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Kaina of the Great Snow Sea is dark sci-fi with a softer environmental twist

Kaina of the Great Snow Sea is dark sci-fi with a softer environmental twist


The Crunchyroll series is the latest anime from Tsutomu Nihei, the creator of Blame! and Knights of Sidonia.

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Fans of Tsutomu Nihei — the creator of manga and anime series like Blame! and Knights of Sidonia — generally know what to expect from his works. There’s usually a sliver of humanity living perilously in some dark future, an alien or technological force they have to overcome, and all kinds of incredible ships, weapons, and architecture for design nerds to ogle over. They’re the kinds of bleak sci-fi tales that can make you feel small and insignificant. But his latest, called Kaina of the Great Snow Sea, softens things up a little bit.

The series, which is on Crunchyroll, once again sees Nihei team up with Polygon Pictures, the animation studio that worked on the Knights of Sidonia series and Blame! film (along with my personal favorite episode of Love, Death, and Robots). It takes place in a world dotted with towering trees that support a sprawling membrane-like canopy. Below them, on the surface, is a seemingly endless sea covered in snow. Kaina lives in what may be the only surviving village left in the canopy; he’s also the only young person left, and the aging villagers worry about what will happen to him when they inevitably die. Water is running low, and Kaina hunts giant bugs so everyone can survive on their meat and eggs.

What they don’t know is that, way down on the surface, small countries still exist, living isolated from each other at the base of the trees. Unfortunately, water is running low there, too, and one country, armed with a fleet of warships, is ransacking the rest for their supplies. But a legend of a sage in the skies has persisted, and one princess decides to hitch a ride to the canopy in search of it, inevitably pulling the sheltered Kaina into a global conflict.

I’ve watched the first four episodes so far, and while the story is interesting, as with most Nihei creations, the real highlight is the world. Kaina of the Great Snow Sea is kind of like a mashup of the aquatic postapocalypse of Waterworld and the environmental takeover from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, all rendered with Nihei’s very particular style of hard science fiction. That means lots of cool survival gadgets, some very intimidating warships and armor, and a sense of scale that reduces people to tiny dots in a massive landscape.

What’s different is the focus on nature. Gone is the self-replicating city of Blame! or the self-contained space arks from Knights of Sidonia. They’re replaced by a world where plants and animals are at the forefront. Humans are only able to survive because of the trees, which house an entire ecosystem of mostly insect life, forcing a natural synergy between people and the world around them. (Well, except for the country terrorizing everyone else.) There are even adorable “snow horses” that people ride across the great sea.

I’m curious where things go, but I’m mostly excited to see more of this world in future episodes: there’s still a big mystery under the snow that I can’t wait to explore.

Kaina of the Great Snow Sea premieres on Crunchyroll on January 11th.