Cowardice nearly dooms our Iron Fortress, and it all starts with Ayame. It begins with a very peculiar remark, too. Perhaps shaken by the incident with Ikoma, Ayame says to herself, “I wish I could have a sweet bun.” At first glance, it seems to be such an innocuous statement. Under what is surely mountains and mountains of stress, the girl’s propriety shows some cracks. She yearns for something as simple and as innocent as a sweet bun. Truth be told, I initially thought nothing of the line. Okay, the girl wants a sweet bun. So what? Shortly afterwards, the elders barge into the first car, and are screaming Ayame’s name; they demand that she hand the master key over to them. Not only do they find her leadership lacking, to them, she’s nothing more than a child. She’s not fit to give orders, especially since she almost got bitten by Ikoma after insisting over and over that the Kabaneri would do her no harm. With her eyes downcast, Ayame agrees and cowardly hands over the key. The remark about the sweet bun immediately rings loudly back into my mind: her desire for a sweet bun is a childlike plea to abdicate all responsibility. It’s as if she’s saying, “I’ve had enough. I don’t want to be an adult anymore.” Her despondent body language is also important to notice. It thus makes sense that she would give in so easily. As soon as those loud, patriarchal figures started throwing their weight around, Ayame relinquishes her authority instantly. She wants to be a child again. Surrounded by samurais ready and willing to fulfill her duty to her, she does the opposite and runs away from her own.
Nevertheless, I completely understand where the girl is coming from. Just a few days ago, Ayame was still a child. She was still someone’s kid. Her father called the shots, and she was still trying to learn from him. That’s not an indictment against Ayame, by the way. She’s just a victim of unfortunate circumstances, and there’s no one else to lead. So what can you honestly expect from her during a serious crisis like this? Furthermore, few of us would fare so well in her shoes. We can all pretend to be internet tough guys or gals if we want, but if zombies started attacking me right now, I’d probably be shitting myself. So to Ayame’s credit, she’s made it this far. She even had some inspiring words for her people in last week’s episode. Unfortunately, partial credit doesn’t mean much in a cruel and heartless universe. As we’ll soon see, our princess’s actions set forth a domino effect that nearly dooms the entire train. Her momentary lapse of judgment sends a rippling effect outward, creating bigger waves of cowardice and thus greater, more dire consequences. As soon as the elders get their hands on the master key, they make two disastrous decisions. First, they decide to take a shortcut through the mountains. In doing so, they hope to reach Kongokaku faster. Ayame may not be ready to lead, but even she’s wise enough to know that going through the mountains is a terrible idea. Naturally, no one listens to her. Second, the elders move to detach the last car, i.e. the car in which our heroes are imprisoned.
Luckily for Ikoma, Mumei, and their three human friends, the Kabane have such perfect timing. Zombies immediately descend upon the train as soon as it begins entering a tunnel. The attack ends up preventing some of the elders from detaching the final car. Not only that, the door to the rest of the train is left ajar, thus allowing the Kabane to infiltrate and slaughter countless of innocent lives. As harsh as this may sound, all of this can be traced back to Ayame. Her cowardice set these unfortunate events in motion. Her fear led to her people’s death. Luckily for her, she has a couple heroes ready and willing to save the day. Ikoma and Mumei have already saved these people’s lives over and over, and still, these people fear and hate them. These people imprison them. These people would abandon them if they could. I’m not afraid to admit that I am not a better man; had I been in their shoes, I would’ve just said, “Fuck those guys. They deserve what’s coming to them. Go, zombies, go!” Nevertheless, Ikoma and Mumei battle to save the train and its passengers. It reminds me of a Christian teaching: “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Obviously, Mumei has her own motivations; if this train goes down, so too goes the hopes of her ever reaching Kongokaku. But I don’t think this is the only reason why she fights. At the end of the ordeal, we see her praying for those who had lost their lives. They should mean nothing to her, and I’m sure a lot of the people who died also wanted her gone. She nevertheless prays for their safety in the afterlife.
It’s only fitting that Ayame pays a blood price. Her people died because she was initially too afraid to lead, so in order to save everyone’s lives, she needs to shed her own blood. This is where I begin to have my qualms about the episode. Ayame’s blood price just isn’t, well, much of a price at all. Apparently, Ikoma only needs a tiny trickle of blood to empower himself. He practically nibbles on her finger and drinks… what, a few ounces of blood at best? Nevertheless, this is enough to set our hero’s heart ablaze with vigor. Ikoma easily subdues the “final boss,” and with that, cries of “Rokkon Shojo!” erupts throughout the train. It’s a bit anticlimactic. What comes next, however, is my next big issue with the episode. As I’ve said above, we do see Mumei pausing to pray for the fallen, but this short scene appears to be the only notable moment in which anyone seems to pause and reflect on the needless tragedy. In a later scene, Ayame gets the master key back, and stares at it for a short moment. It’s as if she’s learned her lesson; she’s certainly not going to give the key up again. But is that enough? Has she truly repented? We then see our heroes emerge from the train, and gaze into the hopeful blue sky. It’s a corny, upbeat ending that just doesn’t sit well with me. After all, we literally paused last week to hold a vigil for the dead. I agree that it would be foolish to suddenly stop the train now, so that’s not what I’m suggesting. But for a show that has been rather thoughtful up to this point, Ayame and company seem to moving past last night’s horrific events a bit too conveniently.
— For Mumei’s character development, the start of the episode picks up where last week’s had left off. Out of pride, she tries to justify her actions, but a closer look at her eyes again reveals otherwise.
— I guess a simple knock to the head is enough to snap Ikoma back to reality. Much like the rest of the episode, this is a bit convenient.
— Speaking of convenience, the anime cuts a lot of corners in the animation department in this week’s episode. Over and over, we are treated to still shots with action lines. It’s a bit disappointing to see. I expected more from Wit Studio.
— Oh shit waddup! So our boy Takumi is still around. Good to know.
— I like the look that he gives Ikoma. Instead of distrust, it’s just friendly ribbing between close friends.
— We are introduced to a special type of Kabane in this week’s episode. The Wazatori not only appears to be twice as tall as the average person, it also knows kenjutsu. The Kabane are thus not as brain-dead as the average typical zombie. Not all of them, at least. Anyway, I’m not too concerned about the why’s and how’s. I think people get too caught up on these things. Still, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll run into even smarter ones later on. It seems almost inevitable at this point.
— Despite it all, this asshole continues to survive. It pays to be an elite.
— A steampowered bow… that’s, um, neat. And it must be incredibly heavy. Girl might not have leadership skills, but she probably has bigger biceps than me.
— I love the irony that the Bushi’s self-sacrifice only leads to more problems. As if the train wasn’t already in a bad enough shape, let’s just blow open a giant goddamn hole on the side.
— For such an action-packed episode, the dip in animation quality really draws me out of the experience. You can argue that I’m cherry-picking. I’m taking screenshots of a scene in which our characters are moving quickly, so of course I’m going to find flaws! But don’t just take my word for it. Go and watch the episode yourself. Even when the animation is flowing at its intended speed, you don’t need my screenshots to easily tell that the quality just isn’t there.
— I’m not sure what to think of the relationship between Ikoma and Mumei yet, i.e. if there’s going to be much of one. At the moment, any inklings of a potential romance seems a bit silly, but we’ve got plenty of time left in the season. That is, if her brother doesn’t have anything to say about it…
— I hope they find a way around Mumei’s weakness, or at least mitigate it somewhat. I want to see her kick butt. You don’t kick butt when you’re sleeping.
— Somehow, despite all the raucous screaming, a baby smiles as if it knows that it had just been saved. Whatever. I think it would’ve been more effective if the baby had cried instead, but this is such a minor moment in the episode, I won’t dwell on it.
— It’s okay, Takumi; Ikoma will drink your bodily fluids too.