Wait, you want to stop the train just to pray for the dead? Have you forgotten that there are zombies out there hoping to turn us into one of them? No, they haven’t forgotten, and that’s the beauty of it. You can’t keep running away. From a tactical standpoint, it does seem like a terrible idea. But take it from their point of view: “Our prayers will not reach them if we go too far. Do you want our grandchildren unable to pass on?” Whether or not prayer actually works — and this is an alternate universe, so who knows… maybe prayer does work here — these elders are willing to accept the risks of stopping the train just to hold a vigil. But to them, it’s not just a vigil. It’s a necessity. They may very well lose their lives, but in their minds, they have to ensure that their loved ones will pass on safely. They will not sacrifice one of their own just to protect themselves. And when you consider that they’re doing this for the dead, the message becomes all the more powerful: we cannot lose our humanity in the face of fear. We already failed to protect our loved ones in life. Are we gonna fail them in the afterlife as well?
Contrast the above with Ikoma’s tragic story. Five years ago, the Kabane broke through Ikoma’s station, and sadly, the adults fled. In doing so, they left the children behind to fend for themselves. Even when Ikoma begged for help, nobody would even consider it; it was every man for himself, and no one was going to put their lives on the line for children. Hell, you needn’t look very far back in time to find an example of man’s selfish, bestial nature in the face of fear. A man accosts a pregnant woman because she had received two shares of rations when everyone else only got one. Clearly, she’s pregnant, so she has to eat for two. But the man is scared, and as such, he’s given in to his selfish, bestial nature. He’s given up his humanity. He’s willing to protect himself over the unborn; he’s the sort of person that Ikoma was talking about back in episode one. When fear controls us, we sacrifice our own just to save ourselves. And in the end, it comes full circle. These folks run away from the Kabane only to turn into monsters themselves. It’s fitting that the elderly and the children are most affected by the vigil.
Our characters also come full circle. Ikoma and Mumei are both Kabaneri, but the former is desperate to prove his humanity. He tries to control Mumei to no avail; no one will control that girl. He’s not only afraid of hurting others, he’s also afraid of himself. In a test of humanity, our hero allows Ayame to stab him in the chest, because if he had tried to restrain her arm instead, he fears he might have hurt her. Contrast that to Mumei who openly announces that she’ll kill anyone who tries to oppose her. She also won’t hide the fact that she needs to consume blood. She’s not ashamed whatsoever of who or what she is, and that’s probably because she’s been this way for the majority of her life. For her, consuming blood is just her nature. On the other hand, you can imagine Ikoma being disgusted by the thought: “I’m human… I can’t drink blood! That’s what a monster would do!” And yet, it is Ikoma who collapses from hunger by the end of the episode. And it is Ikoma who attacks Ayame, because he’s lost control of himself. This renders his actions at the start of the episode all the more ironic.
Meanwhile, Mumei espouses the belief that the weak will die, and the strong survive. And when you grow up in this world, who can blame her? Ikoma doesn’t even disagree. He just got done telling her all about his poor imouto, too. Most people would’ve been like, “Geez, I’m sorry, man….” But not Mumei. She flat-out implies that Ikoma’s sister was weak and died as a result of it. Not only that, Ikoma is also weak, and that’s why he couldn’t protect his family. Therefore, if he’s going to serve as Mumei’s shield, he better toughen up. He better learn quick, and she’ll do her best to whip him into shape (and judging by Mumei’s playful behavior, she probably doesn’t mind having a self-healing punching bag around). You’d almost think someone like Mumei wouldn’t feel bad for the weak. After all, she’s more than willing to kill those scared commoners. And yet, the girl has a soft side. Probably because she’s still a bit of a child herself, she gets along swimmingly with all of the kids on the train. But more importantly, when she realizes that she had just killed a pregnant woman, it’s almost certain that she regrets the loss of the baby’s life.
Ikoma and Mumei are alike in many ways. Again, they’re both Kabaneri. They’ve both lost their families to the Kabane. They are both guided by memories of their siblings in some form or fashion. Ikoma’s resolve is forged by the death of his sister, and while we know relatively nothing about Mumei’s brother at this moment in the narrative, we know she thinks highly of him. She’s allegedly on some secret mission to Kongokaku due to a promise she’s made to her brother. In essence, this episode rounds out their characterization, which was sorely needed on Mumei’s part. If you’ll recall from previous entries, I wasn’t a fan of her quirky nature. To see her ruthless side come out is a much needed reprieve from the cutesy act. But I digress. Ikoma is losing himself to his Kabane side, and Mumei finds more humanity in herself than she had previously thought. Fittingly, the train finds itself coiled in a circle as it can no longer continue on its journey (due to a broken water tank). Ikoma, Mumei, and everyone on this train are stuck in this circular prison in more ways than one. These people will figuratively eat each other alive if they are stuck here… or the Kabane will show up and do it for them.
Still, coming full circle isn’t such a bad thing for everyone. Mumei regretting her impulsive actions is likely a positive development for her character going forward. It’s worth noting that the girl had to straighten out the ribbon from her neck for this moment to occur. Ironically, she probably wishes it was still encircled around her neck.
— Yeah, I’m switching to the English title from now on, because I’m tired of typing out “koutetsujou.”
— Yo, where’s my bro Takumi at? Did he just disappear or something?
— There’s something very funny about the distrustful humans in this series. Well, it’s either funny or maddening depending on your perspective. Kurusu basically proclaims, “You either obey our every command, or you’re obviously a mindless, flesh-eating zombie!” It’s just so stupid, though. How can you insist over and over that Mumei and Ikoma are braindead zombies when they’re literally standing there talking to you? I know, I know… these people are scared! Fear and its adverse effects are the dominant themes of the show! But on the other hand, it’s just so dumb from a viewer’s perspective. For real, how many other zombies can you actually hold a conversation with? The point is, as strong as Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress has been, it still trots out the same cliches as did like-minded shows in the past. “I-I don’t care that you can talk, and that you saved our asses! Y-y-you’re a monster!!!!”
— Ikoma tells us that the folks at Kongokaku are at the forefront of Kabane research. Knowing how these stories usually plays out, they’re probably just conducting some fucked up research that will lead to new, more dangerous breeds of zombies. Dammit, science. I’ve had it up to here with you! More prayer, less research!
— I’ve got no problems with Mumei beating Ikoma up during their training sessions, though to be fair, he seems to be an unwilling student. I’m not so keen, however, on her beating him up right from the get-go. It’s just the age-old tradition of the anime shoujo doling out physical punishment to their male peers. Also, it’s 2016. C’mon.
— It turns out Mumei’s ribbon has a similar function to Ikoma’s iron collar. I can’t help but wonder if he’s also got greater potential if he removes it. Please don’t shounen this up with creeping power levels.
— The Kabaneri needing blood reminds me a bit too much of Tokyo Ghoul. God, don’t remind me of Tokyo Ghoul. I just want to forget that series completely.
— I should probably proofread these posts better. Ah well.