“Knights of Sidonia” continues to remain, for me at least, an intriguingly weird meeting of mangaka Tsutomu Nihei’s unique style with a fairly generic mechs vs. aliens story. The most memorable bits usually come when he makes an overt attempt to integrate a particular trope into the story. This is how we get things like the consummately polite Tsumugi Shiraui who is a multi-story human/alien hybrid with a talking tentacle that can travel through the Sidonia’s duct system to hang out with socially clueless ace pilot Tanikaze and his middlesex friend Izana. Though the actual story still isn’t anything to write home about -- the climactic battle against the Hawk Moth that kicks off the volume gets by mainly on style alone -- here’s a list of six items that provide good examples of why this title continues to hold my interest.
1. At first, the art in this series struck me as being compromised from Nihei’s work in “BLAME!” and “Biomega.” Where those two featured intricate works of human and alien architecture and fascinatingly weird creatures, there was less detail and stylization in the first volume of “Sidonia,” and that was a letdown. Since then, and particularly with this volume, he’s been working on refining his linework to something less thick and more fine with which to display the intricacy of the world he has created. It’s as if Nihei has effectively hit upon a way to get back to the detail of his previous works in an unconventional way.
2. It may be just me, but his current style reminds me a lot of Hayao Miyazaki’s work in “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.” Nihei doesn’t go in for the level of detail associated with that title, yet the fineness of his line and some of the scenes on the alien planet don’t compare unfavorably to Miyazaki’s.
3. Of course, these two titles are leagues apart in quality and stylistic approach. You’d never see Miyazaki doing a scene where the alien intelligence of the Hawk Moth biologically infiltrates Tanikaze’s mecha with the sole intent of molesting the pilot. I can’t really think of many creators who would go for a scene like that at all! Yet Nihei dives right into it as the placenta creature created by the Hawk Moth (which looks like Hoshijiro, the former pilot of the Sidonia that it was created from) leans in to give Tanikaze a big tentacle-filled french kiss while alien flowers bloom in the panel around them. It’s a beautifully surreal and creepy scene and easily one that is likely to stick in anyone’s mind long after they read it, whether they want it to or not.
4. There’s another scene that’s almost as memorable, but far more disturbing. Know how the Hawk Moth can re-form its biomass in the shape of a human? Well, it turns out that being half-Gauna, Tsumugi can do that too with her tentacle. She also assumes the form of Hoshijiro in a misguided attempt to offer Tanikaze some closure to their relationship. Problem is that she can’t hold the form all that well… It’s unnerving to see and it also leads to another surreal sight: that of a tentacle crying. Yes, this kind of scenario has played out before with an individual trying and failing to help bring closure to a loved one’s sorrow, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done as weirdly as it’s done here. I’d ask for more, except...
5. That scene is almost immediately followed up with a hilarious mishap where Izana is in a hurry to get her flightsuit to seal correctly and forces the action. This leads to the flightsuit rupturing open on the next page to reveal lots of fanservice. It’s quickly forgotten and the abruptness of it makes me wonder if Nihei was told by his editor that this series was sorely lacking in naked boobs and that he had to do at least ONE SCENE involving them to get approval for this chapter’s publication. The mangaka is clearly a consummate professional because he did this and then moved right back into the story. Even the women’s bath scene in this chapter is less gratuitous in its service.
6. So it would appear that “Biomega” is a movie in the “Sidonia” world. I prefer to think of it as a fun little Easter Egg on Nihei’s part rather than an actual explanation for that title. It’s still my favorite work from the mangaka, combining his distinctive style with enough narrative structure to keep you engaged from beginning to end.
There’s stuff that happens after this, but it’s of the standard-issue “Sidonia’s crew must find a way to destroy this unconventional Gauna weapon,” with a gratuitous cliffhanger thrown in for good measure. It’s easily the most conventional part of this volume and the least memorable as a result. Nihei was clearly following the genre rulebook when he cooked this up, so we’ll see if he’s holding back more of the fascinatingly weird for the next volume. “Sidonia” doesn’t deliver in conventional ways, but it consistently delivers things to keep the reader engaged every time.