Themes / Story:
Look, before we actually get to the themes and story, I have to get this off my chest. I was a medic in the military for three years. If you get poison in your blood, a tourniquet won’t work. Don’t do that. And most certainly don’t ever think, “I need to stop it from reaching my brain! I’ll just stop all the blood to my brain!” Cause then you don’t get oxygen and you die. And if you do get oxygen, then you’re not stopping shit. It sort of hurt when the show went for “This isn’t a curse! This is science!” And then went so unscientific about it.
Also, this scene was friggin’ hilarious. I haven’t laughed at any of the comedies I’ve watched this season as much as I did at this. Speaking of this moment, it really did serve well, as several other examples, of showing how our main character doesn’t think things through – yes, we’re presented as if his case is heroic and those he rails against are cowards (who ostensibly are so harsh to protect everyone, but then run away to protect themselves and not their charges), but they do have a point, and he does rush into things non-stop without thinking of the ramifications. So at least that aspect of his character was consistent in presentation.
Speaking of how others perceive him, his friend said “He’s a self-righteous idiot,” because he does outright tell others they’re worse than him, and failures as humans. But you’ll note that when the kabane invaded the town, it was the girl who said he was cool that thought of saving herself, while his friend worried about where he is.
I mentioned this topic in my Black Bullet premiere post (and Black Bullet is more Attack on Titan 2.0 than this show is, because in Attack on Titan/Black Bullet the danger is mostly external, while here we’re reverting to a zombie infestation, where anyone can end up like this), but the topic of “Adults are incompetent! And where they are not incompetent, they are corrupt!” is very much a theme in such stories. Young Adult stories in general, but especially in anime and the media it’s based on. The existing social structure is seen as a failure, where the “excuse” of “We’re only doing it so you could live comfortably and safely!” is rejected by “Such a life is not worth living!”
I mean, “Use the suicide bag!” while they point a gun at him. If you’re coerced, it’s not suicide. That’s such NewSpeech. And the show talking about how they abandon their pride, and their humanity, and one another. This is shounen-material, this is “I will make the world better!” buoyed by a lack of understanding of how the world works, and replacing it with “It doesn’t matter, it’s not right.”
Beyond that, this particular moment was a light-bulb moment for me, where I realized why anime premieres are often bad if/when they try to go philosophical. As someone who loves analyzing themes of shows, this is sort of important. And each approach, because I also thought of a potential “solution” has its own downsides. Here is the problem: These shows have 20 minutes, in which they try to give us a plot-hook, introduce their characters, and the setting. That’s quite busy already, right? So then, when they also dump on our laps the entirety of their philosophical ideals, it just comes off as the conclusions. “You should rise against those who wish to oppress you! Giving in to anything makes you less than human! You only care about saving yourselves!” And real people don’t react to that, and philosophical arguments worth thinking over are made from more than just the conclusions, shouted at the audience.
It’s also an extreme form of “telling” instead of “showing”. These lines would work great after 12/24 episodes, where they’re based on an entire journey and a plethora of situation that have exemplified them. In a premiere, you either have to construct scenes that very heavy-handedly show how these are right, and you end with a bunch of somewhat caricaturized characters on the other side, which is what Araki has gone for here, or you actually don’t use these lines,at all. The latter method is much better writing after the fact, when you consider the show as a whole. But if you do that, people won’t know what ideas you plan to address, and might miss the justifications and elaborations you make because they might not yet know how they fit in.
So each aspect has failures, but this episode was even more packed with content than most premieres, and it still decided to double down on its philosophy, which as a result left me a bit tired and facepalming at how heavy-handed it was, and how silly the protagonist is. Not just silly as a person, but he came off as slightly less real for his vehemence and the way he interacted with others, where he spouted ideology at them non-stop rather than talk to them as if they were real people.
Anyway, the episode moved brisky, and accomplished a lot. Although the show was visually clashing, it was full of highlights even when set in a show that looked consistently great. Music was also on point, and hopefully the acting will get better as well. I hope the show will manage to maintain its brisk pace, and continue being enjoyable to watch. The philosophy, well, it might get better through “Showing” scenes, but it’s not the director’s forte, so hopefully it won’t make me facepalm overmuch.
Kabaneri is a beautiful show. It’s also a mess, in terms of visuals. How does that work? It’s because it has like 5 distinct visual styles, each of them is both pleasing to the eye and executed well, but they’re different, and they clash.
Rich pretty girls have hair that is almost luminous. They look somewhat ethereal. I wonder if this is to paint them as different than all the riff-raff around them. Our male main character looks like he could be related to Renton from Eureka 7, or Ranka from Macross Frontier, when he doesn’t get the “Super Serious Thick Lines” approach.
And we also have the setting. If I had to pick what appears to be the biggest influence for the setting, it’d be Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. We have this Edo-era steam-town fortress, we have a Lady Eboshi-like character, the way the ghouls overlook things reminds me of the monkeys on the hill, this warrior on the left looks straight out of a Miyazaki film, etc. But even here, it’s even crisper, and sometimes far too clean and crisp for the sometimes rustic and dirtied setting it wishes to depict, and depicts elsewhere.
It’s as if the rich people and the poor people in this setting don’t only live in different worlds, but appear in different shows, and our badass protagonist appears in a third one yet.
The show was impactful in its visuals, the zombie invasion of the town was very Araki-esque, more Highschool of the Dead than Attack on Titan in its sensuality (not necessarily sexual, but how it drew attention to the bodies and the immediacy), the Kabane jumping on Ikoma from the roof was also well-done. Araki knows how to make his shows pack a punch via visuals.
Sound wise, the ambient background music was good and enhanced the atmosphere, though I could’ve done with it actually being a bit louder. Voice acting wasn’t anything special, and considering how much I like Hatanaka Tasuku in his role as Aotsuki Ushio in Ushio to Tora, I hope he gets more chances to show us what he’s got. And Araki is certainly to give him such opportunities, but his acting felt lacking in conviction in the scenes where it was called for, such as when he went against the soldiers to save the infection-suspect.
OP – Great visuals, the music is alright, but it didn’t actually impress me.