My main enjoyment from this series has come from seeing Tsutomu Nihei apply his distinct style to some decidedly conventional material. The results have been of an “acquired taste” so far, but this volume may signal the story’s transition into something legitimately entertaining for all. While the focus is still on the conflict between the humans and the aliens known as the Gauna, Nihei rolls out the plot in the most straightforward manner yet as the development of synthetic kabizashi -- the rare material that can pierce a Gauna’s core -- may give humanity the edge in battle. We also get more of the backstory and find out just what became of the scientist Ochiai and why his research nearly destroyed the Sidonia. That particular thread leads into a very creepy cliffhanger which makes me glad that there’s enough of a backlog of this title in Japan to keep the volumes coming here at a bi-monthly rate (for now).
Nihei still has a ways to go, though, in getting the hang of the emotional moments needed to sell his more conventional approach. An opening scene where Tanizaki saves fellow pilot Izana’s life comes off as silly because you’re left wondering a) why aren’t there any guardrails and b) how is the middle-gendered individual such a klutz that he/she wound up in that situation in the first place. There’s also a sequence towards the end where Tanizaki pleads with Kunato -- the pilot who set him up to screw up a combat mission -- to join the gang for dinner and the latter’s response is so saccharine and out-of-character that the moment is more laughable than anything else. The overall package, including his detailed art which gives even the most conventional areas a sinister look to them, is good enough that I’m enjoying myself in spite of these issues but I think he’s capable of doing better now.