Robots and space, that’s all you need to make a great piece of science fiction. After all, it worked for Star Wars and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
There are a number of anime series I don’t watch because of their late airtime and my near refusal to stream the content online. I have my reasons for this, but to put it simply, I no longer wish to stay awake past midnight and I don’t wish to pay for a foreign streaming service because the anime industry rejects the notion of creating a dedicated website for streaming anime series. As a result, though, I miss a large swath of the series I could potentially enjoy. However, there are times when an anime series gains enough popularity it’s compiled into a film. Granted, many of these films are not put together well and often exclude a large portion of the content that can influence how one enjoys the work. Yet, every so often a compilation film retains the quality of the TV series without compromising too much of the narrative. One such film was spring 2015’s Knights of Sidonia The Movie (劇場版シドニアの騎士 Gekijyo-ban Shidonia no Kishi). While I have yet to watch the TV series, I felt the production team at Polygon Pictures kept the most important aspects of the narrative without compromising it. While there were a few moments in the film that abandoned plot points, the cause for this may have come from how the TV series itself was only a fraction of the source material. The film was also thematically darker than most anime films, particularly in the science fiction genre I’ve seen over the years, and even though this resulted in there being some scenes that were difficult to watch, the somber mood actually added to the film’s flavor.
When I watch a compilation film, I have a general sense of the material that is being shortened. Yes, I have watched a few such films where I have gone in blind, but I prefer to have a fundamental understanding of the narrative beforehand. This allows me to see exactly what the producers thought was unnecessary for the overarching narrative and examine what they thought were the most important details of the story. But, for the most part, these types of films are no more than ninety to one hundred minutes long. What ultimately happens is a great deal of the source material is cut out, leaving viewers with the bare minimum of the story. Granted, production teams will try to fill in the gaps with new content for the film, but with so little to work with, new viewers could be at a loss and so potentially loose interest in the narrative.
However, with Knights of Sidonia The Movie it seemed as though the production team at Polygon Pictures did their best to keep the core narrative without removing so much they risked alienating potential fans. I actually did a quick calculation of the runtime of the film, 134 minutes, or two hours and fourteen minutes, against the TV series. If we take the airtime of an episode to be twenty minutes, the film included seven of the twelve episodes worth of content. This is in stark contrast to many other compilation films where it’s closer to four of twelve or thirteen episodes of content. While almost useless for fans of Knights of Sidonia, for people who have very little knowledge about the series, this meant they would be afforded more than just the basic premise of the series. This was important for a film like this as the narrative and character dynamics were complicated enough to warrant more than a vague explanation of either aspect of the series.
There were a number of wonderful scenes that displayed the narrative and character dynamics, but there were two in particular that stood out. The first came nearly thirty minutes into the film and even though it’s a very long scene—most likely the producers used an entire episode’s worth of content—we had the chance to see a key relationship develop between the protagonist, Nagate Tanikaze, and a fellow pilot, Shizuka Hoshishiro. This scene was powerful due to a couple of factors. The first was rather self-explanatory, the two characters were adrift in space, but it was the second that informed viewers of their relationship. What was a relationship by association between pilots became one similar to that of lovers. Granted, the two only had each other to take comfort in while they were lost in space, but such is the way things go with humans who are placed in extraordinary situations. This one scene accomplished what it set out to do, establish a bond between two given characters, which was capitalized on later in the film.
The second scene of note, or rather a narrative twist, came soon after the one mentioned above. Again, it set up an interesting character dynamic between Nagate and a fellow pilot, Norio Kunato. While it was established earlier in the film that Norio had a great deal of pride in himself and was jealous of Nagate, in these particular sets of scenes we saw how it got the better of him. Going into detail could possibly reveal too much about the narrative later in the film, but suffice it to say, the repercussions of his actions weighed heavily on Norio, Nagate, the pilot cadets, and the people living on Sidonia. Though there was very little to inform viewers on how the events played out, because we were given a firm understanding of Nagate and Kunato’s relationship beforehand we could infer as much as we needed. Please do not misunderstand me, however. It’s not as though the entire fiasco occurred over five minutes, but rather it was spread out over the course of fifteen to twenty minutes. Therefore, despite delivering the minimum amount of information to the audience, the core of what the producers wanted to convey was undamaged.
Yet, Norio’s plight was one of several aspects of Knights of Sidonia The Movie that seemed to be abandoned partway through the film. We were given reasons why Norio took an extended leave of absence, but it was hardly expanded upon except to deliver some exposition. Not that this was bothersome considering the TV series, Knights of Sidonia, only covered a fraction of the manga series of the same name. But, I would have preferred it if we saw Norio setting up plot points for events for a later TV series. It wasn’t just Norio as well. There was a clear caste system in place in Knights of Sidonia The Movie and I found it rather interesting to see the upper echelons of the society. I felt as though they were tremendously self-centered, as many in the highest percentile of income earners tend to be, and I truly wanted to see the depth of their apathy towards those under their care on Sidonia. True, there was one line of dialog that exemplified this, but it wasn’t enough to get an accurate sense of these characters and, as such, I had issues with how few scenes there were with those characters.
While the caste system wasn’t an overt aspect in the narrative of Knights of Sidonia The Movie, it illustrated how different the tone of the film was compared to other anime series set on a large-scale colonizing spaceship. For example, when examining a series such as Macross—any series in the franchise will suffice—or Megazone 23, they have the underpinnings of a war story, but they never show people suffering, let alone a dilapidated ship or any clothing that appears to be well worn. Yet, in Knights of Sidonia The Movie, we got a sense the people living on Sidonia had been through a great deal when we saw something as benign as the beaten up environmental suits the pilots had to wear on a sortie or the conditions of the buildings. Granted, there were some visuals that contradict this, such as Kunato’s home and living conditions, but the overarching sense I received while watching the film was Sidonia had been on her voyage far longer than was intended and the wear and tear was beginning to show.
Apart from the visuals cues, though, Knights of Sidonia The Movie also went so far as to actively show some of the horrors involved in fighting the Gauna, the alien monsters of the film. Similar to the contrast with the above-mentioned series, this film was unabashed in showing the deaths of an untold number of people. Whereas in a series like Macross F it’s assumed a fair number of people living on the Frontier die at one point or another, it’s pushed to the side as we hardly ever saw a single atrocity. Thus, one can understand my surprise when in a particular scene early in Knights of Sidonia The Movie, we not only saw people falling to their deaths, but their bodies hitting the ground and splattering blood. It wasn’t a pleasant sight to say the least, but it reinforced how much the people living on Sidonia were willing to sacrifice to find a new Garden of Eden.
Still, it wasn’t this particular depiction of civilian deaths that set the darker tone for the film. I don’t remember who stated this exactly, but in a conversation with a good friend about character deaths, he had mentioned an author who had said it takes courage for an author to kill a character. This statement is remarkably true as I have read and watched a number of books, manga, movies, and TV shows where a character will die, only to return. This actually upsets me from time to time because it cheapens the idea of death in fiction. However, in Knights of Sidonia The Movie there were a number of characters who met their maker all throughout the film. Of course, many were very minor and were therefore nameless characters, but there were a handful who we’d become attached to who passed away. Few anime series, let alone anime films, do this, and while I have seen better examples from one or two other anime series, the producers for this film made each death stand out in its own way.
Knights of Sidonia The Movie is possibly one of the best standalone compilation anime films I’ve seen. This largely had to do with the length of the film, 134 minutes, but it also came from how it felt as though the core narrative wasn’t cut to the bone. There were also some wonderful character relationships and dynamics in the film, particularly between Nagate and Shizuka, that the scriptwriters capitalized on. However, what intrigued me the most about the film was how different it was compared to other anime franchises in the same genre, specifically the Macross franchise and the first two installments of Megazone 23. While those series tried to take a serious approach to the remnants of humanity colonizing the galaxy, they still had a lighter tone than Knights of Sidonia The Movie. For that reason alone, this film truly stands out in the science fiction genre. Therefore, if you love this kind of content—humans traveling through space on a large colonizing vessel to find a new Garden of Eden— Knights of Sidonia The Movie is a film you will definitely enjoy.
Title: Knights of Sidonia The Movie (劇場版シドニアの騎士 Gekijyo-ban Shidonia no Kishi)
Under: Polygon Pictures
Official Site: http://www.knightsofsidonia.com/news_movie.php
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_Sidonia