He also has to put up with more traditional forms of bullying such as his things being taken, but none of these things seem to bother him. The only thing that matters to Tanikaze is the Tsugumori and being able to fly it to fight against the Gauna. He is more concerned about flying than what anything thinks or does to him.
Tanikaze has his supporters. Izana Shinatose is the first of the trainees to befriend Tanikaze. He seems to have crush on Tanikaze, because he gets upset when he sees Tanikaze with Hoshijiro, the Trainee Vice Rep. While Tanikaze doesn’t seem interested in any kind of relationship, he does seem to develop feeling for Hoshijiro, especially after they spent half of the second volume alone together in his ship after hers is destroyed in battle. It creates a curious love triangle. Ms. Hiyama, the dorm matron tries to look at Tanikaze in a motherly way, as only a walking, talking grizzly bear with a claw for a hand can. Also supporting Tanikaze is the captain, who takes an immediate interest in him and is responsible for him becoming a garde pilot. Her interest in Tanikaze isn’t explained yet, but she seems to have an unwavering faith in his ability.
The world of Knights of Sidonia is a realistic take on what long term space travel would be like. The whole structure of the Sidonia is geared toward function rather than form. Humanity has had to build its world around the infrastructure of the ship. Homes and shops sit between girders and piping. But there are still some parts where touches of earth can be seen and experienced. Water tanks hold underwater life that can be toured, and large areas of greenery, mostly reserved for the upper class, can make one forget they are on a spaceship. Still, resources remain of the utmost importance. Finding and retrieving things like fresh water still need to be done. The back half of the Sidonia also houses mineral resources that need to be replenished. Finding these resources can be just as dangerous as fighting the Gauna.
The perils of living and fighting in space are not glossed over in these two volumes. Not only are lives lost in the battles with the Gauna, it is made very clear what the Gauna do with their victims, which can make the loss of a comrade all the more traumatizing. The pilots of the gardes know the risks they are taking and that they might not come back. When there are loses, the effects on those left behind are shown, no punches pulled.
The Gauna as an enemy are different from most antagonists. They don’t have seem to have some big plot or some vendetta against humanity. They are shown to be without conscious thought. Attempts to communicate with them by humanity have been fruitless. They appear to just be a form of life struggling to survive. There doesn’t seem to be any malicious intention in their actions, but like all life, they possess a will to survive and will fight to do so.
Knights of Sidonia balances the excitement and drama of a coming of age story with the stark reality and uncertainty of living in space. Just like all good sci-fi, this series is more concerned with the human condition than technology or science. While these things aren’t glossed over, the series focuses on the lives of the people living on the ship: Their loves, jealousies, ambitions, and desires—all the things that make us human.