Mumei’s brother sure has a lot of names: onii-sama, Young Master, the Liberator, the Shogun’s son, and last but not least, Biba-sama. But regardless of what you call him, he’s got what Ikoma wants, and that’s Mumei’s heart. It’s not that he has romantic feelings for her or anything. Not yet, anyway. Oh, I’m afraid it’s much worse than that: it seems our hero wants to steal someone else’s imouto. I say that half-jokingly, of course, but there’s more to this idea than you think. This week, the anime slows down in order to catch its breath, i.e. develop some characters, do a bit of world-building, and most of all, set the stage for series’ major conflict. We’ll get to everything in due time. At the moment, I want to consider Ikoma’s mindset. What’s motivating him? It seems he’s taken Mumei’s words from last week’s episode to heart. He doesn’t ever want the girl to think that she’s weak again. For the first time, Mumei opens up to Ikoma. First, he learns her true name: Hodsumi. According to the guy, it apparently means to fill a belly full with rice. I don’t know anything about Japanese names, so I’ll just assume Ikoma isn’t talking out of his ass. Moving along, Mumei also tells him about her fears. She’s a Kabaneri, but only for now. As it has been alluded to in previous episodes, there’s a nonzero chance she’ll wake up one day and go full Kabane. It’s one of the classic existential problems: “Will I still be me?”
As it turns out, you can’t grow rice anymore in the world of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. It’s not literally impossible, but pretty damn unfeasible. Hey, try tending to a rice paddy while fending off zombies at the same time. But that’s what Ikoma is trying to suggest. Mumei’s simply opening up to him, allowing our hero a short glimpse of her vulnerable side. In return, Ikoma promises the world. What is he thinking? Is he nuts? Well, a small part of it is that Ikoma’s an inventor; he’s a problem solver at heart. If you give him a list of the things that are wrong, he’s going to come right back with an equally long list of solutions. Mumei’s afraid of turning into a Kabane one day? Fine, let’s make her human again! Mumei’s true name doesn’t make sense, because you can’t even eat rice anymore? We’ll grow rice! Then we’ll eat it! But how? Won’t the Kabane attack? And if Mumei’s human, she won’t have the strength to fight back. No problem! We’ll just get rid of the Kabane entirely! The problem, of course, is that none of these things sound very realistic, so it makes you question Ikoma’s judgment. Isn’t he just setting Mumei up for disappointment? After all, she’s so child-like in many ways. It is at this moment, however, that she smiles at him, and that smile reminds Ikoma of his younger sister. Ah, damn. So that’s what this is about.
Ikoma’s sister turned into a Kabane, so I’m sure he wishes he could’ve done something about that. His sister definitely won’t be eating rice any time soon, but hey, this is still a possibility for Mumei! Most of all, Mumei’s afraid of being weak, because the weak are the first to die in this cruel world. The weak like, say, Ikoma’s sister. Needless to say, Ikoma wants a world in which it’s okay to be weak. The guy doesn’t have to say it, but at the end of the day, he’s the same as any other male anime protagonist: he wants to create an ideal world for his sister. It’s a world where even if you’re weak, you can lead a happy life. So he gets all gung-ho about it. He gets all badass about it. Ikoma even stands before everyone, and declares his wish. Y’see, it’s Tanabata, and on this day, it’s customary to write a wish onto a strip of paper, and hang it from a bamboo leaf, branch or something. Again, like with Japanese names, I’m no expert, but this seems to be the general gist behind the holiday. Emboldened by his promise to Mumei earlier that day, Ikoma encourages everyone to not only dream big, but to not let their dreams be dreams. That all sounds very heroic, but is he actually heroic?
Whether Ikoma realizes it or not — and he probably doesn’t — he’s trying to get Mumei to fill the void created by his sister’s death. I wonder if this is fair to Mumei. Maybe the ends justify the means. Maybe they’ll both be happier if she can stand in for his dead sister, but ah, there’s still one problem, one little inconvenient fact: Mumei’s already got a brother. This Biba-sama isn’t her real brother, but neither is Ikoma. It’s clear, however, that there’s only enough room in any anime for one onii-chan (or onii-sama); one of them has to go. Near the end of the episode, Ikoma hears a sleeping Mumei murmur to herself, and he can’t help but think, “Your brother was the one who made you abandon your name Hodsumi, and taught you the weak were only here to die?” But he’s jumping to conclusions, isn’t he? Mumei only said that her name changed after she met her onii-sama. She never said anyone made her abandon her name. She never said her onii-sama was the one who taught her that the weak exist only to die. Then at the very end of the episode, Ikoma watches from afar as a gleeful Mumei runs up to her oniisama. The entire crowd is elated to see the Liberator. Our hero, however, views the tall, gallant warrior with distrust: “There is something I have to find out. Whether he is a true hero or something else…”
Some anime show us that the world isn’t black and white. Rather, we live in a world full of greys. But is this the case with Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress? I’m not sure yet, but in all likelihood, Ikoma’s gut instincts are probably right. This Biba-sama guy is probably not on the up and up. Nevertheless, I question his motives. Again, he sure seemed really heroic and inspiring when he was standing in front of everyone, promising to deliver a world without Kabane, a world where even the weak can thrive. But watching him stare at both Mumei and her onii-sama from afar, I can’t help but feel as though Ikoma’s taking this a little personally. Perhaps he’s got a bit of a complex. No, I’m not suggesting that he’s not in love with his sister or anything, but I wonder if a part of his distrust for Biba-sama is actually born from guilt. He couldn’t save his sister. Actually, he had to kill her. On the other hand, Biba-sama did save Mumei from certain death. He also has the girl’s admiration and love. Perhaps it’s a platonic love, but it’s love nonetheless. And although Mumei probably does care whether Ikoma lives or dies, at the moment, her feelings for him doesn’t come close to what she feels for Ikoma. In other words, this guy’s got everything that Ikoma doesn’t! So again, while it’s likely that our hero’s gut instincts are correct, I dare say we’ve got a spot of jealousy to go along with it.
— I like what we see at the start of the episode: unused farming plots overtaken by nature. The scenery actually reinforces the idea that people are trapped. They can’t leave their iron fortresses in order to tend to the land. And while it may suck for them, maybe it’s for the better. I mean, look how lush and green the outside world seems to be.
— Apparently, Kabaneri are good copycats, and Ikoma has already stolen one of Kurusu’s moves. That’s interesting, I suppose, but I hope the series doesn’t end with an uninspired sword fight between him and some opponent. I rather like the fact that he has to rely on his inventions and thus his ingenuity to fight.
— On a related note, Kurusu is not impressed: “Do not flatter yourself for copying one move.” That’s true, but at the same time, he’s feeling a bit insecure. Thanks to being a Kabaneri, Ikoma has superhuman traits. But not only that, he’s got a sharp mind. If he’s going to go and copy Kurusu’s moves as well, then what will the latter have going for him?
— Uh, the last time we counted on these knuckleheads, they endangered the entire train.
— It’s odd to see such a green-looking dude put on some pink clothes.
— Again, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress relies heavily on static shots, but this time, it’s even less excusable, because there’s no action this week! C’mon, you can’t animate a few people walking slowly through a street?
— We don’t really get to learn much about any particular character, but at least we now know that Kajika is good at haggling. Also, I finally learned that her name is Kajika. Shrug, don’t blame me. She hasn’t exactly been very essential to the story.
— Ikoma and Takumi get into a bit of a tussle with a bushi. Not much here to talk about. Just another example of this universe’s social stratification. We saw a bit of it in the first episode, but with everyone running for their lives in past few weeks, we haven’t really gotten the chance to explore the theme again till now.
— Elsewhere, Yukina meets a boy whose father had ridden on the Husoujyo, i.e. the train that crashed into Aragane Station. We see the stark difference between Yukina and Sukari. She wants to protect the kid from the painful truth. Sukari thinks it would hurt more for the kid to pin his hopes on a lie. I can’t honestly say who’s right, so I like this scene. It also subverts my expectations of the guy a bit. I thought he was just being a dick for the sake of it, but I’m wrong. He’s got a softer side. He even says to kid, “…the real fight begins when the tears dry up.”
— Next up, Kurusu gets to see his perfect Ayame in a not-so-perfect moment. But shortly afterwards, we see a little quid pro quo between her and Shitori’s minister. Even if her stomach betrays her once in a while, at least Ayame’s coming into her own as a leader.
— Anyway, Enoku’s back, but he hasn’t got much to say. Rather, there seems to be a power struggle between the shogunate and our Liberator. The old men here allude ominously to some event from ten years ago, so this scene serves as a contrast. The kids are all busy being happy, and meanwhile, the adults are up to no good.
— Mumei has celebrated Tanabata before, but she simply forgot. I wonder if Mumei repressed memories of her mother due to how traumatic her death was. More importantly, the girl never had a normal childhood. We’ll eventually find out what happened to her, but she was likely experimented on. Then afterwards, she was likely thrust into combat. As a result, you could argue that Mumei’s got a case of arrested development. This would explain why she’s so childlike in many ways as well as her ability to get along with children. So y’know, when people wonder why she would make such dumb decisions, don’t forget that you’re talking about a child. Children are bound to make mistakes.
— She’s referring to the brooch, you dingus.
— Mumei’s trying to be all silly, but Ikoma’s having none of it. He’s busy doing the calculations to see how he can turn her into an imouto. Just kidding. I’m being facetious… maybe. It’s just a funny contrast between the two.
— Chill out a bit, Kurusu. It’s a holiday.
— Ayame’s wish is so boring even if it fits her character; she simply wants to reopen Aragane Station. As for Takumi, I didn’t realize he was such a dirty polygamist. Again, I’m being facetious before anyone jumps down my throat to remind me that polygamy was normal back then.
— Yukina wants her own train, and Sukari wants to ride it. Hm. But after what we saw last week, I doubt Sukari would survive the encounter anyway.
— Back to Kurusu for a bit, our warrior’s got a bit of a childish crush going on. We’ve seen learn so little about him, however, that I can’t root for the guy. I barely know him.
— Ikoma wants to rid the world of Kabane? Well, Mr. Liberator over here is actually doing it. Just another example of how our hero falls short of this dude who just waltz in like some sort of Greek God.
All in all, this is one of those slower episodes that people tend to simple-mindedly complain about if they fancy themselves a robust anime reviewer. Certain folks seem to think anything that doesn’t literally move the plot along is inherently a bad thing, that the story is padding its length to chew up the clock. But character development is a crucial element to the plot as well, and there’s plenty of character development to be had in this week’s episode. I’m not just talking about the light-hearted character vignettes either. Last week, I pointed out how boring Ikoma had been as a hero. Until now, he was being such a generic do-gooder. It’s likely that we haven’t changed much in this week’s episode, but at the very least, he now has a purpose for the rest of the series: save Mumei from her not-so-perfect Biba-sama. But I nevertheless can’t shake the feeling that our hero’s flawed in desire to protect Mumei, that his heart isn’t entirely in the right place. Ikoma is thus a whole lot more interesting now.