A second season of Sidonia no Kishi really made too much sense not to happen. Presumably when someone leaked the news early a couple of weeks ago, all of the relevant parties denied it because there were still t’s to be crossed and i’s to be dotted, or perhaps just because they wanted the announcement after the final episode to have some impact. But a surprise it wasn’t – the first volume sold well and the others are tracking to, there’s plenty of story, and the series has above-average crossover potential for the foreign market. Anime is a business first and foremost, and a second season of Knights of Sidonia is good business.
According to that announcement there’s going to be a two-episode preview in November, which obviously suggests that Winter 2015 is the likely date. Whether you want to call Sidonia a split-cour series or not (both the handling of the announcement and the timing of the new season suggest this was not a decision made pre-airing) this episode didn’t really need to function as a finale so much as a placeholder and table-setter, but it actually worked quite well in all three functions. Despite the fast-moving nature of the last few episodes there’s plenty of mystery still waiting to be mined in the second season.
The finale (or whatever you call it) delivered up a pretty representative Sidonia experience. The big action sequences were tense and beautifully produced, and the character moments were mostly off-key. Everything with Kunato is especially a chore, and I found the final sequence where Nagate went to his manse to declare his eternal love and fraternity to be especially painful. Kunato has been a cartoon villain from the beginning whose motivations feel very plot-driven, and if this is all it takes to “redeem” his character it will amount to one of the great character short-cuts of all time.
By contrast, it’s really been Izana’s character that’s been the most resonant – for me, the only human in the cast that’s really engaging in their own right. Having Izana in the final battle made an already gripping scene ever more nerve-wracking, because Izana was so clearly out of his/her depth here – just as any normal person would be. Izana wasn’t much use in a battle Izana should never have been involved with in the first place, but when Nagate was in trouble Izana stepped up to save him. I like the way this played out – as the bewildering and terrifying chaos played out all around, Izana was helpless to be anything but numbly dragged along in its wake. But what a simple and straightforward situation presented itself – “Nagate is about to die. I love Nagate.” – presented itself, Izana acted decisively.
The humans continue to survive all these Gauna encounters, but just barely – and collectively. It really feels as if Sidonia as a civilization is hanging by a thread, with mission after mission of sending their young and talented off to die in a last-ditch attempt to stop the enemy. There’s a lot of pathos here and the seeds of some interesting political theatre in the impact it has on the society (though those seeds haven’t really sprouted yet) but also a danger of the cycle becoming repetitive. Sidonia has done an excellent job painting a picture of just how bad things are, not least for the cannon-fodder pilots. But I think the story now needs to move to the next stage – digging deeper into the causes behind this conflict and the search for a more meaningful solution than simply sacrificing a few score brave young men and women in order to buy time until the next call to die.
It was my hope that this transition might be facilitated through the Hoshijiro placenta storyline, but it seems with the destruction of the dwarf planet Gauna – and Benisuzume – the placental clone is gone too (leaving behind only Nagate’s name scrawled out in Hiragana as a memento). I suppose Nagate overcoming his squeamishness and destroying the Benisuzume Hoshijiro is an important moment for him psychologically, but it really doesn’t feel as if there was much time to do anything out there but try and survive. It was a marvelously executed sequence of complete chaos and terror, with the pilots having to worry not just about the Gauna but (fittingly) their own weapon of mass destruction bearing down on them and destroying them. In the end Nagate and Izana do survive, along with Ren and the seven remaining pilots (including Seii, who I was sure was a goner – he had death flags up the ying-yang) who took their Gardes inside the planet-Gauna to destroy its brain. But to call this a victory seems like a real stretch.
Among the questions that are going to have to be answered in the sequel is that of the true nature of the Immortal Council, and the real reason behind why the Gauna keep attacking. This entire first season really plays like a prequel, an introductory chapter – which is why it always seemed so misguided to have Sidonia no Kishi as a one-cour series. Happily that’s no longer a concern, and there’s reason to hope that the second season might be the really interesting part of the story.
There are always going to be flaws here – Nihei Tsutomu isn’t suddenly going to emerge as a writer who can do good character interaction after all these years, and the CGI won’t stop being a bad fit for those character-driven scenes. But Sidonia no Kishi has rarely-matched in anime credibility as a hard sci-fi show – the larger story, the science, and the panorama and big action set pieces are all top-notch. I think its popularity proves that there’s still an audience for that kind of anime, and – just as with Shingeki no Kyoujin – that success is a healthy thing for the industry irrespective of whatever warts the show has. There are certainly things I wish Sidonia did better but more important is that that I wish that there were more series like it, and I’m looking forward to seeing if it can lift its game next winter.
Season Two Announcement: