Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Ep. 6: The heart of the matter

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We tend to reject what we don’t understand, so let’s try to understand why so many viewers seem to reject Mumei. At the start of this week’s episode, Mumei insists again that only the strong get to survive. What is implicit here? Her assertion is quite hysterical when you consider that the girl is currently trapped beneath a pile of rocks. Therein lies the hidden truth behind Mumei’s creed: “I am weak, therefore I won’t survive.” I suggested last week that Mumei was betting the farm: no matter what happened, she was supposed to either live or die in a blaze of glory. The key here is that, until Ikoma intervened, she wasn’t going for any half-measures. She was going to win it all, or lose it all, and Mumei was willing to accept either outcome. It was not that she intended to die, but she understood last week that if she did nothing, then there would be more than just two distinct outcomes. What’s the third one? She would turn into a Kabane, and that was the worst fate of all. So again, Mumei didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to necessarily ruin Ikoma’s plan. She did, however, make certain that the third possible outcome would be eliminated. In fact, getting rid of it was more important than victory itself. After all, having the Young Master reject her is the greatest failure.

The girl knows she is at fault; she’s not oblivious. Nevertheless, Mumei insists that she doesn’t want to be saved by Ikoma. And regarding her actions in last week’s episode, she claims that she merely miscalculated. From our comfortable vantage point, it’s easy to dismiss the girl. It’s easy to call her stupid and arrogant. Her current attitude might even make your blood boil. And sure, her pride is doing some of the talking. But let’s consider again where she comes from. First of all, she’s trapped under a pile of rocks. I doubt most of us would think clearly under a pile of rocks. I’m only under a pile of debt, and I feel like I make stupid decisions everyday. But joking aside, we also learn this week that the Young Master had saved a younger Mumei from certain death. She owes him her life, and that makes her fear of his rejection all the more powerful. Live or die, she will at least serve him as best as she can. But she can’t fulfill her duty if she is corrupted. Mumei even confesses, “…everyone else in my group turned into Kabanes.” So it’s very likely that this concern has been haunting Mumei ever since. It thus becomes clear that part of her bravado, her arrogance, and her strength are all ways to compensate for this longstanding fear. For Mumei, there is no worse fate than becoming a Kabane. For Mumei, there is nothing weaker than losing one’s humanity.

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We have to remain cognizant that these characters are under a tremendous amount of stress. For God’s sake, they’re being chased by flesh-eating zombies. Meanwhile, we’re sitting here, in the comforts of our own home, judging these people. And y’know, I get it. I’m frustrated too when our heroes save these people over and over, and yet, they are still feared. They are still accused of being brainless Kabane. But that’s what fear does to you. And this is not like the fear that we often come across in our daily lives, the sort where people watch or read about the scary Other, so they become prejudiced. No, this fear is right in front of them. They’re not reading about their neighbor’s death in the newspaper. No, they get to witness it firsthand. They are refugees themselves, fleeing their homes and cramming themselves in a train just to escape death. This fear is far beyond anything most of us will ever encounter. So yes, I’m frustrated by the continued prejudice against the Kabaneri, I cannot deny that it is not understandable. I can’t pretend as if I would remain righteous and calm if I were in their shoes. And the same is true with Mumei. I don’t know what her past is like. I don’t really know what she’s been through. Yes, it appears to me that her actions in last week’s episode were foolish, but isn’t that the point? People do foolish things all the time, and they’re not even being chased by zombies. Why is it so hard to cut an anime character some slack?

Naturally, Ikoma won’t allow Mumei to simply throw her life away. He tries almost everything in his power to free the girl from the pile of rocks, but when nothing works, he does what most anime protagonists do: take a heavy beating for the heroine’s sake. Ikoma even rejects her world view. Sure, the two of them are weak, but so what? Should they just give up then? Or are they going to do something about it. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress isn’t treading any new grounds. This is a classic underdog trope where the power of teamwork ultimately prevails. Not only does Ikoma protect her, Mumei finds herself rescued by the same humans that she has had to save over and over. Blah blah blah, we are greater than the sum of our parts, so on and so on. This seems to be a recurring theme, too. We learn this week that the Black Cloud is also known as a Fused Colony. Thanks to Mumei, we also know that there is a single Kabane at the heart of the Fused Colony, and like an ant colony, it is also greater than the sum of its parts, Moreover, it is greedy; it constantly seeks out humans or Kabane to add to itself. So that’s one way to overcome your weakness. All you have to do is simply prey upon others. On the other hand, the humans and Kabaneri form a symbiotic relationship, and they are thus able to defeat the Fused Colony once and for all.

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If I sound unimpressed, that’s because I am. Despite some viewers’ protestations, I actually enjoy Mumei’s character development. I think she’s fascinating as a flawed character. On the flip side of the coin, Ikoma is rather boring. He plays the straight hero full of motivational quips, and then teamwork makes the dream work. What can I say? Without the high-octane and sometimes silly action, this part would be a complete yawner.


Everything else

— We still don’t know much about the Young Master, except that he’s often on a horse, and he has long hair.

— I didn’t think the animation this week was that bad. It was much worse two weeks ago. The CGI Fused Colony was also amusing to watch in action.

— Personally, I felt that the butterfly during Mumei’s flashback was rather heavy-handed. I didn’t think the direct symbolism was really all that necessary. We already know that this moment was a pivotal point in her life in more ways than one. That’s pretty obvious.

— I also found the rescue a bit jarring. All of a sudden, we see Mumei surrounded by Kurusu and company. I’m not shocked that these guys went back to save the two Kabaneri, but I would’ve liked to see the events leading up to this. Namely, the crucial decision to send these guys on foot in order to excavate our heroes, potential battles against any stray Kabane they might have encountered on the way here, so on and so forth… I get that the episode needed to cover the epic showdown against the Fused Colony. Still, things felt a bit rushed.

— I didn’t mind Enoku’s character in last week’s episode. So a new character emerges and stirs some shit up… eh, big deal. I do think, however, that his absence now is rather suspect.

— I don’t have much to say about the resulting action, really. It was fun. Kurusu brandishing the Kabane blade was predictable, but nonetheless neat to see.

— Whoa, Yukina’s definitely packing some guns.

— Is there any significance to the appearance of the Fused Colony’s heart? I feel like I am missing something.

— How nice of the resulting explosion to knock Mumei back towards the moving train…

— The train then threatens to derail when it takes a sharp turn too quickly, so everyone does that thing where they lean to one side to keep the train leveled. An amusing scene. How many people do they have onboard? How heavy is this iron train? I can only speculate…


Final Word

Anyway, not my best effort this week, but I’ve been feeling a bit drained lately. Maybe the Concrete Revolutio post took a bit out of me. Maybe this week’s episode isn’t as good as previous weeks. I enjoyed the action, but the pacing felt off. Oh well. Let’s hope we finally see Kongokaku or at least come close to it in next week’s episode. I’m ready to move the story along.

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14 thoughts on “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Ep. 6: The heart of the matter”

    1. It’s been years since her mother died. It’d be rather odd that her clothes and skin have been kept relatively in tact compared to most Kabane.

      1. Yeah, I thought this too, but for Mumei to be impressed that way it just needed to looks like her mother, not necessarily be her mother. Anyway, that’s just a hyphothesis.

    2. That hair and face look like Mumei’s, right?

      Basing myself on E Minor’s last two posts, Mumei symbolically fights, with the help of her new comrades
      1. The part of herself that is afraid of turning into a Kabane cuz it’d mean being rejected by her daisuki bocchama
      2. The Kabane-esque part of herself that is an unthinking machine needing to rampage everything in her path, to prove to herself that she’s strong enough to be of use to her daisuki bocchama.

      So it’d only make sense that her mirror-self is a Kabane, right? Maybe? I don’t know, makes sense to me.

      We’ve seen before how Mumei has gotten more in touch with her own humanity during her sojourn on the train. We’ve also seen how that comes in tension with her prime motivation in life, = being useful to the young master. We even had some old geezer spell out this conflict for us, and it’s what triggered Mumei’s reckless actions last episode anyway. So the question is, can Mumei find something else to live for, something healthier?

  1. your concrete revolutio post was a lot longer and detailed than i had ever expected it to be so no worries about feeling drained; this post was still good

  2. I think she was just surprised that the “powered by forsaken child” trope was invoced and there was a human-looking woman at the core. She wore red too just like Mumei, which might be foreshadowing. Remember that Kabaneri are more intelligent, so maybe if Mumei’s disease progresses she will become the heart of a Fused Colony?

    1. Maybe. I wish this portion of the story had gotten at least one more episode. Felt as if they had to cut a lot of things out.

  3. In conclusion, would you say Kabaneri is deserving of its immense popularity with Japanese viewers? Reasons they gave included amazing animation and music, and heart pounding action/suspense.

    1. It’s a solid show. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t deserve some of the harsher criticism it’s getting. I just think this episode — and the whole Black Cloud thing in general — got rushed.

  4. The way they prevent the train derail is amusing indeed. This is some some wooden carriage. This is a heavy, armored iron train which can take some decent punishment. The passengers are too light compared to it, it doesn’t matter whether all of them lean on the right side or not. Also, why are they pushing the wall, lol. As if that’s going to add anything. Everyone only to need to sit on the right side of the train.

    1. Yeah, that’s what I also felt during the scene. But whatever, I am not gonna get hung up on stupid action physics.

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