Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Ep. 5: Cognitive dissonance

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress - 0520

Our heroine receives a rather ominous warning in this week’s episode: “Fulfill your mission, Mumei. While you’re still human.” What is Enoku trying to say here? Let’s break it down. At first, I took his warning at face value: Mumei will eventually lose her humanity, and once this happens, she will no longer be able to think for herself. Ever since the second episode of the series, the girl has insisted over and over that she is not Kabane. Rather, she is something better; she is Kabaneri, the synthesis of her humanity and her Kabane-like strength. But what if one side is fated to always win out in the long run? As of late, the humans on the train have warmed up to our Kabaneri a tiny bit. They are appreciative of Mumei’s strength, especially since it benefits them. If the girl should ever misstep, however, it’s right back to the same ol’ “She’s just a Kabane after all” spiel. As a viewer, it’s infuriating, because I can’t help but feel as if there’s no logic in this assertion. Just because Mumei said something mean and insensitive to a bunch of kids, that doesn’t mean she is or will ever become a brain-dead Kabane. Ah, but what if these prejudiced humans had been foreshadowing Mumei’s fate all this time? What if it is somehow in Mumei’s nature to eventually succumb to her Kabane side? Well, they say entropy always increases in a closed system…

Enoku also warns Mumei that the Young Master, i.e. our heroine’s most cherished onii-sama, will eventually abandon her. Up to this point, we have heard nothing but praise for this Young Master. Mumei seems to very much adore this man. Nevertheless, Enoku’s words stir up her memories of a young girl, who, I assume, is very much like Mumei herself. They’re wearing the same garb, after all. Not only that, the poor girl is crying for help as she is cruelly executed with a bullet to the back of her head. So as much as Mumei wants to deny it, she knows there’s a very distinct possibility that she can and perhaps will be abandoned by her brother. But why? Is it, as we’ve suspected above, because she will lose her humanity and become a Kabane? I wonder, then, if Mumei is a creation. Perhaps she is a super-soldier designed to further the Young Master’s aims, but they haven’t quite perfected the process. Certainly, Mumei and those like her are very, very strong. In this week’s episode, our heroine heads straight into a nest of Kabane, and takes them all out by herself. Nevertheless, Mumei is very young both in her appearance and in her behavior. She’s not the most mature person aboard this train. Perhaps those like her don’t retain their humanity into adulthood. This wouldn’t surprise me anyway. It’s an anime thing for young people around Mumei’s age to have all the power and capabilities in the world. She even says, “Targets… confirmed,” as if she’s some sort of fighting machine.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress - 0517

Enoku’s warning is rather contradictory, though, don’t you think? “Fulfill your mission, Mumei. While you’re still human.” He utters these words shortly after chiding the girl for “playing nice with the people.” He then insists that she’s nothing more than the Young Master’s Claw. See, that doesn’t sound very human-like to me. Rather, it sounds like she’s just a weapon, and to be a good weapon, you need to carry out your intended function. In other words, if she can’t kill the Kabane, she’s a useless weapon, and the Young Master will have no need of her. All of this, however, goes against all of Mumei’s character development in the past two episodes. She has never been more human than she is now, especially in the way she’s bonded with the children on the train. She even felt guilty when she killed the pregnant Kabane. So again, Enoku’s contradicting himself. He presses Mumei to fulfill her mission while she still can, but to do so, she’ll have to give up her humanity. And sure enough, the girl takes his words to heart. She goes against Ikoma’s carefully laid-out plan, because she would rather prove her worth as a weapon. Ikoma doesn’t want anyone to die unnecessarily, so he plots out a roundabout way for them to reach the boiler room. But because Mumei wants to fight the Kabane head on, they acquiesce to her demands. In her mind, it makes sense: if she can destroy the Kabane, then she’s a good weapon. You wouldn’t throw a good weapon away, would you?

But like I’ve said, Mumei unnecessarily endangers the lives of every single person on the train in order to prove her worth. By heeding Enoku’s words, she actually ends up losing her humanity. In theory, anyway. After all, I’d like to think compassion is one of the many things that define us. So if I’m right, our heroine casts that to the side when she decides to go on her own rampage. And for what? Will news of her heroism somehow reach the Young Master, and he will decide not to abandon her? She can’t be that stupid, can she? I suspect not. I truly believe Mumei is actually smarter than this, and this is why she struggles so much with the decision to go on her own. The scene with the dying dog is crucial to understanding Mumei’s state of mind. Like her, the dog was a weapon. It protected the humans against the Kabane, but eventually, all weapons will go dull. Taro, the dog, injured its leg, so even if it hadn’t died, it wouldn’t be very useful should the Kabane attack again, and you know they will. As Mumei sees it, the dog would’ve been abandoned anyway, so it’s a good thing if it died now. Of course, her words piss off the mothers in the room. Not only is it a mean thing to say to a bunch of kids, why would they abandon their pet? Ah, but Mumei doesn’t know that. After all, she’s saved these people over and over, and yet, just last week, they were ready to abandon both her and Ikoma.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress - 0540

So in the end, is Mumei perhaps charging towards her own death? Does some part of her want to be like poor Taro? If she fights and wins, great. She will have proven that she’s a great weapon, and she is thus still useful to both her onii-sama and the people on the train. If she falls, however, then so be it. At least she will have died like Taro, i.e. before anyone could abandon her. This renders an earlier scene in a new light. Mumei breaks up a fight between two men fighting over rations. As a result, everyone praises her. Ayame shows up to praise her. The kids praise her. It’s enough to make Mumei blush. But does she actually believe in her heart that anything has changed? Trust me, one incident will not wipe a slate clean. Just days ago, these people hated her and cursed her name. She’s old enough to know that some lip service, while flattering, doesn’t really mean anything. Now, I’m not suggesting she knowingly set herself up for failure. I believe Mumei is very confident in her abilities. But somewhere inside her, some unconscious part of her, she feels utterly unhuman and thus unwanted. As I watched her make the wrong decisions one after the other, I couldn’t help but think, “God, why are you being so stupid?” But after thinking about it, I can’t shake the idea that perhaps a small part of the girl wanted to throw herself away just so no one else could do it first.

Not surprisingly, Ikoma abandons the mission just to save Mumei. He could’ve let her die, and continued operating the crane. In doing so, he would save everyone on the train and himself. And yet, he throws all of that away just to save someone who, just earlier in the episode, was kicking him in the face in front of everyone. Not only is she abusive towards him, Mumei humiliates him. So what gives, Ikoma? Why would you risk everything for this girl? First, he didn’t know the mission would fail. In the heat of the moment, I doubt he realized that the crane’s arm would move back down, and thus continue to block the train’s path. Furthermore, nobody saw the boiler room completely going up in flames. Ikoma simply acts on instinct, and after blaming himself over and over his sister’s death, he isn’t going to let Mumei die. In any case, we know our heroes will survive. God only knows how the people stuck on the train will manage, but at the very least, Ikoma and Mumei will be okay. This is just the fifth episode, after all. But we can still speculate on the direction of Mumei’s character development. She essentially fails, doesn’t she? So she’s not a good weapon for the Young Master. But obviously, there’s more to life than being some dude’s claw. For what it’s worth, she’s important to Ikoma, so we’ll see where that takes us next week.

Everything Else

— Ikoma has just been inventing Kabane-killing guns. He’s also forged a weapon that can possibly cut through the zombies with ease. We don’t see it in action here, but I suspect Kurusu will have some moments of glory next week.

— Speaking of Kurusu, he has such a subdued presence this time around. Granted, he’s still injured, but he also barely has anything to say. I doubt his tongue was injured as well, though I’m sure pride plays a large part in this. What’s important, however, is that we still hardly know anything about his character other than that he’s stern and by-the-books. Let’s start developing this guy, yeah?

— That kid is a 10.

— Seeing the mangled metallic mass blocking the train’s path, I couldn’t help but think of fat-clogged arteries. In fact, I briefly considered these armored cities as living things in their own way. In this week’s episode, they come across a dead body, and they need to bring it life for just a brief moment in order to continue on their way. The boiler room is perhaps the heart or something. Well, it’s just a thought. Maybe there’s something to this, maybe there’s not. We’ll see as the series plays out.

— Enoku also mentions something about how the shogunate are gathering up weapons to kill people as opposed to Kabane. I have too little information, however, to make much of this.

— I liked the many faces of Mumei in this week’s episode. She’s clearly the emotional center of the story.

— And Takumi provides the levity. Speaking of which, I don’t have much to say about Sukari. Like Kurusu, he is one of the rather underdeveloped characters, but we’ve only got so much time. I’m not mad that they’ve decided to focus on Mumei so much. It’s a good thing, actually. Still, whenever I see characters like Sukari or Yukina, I can’t help but ask myself, “Uh, what is this person like again?”

— Ikoma’s a hot head, and Mumei’s a hot head. I was initially surprised when he asked Mumei if something happened to her. Two characters actually communicating? They won’t just stew in their feelings and let things fester? But I was wrong. When the girl bites him, he bites back. Ah, kids…

— You said it, dude.

— What do I make of the Black Cloud? I’m not sure yet, which is why I scrapped plans of devoting this post to this bizarre Kabane amalgamation. Initially, I’m sure I had the same reaction as a lot of people, i.e. “What the fuck? Are you serious?” But y’know, emergent intelligence is not such a crazy concept. The Kabane seem like your average zombie most of the time, but we also don’t really know all that much about them. After all, last week’s episode featured a Kabane that knew kenjutsu. So I don’t know… I mean, if you put thousands upon thousands of Kabane together, could a complex system emerge from from the resulting mass? Ants don’t seem very smart by themselves either, but ant colonies are, well, amazing. At this point, however, I hesitate to speculate, because this Black Cloud shows up for less than a minute. I’ll just wait to see how it all goes down in next week’s episode. I just hope it’s nothing too silly and fantastical.

— From the distance, they’re kinda like ants, don’t you think?

9 thoughts on “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Ep. 5: Cognitive dissonance

  1. sonicsenryaku

    a lot of today’s episode felt like forced writing to me. I get were mumei was coming from but a lot of what happened felt like a way to make mumei feel casted aside so she could make stupid decisions and artificially build up drama….it just didnt work for me this week. Ive never thought kabaneri’s writing was just ok but this week had me shaking my head a bit

    1. E Minor

      I feel everything has been building up to this point. I think the screenshot at the top of the post shows that she wasn’t just struggling physically, but mentally as well. One of the show’s main themes is sacrificing others for your own selfish gains. Why would she not fear abandonment? And if her fears are legitimate, why is it unlikely that this fear would drive her to do something stupid and reckless?

      1. sonicsenryaku

        yea i guess i can kinda see that; and in my previous comment i meant that ive always thought kabaneri’s writing was ok. I should proof read my own writing before criticizing someone else’s XD

  2. Ran

    “She can’t be that stupid, can she? I suspect not. I truly believe Mumei is actually smarter than this, and this is why she struggles so much with the decision to go on her own.”

    She is stupid, but I think the writing is a problem too. Shoehorning this new guy just to stir shit up seems like a pretty unpolished idea. Besides, what he said (and Mumei’s reaction to it) doesn’t make any sense. Mumei’s mission is to get to a place called Kongokaku. Supposedly, her “brother” sent her there for some reason. But how does putting herself in needless danger help her accomplish that mission? Besides she needs the train to get there, which means it’s in her best interest to play nice with the people, which she seemed to have understood at the end last episode. So where is all this shit coming from now? It feels like a step backwards on her character arc, and a waste of time they could use advancing the plot instead.

    1. E Minor

      As I suggested, a part of her is sabotaging herself, because she’ll either succeed in a blaze of glory or die before anyone can abandon her.

      1. Ran

        Doesn’t make much sense to me. Not after last episode. And There’s also the problem of execution. Bringing in a new character out of nowhere just to stir shit up is poor storytelling.

        1. Ran

          Even if it didn’t bother you, it’s still cheap storytelling. The fact that the guy didn’t even appear in episode 6 drives it home his only purpose was to stir shit up this episode.

          1. E Minor Post author

            Eh, I’m not gonna throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s more to the show than a guy who talks for a few minutes.


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