I see tons and tons of anime every day, every month and every year. I try and keep as good a record as I can as to what I’ve seen and what needs to be reviewed, so I was flummoxed that I had not given a review on this show. Bad boy! Bad boy! “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress” (“Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri”) can be best described as ‘Snowpiercer meets Attack on Titan’, but that falls far short as to what goes on in this zombie show.
It is the Industrial Revolution in Japan and we still have samurai, so it’s about 1830 or so (It’s a guess; it could be later, but not into the 1850s). Some kind of weird, virulent virus has invaded Japan that transforms infected humans into Kabane (really, zombies) and it rapidly spreads. The Kabane are the worst kind of zombies there are: they are highly aggressive, surprisingly organized, quite fast (hate those ‘fast’ zombies!) and damn near impossible to kill.
Traditional methods do not fully work, although I didn’t really see a real attempt to blow them up or slice off their heads. They cannot be defeated unless their glowing heart, which is protected by a layer of iron, is pierced. Unfortunately, most melee weapons and the steam-pressure guns used by the soldiers are not very effective against them. It slows them down, but you need a really lucky shot to fell them.
On the island country of Hinomoto, people have built fortress-like “train stations” to shelter themselves from these creatures. People access the stations and transport wares between them with the help of armored steam locomotives that look more like battleships on wheels. One day, a train is hijacked by the Kabane and crashes into Aragane Station. The zombies overrun the city, creating panic, mayhem and death. You see, when you get bit, it takes about five or so minutes for you to become a zombie. You have to die before you transform, so you do not add to their ranks, so people have these ‘heart bombs’. You place this bag of explosives over the heart and pull the string. You die (almost) painlessly and then, you don’t convert. It’s a bit like changing your voter preference.
A young engineer called Ikoma (that’s him on the far left) uses the opportunity to test his anti-Kabane weapon, the piercing gun, which is more like a glorified nail gun. This means you have to place it RIGHT ON THE ZOMBIE’S CHEST! Crap, any closer to it and you’re dating. Although the test is a success (in that the zombie is now officially dead), he is infected in the process, although he manages to resist the virus and become a Kabaneri, a human-Kabane hybrid. Assisted by Mumei (“Nameless”; that’s her right at the point in the center), another Kabaneri who appears to help them, Ikoma and the other survivors of the station board the train Kōtetsujō and depart to seek shelter elsewhere, fighting the hordes of Kabane along the way.
They are aided and guided by Ayame Yomogawa (that well-dressed lass off of Mumei’s left). She is the eldest daughter of the Yomogawa family, which governs Aragane Station and who is supported by Kurusu (behind her in blue), a young Bushi who serves the Yomogawa family as Ayame’s personal bodyguard. Plus, we have the rest of the survivors who will try to make their way to Kongokaku, the capital of this land and the strongest stronghold of them all.
Not only do they have to fight these zombies, Ikoma and Mumei have to fight the prejudice of the people on the train, as they feel there is no difference between a Kabane and a Kabaneri, even those these two save the train, and its people, numerous times. However, there is more afoot than these Kabane. We have to worry about the political machinations that lurk underneath and the potentiality of a coup. People get swayed for all sorts of reasons, but getting killed is certainly a strong impetus to back the winning team, right?
One of the problem I have with zombie shows is that there are near endless fights with them and this show does suffer from that, but the sequences are handled in such a way that it doesn’t seem repetitive, although I am always surprised as to how strong and powerful the zombies become.
See! As they rip six-inch steel apart like it’s aluminum foil.
Gasp! When they take blow after blow and still fight on.
Stare! Regarding their vicious savagery as they give away the endings of films we haven’t seen yet.
No, not that last one. But it gets tiresome battling an implacable foe, with little to no hope for survival. You made it to the end of today, but what about tomorrow? One aspect of the show that must be noted is the hardware. The train stations are magnificent in their mechanical marvels. The machinery, when it is working, is wondrous to behold, as massive steel doors are opened, bridges are hoisted and the train itself moves out. A lot of effort was put into the texture of their world, even if some of the politics are a bit too one-dimensional. Still, it is a bold and aggressive approach to the story-telling and easily worth your time to watch. The genuine drawback is (for me at least), I could not take more than two episodes at a time. I feel that you may lose something with binge-watching, as you do need to catch your breath, as it were.
The ending is a tad too predictable, but the end goal has not been achieved, so expect another season.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 9 (Great atmosphere, standard characters)
Plot 8 (A nice take on the zombie tale)
Pacing 8 (Fight sequences can be draining on you)
Effectiveness 7 (Political aspect a bit flat)
Conclusion 7 (It reaches a ‘coupler point’, but hasn’t ended)
Fan Service 2 (A similar show would be “Okamisan”)
Overall 8 (Strong consistency in this epic)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. Don’t open the gates!