Takubro didn’t die for this… It’s funny. As I’m sitting there, watching these hopeful kids ride away on the Koutetsujyo in the final seconds of the episode, our finale doesn’t feel like much of a happy ending. Ikoma saves Mumei, Biba dies, and the rest of the gang gets away safely, but… the bad guy still pretty much got what he wanted, didn’t he? Forget Biba’s revenge. It’s a defining point about his character, but when you take a broader view, It’s pretty much insignificant compared to… oh, I don’t know… the death of an entire city? Then you realize that our heroes haven’t been able to stop a single atrocity. Not one. Alright, they couldn’t save Aragane station, because it happened at the start of the series. You don’t expect to succeed at the very beginning of the story. Yashiro station was already in ruins by the time they got there. Can’t do anything about that. They couldn’t do much for Iwato station either, because nobody (besides Ikoma) thought Biba would be such an asshole. And of course, they couldn’t save Kongokaku. Four cities, four smoldering ruins. Don’t get me wrong, though. This isn’t criticism. It’s not like our heroes have to save anyone. I just think there’s an interesting contrast between the upbeat feel of the ending, and well, the cold, hard facts regarding their situation.
Mumei completes her character development by freeing herself from Biba, and Ikoma somehow manages to survive the whole ordeal. Apparently, Biba injected his white vial into Ikoma when I wasn’t looking. How kinky. Then the whole gang (minus Takumi) gets to ride off into the clear blue horizon. If you’re a good person, and you have a name, you’re good to go. It’s amusing how only Takumi had to give up his life. Ah well, they didn’t have enough rations for him anyway. How is that anything but a good ending? Well, again, our heroes have never managed to save any of these cities. Ikoma’s goal wasn’t to save the Kongokaku and its people. He doesn’t even talk about it. It’s like the death of thousands is already a foregone conclusion, so he’s not even going to bother. Instead, Ikoma is just here to do what he failed to do as a kid: save his sister. Everyone’s going to die, but at least I’ll redeem myself by saving my sister. And even then, she’s still a Kabaneri. Ayame has to enter an uneasy alliance with Uryuu (not sure if that’s his name) as the train heads off into the unknown. They’re no closer to growing rice paddies. They’re no closer to solving the Kabane threat. All they’ve done is survive. All they’ve got is their belief. And maybe that’s the moral of the story. Whatever’s gonna happen will happen, but you can’t be scared and you’ve got to believe.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress seemed to get a lot of flack from the more hardcore anime fans in the West. I use the word ‘hardcore’ here rather loosely. We’re speaking in relative terms. Let’s put it this way: if you watch more than five anime series a season, you probably have your fair share of complaints about this show. The characters make stupid decisions. The plot is straightforward and brain dead at times (train tipping, anyone?). The story has nothing meaningful to say. The events and developments are trite and run-of-the-mill. The animation cuts a lot of corners. The laundry list goes on and on. And hey, I don’t think the show was perfect or anything. As a whole, however, I just enjoyed the anime more than most people seemed to, and I think my coworker nails it: “Kabaneri doesn’t feel like the typical anime.” A lot of you reading this are gonna sit there and roll your eyes. “Are you kidding me? A lot of the show feels VERY anime.” But you guys have to realize that my coworker only casually watches a series or two a season. I also have another coworker following this show, and it’s the same for him. He’s only watching Kabaneri and Boku no Hero Academia. The point is that Kabaneri, for all its faults, has a sort of broad appeal that we can lose sight of, because we’re so immersed in the subculture.
The characters here are young, but you can ignore the details. They look and act as if they’re in their 20s, so who cares what their real, “canon” ages are. Plus, they’re not in school, there isn’t very much fanservice, and there aren’t a ton of blushing schoolgirls in seifukus. There isn’t a lot of silly jargon. There aren’t deadpan maids and meta jokes that only years of immersing yourself within the anime subculture will allow you to appreciate. It isn’t a story about some powertripping fantasy where the hero gets all the girls, and dual-wields two katanas and top of it. Kabaneri is just a straightforward and simple action series with zombies, samurai, and some steampunk sprinkled in. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s a perfect B-series, in a sense. Ultimately, that’s what I appreciate about the show. It isn’t about celebrating mediocrity. Of course, I wish Kabaneri was actually better than how it turned out. Nevertheless, it’s the one show I can actually talk about in real life without drawing blank stares. People have actually seen it. As much as I enjoy, say, Concrete Revolutio, no one’s ever heard about it.
At the end of the day, I will always put Concrete Revolutio miles and miles ahead of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. In my mind, there’s no contest. But it isn’t just about Concrete Revolutio. It’s also about Kiznaiver, or Re:Zero, or Mayoiga, or any of the other popular shows this season. I think it’s important in understanding why some shows have crossover appeal. My other coworker — the one that’s also watching Boku Hero no Academia — said that he likes Ghost in the Shell and Samurai Champloo. In general, however, he doesn’t really watch a whole lot of anime. I also know a guy who watched Parasyte… but not really anything else. The first coworker I mentioned? She really likes the Studio Ghibli films, but she doesn’t really follow anime. She’ll watch a show if it’s highly recommended like One Punch Man, but you won’t catch her watching Re:Zero or Mayoiga. This post started out as somewhat of a defense of Kabaneri, but I think we have to ask ourselves if anime needs to broaden its appeal. But in saying this, it’s not about making anime seem less “anime,” if you know what I mean. This is why I mentioned those other shows that my coworkers like.
Why have we shied away from stories that anyone can easily jump into? Why aren’t there more Ghibli-like experiences or more Samurai Champloo-like series? “Ah, but Samurai Champloo is a one-of-a-kind! Watanabe is a one-of-a-kind! You can’t just mimic his genius!” But you could try. Instead, we’re mimicking the latest light novel fad, which is almost always about some manchild stuck in an MMORPG, fantasy world, or what have you. Hell, Okada just mimics herself and releases the latest iteration of Painful Past Trauma Cryfest ver. 8.2. Who knows? I guess it just comes down to what sells. But I think I’ve veered off topic enough. Kabaneri? Solid time-waster. I won’t remember it in a year or even six months from now, but I don’t regret watching it. And as simple as it can be at times, at least it doesn’t turn casual viewers away. Maybe that’s something the industry as a whole should be mindful of.
— Yo, why isn’t Ikoma red anymore? I was actually looking forward to him being red as opposed to puke green.
— I was also really hoping for Ikoma to either die or turn into a Kabane. The story seemed to heavily foreshadowed it, but I guess it didn’t want to end on a depressing note. Again, we only need to kill Takubro and no one else.
— So in her dreams, Mumei is being chased by her guilt, and unable to resolve this inner conflict, she lashes out violently in real life.
— Elsewhere, Biba looks down at the smoldering ruins and asks himself what he should destroy next. That’s a good question. Kongokaku is (or was) the major city of the region, right? I mean, it housed the shogunate. What else is out there to conquer? What else is out there to destroy? In a longer series, perhaps we would’ve fleshed out the rest of the Kabaneri universe, but alas…
— Sahari decides that there’s only one way for him to stop Ikoma’s onslaught: run our hero over with a train. And of course, this stunt only has one possible outcome. Yes, it’s stupid. The train’s mass and velocity crashing into Ikoma’s relatively tiny mass… but c’mon, it’s a B-movie action series. Who cares?
— As soon as I saw the second white vial, however, I knew Ikoma would be saved somehow. It’s not that I wanted him dead, but… eh, honestly, it doesn’t matter to me either way. It’s just really odd how the only major casualty is the guy’s best friend.
— How did that stone end up in Mumei’s possession? Last time I saw it, it was in Takumi’s dead hands. Oh well, I guess I must not have noticed her picking it up at some point in last week’s episode.
— Other than that, the duel between Ikoma and Biba was just okay. The action wasn’t really all that flashy, nor did they two of them really have a war of words. Overall, the scene lacks a punch of real adrenaline like, say, Kill la Kill’s finale. And that’s the thing… if you’re going to have a crazy moment like a train derailing, because it can’t run over tiny, little Ikoma, then why are you pulling your punches with the final battle between him and Biba? This should’ve been one explosive encounter that really contrasted the difference between our hero’s raw Kabane strength and Biba’s decade of combat experience. Or the contrast between Biba’s sword-wielding elegance and Ikoma’s ugly but practical steam gun? You can be a B-movie action series all you want, but you gotta give me that thrilling final battle.
— I laughed when the angry girl ran up and slapped Uryuu. Everyone just stood there and watched her do it. And yeah, I wonder where our heroes will really go, what will happen next, whether or not they can really achieve any of the goals they’ve set out to achieve… but like I said up top, I don’t think the odds are very good. So we may as well end the story here.
— What’s the blue stuff? Kabane souls? Kabane power? The same bluish thing served as an aura when Ikoma was getting the upper hand over Biba…
— “And with the number one pick in the draft, the Los Angeles Rams select quarterback Mumei out of Kongokaku St. University!”
— They should do an “outtakes” episode where Ikoma rips right through the patchwork cloth.