I’ve talked about mangaka Tsutomu Nihe’s evolution as a creator from “Blame!” to “Biomega,” and this volume manages to continue that trend. Now, the growth of Nihei isn’t the same as other writers as “Blame!,” for all of its fantastic art and mysterious nature, left me with the impression that he doesn’t quite get the fundamentals of characterization and storytelling. “Biomega” went a ways towards correcting that, and vol. 3 of “Knights of Sidonia” sees him doing something I haven’t seen before: taking the time to explain the story.
This picks up in the last third of the book when we get an extended flashback that shows us what the Sidonia’s captain and crew, including housemother bear Lalah, were up to prior to the start of the series. We find out that not only did they stumble upon a mysterious structure in space, but that it contained the only material capable of piercing the cores of the alien Gauna effectively. There’s also the matter of ace Garde pilot Hiroki who not only saved the Sidonia after a crewmember’s betrayal, but wound up playing a very key role in the life of the title’s protagonist Tanikaze.
In detailing the backstory of the series, Nihei answers a lot of questions and raises a few more. Normally I’d be worried about such a thing, except the volume ends with the indication that we’re going to be following up on one of these issues in the near future. Of course, some of these parts are a bit more inscrutable than they should be, like why the traitor betrayed everyone and the elder Hiroki’s actions as well. Even with these issues, the end result is that the world of “Sidonia” winds up feeling just a bit more believable and it becomes easier to get invested in their struggle against the Gauna.
Mind you, all this only comprises a third of the volume. Everything that precedes it is the same mix of competent mecha action and awkward socializing that the title has traded in so far. If you’re like me, then this awkwardness is more endearing than aggravating as Nihei tries to pull off something resembling harem comedy as two girls... well, one girl and one hermaphrodite, vie for his affections. However, there’s nothing resembling chemistry between the players in the triangle and the end result is like what one would imagine an alien’s efforts to blend in with human society would be. Not only is Tanikaze beyond oblivious to the competing affections of the girls, he winds up getting the most fanservicey scene in the mixed bath as he jumps up as they get the call to deploy and flashes his package in the process.
There’s also a borderline gruesome scene where Tanikaze gets a fish hook caught in his lip while fishing with Izana (the hermaphrodite) in an otherwise normal scene. That this happens while fishing isn’t odd in and of itself, but it’s something that you just don’t see happen in these kinds (read: mecha action or teen romance, take your pick) of stories or graphic fiction in general. Nihei’s style also gives an uncomfortable sheen to what was really just a wacky coincidence. That image of Tanikaze’s lip being pulled up by the hook really looks like it hurts and the pulling does appear fairly disturbing as well. The two of them then falling into the water seems to underscore the fact that this was meant to be played for laughs yet there’s precious little humor to be had in the way it’s illustrated. Personally, I find it fascinating to see everything play out like this as it’s utterly unlike anything else on the market. I also recognize the fact that some people may just see this as awful storytelling, and while they’re entitled to their opinion, everything here is so rooted in Nihei’s style that it transcends that particular assessment.
There’s also one scene where a particularly large-breasted girl is running towards Tanikaze and Nihei includes the sound effects for her jiggling. It’s also the ONLY scene he does that for, as it doesn’t accompany her scenes before and after that moment. I was highly amused by it as such a scene underlines how Nihei is clearly trying to write a conventional, fanservicey mecha action title without fully understanding how these things are supposed to work.
It’s an approach that seems to be paying off in Japan, as it was recently announced that “Knights of Sidonia” will be getting an anime. I’m highly amused by this as it should be interesting to see how the anime’s producers will decide to interpret the material. Will they try to keep the oddness and awkwardness intact, or shoot for a style that’s more conventionally entertaining with comedy that’s actually comedic and mecha action that pops off the screen? In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep up with this entertainingly strange series if only to see what weirdness it has to offer in future volumes.