Samurais, zombies, steampunk aesthetic, a retro look to the animation… Jesus, what are you trying to do to me? But wait, it gets better.Our story takes place in an alternate universe where the fear of Kabane, ravenous zombies protected by an ironclad heart, have driven people to hole up within “stations.” Stations are more or less heavily fortified cities designed to keep the zombies at bay. As you might imagine, fear rules these people’s lives. When they travel from station to station aboard armored trains, they must nevertheless strip all of their clothes off when they reach a checkpoint. Thereafter, inspectors will examine their bodies for bite marks. And what happens should anyone find a bite mark? According to our hero Ikoma, you’re supposed to be placed in isolation, and kept under watch. But put guns in the hands of scared individuals, and what do you suppose they’ll do? Shoot first, ask questions later: “He died… Which means… He wasn’t a Kabane?”
Nevermind a gun. Just give people power over others, and they will do anything they can to preserve that inequality. When Ikoma questions Lord Yomokawa, the latter has our hero placed in jail. According to Yomokawa, Ikoma might be a Kabane, but we know better. Fear is just too effective. When people are scared, you can convince them of anything. It’s all for the greater good! Lord Yomokawa turns to his daughter and says he’s just defending order. What a load of crock. Sure, the bushi are meant to protect people from the Kabane, but it’s the old “Who watches the Watchmen?” dilemma all over again. Take the examination process mentioned above; even children are not exempt, but if you’re a guest of the Lord, you get to bypass the dehumanizing process. To nobody’s surprise, the elites don’t have to live by the very rules they’ve set. Well, our hero Ikoma will have none of it. In his own words, “you cannot lose your humanity to fear.” If I didn’t know any better, I would think that the anime was trying to seduce me.
I would love that, actually. I would love for Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to stand for something. It would be amazing if it turns out that the anime is an allegory for the injustice happening all around us. Y’know, how we allow fear to give way to fascism. How we’d rather isolate ourselves in the relative safety of our walled, gated communities than face our problems head on. How we bow our heads to the corrupt, because we are unwilling to fight for ourselves or each other. Better safe than dead, we say, as guards haul our friends and neighbors away one by one. “But E Minor, they’re up against flesh-eating zombies!” Yeah, and that’s precisely the point. Despite this, our hero manages to keep his ideological purity. It’s extremely courageous. He’s even lost a family member to the Kabane, but he won’t give way to fear. On the other hand, we sure as hell don’t face monstrous zombies in our day-to-day lives, and yet we give in to fear all the goddamn time. How many Americans have died to terrorists in the past year? And yet, what is our primary concern? Is it the heart attack-inducing food that we eat? Shh, it’s terrorism.
But y’know, this is just me on a soapbox. The themes in the episode struck a chord with me, so I just couldn’t help it. I had to go on my semi-unrelated tangent. Certainly, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri has a message; it’s too obvious to miss. But is it about our persecution of refugees in the modern age? Probably not. You just shouldn’t let fear dehumanize you, blah blah blah. But we’re just still gonna kill these zombie fuckers with sick, steampunk-inspired weapons. Right through the heart, baby! Also, if I step back and honestly reflect, I have to admit the story is a little too on the nose. It’s practically bludgeoning the audience over the head. The execution here is not exactly subtle. The bushi? Fascist jerks with sticks up their asses. Our hero? A little unkempt and wild, but also righteous and resourceful! I also wonder if we have two potential love interests for our hero. On the one hand, you have Ayame who is dripping with tradition and propriety. On the other hand, Mumei’s unpredictable, quirky, and a little tomboyish. But hey, how can you say no to a girl who can literally kick a zombie’s head through the uprights?
All in all, I don’t expect Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to deliver a religious experience, but for what it’s worth — and to be fair, this is only one episode — this feels like the most entertaining show that the spring season will likely have to offer. I still have to watch Kiznaiver, so we’ll see, but it’s been a pretty sorry slate of shows so far. As you can see from the preceding paragraph, I certainly have my qualms about the anime. But y’know, after seven years of blogging, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever find that one perfect show that ticks every one of my qualifications. So far, this one is not bad, the animation is pretty nice to look at, and if all else fails, at least there’s going to be a lot of zombie-killing action.
- I’m pretty neutral on gore. It has its place, of course, but I’m not thrilled just to see blood splattering everywhere. Still, this moment made me cringe, and that’s worth something.
- If you are bitten, you have to use some sort of suicide bag on yourself. It’s a small twist on the seppuku thing.
- Characters like Mumei can come too dangerously close to being a manic pixie dream girl, but at least that beats whatever the Ayame archetype. I can only feel it putting me to sleep. Of course she’s into archery!
- Like most people, I don’t like watching kids suffer. This was just heart-breaking.
- How nice of the zombies to have a big, glowing target on their chest. This way, you know where to aim.
- So if you just stop the initial infection from reaching the brain, you’re good to go? Well, that’s nice… The scene kinda makes me think auto-erotic asphyxiation, though.
- I actually don’t care for steampunk at all. Don’t hate it, but I don’t get what the big fuss is either.