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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