[Review] Koutetsujou no Kabaneri (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress)

Overview:

About a month ago, CrunchyRoll held their first anime movie night event featuring the two Koutetsujou no Kabaneri (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress) compilation films. While I personally was not able to attend the event due to the unfortunate timing (it was ~4 hours run time on a Wednesday night),  I figured it might be a good time to review the original TV series, which ran back in Spring 2016.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri takes place during an industrial revolution era where the world is overrun by zombie-like creatures with steel-coated hearts, known as the “Kabane.” The Kabane feed on human flesh, spreading the virus of the Kabane and increasing their numbers, with the only way to defeat one is to pierce their steel-coated hearts. As such, humanity built civilization behind fortress walls to keep the Kabane at bay and traverse from city to city via heavily armored trains. The TV series ran as part of the NoitaminA anime block in Japan between April and June 2016. It was later followed by two compilation films, presumably mostly recapping the series scene for scene given its length, and a sequel series is expected in 2018. Note: This review does contain spoilers of the series

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This scene looks familiar to anyone? (Source)

Quick Take:

Positives:

  • Solid animation from Wit Studio
  • Decent, suspenseful first half that keeps viewer on the edge of the seat as the characters struggle for survival
  • Simple entertainment that is easy for the average viewer to get immersed in

Negatives:

  • Terrible script writing in the second half of the series with a deus ex conclusion
  • Shallow and forgettable character development. Cast is overall naive and show little signs of growth throughout the series
  • Too many series with similar setups in recent seasons makes it difficult for the series to stand out or have long term value
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Our intelligent yet naive protagonist, Ikoma (Source)

A Closer Look:

Ikoma is our protagonist of the series and obsessed with developing a new technology to counter the Kabane. Fortunately or not, he manages to develop his weapon in time when his town is suddenly attacked by a horde of Kabane on a runaway train only to immediately find that he was bitten during his “trial run.” Being the scientific-like guy he is and realizing that the Kabane are created by a viral infection, he manages to save his sanity from the Kabane virus by stopping the contagious virus before it reaches his head. However, the rest of his body had now become a Kabane, effectively making him a “Kabaneri,” as coined by our heroine, Mumei. With the city overrun, Ikoma and the city’s survivors set off on the train, “The Iron Fortress,” in search of a new home.

The first half of the series focuses on “The Iron Fortress’s” journey through various cities in attempt to restock supplies, find survivors, find new homes, and eventually decide to head to the capital city for maximum protection. These episodes are your typical formulaic, suspenseful episodes as the characters struggle for survival in the horrific world they are thrown into. Think shows like High School of the Dead, Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan), and even Gakkou Gurashi! (School Live!). Unfortunately, once the series reached its midpoint, it also revealed the antagonist of the series who was plotting revenge/coup against humanity, Biba Amatori. From here, the series goes down hill as the shock factor disappears once we know that Biba is orchestrating most of the Kabane attacks in the nearby cities, including the creation of chimera Kabane. The protagonist is also shown off as incredibly naive and emotionally weak during this part of the series, which only compounds to the already derailed plot. Lastly, Mumei somehow surviving her transformation into a chimera is not surprising given the type of series that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is but executed in an incredibly cheesy fashion that shows the scriptwriters were willing to go as low as poor writing to avoid her exit in the series. Ikoma becoming a bit of a superhuman (or super Kabaneri) was rather lazy writing as well.

If there are two things that propped this series up, it’s certainly the animation quality and the soundtrack. From the studio that brought Shingeki no Kyojin, there are many familiar animation frames and sequences that made the series aesthetically pleasing to watch. OP/ED themes are by Sony Music’s EGOIST and Aimer. EGOIST’s themes usually are related to the series in question and their “KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS” is certainly no exception. While I personally consider it a far cry from their peak in 2012, Japan responded very positively to the song, making it their best single to date in terms of ranking during its debut week, though some may argue that it’s due to music sales becoming more digital as of late. The ED theme, “ninelie,” on the other hand is a collaboration between Aimer and EGOIST’s vocalist, chelly.  The song is a bit on the weaker side coming from Aimer but a very interesting collaboration that hopefully we can see more of in the future given how similar the two singers are.

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The End? (Source)

Final Thoughts:

At the time of release and even prior, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was hyped mostly because of Wit Studio behind the animation of the series and the thought of an “original” post-apocalyptic series from them. This is mostly because of their success on Shingeki no Kyojin. However, at the end of the day, it felt a lot like a cheap rip-off than an “original” series. The show can definitely be considered a guilty pleasure and an easy series for anyone to step into but not something recommended long term let alone put it in consideration for an award.

The story leaves much to be desired and while there are a number of questions that remain to be answered such as what cause the virus to begin with, there are arguably better shows that deserve a sequel than Koutetsujou no Kabaneri. Then again, Wit Studio doesn’t have much on it’s plate, so maybe that’s why? For fans of the series, 2018 is something to look forward to, while those who had enough of the train wreck should disembark here unless something groundbreaking happens in the sequel.

Score (Overall): 6/10

Story/Character: 4/10

Art/Animation: 8/10

Cast/Sound: 8/10

Enjoyment: 6/10

Rewatch Value: 3/10

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