Koutetsujou no Kabaneri Ep. 2: Escape from zombie mountain

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The bromance between Ikoma and Takumi is amusing. It’s doubly amusing how Takumi is portrayed as this bland and harmless, slightly rotund fellow. We know he has some smarts. After all, it was his suggestion that helped Ikoma successfully develop his steam-powered gun. Still, I bet it’s safe to venture that Takumi probably doesn’t have any combat ability. He might be able to fend for himself somewhat, but compared to everyone else on the show, he’s not badass in the slightest. Unlike Mumei, he won’t be backflipping gracefully through the air. More importantly, being badass seems reserved for our hero despite his bespectacled status. Basically, Takumi functions the Samwise to Ikoma’s Frodo, i.e. loyal to the end. Perhaps his faith will be tested at times throughout the story — or maybe just in this episode — but I suspect Takumi will remain that lovable bro who will ultimately support our hero to the end, but even more importantly, he never usurp the latter. He’s completely nonthreatening, and as a result, a little bland as a result of it.

As for Mumei, she’s apparently a warrior goddess. Out of nowhere, she whips out a new outfit that involves a steam contraption on her back and two steam-powered guns. She’s partly armored up top, but then she’s also got a short skirt. Tactical matters aside, I’m not a big fan of her new look. In particular, although the face mask gives her almost a tribal look, it’s not visually appealing. But that’s neither her nor there. And even without the guns, Mumei’s perfectly capable of subduing the Kabane with her bare hands. She’s super fast, she can jump both great heights and lengths, and she has to be super strong as well despite her slight frame. It’s anime, though, so the distinct lack of musculature isn’t an issue whatsoever. Mumei’s only problem is her lack of stamina. She’s constantly keeping her eye on a clock, and when time runs out, she has to take a nap in order to recuperate. It’s as if her magic has run out. And I suppose that’s my biggest qualm with our heroine.

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Mumei feels out of place. She almost feels like she doesn’t belong in this universe. First, she’s too quirky for her own good. I couldn’t help but cringe as she sniffed at Ikoma in that cutesy way. Granted, she’s a Kabaneri, so that explains her powers. Granted, she’s probably felt different from everyone all her life, so that explains her personality. But it seems that her characterization goes beyond that. We’ve taken the ideas of steampunk, samurais, and zombies, then we smash them together into something a bit different from the anime norm. But with Mumei, it feels as though we’ve gone the extra step in order to inject this mahou shoujo strain into the mix. All that’s missing is the transformation scene. So the girl’s cute and precious, quirky and free-spirited, so on and so forth. Yes, she has sex appeal, and no, sex appeal isn’t necessarily bad. But the question is why is it necessary in this show? Mumei just sticks out like a sore thumb at the moment. As we learn about her past, let’s hope her character arc develops into something a little more meaty that we have now.

Moving on, Kurusu’s the embodiment of the samurai ideal. Duty, honor, order, law, et cetera, et cetera. You might even say he represents our social laws and customs. Maybe even our superego if you want to be all Freudian about it. As such, his character is limited in predictable ways. He’s brave, but not heroic. There’s nothing heroic about what he does to Ikoma. He’s got strength, but without any of the compassion. His dogmatic devotion to the values instilled in him makes him almost robotic. It’s an important characterization, because Kurusu draws an important contrast to the Kabane. As the story progresses, his character arc will develop him into a protagonist, but right now, he’s one of the antagonist. That he can speak is irrelevant. That he seems to be in control of his thoughts and actions is also irrelevant. He adheres so strongly to the virtues of duty, honor, order, law, etc, that you can reasonably argue that those like him are no different from the Kabane.

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The Kabane unthinkingly do one thing, and the Bushi seem to unthinkingly do another. The Kabane are perhaps animalistic in that they are a slave to their flesh-eating hunger, but the Bushi seem to be a slave to their very own ideals and teachings. So even though Kurusu can speak, he cannot reason. He does appear to visually and audibly struggle with the fact that Ikoma is saving their hides while he stands there and does nothing, but nevertheless, he continues to stand there and do nothing. From one standpoint, the Kabane and the Bushi are just on opposite ends of the spectrum. This is why Ayame’s father eventually shows up as a Kabane. It suggests that there’s a very fine line dividing these two worlds. That’s why our heroes have to necessarily exist between the two warring sides. Of course, we still see the humans as the good guys. We’re not quite that radical. No one’s preaching that we should start embracing the Kabane as one of our own. Still, the Bushi have a real existential problem to grapple with.

Ayame is, at the moment, understandably overwhelmed and frightened by the situation unfolding around her, but as I pointed out two weeks ago, she still maintains that air of propriety. She seems perfectly restrained as she is also bound by those social laws and customs that Kurusu embodies. Her outfit is immaculate. The strands of her hair are immaculate. Even her emotions are immaculate. An interesting moment unfolds between the two aforementioned characters. When the girl learns that her father has become a Kabane, Kurusu wanted to hide this painful fact from Ayame. You can imagine how truth –especially the ugly truth — compares to the notions of duty, honor, order, law, etc. When Ayame finally sees what her father has become, this feels like it should be the breaking point that shatters her resolve. She has had to flee from her home. Not only that, Ayame lacks the ability to save the very people who respect and revere her: “Ayame-san, you’re not much for war, are you? That’s why so many people die.”

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You can read this in a couple ways. If you want to be charitable to Ayame, then Mumei is simply pointing out that this is a war. As a result, if you’re not ready to fight a war, you will die in one. It’s practically common sense. On the other hand, you have to recall an exchange that occurs a bit earlier in the episode:

Some Dude: “Ayame-dono? How long are we going to wait here?! We have to head for the Kotetsujyo soon, or we won’t make it!”

Ayame: “But my father said to wait for his signal.”

Another Dude: “There won’t be a signal!”

Kurusu: “As long as the lord is absent, we must obey Ayame-sama in his stead.”

Some Dude: “Why am I wasting my time with you children? I won’t wait any longer. We’re going off on our own.”

Mumei: “You’re still arguing about this? We’d be waiting here till dawn.”

And Mumei’s right. Ayame is in a position of power, and yet, her decision to standby and wait for her father’s signal would’ve been absolutely disastrous. Not only that, when people die, they sometimes cry out her name. With her pseudo-royalty status, she’s a symbol for some of these commoners to believe in, but despite this, Ayame is not currently a good leader. I thus speculate that she feels deeply guilty about her shortcomings. It’s why she pleads with Kurusu to help Ikoma: “We can’t sit here and do nothing.” In her tone, it feels as if Ayame is indicting herself. She can’t keep sitting here and do nothing. So to go back to what I was saying earlier, now that her father — probably the only family she has left — has been turned into one of the ravenous masses, wouldn’t this be the time for Ayame to suffer a breakdown?

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Isn’t this where she loses her composure and allows her emotions to take over?

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Not so fast, says Kurusu. He argues that Ayame’s father and a kabane cannot be one and the same. That shambling corpse out there knows nothing of duty, honor, order, law, etc. So it cannot be her father. It cannot be human. It cannot be allowed to live.

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Ayame’s eyes well up with tears, and she proceeds to sob quietly. But she never loses herself completely.

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Contrast that to Ikoma. Abandoned by his own people, he nevertheless fights through a crowd of Kabane in order to lower a drawbridge, thereby allowing everyone on the train to escape. But he has choice words for them: “I will save you all. I want you to live the rest of your lives knowing the man you abandoned saved you. And I will laugh at you from the afterlife. And tell you that it serves you right.” But after the deed is done, he breaks down and cries into his hands. There’s a deep anguish in this moment of vulnerability. I suspect nothing is more painful than being “Othered.” Earlier in the episode, Ikoma had reasoned with Takumi that “[i]f they see me take out the Kabane, they’ll have to accept me!” Ikoma ends up doing this twice, but sadly to no avail. He still ends up being abandoned. You can go back even further to the very first episode. Ikoma condemns the very idea of sacrificing one of your own just to save yourself. He sees this as the greatest tragedy of his time. It’s not the loss of life, the loss of loved ones, or even the loss of perhaps country. No, it is the loss of humanity which Ikoma cannot abide.

In a twist of fate, however, our hero becomes different in physiology. He now has a glowing heart much like the Kabane. When they bite and attack him in various ways, he doesn’t succumb to his injuries much like a regular person would. He straight up just looks paler than the rest, and his outfit probably doesn’t do him any good. Ikoma isn’t quite as superhuman as Mumei, but he’s plenty superhuman. Yet, he still acts with compassion. He still fights for others. He still sacrifices himself to save everyone. Nothing has changed. His words haven’t changed, nor have his actions changed. But in the end, none of this matters; everyone still looks at him with distrust. Kurusu, who represents the social laws and customs of this universe, casts our hero aside not once but twice, and the rest of society is too frozen from fear to act. That’s where the deep anguish comes from; he has lost his faith in not just humanity but his own humanity as well. When Takumi pulls the hero back onto the train, Ikoma cries, “Why did you do that?! I’m a Kabane now!”

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In the end, Takumi comes to his senses and re-assumes his role as Ikoma’s Samwise Gamgee. Mumei does most of the heavy-lifting, of course. She leaps effortlessly off the moving train to aid Ikoma, then she leaps effortlessly back onto the moving train. Why has she taken an interest in him? Because of the ideals he espoused in the first episode. Because she’s also found someone like herself? In her own words, she and Ikoma are Kabaneri, i.e. individuals between human and the Kabane. So there’s some light for Ikoma after all. Mumei is perhaps a kindred spirit, and Takumi is a bro for life. As for the others, Kurusu will likely learn to trust Ikoma, then fight alongside Ikoma, then become another friend for life. Still, our hero’s faith was shattered today, and that’s not something that will quickly recover. It’s also not something to take lightly. It’ll be interesting if the story simply writes it off now that Ikoma has been saved, or he’ll still harbor resentment for this week’s events.

The subtitle of the episode is “A Never-ending Darkness,” and perhaps that refers to the relentless waves of Kabane. Or perhaps it refers to the fact that our hero has nowhere to run. On the one hand, the Kabane seeks to consume everything in their path. They throw themselves onto the moving train almost suicidally. It’s as if they’re working together to convert everyone into Kabane, and it doesn’t matter if a few of them will die in the process. On the other hand, we see the humans sacrificing everything in their path to survive — including their own. It’s not just Ikoma who was cast aside. We can’t forget that man who was mercilessly gunned down in the first episode. At the end of this week’s episode, the iron train escapes from its iron prison, and into the lush greenness of the outside world. It almost makes you wonder if the humans are just as unnatural as the Kabane that pursue them. The sun has come up and the skies seem almost hopeful. But the iron train carries that darkness within it.

Everything Else

— So does Ikoma have to wear that contraption for the rest of his life or just the rest of this series? Speaking of which, I wonder if these characters will get very many opportunity to bathe. It must stink to battle zombies all day.

— Everyone needs a sad sister story, don’t they? It’s the most boring thing about this show. Mumei being so magical is kind of annoying, but she’s also supposed to be charming. So of course, I can’t help but find her quirkiness a slight bit charming even if I find it a bit out of place. On the other hand, the sad sister flashbacks have just been boring through and through.

— I can never take this running stance seriously.

— For the most part, I enjoyed the episode. It was pretty action-packed, had a lot of interesting character moments to examine, and I never found myself bored at any point. Let’s hope the series can keep this momentum up.

— I apologize for the constant delays. It’s been a rough week at work.

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2 thoughts on “Koutetsujou no Kabaneri Ep. 2: Escape from zombie mountain”

  1. Mumei definitely sticks out from the others: she’s the only person in the entire town that is not bothered in the slightest by what looks like a dreadful menace to everyone else. I guess that kind of makes sense when you’ve become a superhuman that can’t turn into a zombie anymore (I think?). That plus her young age might be enough to justify her playful attitude, and the fact that she treats fighting hordes of monsters like a game.
    Anyway, I wouldn’t say someone like her doesn’t belong in this universe just yet, since we’ve seen very little of it. Right from the start she and that monk-looking guy that was with her looked like outsiders. Maybe they come from a very different place with a different culture, or maybe they belong to some sort of special institution created to fight the kabane, or something like that.
    Speaking of the guy, the oddest thing to me was just how quickly Mumei went back to her carefree attitude after watching him kill himself. Maybe she’s used to that kind of thing, but it still looked like an oversight from the series creators.
    Also, I wonder why Ikoma’s skin turned an unhealthy green after his transformation, but Mumei looks perfectly normal. If you can’t have the cute girl look weird, then why change his skin tone at all?

    1. Anyway, I wouldn’t say someone like her doesn’t belong in this universe just yet,

      My analysis is in the moment. It’s subject to change as I watch more of the show. After the second episode of the series, I just felt that Mumei’s cutesy, quirky behavior was out of place, and I still stand by what I said. Now that her more ruthless side has come out, I like her character more.

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