Knights of Sidonia: Love Woven in the Stars arrives a good several meters away from the heels of the anime adaptation’s second season, which finished airing over six years ago. That’s nearly as long as the decade timeskip in the story! Despite that gap, the film acts as a direct sequel, picking up character arcs and plot points right where the last episode left off. Therefore, I have to first and foremost recommend that any Sidonia-curious viewers either watch, read, or otherwise refresh themselves on the story so far. The film makes a few efforts to bring the audience back up to speed, but given the series’ large cast of characters and frequently byzantine lore, it’s better to take this matter into one’s own hands.h7wju9Olg7k
While the six-year interval between sequels might be hard on those of us with limited long-term memory capacity, it isn’t without its boons. The film’s staff more or less carries over from the prior seasons, which means Polygon Pictures are back, and they’ve leveled up their rig game a lot in the interim. Love Woven in the Stars opens with a quick action scene that shines with a polish the TV series never achieved, and I have to imagine that it’s there to show viewers how far the studio has come. It’s still not the best anime CGI I’ve ever seen, but it’s a far cry from janky. The film also just looks a lot crisper compared to its prequels. The palette uses colors more confidently, characters with faces emote more, characters with and without faces use body language more fluidly, and the dogfights get more ambitious. A change in composer is one of the more prominent staffing changes, with Shūji Katayama taking over in Noriyuki Asakura‘s stead. The score remains fine and appropriate, if unremarkable in its stereotypically orchestral space opera swells. Where the soundtrack stands out is in a rousing recapitulation of the first season’s opening song, and in the inclusion of two new songs from Capsule, including a banger of an end credits piece.
The film also retains the strengths I thought the TV series had, especially when it comes to adapting the idiosyncratic style of Tsutomu Nihei. His severe sense of scale is often used for horror, like when the Large Gauna Cluster incidentally disintegrates an entire moon on its way to attack Sidonia. But scale plays a role in the lighthearted moments as well—for example, when dealing with the awkward difference in size between Tsumugi and her friends. The austere whites and blacks of Nihei’s manga also translate excellently into the space battles, as well as the harshly industrial halls and shafts of Sidonia. The H.R. Giger-esque Gauna designs look plenty gnarly too, with the film introducing several new hominid horrors sculpted from alien placenta. Nihei’s style is probably too complex for an anime to ever fully emulate, but where it counts, Knights of Sidonia‘s art direction provides a reasonable approximation.
The story is littered with many small pacing problems and puzzling decisions, but as a whole, it definitely benefits from having a simple enough space opera structure. There’s a giant alien globule on the other side of the solar system, and Sidonia has to destroy it before it destroys them. Captain Kobayashi and her crew come up with a plan to beat the Gauna, Nagate and the other Knights pilot their Garde’s to battle the Gauna, and there are victories and casualties as heroism is tested in the fire of a literal star. Rinse and repeat. It’s a field day for fans of technobabble and bridge commands, but I could have done with a smidge less of each. The film’s zeal to show off its improved CGI techniques also renders some of the action scenes too busy to follow.
Where the story tends to stumble is in its many side- and subplots. The TV series’ coverage hinted at and introduced a lot of mysterious and conspiratorial elements, and the film addresses and concludes those threads to varying degrees of success. Ochiai is the most important of all of them, as we see the mad scientist’s century-long scheme to create an immortal Gauna shell for himself finally pay off. Yet, as a primary antagonist, he feels surprisingly undercooked for being in the oven for 100 years. The Gauna’s relationship to humanity—particularly the way they would replicate the pilots they’d kill and “haunt” their surviving comrades—is one of my favorite elements of Knights of Sidonia, because of all the thorny (and, occasionally, horny) consequences that it brings. Ochiai in Gauna form sees himself as a bridge between the two species, which would seem like a perfect opportunity for the series to more fully explore that question, but nothing much comes of it. In the end, Ochiai’s actions and motivations don’t stray far from a dollar store bad guy. That’s probably Love Woven in the Stars‘ biggest let-down.
I have other more minor quibbles with the plot and character progression, but they’re likely an inevitable consequence of trying to wrap up Sidonia in a single movie. Now, I still haven’t finished the manga myself, but based on where the second season ended, they’d need at least a full third season to adapt the remaining volumes. The film, instead, is touted to have a “brand new” story supervised by Nihei. Obviously, I can’t compare what happens here to the manga, but it definitely feels like quite a bit of content and context was either excised or compressed to make the movie work. While I think the overall structure of the film does work fairly well, I wish elements like the immortals’ past friendship and Kunato’s redemption arc got a little more space. And this is a very small thing, but the new generation of Gauna-gouging greenhorns barely do anything for the movie. There’s no other reason for the timeskip to be there—every other character and relationship picks up exactly where season 2 left off—so why have the timeskip in the first place?
I am, however, quite thankful for the moments when Love Woven in the Stars allows itself to breathe in spite of its circumstances. For me, the series’ best quality has always been its brazen courage to be as inopportunely goofy as often as possible. Nagate’s friends can’t stop dying, but he also amasses a miniature harem, including the genderfluid Izana and the giant Gauna-human hybrid Tsumugi. Pilots suit up to face an incomprehensibly eldritch alien enemy, but not before there’s a quick gag about space suit catheters. There’s a talking bear with genuine pathos. This is the stuff that separates Knights of Sidonia from other space operas.
To that end, the “love” part of Love Woven in the Stars blossoms out of the unlikely yet undeniably adorable affection between Nagate and Tsumugi. I won’t mince words: Tsumugi is the best character in Knights of Sidonia. She’s 50 feet tall, she’s an alien-human hybrid, she’s a sentient organic weapon, she often hangs out in the form of a large phallic tentacle, and she has the exact mannerisms of a high school anime girl. Despite the titan-sized absurdity, the film develops their romance in entirely genuine and charming ways. Both characters deliver tearjerking moments in each other’s literal and/or figurative arms, and their date night together is the film’s highlight, recontextualizing Nagate’s mech from a weapon of war into a vehicle for affection. In a moment that is sure to be immediately screencapped and tweeted as soon as the film hits streaming services, Nagate also proudly assures Tsumugi that it doesn’t matter if she’s 15 meters taller than him – he still loves her all the same. I hope we can all be inspired by their example.
I wouldn’t call Love Woven in the Stars the best conclusion the Knights of Sidonia could have received, but ultimately, it balances action and the series’ signature idiosyncrasies in a way that should satisfy audiences already invested in the anime. While I can’t deny I’m a little sore about the unfulfilled potential of the story and its themes, I also can’t deny I had a good time diving back into its strange sci-fi vision of the future.
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