Knights of Sidonia vol. 9 – Tsutumu Nihei

5 out of 5

From 0 to 100, multiple times over.

The Sidonia crew is running in confidence, despite the chapters in volume 9 opening on last set’s cliffhanger: Izana and her crewmate plummeting toward the gauna planet in wrecked ships, Tanikaze and Tsumugi sent on rescue. Both teams are stacked with technological confidence in the face of adversity, with Izana’s mechanical grafts helping to steer her toward a successful landing, and Tanikaze and Tsumugi hardly flinching when the Hawk Moth shows up. What works wonderfully about this is how Nihei earns these beats: it’s not just the rinse-and-repeat battles of regular shonen manga, but evolutions necessitated by Sidonia’s previous losses and wins – it really feels like we get the in-universe hard science and training procedurals to justify everyone’s current position, making the first half of this book incredible fun – very much a triumphant lap.

But Knights of Sidonia is not done with new, terrifying ideas, nor with Nihei’s ability to ramp up the tension, and this newfound status quo twists at a moment’s notice for an incredibly tense standoff.

Some cute dick-monster bonding (i.e. Tsumugi’s placenta extension) gives us our breather after that, and then we’re right back in it, the gauna cluster ever-frighteningly showing an ability to think, and sending out its newest annihilation attempt, which once again seems insurmountable. Tanikaze’s / Tsumugi’s / and Izana’s successes have been rubbing off, though: this is now a hopeful crew, and the way they end up facing down the attempt with gusto is damned rousing stuff.

I would normally knock a point off for fan-service business, with some naked tentacle stuff, and a done-for-humor clothing removal bit, but… while there admittedly would have been easy ways around both of these, the former has an appropriately weird and icky Cronenbergian body horror vibe that works incredibly well, and the latter is (okay, tentatively) tied to some character stuff; in other words these sequences actually have a relative place in the story. Their gratuitousness is then further balanced out by going full bore with the dick-monster section, in which Tsumugi effuses “tears” out of its pee hole, and snuggles in bed with Tanikaze and housemates. Family bonding stuff.

Interestingly, at this later stage in the series, Nihei starts to use a more detailed, heavier line. I’m curious to see how / if this changes in the remaining books.