4 out of 5
What I think I really enjoy about Knights of Sidonia, even while it’s acting as something of a more “traditional” space battle / mecha manga, is the undertone of horror Nihei maintains throughout, linking it thematically back to his prior works. So it’s still shot through with comedy at points, and has rah-rah moments of giant robot vs. alien fights, but meanwhile, it continually feels like something’s wrong on the Sidonia. That there are spurious plots being made way above Tanikaze’s head, and that people like Kunato are just going to ruin things, somehow, even while saving the ship and its peoples with his new gauna/human hybrid creation, “Tsumugi.” This is, of course, on top of the visual creepiness of the gaunas in general, and the bizarre configurations / landscapes into which Nihei is able to render their various ships and progeny.
In volume 7, we get a successful test run of sorts for Tsumugi – and I really appreciated how Nihei didn’t play up a mistaken identity gambit, and head Tanikaze pretty immediately recognize the gauna hybrid as a friendly – and then jump immediately into the next huge crisis, when the giant “ocarina” cluster of gaunas draws near.
The battle is self-contained to this volume, which is nice, and Tsutuomu’s choreography is at its absolute peak (thus far) in effectiveness and clarity. Things escalate to impossible-to-perceive levels – and yet Nihei helps us perceive them with his visuals – and Tsumugi is really put to the test, though still allowing for our ace-pilot protag to be heavily involved. It’s a great, exciting fight, with a good sense of stakes even when Sidonia is equipped with this new living weapon.
And then the captain’s decision to immediately take on the next gigantic target leads to a pretty shocking cliffhanger…
Accepting Sidonia as a partial bid for more audience-friendly reading, I still have a tough time when Nihei dips into fan service. It’s at its most minimal here – maybe literally only one panty shot – but it still feels unnecessary in combination with the book’s general tone. That might not be enough to detract from things, but I can’t get over Tsumugi’s penis extension. I know, I know, silly reason to dock the book, but it’s for somewhat similar reasons – I cannot figure this thing in with the comic’s tone. Like, it has to be a joke, it’s way too obvious – basically, Tsumugi, being the size of the gardes, summons a human-sized tentacle through which it can talk to Tankizae, and the thing looks exactly like a penis. I mean, that is funny, but… why? This is intended to be an actual character, and I can’t tell if we’re just tapping into some futonari and tentacle fan service or something, but it’s such an interruption in the story’s flow. I dunno. Let’s see – maybe the reasoning behind this will reveal itself.