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Monday, 29 June 2015

Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine

Knights of Sidonia:
Battle for Planet Nine.

Ah, Knights of Sidonia. I was ambivalent about you last series, enjoying your premise and your surprisingly smooth and fast-paced mecha action in a genre which usually thrives off being ponderously slow, while also being unnerved by your sporadic bouts of laser-focus on ridiculous harem anime-oid romance subplots and your weirdly boneless animation.

As just about anyone who saw the end of the last series could have guessed, you returned this year for a second series, rather clunkily titled Battle for Planet Nine, which is odd given that the eponymous planet and the battle for it takes up less than a quarter of your twelve episodes.

Picking up a short while after the end of the first series, Battle for Planet Nine sees a Gauna-Human hybrid, Tsumugi, joining the Sidonia Defense Force. Faced with this being that seems human but also represents a transgressive fusion of humanity and the eldritch, unknowably alien, and omni-hostile Gauna, Tanikaze engages in the plot of a cut-price eroge game and obliviously stumbles into a love quadrilateral with - wait what?


Okay, don't get me wrong, there are giant mecha battles. We even get a very climactic battle on the aforementioned ninth planet that involves the return of mysterious and sinister antagonist Benisuzume, but it very much seems like the majority of the series - even just barely, even just a fifty-one/forty-nine split - is devoted to the ridiculous romantic antics of our gormless, doughy protagonist and three people well and truly out of his league, including one who is the size of a building and usually manifests as a gigantic white genital monster no, I am not joking. 

Bloody NSFW, probably.

Don't get me wrong, the first series had its share of ridiculous romance subplots as well, and I hated it there too - it felt exhausted, boring, and worst of all, like a shallow and somewhat creepy attempt to appeal to the socially-stunted-teenage-fanboy demographic, as Tanikaze garners the attentions of women (and one third gender person, who this series sees transform into a biological woman out of love for Tanikaze still not joking, guys) despite having all the personality of a soap spud - and this series has apparently decided that that was absolutely what people enjoyed about the first series, and in response has dialed it up to eleven.

Some of the blame for this, of course, must be laid at the feet of the manga, which apparently is even worse for this, but good god, you're doing an adaptation, you're allowed to change parts.

The romance subplot kind of overtakes everything else, leaving me with very little to talk about apart from my massive disdain for it. The animation is still oddly boneless, the music is still excellent, the voice acting is still highly variable. The action scenes are all very strong, and there are some truly standout sequences in the series: Tsumugi versus Benisuzume would be a contender for a 'best anime fights of 2015' list if I did one, which I might. 

Really. Cherry blossoms. Are you testing me, Satan.

But I found myself very bored by this series a lot of the time. As mentioned earlier, the actual battle of the title doesn't start until near the end of the series, and it starts so bizarrely without ceremony that I actually missed that that was what was going on at first. It cuts in about halfway through a very romance-focused episode, and is framed as being no big deal until the point where it starts going wrong, which is weird for a series literally named after it.

Even more baffling is that the series lets other plot points, like series regular Kunato having his personality overwritten by mad scientist Ochiai, fall by the wayside: After his initial possession, Kunato is very clearly still possessed by Ochiai, but nothing ever comes of it: He's relegated to a recurring character who shows up to make remarks on Tsumugi and occasionally be slightly ominous, but the fact that there is now an undeniably evil bio-engineer meandering around in one of the main cast's body never gets any resolution, or any development at all. It does the same to Kobayashi's murder of the Immortal Council, too - does this coup have any consequences? Not really.

I do like the helmet designs.

These might be plotlines that will see resolution in the third series, bar that there's no confirmation that there even will be a third series. In fact, this series ends on a montage of both series and a very final note, almost suggesting that this is the definite end for Knights of Sidonia. While there are enough sequel hooks that a third series wouldn't feel out of place, the final episode very definitely ends on a note of 'this is the end, guys, goodbye and fare you well', so certainly at the time that it was written, it was not confirmed that there would be any renewal.

I've railed against shows ending partway through their storylines before, and it's a particular problem for anime, but this actually isn't the worst example of that: Even with storylines left hanging, the demise of Benisuzume provides a decent capping-off point for the series, enough so that if this was the very end, I wouldn't be as annoyed as I am with, say, Accel World, which is easily the most egregious example of this.

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