Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Koutetsujou no Kananeri) should have been called Attack on Zombies, but it wasn’t. It was created by the same people in Studio Wit and it really felt like a poor man’s Attack on Titan, but does that mean the show was bad? I guess it’s time to find out!
SIE SIND DAS ZOMBIES UND WIR SIND DIE JAEGER!
Humans live inside walled cities around the world and travel between them via large military-like trains called Koutetsujou. They live within these cities because the world is being plagued by a virus that can turn humans into zombies called Kabane. The virus is spread much in the same way as any zombie virus is spread. If the person infected bites you, you become a Kabane. The unique difference between a Kabane and your normal everyday zombie is that some Kabane, while still appearing mindless, possess high intelligence, such as superior fighting skills. They also have a hard iron core protecting their hearts so humans have had to develop steam-powered weapons to pierce through and damage their hearts to kill them.
The story follows Ikoma, a steamsmith who invents a gun powerful enough to break through that iron core, but he’s not recognized as someone of noteworthy standing. Each city has their “upper echelon” of people and Ikoma is simply just a grunt that works down at the Aragane Station making steam engines. One day, the walls are breached by zombies and Ikoma is bitten. After doing his own research on the virus, he administers himself treatment in the form of a choke collar. It stopped the virus from completely taking over his body, but it left him as a half human/half zombie. There are others in the world like him and they are referred to as Kabaneri.
The citizens of Aragane Station, having lost their home, flee and set out on a journey to the capital and that’s pretty much it.
There is a little more to the story than that, but it does venture into spoiler territory, but the story does give you some pretty solid hints as to how the Kabane came to be and who may be responsible for it all. There are instances, such as the Black Cloud events, that show just how far those theories about the Kabane are put into effect. Overall, I felt the story was pretty decent, but I don’t think it’s the kind of story that’s going to win any awards. The ending to the story was rushed as hell and some of the explanations they gave around an event that happens to Ikoma was pretty weak. It almost felt like a Deadpool moment where he just “got better.”
I had some high hopes for Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress because the manga was written by Kiyomune Miya, who also wrote the story for the manga adaptation of Steins;Gate, but while the story was decent, I just didn’t feel it all that much. There were just way too many similarities between Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and Attack on Titan to the point where it felt like it was just a carbon copy with a few plot devices swapped in and out.
Ikoma is our main protagonist and I have some mixed feelings about him as a character. First off, I cannot stand his voice at all. It is a unique voice, I will say that, but it sounds like a deep voice put through too much reverb. It almost has that sound to where as if someone took normal audio and slowed it down, but they’re still speaking at a normal pace, if that makes any sense. You’d have to listen to it for yourself, but I was not a fan of it. As for Ikoma’s involvement with the story, it was okay. Being a steamsmith, he used his knowledge to fight the Kabane, but he still comes off as a weak main character at times. One moment he looks like he’s ready to charge into battle, the next he seems timid and shy. It’s like they didn’t know which direction to go with Ikoma so they gave him both personalities. He was a really weird main character and a good example that being unique doesn’t always mean it’s going to be good.
Mumei is also a Kabaneri that accompanies Ikoma on his journey. She has a bit of a mysterious past is a bit full of herself at first. It’s almost like they’re trying to make her a tsundere, but she’s not. She is one hell of a fighter and can hold her own without an issue, but it’s that overconfidence that ends up being one of her weaknesses as the story progresses. Her backstory, when revealed, tries to get the viewer to sympathize with Mumei, but I just don’t believe the information was delivered in a way to make the viewer feel that connection. It’s another example of the story getting rushed in this show and I think this show would have benefitted from 24 or 25 episodes rather than 12.
Finally, a character with a last name! Ayame is the eldest daughter of the Yomogawa family which governs the Aragane Station. I did not buy into this character at all. I get what they were going for, though. She is a young, teenage girl who was suddenly thrust into a position of power and she was naïve in how to handle her position and FAR too trusting of others. At one point in the story, that trust was taken advantage of, but how it wasn’t throughout the whole series is beyond me. Ayame did have her moments which could rally her people, but her delivery was so weak and uninspiring, I had a very hard time believing how her people would follow her and listen to her. Her whole motto throughout the entire show was “okay, let’s stop and play nice now.” That’s really what it seemed like and being a child, herself, I guess you can’t expect too much, but I’ve seen other characters in similar roles pull it off a lot better.
A bishounen (pretty boy) antagonist? Sure, why the hell not. Biba’s introduction came in the latter half of the series and he was pretty much just placed into the role of main villain. While I won’t go into all of the details to avoid spoilers, Biba’s build up, for the amount of time he was given, was pretty decent. He played a pivotal part in deepening the story of both Mumei and the Kabane as a whole. His motives for his actions, however, were simply just daddy issues and seemed pretty weak, but you cannot deny that his ruthlessness wasn’t near top tier. He’s another character that should have been given more time to develop, but I guess only a handful of shows can bleed into the summer season and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress wasn’t one of those.
He is Ayame’s personal bodyguard and I really loved his character. He started out as a very harsh swordsman who went exactly by the rules down to the letter and carried out commands without question or hesitation, but as the story went on, he became a bit more understanding and compassionate about the Kabaneri and what is happening around him as a whole. He realized this journey was more about protecting Ayame and started to see the overall big picture. Even in the end, he retains some of that hardheadedness, but he also gives a bit more leeway to things he didn’t at the start of the show. I really loved his transition as a character and he ended up being my favorite by the end.
That pretty much covers the major characters. Some supporting characters pop up from time to time and help aid the story, such as the case with Takumi, but outside of him and maybe one other, the supporting characters were just there for the sake of being there.
Art, Animation, and Sound
This is where the show actually shines as one would expect. Studio Wit did a tremendous job with the visuals and it really did resemble the Attack on Titan art style, but at the same time it had its own flavor to it. The Kabane were well done and CG was used on them in a way where it blended in and made sense. Everything from the cities/stations, backgrounds and the overall environment were just gorgeous to look at.
While I didn’t care for the characters’ personalities, I loved their overall designs. Ikoma was one of the most unique looking main characters I’ve seen in a while Mumei had a bit of a steampunk shogun look to her that was pretty cool. Kurusu looked just like a samurai should look and Biba was just your typical pretty boy. The only character that I felt looked flat was Ayame… big surprise there. Even some of the smaller supporting characters like Yukina and Sukari stood out in their designs and looked like they could have been main characters themselves.
The animation was pretty good as well. Everything seemed fluid and CG was used correctly. There wasn’t anything weird or out of place that jarred out of the experience so good job all around by Studio Wit again.
The OST? OH MY GOD, THAT OST. The only piece of music I didn’t like was the opening theme by EGOIST. It started off sounding epic and then it just went all over the place and I had no idea what it was trying to sound like. The Japanese have his ability to either make an epic piece of music or just say to hell with it and sing a song in such a way where they don’t care if the lyrics fit the music. Well not only did the lyrics not fit the music, they even seemed out of key at some points. I was expecting something better from the artist who did the amazing opening to Guilty Crown, but oh well, I can’t like everything.
As for the rest of the OST… without question, buy this as soon as it drops. From all of the standard background music, to battle themes, to those AMAZING insert songs… this is probably, by far, the BEST OST out of the spring anime season. Even if you don’t like the show, you should pick up this OST just for the audiophile in you… it’s THAT good.
From a rushed story to average character development, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a show that makes you wish it had 25 episodes to flesh everything out. I felt the story itself was fine, but it could have been AMAZING had it been given more time to develop. In most of my reviews these days, this is a point I keep making over and over to the point where I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but it’s true. Japan has moved to a model where more and more anime shows are coming out with 12 or even less episodes (I’m looking at you Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu) because they believe that people’s attention spans are so short that they need to quickly fire off these shows to keep people from getting bored.
I still think this is a show worth checking out, though. There’s pretty good action in it and plenty of gore if you’re into that sort of thing. It does hold your attention from episode to episode, but it just lacks that something extra to make you WANT to see the next episode.
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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
From a rushed story to average character development, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a show that makes you wish it had 25 episodes to flesh everything out. I felt the story itself was fine, but it could have been AMAZING had it been given more time to develop.