Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Ep. 9: The Great Liberator

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What happened to Biba? What made him this way? The shogunate’s betrayal? Their cowardice? It’s one thing to seek revenge. It’s another thing to allow thousands of people to die at the hands of the Kabane. But that’s exactly what Biba does in this week’s episode. Under his orders, a misguided Mumei lowers the bridge to Iwato station, which allows Biba’s men to do the rest of the dirty work. Spraying blood from their steampowered motorcycles, Biba’s men lure a horde of Kabane through Iwato station’s gates. The zombies then proceed to murder every human being in sight. No one is spared, including defenseless children. How can the people’s hero stomach this? How can he just watch innocent people die without feeling the slightest pang of remorse? What’s even scarier is that he thinks he’s living up to his title as the Great Liberator: “I will liberate everything. The land, the people… Their fears as well.” This guy must be pathologically insane, right? Yes, but what’s more interesting, however, is the similarities that he shares with Ikoma. Like Ikoma, it appears that Biba knows his way around machines. In an indirect way, they’re both competing for Mumei. They even have the same lofty goals in regards to shaping the future. Essentially, Biba and Ikoma are character foils.

Let’s revisit Ikoma’s monologue at the very start of the story:

“What you need to survive… It’s not some tool that will keep you hidden and safe. It’s power to fight the Kabane without fear. Twenty years ago, fear of the Kabane drove the people of Hinomoto to take shelter in stations. They abandoned their pride and fellow man and fled. Can we really be proud of our survival that’s predicated on sacrificing our own? Their lives aren’t all we lose.”

Biba shares our hero’s sentiments. They both feel that people are trapped by fear. In this week’s episode, Biba speaks out against the walled cities: “Behold. This is the world that has been liberated from its cage. I speak to all of you. Abandon the stations and join the fight.” Both characters feel that humanity needs to stop hiding. Humanity needs to stand their ground and fight. We already know why Ikoma wants this. After all, fear allowed his sister to die. When the Kabane attacked Ikoma’s station, the adults fled and left the children to fend for themselves. Unable to protect his own sister, Ikoma had to put the girl out of her misery. As for Biba, we can only imagine what he’s been through. He probably started out with very noble goals, but like Ikoma, the adults in his world let him down. How many fights has he been in? How many devoted soldiers has he had to watch die at the hands of the Kabane? And for what? For these people to continue hiding behind their iron walls? Not only that, it seems as though Biba’s own father had betrayed him. So like Ikoma again, Biba has been profoundly changed by betrayal. It must have turned him into the monster that he is today.

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Ikoma wants people to have the power to fight, and similarly, Biba wants people to join the fight. The two of them simply go about achieving their goals in different ways. Ikoma wants to work from the bottom up. He wants to empower the weak. That is why he created his piercing gun. With it, everyone has the power to fight back against the Kabane and not just the Bushi. After all, he is inspired by the death of his sister. You can’t expect children to defend themselves against the Kabane, but if the adults had piercing guns to fight back, they wouldn’t have run away. They would’ve stood their ground and protected the children. On the other hand, Biba approaches the problem from the top down. By allowing the Kabane to breach Iwato station, he isn’t actually sacrificing his own in order to protect himself. Rather, he’s weeding out the weak: “It is here where the cowards will die, and only the strong will be able to survive.” Then maybe, if you’re an easily-influenced young girl, Biba will turn you into a superhuman soldier to do his bidding. In any case, because people are too scared to fight, he’ll bring the fight to them. So in the end, both Ikoma and Biba achieve equality. You can either lift the weak up, or just get rid of them entirely.

More importantly, they both appear to desire equality. Remember when Ikoma got into a small scuffle with a Bushi just a few weeks ago? In an episode full of character vignettes that many viewers derided as pointless or filler, it turns out Ikoma’s little moment in a shop wasn’t a throwaway scene whatsoever. Instead, it served to reinforce the level of social stratification within the anime’s universe, and how much how hero is unwilling to tolerate it. The Bushi saw himself as above “a lowly steam smith,” and demanded that the shopkeeper fix his gun before attending to our hero. After some heated words, Ikoma ended up throwing the guy out on his butt, thereby making him wait his turn like everyone else. As for Biba, he’s trying to achieve the same results, but since he’s the villain of the story, his results are twisted. In this week’s episode, our pink-haired bishounen looks down upon the screaming bloody chaos and says, “This is the world of fairness and equality that we’ve been striving for.” Then at the very end of the episode, he gives a speech that clarifies his intent:

“Therefore, we will destroy the very symbol of mankind’s cowardice: the shogun’s castle, Kongokaku, and liberate us all!”

Again, this speech echoes Ikoma’s monologue at the start of the series. People sacrifice their own in order to protect themselves. Whatever the shogunate did, they must have tried to sacrifice Biba and his men in order to protect themselves. Whether or not the so-called Great Liberator succeeds in teaching them a very costly lesson, it’s apparent that the shogunate cannot continue to exist.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress - 0948

We just have to see who will eventually win out between Ikoma and Biba.

Everything Else

— Everyone assumes that women and children are weak, and Biba uses this assumption against his enemies. Pretty clever, especially if he had this planned out from the very start. What better way to protect yourself?

Horobi says, “You decided to use me first, because Mumei has returned, didn’t you?” If she hadn’t gone first, then who would Biba had used instead? This kid? I’m not even sure if he’s a Kabaneri or not, though.

— What other ways are Ikoma and Biba foils? Well, Ikoma’s not short, but he’s much shorter than Biba, isn’t he? The latter is tall and dashing. He’s got everyone’s respect. Meanwhile, Ikoma has no charisma. He’s this bespectacled, puke-green dude with no grace or tact whatsoever. Remember when he just walked up to Biba and outright said, “So you’re the asshole who made Mumei think that she’s weak.”

— You’d think the controls to the bridge, i.e. the one thing that separates us from bloodthirsty zombies, would be better guarded than… well, this. On the other hand, it’s nice to see Mumei’s continued development. I also think she’s just trying to convince herself that she’s doing it for Ikoma. After all the time she’s spent with the people on the Koutetsujyo, the girl must know by now that killing innocent people is wrong.

— But again, Mumei’s still just a child, and as such, she has a very childish mentality. She lowers the bridge because, in her own words, “[i]t’s not fair that they’re only keeping us out.” That’s how a kid would reason. When we’re young, we’re very fixated on our black-and-white perceptions of fairness. She hasn’t stopped to consider why people might be afraid of her onii-sama and his troupe.

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— I gotta give Ayame credit for having the conviction to try and fight back against Biba even though she likely knows she’d easily lose in any sort of physical combat. She’s really come a long way since the start of the series, especially when you remember how easily she handed over the Master Key to those elders. It’s just too bad she can’t actually fight back. I don’t think she could’ve done anything with that naginata if it had really come down to it.

— If anything serious happens to Yukina, my coworker would be very unhappy. In any case, she seems to be a fan favorite.

— Biba injects a blue liquid into Horobi’s chest, thereby turning her into a Black Cloud’s heart. That makes me wonder how the previous Black Cloud was created. I initially thought that Biba and the Hunters might have had a hand in it, but we see from this week’s episode that they haven’t quite perfected the transformation process. Horobi eventually loses control of the rest of the Black Cloud, and moreover, she almost attacks Biba himself.

— I also can’t help but wonder who else is gonna be turned into a Black Cloud’s heart before the series comes to an end? Was it foreshadowing when Mumei came face-to-face with the other Black Cloud’s heart? Remember, she had a double take when she saw it with her own eyes. At the time, we debated whether or not she had actually recognized the girl at the center of the Black Cloud, but I’m thinking now that she was simply surprised to see the heart for what it was, i.e. a young girl much like herself. She probably expected something more twisted, but instead, she got a reminder that someone like her could one day become a Kabane monstrosity.

Kurusu tries to rescue Ayame, but ends up going over the edge instead. By the end of the episode, his status remains unaccounted for. This sets him up to be a hero in next week’s episode, then. I mean, someone has to free everyone from Biba and his soldiers. It may as well be our underdeveloped samurai. He hasn’t really gotten much of the spotlight, and there aren’t very many episodes left.

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— I like the sweatdrop on Biba’s cheek when Horobi stopped short of killing him. It reminds us of his last conversation with the girl, and how she could sense his fear. In her own words, he’s always afraid. Perhaps this revenge quest is a way to compensate for that great character flaw that he senses in himself. Nevertheless, I almost thought at first that he had shed a tear for the dehumanized Horobi, but instead, we see that he has no heart. This is how you can achieve characterization without having the characters spell it out with pointless dialogue. This wordless moment tells you everything you need to know about Biba’s personality.

6 thoughts on “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Ep. 9: The Great Liberator

  1. sonicsenryaku

    This is another case of all these plot points and character ambitions sounding good on paper but just lacking the time to be truly explored. As i was watching this ep i couldnt help but think: “i like what the narrative is trying to set up with biba’s character but 1.the show is not giving these character motivations time to gestate and be fleshed out. Everything is moving so fast and a lot of the nuance of biba’s character is suffering for it. So what if he is the foil to ikoma’s character and is out to liberate the world? i dont care too much because it doesnt seem like the writing cares enough either. It’s all so….standard; which isnt bad at all but i end up feeling more like something is missing and that feeling nags me. 2. Most of these characters arent strong enough to carry this show and some of the themes it tries to explore”. Maybe im jumping the gun too soon. Im going to wait for the final 3 eps to see how all this pans out and make a final verdict because these are just initial impressions. I am aware that seeing the complete picture can definitely improve one’s initial thoughts on a narrative’s execution, making me appreciate some things more than before.

    One stand out moment of this ep was the one you mentioned with the climax between biba and horubi; More current anime need to do this; i dont understand why this is so hard to do. Most of all, i am glad to see that regardless of my thoughts on the execution, that there is some kind of arching character/thematic arc building with each ep and we definitely see it reaching a boil through the naive eyes of mumei, a character who seems to be finally growing up and most likely by next ep, will begin to carve her own ideals through people that actually love her aka our main cast.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I think we can revisit this topic if we ever rewatch the series as a whole and see how it stands up then.

        1. riøt

          Shit. ^ ignore the previous post

          At this point in this story, it’s official all the charecters are pretty fuckin pathetic,
          It’s Mumeis fault shits happening. Ayame sama is one average women and child.
          And I’m beginning to actually like the antagonist Biba sama, the only badass heartless charecter who is most likely to survive this clown show of an apocolypse.

  2. eternia

    The lever is located at the end of a long track which starting point is probably only accessible through the Lord’s Manor. That’s why he need to bring Mumei all the way; instead of having her disguise herself as a normal girl inside Koutetsujo, which will let her enter the city all the same.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I’m not questioning why he brought Mumei. I’m questioning why the lever is still relatively unguarded. I don’t care how far back it is, if it’s the one thing separating you from zombies, I’d have it under better security than that.


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