Sidonia no Kishi – 06

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Hero. Idol. Tug-of-war Rope. Pawn. Fuck-up. Scapegoat. Nagate’s a little of everything this week, like the episode itself. We start off with the jubilation of him and Shizuka being rescued by all the other Gardes (a goosebump-inducing scene we’re glad was repeated), and he gains instant celebrity status upon his return.

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Before the celebrations, Nagate and Shizuka undergo extensive medical tests. A little yellow light on Shizuka’s readout appears to be nothing serious, but it sets a foreboding, optimism-eroding precedent. Nagate, Shizuka, Kunato and En are promoted to full Gardes pilots; a mere formality considering they did what the Elite Four couldn’t: defeat the Gauna and return alive.

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Nagate makes a point to visit the huge memorial to the Fallen Four, which only ingratiates him further with Yuhata, who enters Full Pursuit Mode at the post-promotion party. Izana remains thoroughly annoyed she has to share Nagate with anyone, but Shizuka takes a more pragmatic approach.

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In the ensuing bathysphere excursion, we get the closest thing Sidonia’s had to a harem quarrel, as the girls are literally jammed in the door, with Shizuka ending up alone with Nagate by sheer dumb luck (and physics). The mere fact they’re in their own bathysphere blushing at one another is more foreshadowing, lest we forget what became of the last couple we saw in one of these.

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As his peers revel in Nagate’s heroics and much of the greater public slurps up the feel-good narrative, Kobayashi consults with the elder council (whatever they’re called; I forget), who see Nagate as a valuable pawn in the never-ending quest to extend their own lives preserve Sidonia. And if he proves less pliable or competent than they envisioned, Kobayashi is to dispose of him.

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That leads to Nagate’s final roles this week: fuck-up and scapegoat. He and Shizuka can’t even complete their love cruise when they’re ordered to sortie against a very nasty and tough-looking “hive-type” Gauna. But we don’t see the battle; that’s likely to come. Instead, we go straight from Shizuka giving Nagate a parting salute the camera dwells on (the episode’s title) to him waking up in hospital.

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Like him, we have to piece together what happened, but unlike him I know immediately it’s nothing good. When the Honoka sisters give him eye-daggers and Izana says nothing, he has to get it from the TV, which slowly, cruelly reveals by steady text crawl what has happened: much of the Gauna was defeated, but Shizuka was lost. Another devastating gut punch, driven home by locking the camera on his stunned face.

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Throughout this episode we saw an adjustment in Norio: while watching Nagate receive All The Laurels, he resigns himself to absorbing rather than outwardly projecting his contempt for it all. He extends an olive branch, bides his time, and in the end, it looks like he comes out on top. Because to the masses, the only hero that matters is the one that just saved you.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 05

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Sidonia belts out yet another BADASS episode, that’s very different from the four that preceded it. In fact, one of the only things that held it back from a 10 was the somewhat meaningless cutaway back to Sidonia in the middle for what was nothing but an infodump by Kobayashi and the wierd Bear woman (?)(Why is she a bear? Inquiring minds want to know…). But the badassery of this episode wasn’t due to any flashy battles or explosions.

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No, this was a bottle episode, the majority of which took place inside Takane’s frame after rescuing Shizuka. They’re beyond the point of no return and his fame is out of juice anyway, so they have to do a lot of sitting and waiting for one of two things: death or rescue. This is by no means original, but I have to say, I’m hard-pressed to recall better executions of this kind of lost-in-space scenario.

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Leaving aside the convenience of two love interests being in such close contact for so long. And Shizuka strips down to her birthday suit for a totally practical reason: to photosynthesize! Despite how cold and terrifying space looks out there and how tiny the frame looks compared to it, there’s a warmth from the two of them that permeates their scenes. You get the feeling everything will be fine, because at the very least, if they die, they’ll die together.

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Ten days pass before any hint of rescue, and food and water are exhausted, the latter an example of over-complicated technology coming to bite them ass at the worst possible time. When Takane starts to succumb to dehydration, that same fancypants tech is his savior, as Shizuka is able to filter her urine for him to drink, a touching scene with shades of Princess Mononoke. The act also gives Takane the idea to filter the frame’s lubricant for more water. Wonderful things, these filters!

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The victory is enough for the couple to try a closer embrace, forgetting their suits are on. Further hanky-panky is interrupted by One Hell Of A Dramatic Entrance by the entire defense wing, which disobeyed orders and formed a 256-frame relay ring to come back for the pilot who defeated the Gauna (along with his would-be girlfriend). Their arrival is a powerful moment of jubilation and relief, and a happy ending that neither felt like a cheat nor an inevitability.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 04

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Like Sidonia’s Kabizashi, I prefer to use “Holy Craps” sparingly; preferably no more than five per season, but in the case of this episode, I feel perfectly justified in exhausting one. Holy Crap, that was one awesome tour-de-force of an episode. My heart rate remains elevated some time after watching it. But worry not, Braverade is near a fresh-air-providing open window, and no harm will come to her.

Going into this episode, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say the same of Sidonia. When your elite subjugation squad is annihilated and a Gauna manages to dodge the HMD, you know Sidonia is in for a rough ride, and so we get a “Gravity Alert”, in which those bulky safety harnesses prove so crucial to survival. Good thing Nagate put his on! I appreciated the hard sci-fi approach to everything Sidonia does.

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For instance, a small moon-sized colony ship can go into evasive maneuvers without seriously messing up the structures inside. Kobayashi’s job is truly thankless and unenviable: she must either choose to destroy a big chunk of the ship, killing hundreds of people, or lose the whole ship. No wonder she wears a mask. Her’s is one of many choices that make the episode’s title “Choice” so fitting.

It was a single choice—a bad, emotionally-fueled one—that got Sidonia into this hole in the first place: Akai and Momose tried to save one another, when victory hinged on their ability to let each other go. As I assumed, the next four-man group to be sent out would include Nagate, along with Shizuka, Kunato, and En. Izana is notably excluded.

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But this team isn’t supposed to fight the Gauna, it’s merely charged with retrieving one of the two Holy Craps Kabizashis still barely in their frames’ range; if they don’t hypermile, they could end up stranded in space. When Nagate spots the Kabizashi, Kunato is quick to run ahead and grab it, but that puts him in the firing zone of the Gauna, which fires its own Hyggs cannon, disabling all but Nagate’s frame.

From here on, the choices are Nagate’s, and he makes what could be called an emotional choice in going after the Gauna instead of towing his colleagues home. But he’s a clever chap, and his frame fits him like a glove, so he’s able to ice the Gauna, earning him instant ship-wide recognition and celebrity, along with more even ire from Kunato, no doubt.

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But of course, all is not yet well—the emergencies never relent, right until the end, with Nagate making another clearly emotional choice: to search for Shizuka’s ejection pod, flying past the point of no return in the process. Following an episode in which such chivalry ended in disaster and after witnessing how sacrificing a few to save the many worked out, Nagate isn’t following Kobayashi’s lead: he won’t leave a (wo)man behind.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 03

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This episode demonstrated how simulations and tournaments are no test of a pilot’s true mettle, any more than good looks and celebrity. The Elite Four won the team competition while Akai took the individual trophy handily, but when it came time to face a real Gauna in battle, their skills and teamwork were all for naught, because Akai chose to be a good boyfriend which was the only slip-up required in such a fast-paced, tense battle to throw the entire team into chaos. When they stopped fighting and started trying to save each other, they had lost.

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This is quite a gut-punch, both to me and to everyone watching back on Sidonia, hoping for a quick and easy victory. I imagined one or two of the team members to be taken out, tops, based on the death flags they were throwing beforehand, but all four of the best pilots Sidonia had to offer, all at once, without even finishing off the Gauna? To understate matters, that’s not good. Now, as a matter of necessity, a new four-person group must be formed from the best pilots still alive.

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In most cases, the fate of Akai’s Elite Four would be taken by Kobayashi and Sidonia’s bosses as a cautionary example of how chemistry comraderie, and a sense of family are a double-edged sword; it’s what made the Four such a great team, but against the Gauna, it turned out to be a fatal weakness. Thus, one would think they’d pick four pilots who didn’t know each other or even particularly like each other. But because they’re prominent characters, the most likely candidates are Nagate, Izana, Shizuka, and Kunato.

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I’m well aware that three of those four are involved in a love triangle, which means the very same thing could befall them when the Sidonia hits the fan. But then, maybe Kunato harbors enough hate and angst to balance that out. In this week’s “Kunato Gets Pwned” segment, Akai beats him in the individual competition. He’s so pissed off afterwards that when poor Izana accidentally bumps into him he smacks her to the ground, and she takes a candy apple stick to the leg, which…ouch.

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Let’s not also forget Izuna’s jealousy towards what she sees as Shizuka (the “conventional” woman) getting along too well with Nagate. Izana bumps into Kunato because she’s distracted by that jealousy. When Nagate and Shizuka of all people come to Izana’s aid, we see what could be the next dream team together for the first time. Meanwhile, strategic genius Midorikawa Yuhata, fueled by the death of her brother, could well be the one planning their future battles. But I fear I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 02

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Tanikaze Nagate’s grandfather pushed him to become the best pilot he could be, but he could only teach him so much. In order to realize the dream of becoming a true guardian pilot, Nagate had to face real action. The first appearance of a Gauna in a century on his very first sortie obliges.

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The Gauna itself is a frightening, implacable hulk of a monster somewhat resembling the Giant Warrior from Nausicaä—not at all a bad thing to imitate—with a medusa-like tangle of tentacle-like protrusions, one off which grabs Yamano Eiko’s frame and swallows her whole, then morphs into a rough approximation of her. Very creepy, dark stuff, though notably lacking in gore, at least in this instance.

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Nagate is slammed down early in the battle and would seem to be another casualty, but he gets a somewhat preternatural second wind, picks himself off, and hangs with the Gauna long enough for the others to escape, until a “Heavy Mass Cannon” projectile—essentially a big weight—fired by Sidonia impacts with the Gauma, driving it back, but not killing it. While the mining mission was a bust, the fact they were able to push it back with only one trainee out of eight lost is accepted as a victory.

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It’s something else entirely for Nagate. He does well in battle, but not afterwards. The innocence he lost in the battle is on display in flashbacks to the moments before the battle, when the haughty Yamano refuses to shake hands with Nagate and Izana for good luck, which it turns out she could have used. After the battle Nagate definitely showing signs of PTSD, and is unable to keep his food down. He has the skills, but he has yet to build the fortitude, for the trials ahead.

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So far the show seems to be punishing arrogance and rewarding meekness: in addition to Yamano’s comeuppance, Kunato is shot down (figuratively) for the second episode in a row, being totally ignored and passed by by Akai, the leader of the Elite Four Guardian Pilots tasked with finishing off the Gauna, who is only interested in Nagate, and why wouldn’t he be? Nagate fought the Gauna head-on. That fact also attracts Midorikawa Yuhata, who has the makings of a Nagate groupie who would wedge between the quiet rivalry brewing between Shizuka and Izana.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 01

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“You escapist fools.”

This is how Kunato, a Sephiroth-looking stick-in-the-mud, voices his disgust to a meager but passionate group of protesting pacifists, but it could also describe me. I’ll fully admit it: I’m a bit of an escapist fool. Sometimes I blithely ignore reality entirely preferring to dive into new worlds and new systems. Due to its very-similar but better-executed cel-shaded animation style (still clinical and stiff, but also warmer and grittier), I’m reminded of a world in which humans battled sentient Machiavellian sexually-frustrated naval vessels.

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After just one visually impressive episode of Sidonia, this looks like a show I can really sink my escapist fool-teeth into. Like the third Eva film, it starts promising, in the midst of heated action: a young lad named Tanikaze Nagate pilots a mecha through space and defeats one of the alien monsters called Gauma. But then his score is tallied—a perfect 99999—and he emerges from a pod; it was only a simulation. It’s a clever way to serve up a brief taste of the action that’s sure to come.

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After a stirring OP, accompanied by an equally stirring national(istic) anthem, the show zooms out on Tanikaze’s small, dingy, isolated world deep within the bowels of a much larger world, Sidonia, a huge, hive-like mass of civilization with a highly militarized population. Tanikaze goes through quite a bit of physical punishment until he ends up spat out into the society he’d long avoided, where his latent skills as a simulation ace will be almost immediately put to the test.

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Along the way Tanikaze meets the friendly, third-gendered Shinatose Izana (Toyosaki Aki) and the friendly, definitely-a-girl Hoshijiro Shizuka, quickly establishing a potential love triangle. (There are also a great deal of Kitamura Eri clones!) Tanikaze totally bombs in a simulator for the new and unfamiliar Type 18 frame (I can relate, having to adjust from a Gen-6 to Gen-8 Civic!), but when he’s called to sortie on his first day—he’s given a legendary Type 17 frame that Sephiroth Kunato was itching for, thus instantly establishing a rivalry.

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The frames are very cool looking; everything is very cool looking, come to think of it. Like Blue Steel, if this kind of animation turns you off, it turns you off, but I loved the vivid hyper-reality of it all. The episode also lies in wait with a truly holy-crap-this-is-awesome moment when the frames launch into space and we finally get a good look at Sidonia: an insane-looking hexagonal beam thingy stuck through an asteroid, hurtling through space. And of course, what should be a routine mining mission turns into the first real Gauma attack in a century, with Tanikaze right in the thick of it.

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If you visit RABUJOI frequently you’ll notice I haven’t gotten around to Captain Earth’s second episode. There’s a reason for that, while it was a great-looking, competent anime in the best Bones tradition, we found ourselves weary of delving into something we’ve seen so often in the past; something beautifully executed but lacking in the originality department. After this first episode, Sidonia was even better-looking, but also bolder and more inventive, at least to this escapist fool’s eyes.

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