The Innsmouth Look aside, I haven’t slobbered over anything this much just from the first episode since Penguindrum. What really managed to sell the series for me is two really brief scenes, and how it makes them work in conjunction with each other to create a vibrant, breathing world with only a few minutes of natural dialogue. It’s proof that exposition and dodgy CG mechs being groped by tentacles can live in perfect harmony. I feel like a kid in a candy store, except the candy is subtly-woven exposition and tentacles.
I tend to rag on exposition a shit-ton, but the first episode of Knights of Sidonia does it in an effortlessly compact way that blends character development with the current political and social state of Sidonia. What’s more, it distills the exposition into one scene, where peacenik protestors rave about the militaristic government being run by lich lords, clinging to their power through martial law, medical science, and creepy masks.
The protest isn’t shown for long, but does give a glimpse into changing public opinion regarding martial law, and the increasingly tenuous grasp that the leadership has on their absolute power. Right away, this sets up plenty of potential intrigue to build on, promising more than rock ‘em sock ‘em woefully-rendered CG action.
Later, this scene is indirectly supported by a short glimpse into Sidonia’s medical science, with a character belonging to a now-biological third sex. Given the extensive chromosomal alteration it’d take to make this happen without fucking with fertility, it makes sense that Sidonia’s leaders would make use of it to prolong their own lives, as either direct rulers or a shadow cabal. How the ruling class will act in future episodes, whether as direct antagonists who eat babies to retain youth, or as a sort of necessary evil who make the right calls for the greater good, remains to be seen, but Knights of Sidonia has a strong enough starting point for either approach to be viable with the material shown.
It’s a super competent example of world-building that shits on nearly everything else in the medium that’s tried to build a sprawling, detailed setting (cough Shinsekai Yori unconvincing cough) with more time and effort. Seeing characters mill about the world, with their thoughts and behavior very noticeably affected by (and affecting) their surroundings, and without exhaustively pointing it out, makes for a surprisingly palatable 23 minutes, given the volume of material crammed in.
The characters leave a lot to be desired in terms of development, but I assume that the episode’s smart world-building will allow for more room for growth in the future. Similarly, the nature of the mechs and school life could be expounded on reasonably, as could the full role of the new third sex—this doesn’t strike me as the kind of series that would have it as an arbitrary element. It’s a good sign that I definitely want more of this, even if the cliffhanger’s almost criminal. Not bad for the closest thing to stop-motion CG.