Thursday, August 11, 2016

Steampunk, Zombie, and Jidaigeki Genres Converge in 'Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress'

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) is set in a steampunk version of feudal Japan wherein a zombie apocalypse has forced humans to live inside fortified “stations”, which are connected by railways and the only means of travel between them are by armored trains called “Hayajiro.”  However, it’s not uncommon for stations and trains to be attacked and overwhelmed by the zombies, which are called Kabane.  The Kabane are very difficult to defeat since they are undead and can only be “killed” when their glowing hearts are pierced.  However, their hearts are covered with an iron-like layer that is difficult to penetrate.  Someone wounded by a Kabane is immediately infected and will shortly transform into a Kabane.  Hence, it’s a general and expected practice for newly infected people – especially warriors – to commit suicide before transforming into one.  Dealing with this kind of situation, humans live in widespread and constant dread and paranoia.
The story centers on Ikoma, a young “steamsmith” (an engineer) of the Aragane Station who is keen on completely freeing the world from the Kabane threat.  He develops a powerful steam-powered piercing gun that is powerful enough to penetrate the Kabane’s heart.  He gets the opportunity to successfully test his gun when the Kabane invades the station.  However, he’s bitten in the process.  But before he can fully transform into a Kabane, he quickly makes use of another untested contraption he invented that stops the infection from getting to his brain.  Thus, he becomes a Kabaneri instead, half-human and half-Kabane.  His body gains the strength, durability, and healing power of the Kabane, but his human mind remains intact.

Coincidentally, another young Kabaneri named Mumei, who happens to be a member of an elite Kabane slaying organization called the Hunters, is visiting the Aragane Station during the time of the Kabane attack.  She and Ikoma help the survivors escape the station by boarding the Hayajiro Kotetsujo.  The two Kabaneri then take it upon themselves to protect the armored train and its passengers of Aragane refugees from the hordes of Kabane in the outside world, while at the same time, attempt to win the trust of the passengers who fear their part-Kabane nature.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress reminds me a lot of Attack on Titan.  They are similar in tones and thematic DNA.  There’s also somewhat of a similarity in their worlds’ setups – humans living fearfully behind walls, unable to live in the open; mindless, nigh indestructible monsters; gas-powered weapons – only, with Kabaneri, it also has Jidaigeki (Japanese period drama) and a little of Snowpiercer added in the mix as well.

I found its similarity with AoT a pro early on.  While waiting for AoT’s season two – which keeps on getting postponed until the next year of whatever year it’s announced to be scheduled on –  I welcomed tasting in Kabaneri the familiar AoT flavor I’ve been craving for in the past few years.  However, as the series progressed, this became a little bit more of a con, since it started to feel that Kabaneri is being an AoT knockoff.
At most parts – particularly at the first episodes – Kabaneri successfully delivers the thrills, badass action, reflection, and welling intrigue.  But this gradually diminishes as the series draws closer to its end.  It doesn’t help that the characters, though extremely likable, are given clichéd arcs.  During a latter episode, in which the group of non-Kabane bad guys were introduced, I felt that the story had become closer to something done-to-death than innovative, which I originally deemed it to be.

In the end though, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is an overall satisfying anime series to watch.  Taking all into consideration, it still weighs towards the positive side.  There’s an attractive cinematic quality to its production value; the characters are very easy to get invested on and grow fond of; and though there’s a noticeable weakening in the storytelling – which initially started fresh and strong – when it begins treading on a formulaic path during its last few episodes, it doesn’t completely fizzle out.

This anime will do until Attack on Titan season two arrives.
I kind of like a second season of this.  Would love to see more of this endearing group.

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