Sunday, 23 June 2019

"Years and Years" - BBC's answer to Black Mirror?


If that's what it's meant to be, it's a very pale comparison. I found this 6 episode mini-series hard to watch, with ridiculously stilted writing. It takes a very non-subtle approach to futurism, with awkward exposition of technology and societal changes.

I'm not sure if these failings were primarily due to aiming at a broader, older, BBC audience, or just harsh budget and time limitations. Its pacing dragged and felt rushed, in turn; totally unbelievable character behaviour in the opening episodes was blatantly there to move us between plot points.

The artistic value was bargain basement, in terms of the repeated, cacophonous drum music theme, like a mangling of the BBC news beats designed to be absolutely certain that the viewer should to terrified of the future. The culmination of the first episode bringing that to a cringingly awful crescendo, with the central family shouting incoherently at each other cut with pound land apocalypse scenes of asylum seekers rioting, or something, around a bonfire.

Which brings us to the actual main topic of the show - (illegal) immigrants and xenophobia. "Years and Years" is essentially a family drama smashed into the depressing main-stream news reporting of the last few years, dramatised in a semi-sterile BBC fashion, and sprinkled with hard lumps of cliche transhumanist tropes.


If sci-fi is valuable (in my opinion) for preparing society for major changes to it's norms, this series seems determined to prepare the UK for Farage as prime minister, via an unsubtle female equivalent character. It could be argued as a cautionary tale, but I think that (like all his press coverage) it's as much softening the blow, familiarising us.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Game of Thrones - In Conclusion

The biggest show on TV ever...? Certainly a notable part of 2010's popular culture. The concluding season had a whole lot of viewer hopes and expectations riding on it and there was no way it wouldn't be sad for most to see an end to it, any which way things went down.

But winter did finally come and it delivered in terms of epic battles and convincing CGI dragons, recapturing the awesome feeling of seeing the Lanister troop caravan getting napalmed in the previous season. Each of the 6 episodes was a 75 minute film in it's own right; the best of television now truly drawn level, or even surpassing cinema, for my liking.

But yeah, of course the writing wasn't great, in terms of plot and dialogue. The show runners had been left the unenviable task of rounding off GRRM's epic fantasy garden of characters, with only rough notes from him about where he has been aiming to take things.

The natural expectation is that the original author will finish the book series properly. But it sounds likely there's a good chance he'll struggle just as much. if he ever gets there at all: GRRM describes himself as a 'gardener', merely tending the seeds of the characters he's planned. Giving them so much agency that he's struggled to get them where they need to go for the plot - Daenerys being waylaid in Meereen a symptom of this.

D&D certainly made substantial compromises to bring things to a deliberate ending. Even with many minor characters and huge elements of the world entirely ignored (like religion and the whole of Essos), season 8 still feels very rushed. Major turning points are so compressed as to be frustratingly unbelievable and stepping stones in key character development are skipped over, making the shape of their arc unrecognisable and actions unconvincing.

Writing quality as seasons progressed (popular meme).

I felt they could have done with about 2 additional series, in place of the last 3 episodes, to have everything make sense. I guess they felt this would have stretched their weak writing even thinner, viewer figures doping off as a result and hurting the appetite for the spin-off shows.

Having watched a few videos and read a few articles about the this last season, here's a regurgitation of their most salient points, mixed in with the biggest issues I had. Huge spoilers ahead, of course!

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Why the Thanos plot is dangerous in real life (Infinity War)

Review:

I liked the movie. It did a really great job of bringing together all the accumulated characters and story arcs in a meaningful and satisfying way. Great fight scenes. Implausibility only becoming physically painful in the scene with stellar re-ignition via elbow grease.

The movie's most notable success was subverting expectations by making the genocidal big-bad into an empathetic and rational protagonist. In fact, the central protagonist of the movie.



The problem:

Thanos' plan, through the whole Avengers timeline, is to wield the combined potency of all the 'infinity stones' to wipe out half the population of the universe in an instant.

His motivation for this is to save all civilisations from implosion via resource depletion, brought on by over-population. As happened to his home world, after he personally failed to convince them to randomly cull themselves.

It doesn't really matter that this is a stupid plot mechanism, in that...

(a) Caveman or medieval civilisations, elsewhere, aren't in any danger of exhausting planetary resources. Maybe we should assume he only culled human level, globalised civilisations. (But then also, what about the various, seemingly stable societies we see in Guardians and Thor?)

(b) Clearly a one-time cull is only going to delay the inevitable by a couple of generations (if it is inevitable).

... It's made to work in the movie. There is suspension of disbelief.

The dangerous part is that the only reason this plan is presented as undesirable is the killing itself. "Murder = evil" is such a universally evocative idea that no one can avoid making that the main counter-argument.

But that's not enough in reality, where the ends tend to justify the means: we have large, expensive organisations dedicated to making and utilising weapons to kill potential threats to our civilians and nations.

When we, as humans, feel our lives are threatened, we tend to acquiesce to amoral measures. In the last decade, nationalist xenophobia has been fuelled by increasing financial and physical hardships on individuals. (Not mattering that this is primarily from unrelated, rising wealth inequality.) This collective sentiment has already enabled callous right-wing/authoritarian politicians to implement horrible policies that would normally have been seen as too inhumane.

With further, deeper economic crashes seeming ever more pressing (in the West), the tale of woe so far could easily be eclipsed, in terms of increased suffering catalysing far further reaching humanitarian disasters, even war, etc.

Add to this ferment the popular notion of global over-population, with such bastions of scientific authority as Sir David Attenborough pushing discussion of the need for population reduction.

When bellies are empty and people are terrified, maybe a little genocide can slide, if it's helpful in the grand scheme of things...



Why it's wrong headed - because it won't work!:

Morality, even in the extreme, is malleable. Practicalities, not so much.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

"Avogadro Corp" by William Hertling

From the cover's tag line "The Singularity is closer than it appears" I expected this book would be a bit pat - aimed perfectly at my interests, as per this blog's focus. It certainly was very pat. Entirely straight forwards and linear in it's plot structure, with overly plain language and cardboard characters prone to converse in totally unrealistic exposition.

This book is basically a long form best guess at how a very early technological Singularity might be kicked off, via the accidental creation of AI. "Avogadro" would probably have read "Google" if not for the trademark issue - that is literally the company described, in every detail. As such the story is unimaginative. Yet it is still unbelievable in the amount of contrivances it throws in, to start the plot rolling.

The behaviour of characters is often uncanny, too - although this may be down to writing for brevity, without the author having the deft wordsmith skills of the likes of Charles Stross (let alone Banks).

To be fair, it was easy reading, for me, with short chapters and good pacing - I actually finished it (first one this year!). I'm considering going forwards onto his sequels, except the first chapter excerpt name drops both "Gibson" and "Stross" (as future phone handset models). Ick; clearly the author's influences are near perfectly aligned with my own, here, but his hat  tips are ugly AF.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Great sci-fi TV: "The Expanse" and "Altered Carbon"

I thought it would make a change of pace to break my run of rant reviews on bad/terrible sci-fi (despite having a couple more of those in hand *cough* "Lost in Space" *cough*). These two shows were great entertainment and gave me hope of more to come!

The Expanse - Season 3:

I really wasn't very fussed about the previous season of The Expanse (be the my own fault or bad pacing or direction on their part, I'm not sure). But this one was a joy to watch, even more so than I remember of S1. So I'm actually really glad that Amazon are picking it up after SyFy cancelled it.

The first half of S3 was very compelling and rolled along so smoothly, wrapping up all the character threads and solar political tensions from S2 very satisfyingly, it was pretty much perfect. Then rebounding into a new chapter (presumably a different book of source material) for the second half.

This felt a little more rushed and rough in places, but the plot finally graduated from pure solar system politics to grander scale space opera, albeit with those 3 established factions (and characters) along for the ride. Thematic echos of Clarke's later "2001" series novels (with dead character(s) re-incarnated as tool in a mysterious alien artefact), Reynold's "Revelation Space" (in the tense run up to the encounter inside the 'station') and maybe Baxter's "Raft", at a push (modified physical limits in a pocket universe).

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Two mediocre new anime series: "A.I.C.O. Incarnation" and "B - The Beginning"

I watched these simultaneously on Netflix, an episode of each a day, narrowly avoiding getting too bored of either to continue. So I thought I throw them together in a blog review, seeing as neither is quite worth a whole post.

Don't get me wrong, both have some unique styling and appeal. But A.I.C.O. was overly strung out -  if you find it's outro-sequence dull, then don't expect to be riveted by the pace and direction the remaining episodes. While both were less clever than they wanted to be.


A.I.C.O. Incarnation [Spoilers]:

It wins points for having a female lead, for a change, instead of the usual generic young male foil. But she's horrendously demure and half soaked. Plus, there's an utterly excessive amount of sharp intakes of breath from the voice acting: So much shock, so many little embarrassments, so STOP! PLEASE!


The "burst" concept has a cool ring of singularity (or the "spike" in Quantum Thief trilogy). And this has a cool opening sequence, with retrieval agents in trim spacesuits that utilise roller blades for nippy traversal of a futuristic built environment, apparently overrun by Tetsuo's overgrown arm (my little Akira reference, there). The upright palanquin style APCs with two wheeled legs are chic, as is the bigger tank. But these elements all get terribly overused, as the episodes grind their way linearly up the river of nano-engineered flesh run awry.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Why Ghost in the Shell 2017 was terrible

I was a big fan of the 1995 movie and two anime series (Stand Alone Complex), and I previously made a whole big post speculating about the casting for the major in this live action version. I had my concerns for putting Scarlet in the roll, but was somewhat hopeful. However, the issues ending up being more all-encompassing than these...

The movie aped as many superficial elements as possible, names and visuals, from the previous works, to collage a compelling trailer for fans. But it ended up just parading them around somewhat like a psychopathic stalker in the clothes of your significant other (having kidnapped you both), expecting you to love them.

None of the meaning carried over, just generic Hollywood twaddle underneath. The original movies and series were all about complex, subtle thinky material. Not female Robocop - to which it was much closer to that in substance.

The major's characterisation was totally antithetical - from being an impossibly strong, stoic, super-intelligent woman, so much so in the 1995 movie that it's ambiguous as to weather she may be entirely artificial. To this 2017 version where she's an emotional murder machine, socially isolated, with no real agency, who just tumbles along as a victim, rather than always being step ahead of everyone else.

Also, in the original her origin story is important. Important for always being mysterious and barley ever alluded too, building her mystique (explored more in the 2nd Gig, although never entirely explicit). Whereas in this movie we see Johanson's clearly biological brain, in the opening shot.


Thursday, 24 May 2018

"Ascension" [2014]

This mini-series starts out somewhat like "Twin Peaks" [1990] on a generation ship in space: a revered dead girl, with a dark secret and mystical overtones.

There's problematic child acting and an exploitation of Cylon lady's apparently nudity contract. But it was the sheer unbelievably of the setting which almost stopped me at the first episode. (But I was bored and struggling for Netflix inspiration.)

To imagine that a 600 soul ship, complete with farm animals, was launched into deep space concurrently with the first moon missions is orders of magnitude more ridiculous than conspiracy theories denying the landings.

Putting that much mass into orbit would take hundreds of Elon's BFRs (so still decades away), before you even figure out a means of propulsion that has apparently given them 1g acceleration 'gravity' for 50 years... (We're no where near even theoretical solution for that, to this day.)


But there's a twist, come episode 2 that turns all that on it's head, and makes the show even dumber...
[Spoilers below.]


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

UK Election 2017 - Why we need Corbyn's Labour (but won't get it)


Blog Post Contexts Index:

➤ Setting the Scene

...WHY CORBYN'S LABOUR NEEDS TO WIN:
➤ Inequality
➤ Xenophobia
➤ Economic stimulus
➤ Housing
➤ Shift focus towards environmental issues
➤ Stabilising financial markets
➤ Towards a Universal Basic Income (UBI)
➤ Positive Money (creation)
➤ Brexit
➤ Voting Conservative doesn't even benefit *anyone's* financial self interest
➤ Ill gotten gains
➤ Ironic hypocrisy
➤ The UK's Sanders
➤ Gentler kinder politics
➤ Think of the children
➤ Life or death (or exacerbated disability)
➤ Terrorist Attacks
➤ "1984" isn't an instruction manual!

WHY CORBYN WON'T WIN:
➤ Not enough time!
➤ Biased press (the right wing legacy filter bubble)
➤ Memetics
➤ Thought free
➤ Personal appearances
➤ Lies and dirty tricks
➤ Censorship
➤ Gagging
➤ Gerrymandering
➤ Voter suppression
➤ Non-voters (in general)
➤ Party funding
➤ Dark money
➤ Dark ads and big data (I.e. the Facebook factor)
➤ Polls
➤ Committed to the big lie
➤ Terrorism
➤ Rained off
➤ Not mentioned, but not overlooked

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT (SPECULATION):
➤ Tory majority
➤ Hung parliament

➤ Setting the Scene:

I've never voted Labour. Historically I have decried the traditional right vs left (Conservative vs Socialist) tug of war, in UK politics. It has ignored the liberal axis of debate - the need to protect the individual, our liberties (which have been ignored or actively trampled) and democracy itself. Hence railing for the Liberal Democrats in many previous elections (including back in 2010). But our politics has drifted so dangerously far to the right, now, that I feel a sizeable socialist swing is currently what's most desperately needed.

Also, the national Lib Dem party currently still resembles a smoking crater in the ground, having (unfairly) received all the blame and none of the credit for 5 years of relatively stable, but austere, government in coalition with  the dominant Tories. While the Greens (for whom I voted in 2015), are in no position to swing things (due to our hopeless electoral system), resorting to valiant tactical efforts, stepping aside to support other progressive parties, regardless.

Condensed summary of the Labour manifesto (by @LabourEoin, also here). 

Under Ed Miliband's lukewarm leadership in the 2015 election, the Labour manifesto promised an uninspiring flavour of austerity-lite, having been painted into a corner by our right-wing press and their pet government's dominant (though bogus) 'paying off the national credit card' narrative.

Thankfully, this time, there's a very stark difference between team red and blue. Labour finally crawling out from the shadow of Thatcherism, after the pleasantly surprising result of their internal leadership election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. It was pretty miraculous, given the many interventions from high profile 'Blairite' party members (and the media), branding him as unelectable. Who were bizarrely proposing that the party failed to prevent David Cameron's Tories gaining a full majority due to Labour not being 'centrist' enough.

The 2 years since has seen almost non-stop infighting, with the legacy 'New Labour' guard, refusing to back their new leader, attempting a coop and forcing a second leadership election that Corbyn subsequently won, again, with a large majority of votes. This, despite internal manoeuvres aiming to shut out his ground swell of supports from voting (by banning new members from recent months and, perversely, levying a new fee).

This mirrored the frustratingly outrageous shenanigans in the run up to the 2016 US presidential election, within the democratic party, when Bernie Sanders was stupidly shut out of the running by the party establishment in favour Hillary Clinton. Despite him polling far better against Trump. Of course this lead to the death of real hope (for me anyway) and, of course, the disastrous result.

So anyway, we're very lucky to have a candidate, here, who seems prepared to genuinely push back against some of the worst excesses of the neo-liberal consensus. Although, years of devastating press bias against him, fuelled by suicidal party infighting, means he has started from a massive disadvantage. But with Labour having shrunk the Tory's 25 percentage point head-start, in the polls, down to (perhaps) as little as 3%, there is now arguably hope for change. And this is...

...WHY CORBYN'S LABOUR NEEDS TO WIN:

➤ Inequality:

Despite the global 'occupy' protests of 2011 being a distant memory, wealth inequality has only worsened here since. Ongoing cuts and pay freezes have held the majority back, while quantitative easing (QE) has pumped huge amounts of money upwards, inflating the assets of the already wealthy. (In addition to the usual factors still ticking along.)

In 2015 Greece's radical left alliance, the 'Syriza' government, bravely attempted to battle the brutally crushing austerity handed down to them by the EU (ultimately capitulating), as their central banks effectively laundered the Eurozone debts through the country. I blogged at length about this, siting the writings of Yanis Varoufakis, and tying in many other aspects of global macro-economics, finance, debt, etc.

Must of the Western world seems to have, in fact, exacerbated inequality, rather than redressing it. Obama's initially hopeful stimulus went some distance, but he was thoroughly shut down by endless dirty tricks by the Republican dominated congress for the rest of his 6 years.


➤ Xenophobia:

I think the rise of right-wing, anti-immigration sentiment (that fuelled Brexit, for example) is a direct result of this economic squeeze on the population's living standards. At risk of being overly reductive, I imagine this link stemming from an evolutionary instinct for tribes of hunter-gathers to disperse into smaller groups when the pickings are lean (ensuring that at least some survive).

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Black Mirror - Season 3 - Episode Reviews and Discussion

I really like Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror anthologies. It seems exceptionally rare to get high concept sci-fi TV shows these days (good old Star Trek and X-Files long gone). Sure, the sci-fi setting is the Hollywood big budget movie genre default, but those are entirely different beasts: all explosions, or at least relatively little risk in terms of imagination. While space sci-fi TV series are generally quite campy, fairly low concept or very strung out with filler.

Series 3 has been up exclusively on Netflix since 21 Oct 2016.
All the Black Mirror episodes are near future fiction, explicitly examining technologies that might well soon exist and how that could change societal realities. So are generally 'hard sci-fi'. Many can also be taken as commentary on present day phenomena, particularly social media, examining our new normals via the safety of satire. As such I consider the show to be really valuable for potentially catalysing public discourse and personal comprehension of our rapidly changing world.

So I'm gratified that the show has been a success. In fact the performance of the first 2 series on Netflix was so good it convinced the new (self styled) global TV channel/network to steal the show entirely away from it's Channel 4 home (in the UK), commissioning this new season as one of their first directly funded projects.

This season perhaps wasn't quite plumb the depths of distaste or bleakness previously achieved. There episodes range greatly in overall mood, as well as themes. Humor also sometimes interjected with the grim. So overall very entertaining.

Episodic breakdowns below: me opinions and discussion on themes and related issues, with some spoilers further through...


Episode 1 - "Nosedive"

In 2016 we already quantify how much we like everything online. Amazon and Ebay sellers don't make sales unless they the top ranked seller, so they plead for customer reviews and quirm painfully under any non 5-star feedback. We seek approval from others on social media, or at least measure the worth of our creative output by how many likes, +1s, or upvotes it gets. The prestige alone is very motivating. But then we've long had more substantial metrics attached to our person: credit worthiness ratings, and the biggest one of all - bank balance.

So it shouldn't take much imagination to consider the marginal step in technology and society that would create a reality where everyone has a rating floating next to them in augmented reality, such that one need not even evaluate their physical appearance, accent, etc, to get a precise read on their place in society. Then why not have these rankings determined by each other? After all it should encourage and reward being an upstanding member of society...

This piece explores some downsides of that hypothetical development, while lampooning familiar idiosyncrasies of our current time. Like sharing photos of carefully presented, supposedly casual little meals, with twee tag lines. The millions who follow the fake, staged, perfect life styles portrayed by Instagram gurus.
"You have got a solid popularity arc here..." - Screenshot montage.
But really, it stays quite safe, offsetting the dystopian nightmare of this menace by sticking with a surreally clean, modernist, pastel coloured theme throughout. The walled off area guarded by private police, accessible only to high rated individuals (seen towards the end), is a little nod to how dark our present already is. Arguably worst, with the great popularity of gated communities (for example, in the US); society is divided broadly by race and neighbourhood of upbringing.

The story arc spells out how easy it might be to lose this sci-fi social ranking, with little hiccups easily magnified and snowballing into potential disaster. The impossible difficulty of climbing back up only gently referencing our horrendous problems with low and falling social mobility - unprivileged virtually doomed from birth.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

James Lovelock (of 'Gaia' fame) going strong at 97, but is he right to call it quits on saving the planet...?

Screenshot of referenced Guardian article.
In response to this article in the Guardian online:

Yeah, when any headline attempts to be scary by talking of catastrophic climate change consequences by 2100, I personally tune out. All bets are off anything past mid century (see "The Singularity is Near" [2005])... Unless one believes advances in computing/AI and other information technologies are all about to come to an abrupt halt. Well within this century the game will have changed so drastically that additional atmospheric carbon will just be a handy resource for nanotechnological mass fabrication, or an irrelevance.

So I personally identify with much of Lovelocks irreverence, here, regarding the meaning of climate change. Particularly the fantastically flawed ideological foundation of the Greens, which may be badly in need of a rude wakeup call: expecting anything remotely like a return to nature and balance to be plausible?! Anything less than full steam ahead exponential technological progress would be like dabbing the motorbike brakes at the point of daredevil jump takeoff. Steady state 'sustainability' is civilisational suicide. (But as a political party they've otherwise had the best policies I've seen on offer in recent times.)

I don't think that building new nuclear is viable stop-gap anymore, though, we've as good as missed that juncture already. Perhaps a big push in 2004, back when he wrote this linked article: Nuclear power is the only green solution. But by mid 2020s, when the UK's Hinkley point B comes online, it's probably going to seem even more overpriced and ill fitting. (Against the background of plummeting clean energy generation and storage installation costs.)

Coving "100 sq miles of the Sahara in solar panels" as a monolithic solution to all EU's electricity needs is obviously just a mental figure for imagination's sake, so presumably it's just off-handed remark to talk of it being too "easy for terrorists to go and bugger it up". Obvious there's a several fold efficiency benefit to that latitude and local whether. But smaller scale, more localised production will, I expect, win out, in small part because of the security/stability benefits. (Given PV price efficiency continues to improve to the point of making locational efficiency secondary.)

Spiraling out: animated gif, from here.
"A timeline of Earth's average temperature"
XKCD comic 1732.
What does worry me most about climate change is the "20 years before it hits the fan" part (which would be 12 years now, as of 2016), with regards to the truly mass migrations this will force and how politically catastrophic that's likely to be. That is, given how divisive the relatively small number (few million) from Syria, and the regional cluster-fuck, have been for Europe thus far (playing into the Brexit vote). How much war is there going to be?

A definitive end to the 'long peace' (since WWII) is a scary prospect. Even before considering all the (tactical ) nuclear weapons lying about. The horrendous suffering for countless humans (quite possibly even those of us currently living in complacency) is an aside that Lovelock's enthusiasm for the big picture fails to register. So too here, pretty much - ultimately, what matters most is only how much conflagrations might derail technological progress (or wipe us out entirely).

Last year, Venkatesh Rao wrote (in The Atlantic) of how a sufficiently coordinated, effective response to climate change would require a literal war footing, with the kind of personal sacrifice of living standards and freedoms that has previously involved. As for it being "so much cheaper to air-condition the cities [than the whole planet]" (Lovelock Guardian interview 2012) - sure, I love that kind of enthusiasm for minimal effort adaptable ingenuity as the kind of inevitable compromise outcome. ) But where will we be growing the vast majority of our crops for the next few decades? That long tail-off before true factory (vertical) farming production scales up enough? (Or more radical solutions kick in - like Kurzweil's wholesale replacement of human digestive organs.)

Finally, talking about "robots taking over" only in the context of Earth makes very little sense. We squishy, slow meatbags are already aiming at interplanetary colonization, starting in a decade (well, you know, that one guy has certainly been saying so this week). So the meager terrestrial resources that 'robots' who think "one million times faster" that us might command down the bottom of this gravity (an empire of dirt) are likely to be a pretty niche concern by comparison to what already floating around out there...

Sunday, 25 September 2016

On: "Knights of Sidonia" Anime (and Related Current Affairs)

"Knights of Sidonia" totes plenty of whizz-bang space battles with giant mecha suits piloted by teenagers repeatedly fighting incomprehensible space monstrosities that attempt to tentacle humanity to death.... But! Push past the facade of these overused anime tropes and be rewarded by a rich, engaging space opera.



Summary - Components of This Well Assembled Pastiche:

There's a strong 'hard sci-fi' undercurrent carrying the story along and underpinning a decent amount of attention to detail.

Then there's teenage awkwardness, of course, and tensions in a kind of high school-ish setting (of the pilot academy). The socially inept protagonist, chosen-one (Nagate), who alone can pull the joysticks of the legendary armour suit to it's full potential... But thankfully it's never as paralytically morose as NGE (Neon Genesis Evangelion).

It is respectably gritty, but not like the gratuitous gore of Akira. It has decent depictions of the brutal suddenness of war. This is brought home via the perspective of sympathetic characters, mostly very young, like the unlucky soldiers of real wars. But, of course, the fantastical space setting and perversely monstrous threats make it psychologically gentler (safer) for an audience to engage with emotionally.
Yuhata Midorikawa's different faces.

It also avoids being too bleak via juxtaposing the relatively low key social tribulations of the pilots, burgeoning on adulthood. Prime example of this is Yuhata. She swings between command responsibilities, gambling everyone's lives, to then be the star-struck, boy obsessed, teen girl. (Also gluing together geeky toy models kits in her spare time.)

There's a definite 'harem' sub-genre element running throughout, adding lighter notes, with support character developement and romantic intrigue. With three main contenders for Nagate's attention, there are few other females encountered who don't also make a play at some point, brood over him or have a twinkle of possible interest. These are mostly relatively subtle, making sense in context, since our protagonist is deliberately set up to be an inspirational hero who necessarily appeared mysteriously from no-where. An attractive combination, I suppose. But then this blank slate POV character with an open selection box of different flavoured lovers meshes rather neatly with the psyche of the core young-ish male demographic. Who would not love to imagine themselves as an overlooked darkhorse hero themselves? (If only they had their moment to shine or step out of themselves!)

Residential interior of Sidonia - caricature of the 
dense, hilly urbanisation of 'spaceship Japan'?
The flip side of all these female characters is that there are a whole lot of complex, strong female characters. In fact, they run the ship, from captain to XO, to commander, chief engineer, dorm mother, genius doctor/scientist. So, I suppose that even if this is basically down to the Manga artist/author enjoying drawing the female form more, then so be it. The result is good overall, although the bias towards showing only female communal 'photosynthesis' room scenes feels a little exploitative.

Also thrown into the pot are the unavoidably ubiquitous anime tropes of instant karma for (accidental) male lechery, always receiving a bloody nose, usually quite directly off a fiery female. Plus an alpha dog bully antagonist with long, grey/white hair and a massive family inheritance. But even he has an interesting story arc.

Finally, the art style is seamless 3D CGI. It's more noticeable in the space action scenes, when things look a little bit Tron - monochrome with neon highlights. But then it blends into a more rustic feel while inside sidonia's city spaces, with familiar cartoon stylings. The characters faces generally appear unnoticeably traditional. There's a retro aesthetic flavour, too, with the uniform outfits: almost storm trooper-esq, with stuffed up gear. There's some disconcertingly high flung, pointy boobage going on, but we'll put down to genetic engineering and/or reduced gravity, and move swiftly on...

The marriage of high tech space mecha, moving city(ies) of giant rusty pipes and cthulhu-ish space monsters is similar to, though far less gordy than, 2013's "Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet".


Original Manga vs Anime:

The anime appears to follow the original manga (comic) publications very closely. Almost shot for shot, with only some minor sequence juggling and tweaks here and there. So while I'm talking about the Knights of Sidonia (KoS) anime here, most comments apply to both.

Given that the manga has concluded already, it's a little tempting now, after watching season 2, to just read the final third (volumes 44-78, or thereabouts), rather than wait while the animation studio is apparently finishing up with a different project. It would save totally forgetting the plot details a second time.

But the video format is more compelling and I often struggle more to figure out what's supposed to be happening in the strips. It's a far more mentally tiring and different experience. At only 20 minutes per episode and a dozen per season, it's probably almost as quick for me to watch as read and digest the corresponding 20 odd manga volumes with 30 or so pages a piece. Plus you get to hear the cute Japanese voices and groovy theme tunes.