We Are the Knights Who Say aNIme

Alex watches too much TV and then thinks about it for longer than is healthy.

For some time now I have been thinking about delving into the world of anime and manga, so many people seem to love it and I thought it was high time to see what all the fuss is about. But even with this sense of determination, an ever-lengthening list of TV shows to watch and a fear of accidentally watching some weird tentacle based hentai has up until now kept me away from the genre. Recently however, a combination of Netflix and insomnia led me to bite the bullet, hoping curiosity would not kill the cat with an invasive tentacle, and watch “Knights of Sidonia” an anime show localised by almighty Netflix and based on a popular manga series of the same name.

The series revolves around the life of Nagate Tanikaze, a young man brought up in secret by his grandfather in the bowels of a giant space ship who, following his grandfather’s death, emerges into the society on the levels above. The ship “Sidonia” is gigantic and fashioned from the remnants of planet Earth, which was destroyed long before by mysterious and creepy space creatures called “Gauna” (who coincidentally feature a lot of tentacles). These Gauna still pursue the remnants of humanity across the universe and it is unknown whether any other ships aside from this one have survived. The ship is protected by the pilots of a fleet of transformer-like fighter jets armed with the only weapons capable of piercing these betentacled weirdos and reducing them to what looks suspiciously like Aero chocolate bubbles. Our hero has mysteriously somehow been trained by his grandfather to be an excellent pilot of one of these fighters and the story follows his journey to becoming a heroic defender of the ship and its inhabitants. There is also a talking bear with a robotic claw who is a chef, and it’s just NEVER mentioned that she’s a bear and there are no other animal people at all. If that fact alone doesn’t sell the series to you I don’t know what will.

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I have to admit I found some of the early episodes quite slow and was on the verge of abandoning ship, but it is at this point a few episodes in that things really start to get going as some genuinely unsettling aspects of the Gauna are revealed and the first hints of a deeper mythology to the show are introduced. I was also really impressed by the world that has been created aboard Sidonia as more of it was unveiled as the series went along. There are some really cool sci-fi ideas, like humans having genetically engineered the ability to photosynthesise to reduce food consumption, as well as some interesting and surprisingly dark exploration of the dangers of day to day living on a spacecraft, like gravity malfunctions or evasive manoeuvres killing thousands of residents in graphic splattery detail completely out of the blue. The universe of this show is futuristic and high-tech, but with a very utilitarian and grubby feel to it that is reminiscent of the workmanlike future in Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” or the noir tower blocks of “Blade Runner”, which is an excellent thing in my opinion.

I was also struck by the similarity between this show and the more recent version of Battlestar Galactica; the remnants of humanity flee through space from a mysterious enemy bent on their destruction, protected only by brave fighter pilots as they search for a new home. The flight suits of the Sidonia pilots also bear quite a resemblance to the Viper pilots of Galactica, I’m not sure if this is intentional as I suppose there are limited options when designing a flight suit but I would like to think it is a little nod to Starbuck and her cohorts. I don’t think this similarity to a blockbuster American show is a bad thing, and it is in no way a rip off there are just similar themes. It puts the tropes and traditions of anime into a recognisable story format for those like me who have no previous experience with the genre. This blend of American style adventure story telling and Japanese sensibilities really does create something new, interesting and accessible; for newbs like me the story is engaging and you pick up the anime bits and bobs along the way and for seasoned fans it has all the style elements you enjoy in a great sci-fi setting. Also story-wise answers are given quickly to thematic and background related questions, which is a refreshing approach considering the infuriating lack of answers at the very end of shows like BSG or Lost in recent years.

The arc of the series comes to a satisfying end that certainly leaves scope for more, and I do hope it gets a second season as it’s only in the last couple of episodes that a great deal of things come to light that suggest the history of Sidonia is not as simple as this cat and mouse game with the Gauna would indicate and it would be great to see these avenues explored fully.  So overall this is a cracking bit of sci-fi with a great theme tune and a good genre jumping on point for the anime-curious like myself.

7 Heigus Particles out of 10.

Alex

 

 

 

People Are Making Apocalypse Jokes Like There’s No Tomorrow

Alex watches too much TV and then thinks about it for longer than is healthy.

Picture the scene: A man kneels in the rubble of a broken future, surrounded by the shattered remains of once towering monuments to progress. Crumpled wrecks of hover-cars litter the streets of this sprawling metropolis. The guttural roar of hordes of re-animated, radioactive, cannibal corpses can be heard echoing in the distance. The man is dishevelled and wearing the tattered remnants of a futuristic jumpsuit, he clutches a bloodied child’s cap with an antenna on top to his chest and repeatedly whispers “His boy Elroy… His boy Elroy…” to himself whilst rocking back and forth.

This would be the opening scene of The Jetsons if it were rebooted today, as our thirst for all things post-apocalyptic is seemingly as unquenchable as a zombie’s hunger for delicious brains. This is by no means a complaint; I love a good post-apocalyptic setting in any entertainment format and this version of the Jetsons would be way better than the disturbingly pristine and non-multicultural future shown in the original. It is interesting though that the list of titles set in one wasteland/ post-apocalyptic world or other is an exceptionally long one at the moment, so the question is: Why are we so keen to see all that we know in ruins?

Visions of the future are a cornerstone of science fiction and have always been a reflection of how we see ourselves in the present, so with all this apocalypsing going on clearly we don’t think a whole lot of ourselves at the moment. Over the course of a century due to the effects of countless wars both hot and cold and an ever expanding and increasingly downbeat media culture our view of the future has changed radically; going from the outlandish and exotic visions of the Victorian age, through the utopian, swiftly into the dystopian and finally into our despondent apocalyptic certainty. Even a dystopian future dictatorship is too much to hope for today, as being constantly hammered by news coverage of the worst humanity has to offer and the burgeoning wealth of evidence that we have pretty much ruined the planet has drained us of what little hope we had.  Scary stories of the evil that men do sell papers and get precious mouse clicks but they leave us fairly certain that this whole sorry business will come crashing down within the hour leaving us scrabbling in the dirt wishing we’d paid more attention to Ray Mears. The future is no longer bright because we no longer feel we deserve it, perhaps we don’t and should hurry up and invent some sexy Cylons to destroy us.

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The second element to the popularity of the apocalypse is pure escapism. Our lives for the most part are mundane, easy and fairly rigidly structured; we work, we get drunk and moan about work, we wish we had done something more significant with our lives. Rinse and repeat. It is therefore unsurprising that a world without the structures that dominate our existence, in which there would be no need to read job adverts that dress mindless drone work up as something equating to Secretary-General of the U.N. or to reply with the soul destroyingly up-beat set of lies we call a CV ever again, is immensely attractive. A post-apocalyptic CV would be a good read though “I hunter-gather well as part of a group, I bring a can-do attitude to the murder and pillage of rival groups and I have a great deal of experience in the manufacture of homemade weaponry/ jewellery inc. ears on strings. Thank you for considering me for a role within your proto-society.”

A return to nature stripped of all our creature comforts and annoying bureaucracy has always been an appealing fantasy but fails to account for poor physical condition and complete lack of wilderness skills, let’s be honest a management consultant from Slough is not going to turn into some badass Chuck Norris-esque survivalist hero overnight. Suddenly becoming a brilliant woodsman is not the full extent of the fantasy though, both before and after an apocalyptic event humanity as a whole may act like a bunch of jerks but we still have some faith in the decency of the individual. The brilliant Walking Dead and astonishing The Last of Us are excellent examples of this key element of our apocalypse fetish, whilst the whole world might go to hell we are inherently good people and would manage to hold on to at least shreds of our humanity in the grey moral quagmire of a world without structure. The post-apocalyptic hero is the embodiment of our schizophrenic view of humanity, in broad terms humanity is a blight on the world and should probably be gotten rid of but on an individual level people are generally pretty decent and deserve to survive (except those who leave passive-aggressive notes). We hope that when faced with great adversity we would be brave and compassionate. However I doubt that we behave as paradigms of humanity in our daily lives, so it is perhaps depressing that it would take the end of the world to bring out the good person we hope resides in us somewhere.

Guilt perhaps also plays a part in our world ending desires. Our grandparents and great-grandparents faced war on a scale that is hard for us to imagine, our parents lived through the cold war and its constant nuclear paranoia, many people in the world at the moment face hardship we will never experience even a smidgeon of, the most devastating thing that will happen to most of us today is the internet not working briefly and we’ll still get irrationally angry about it. The wasteland would provide us not only with an escape from every day boredom and people who leave notes but also the chance to prove our worth as humans or at the very least to find out what we’re really made of.

We may continually envision the destruction of our future world in cathartic penance for the wrongs of our present one, or wish it would all end because life is monotonous, but our apocalyptic visions are not entirely without hope. In fact the very essence of every post-apocalyptic story is hope; after whatever monumentally stupid human action or act of nature destroys our world, where nothing should survive, there will somehow against all the odds still be humans left to continue being jerks to one-another. If that’s not hope for the future I don’t know what is. So get your pip-boys ready, keep your ears peeled for super mutants and pack your moral compass as it doesn’t look like we’re done working out our issues in the wasteland just yet.

 

Wasteland Essentials:

Film: A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Game: Fallout 3

Book: World War Z (Max Brooks)

TV: The Walking Dead (2010-)

 

Alex