Knights of Sidonia vol. 15 – Tsutomu Nihei

4 out of 5

As rousingly awesome as the final gauna scuffle in Knights of Sidonia is, it unfortunately does underline how unnecessary of an aside the whole harem angle of the story is, which probably took up the last three or four tankobons worth of chapters. On the one hand, we jump seamlessly back into the fray, here, for a tense showdown between endless cluster ships and Kanata, with the level of destruction aimed at Sidonia itself truly unexpected; and I suppose that the epilogue which does the “let’s check in with each character” routine would maybe seem less fitting if the story hadn’t paused to develop its characters somewhat. But there is no other hand – Nihei could’ve had his post-human love story without forcing a one-sided love triangle / quadrangle on us; the pause in sci-fi and action maybe elevates the intensity of this conclusion, but even if we’re to argue that, the juxtaposition could’ve been much stronger by narrowing the focus and leaving all the fan-service behind.

But I’m arguing about the series overall, when I should be focusing on volume 15, which is almost all course correcting in terms of tone: forget about the past, and just be concerned on the all-hands-on space war that ensues.

There are several things to love, here, mainly in terms of scale: Tsutumu never fails to impress with how grand his visualizations can be, encompassing giant fleets of aliens and Knights and entire planets; and I do think it was quite brilliant to maintain the gauna’s lack of clear motivation the entire time. While the race is outwardly aggressive at points, and we can guess what their gambit was with Planet Seven (which we finally come back to, here, after having forgotten about it in favor of Kanata and Lem and GREs and whatnot, and more on that in a moment), there’s a fantastic question as to what role humans played in this war, especially given The Captain’s military-rule style of leadership. This is all background stuff, and the kind of subtle depth Nihei has provided his works since Blame!; I admittedly preferred when he didn’t clutter up the foreground with soap opera, but KoS has been / was a particular style of story, and my prattling on above aside, I can appreciate that Tsutomu tried his hand at it.

The epilogue itself – spoiler – is kind of “all’s well that end’s well,” but doesn’t feel illogical, and I think it was a nice way to cap things off that wasn’t disingenuous to that just-mentioned story style, though I shake my fist at a final series of fan-service blips (panty shot! boob joke! swimsuits!), like a final wink.

Ultimately, a very satisfying conclusion. I can’t imagine I was the only one a little confused by what Sidonia’s / The Captain’s whole plan was that necessitated fussing around with power cells and Lem – I think it just boiled down to needing to power up a weapon to take down the giant cluster ship – but I’m actually excited at the thought of rereading the series to get a better grasp on that, which is ultimately a good sign. (And with my awareness now of the harem side trip, I can set my expectations appropriately.) Also, in reading forum-dwellers’ takes on this and Aposimz, there are / have been many criticisms of Nihei’s art, starting with Sidonia, but I like both this style and his older sketchy stuff – the roots of design are the same, and I find it fascinating how Tsutumu boiled that down to just the finest of lines starting with KoS, and getting even more minimalist in Aposimz. Volume 15, given how crowded it is with everything – a huge human cast, lots of gauna, lots of Knights, all tossed together for 200+ pages of near non-stop action – is an excellent representation of the benefits (in my mind) of that style, as the choreography and acting is all very clear, and we can still dive in to all the goopy tentacle details of the placenta.