Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Episode 1 – Philosophical Derailment and Off the Track Beauty.

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.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 1 - Ikoma and cowardice

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!”

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 1 - Ikoma will be proud of himself

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.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 1 - The Ghibli-esque fortress town

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.


Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 1 - Lady Ayame is pretty

Screenshot album of notable/pretty shots.

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.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 1 - Scary Mumen

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.

Return to the Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress / Kotetsujo no Kabaneri Episodic Notes page.

10 comments on “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Episode 1 – Philosophical Derailment and Off the Track Beauty.

  1. mikoto0208 says:

    i was really impressed by it. the art was, even if mismatched, brilliant and i actually found the whole world/situation quite original, especially given that no part of the story is involved in the reasons for the outbreak; it’s more about how people are living during the crisis. for me anyway, this is the anime that i most look forward to continuing
    are you watching any of the others this season? it looks to be a good one :D

    • Guy says:

      I’m watching plenty of shows this season, far too many! You should check my weekly overviews (which go up on Wednesdays) to see all of what I am checking out.

      As for “originality”, well, this is what happens, after a while you more or less see almost everything. So you don’t go in for ideas, but for the slight twists they put on them, and the execution besides. I mean, this, Attack on Titan, Earthdawn has done all of these in 1993. And they’re all metaphors for enemies within and without anyway, which is an even older concept.

      But it’s fun. I do wish we’d have received more elaboration on how the people actually live, but it being an 11 episode series means it’s unlikely, and books usually do a better work at elaborating on the day to day life of this sort, because they have the space for it.

  2. Ayanami says:

    Thanks for pointing out that tourniquet nonsense. As a scientist, I could shrug off everything else, including the “why didn’t you just wait to lower the drawbridge” and “WTF why are you cutting yourself you idiot?”. But the idea that a virus 1) can be stopped by simply cutting off blood to the brain for a few seconds and 2) that a virus acts that fast to begin… yea that’s just pretty freaking ridiculous.

    Some reviews/forums are suggesting that it’s that green stone that saved him and not his stupid countermeasures, and if that proves to be true…. I am actually OK with that. I’m much happier with “not explained” or “explained by magic/supernatural/whatever” than I am with “DAMMIT now that’s that’s just plain WRONG science/medicine.”

    And therein lies my problem with most of zombie fiction… they try to do science… and it’s always embarrassingly inaccurate.

    But, I’ll watch it anyway, because zombies. Hell, I watched High School of the Dead (note to self: read more than 2 sentence blurbs on anime series before watching them). I clearly have not learned my lesson with The Walking Dead.

    • Guy says:

      Yeah, if I could’ve ignored that point, I would have. At least every time “The Science” sprung up this episode I quite literally laughed out loud. Kabaneri is the second best comedy of the season behind Sakamoto, as far as I am concerned.

      I’m going to think of it mostly as “Magic!”, and ignore the in-world rationalities for now. I mean, just like most “science systems” in LNs/Manga really are just magic, and the more scientific the magic systems try to be (looking at you, Mahouka), the more you realize how simplistic they actually are.

      Well, the show was fun enough, so that’s what matters. And I stopped watching HotD like 3-4 episodes in? I really liked the first episode, but then it started turning into fan-service/rapey LN shit with zombies, and I checked out. I actually planned to return to it, but never found enough care to actually do so.

      As to The Walking Dead, only read a bunch of the comic. War World Z, the book, was good. And The Girl With All the Gifts is also good, then again, Mike Carey (plenty of Hellblazer, Lucifer, the comics) wrote that one.

  3. La Vie says:

    it took only seconds to stop the infection from reaching his brain. So application of the tourniquet would not kill him. Brain damage due to hypoxia can occur if it took minutes or so. I was expecting him to fall unconscious or lightheaded after that but nope that didnt happen…MC is strong LOL. :\

    But yea, it was still a stupid move by the MC.

    • Guy says:

      Death takes long, yes, but falling unconscious takes far less time. It just doesn’t work if you actually treat it as a sensible scene. “Because magic!” is a good call as any, as well as dramatization for the sake of the scene.

  4. King Marth says:

    I liked how their most effective weapon is a train. Trains are big. Don’t mess with trains.

    Any series come to mind which only delivered their Big Ideas in succinct line form near the end when they meant something? You talk about the risk of losing people if the message isn’t clear from the start, which sounds like you’ve seen this before with a show that never managed to snag its target audience.

    That the ‘infection’ is preventable at all is kind of a Big Deal, despite how laughably it was explained. One of the standard ways to add further horror to zombie settings is to have everyone be genre-savvy about immediately killing anyone that shows any sign of infection… and then reveal that with a couple of easy steps all of the slaughter could have been prevented and tons of people were killed for stupid reasons. Maybe something as drastic as amputation, maybe something as simple as washing with salt or popping penicillin, maybe something bizarre like auto-asphyxiation; experimenting with that might have been a better idea than whatever R&D went into making those suicide bags. The next obvious question is what the setting will do with this information, or more specifically how the protagonist’s plot armor will keep him alive despite the established problem-solving policy in the show’s society.

    The downright silly totalitarian regime is overdone, yes. Kabane are basically witches; the protagonist is tossed in jail by being accused as one, while the other guy is given a witch’s trial by gunfire and proves his innocence by dying. I do find it interesting that the existence of actual witches here is not used to justify the ‘necessity’ of witch hunts, but rather seems to indict them, saying that even if there were witches it still wouldn’t make it right to kill innocent people for fear-driven reasons. This isn’t a very difficult stance to take, but if creators don’t think about it, sometimes the opposite slips through.

    • Guy says:

      It’s usually not a case of a show only presenting its theme in the end, and if it does, it could be a failure as well as it wasn’t properly supported. I’m talking more about series that simply don’t introduce it from the get-go, or at the very least don’t shout it out, but that you can make out that it’s been the theme all along after you finish the series.

      Two recent examples would be Concrete Revolutio and Shin Sekai Yori, though SSY isn’t really about its themes as much as it is about the world as a whole. Maybe.

      I also felt that the “Totalitarian Regime” wasn’t exactly. Yes, people are shot and killed in the streets, but it’s not really about the orders from on high that seek out dissidents and do away with them like this, but more about the fear of the population that takes the law into its own hands. More fascism of the people, I’d say.

      • King Marth says:

        Still need to watch Concrete Revolutio, but I can definitely see what you’re getting at with Shin Sekai Yori if only from the superficial stance of taking its time introducing the basic rules of the world and what the show was really about. Giving the audience some credit is nice, the trick is avoiding “it gets better later”.

        The actual killing is due to fear (shooting the guy who is running because he’s running from being shot, keeping refugees away from the evacuation train), but the lord of that station was quite calm about sentencing a dissident to jail time on a petty excuse while his guest flaunted her freedom from demeaning security measures. It’s the selective enforcement that stands out to me, the ruling caste which demands respect and ignores critique while holding all the guns (and, to be fair, facing all the hell). That said, my political terminology is loose, and rulership seems pretty decentralized in this world. The fear is likely to be more important.

        • Guy says:

          “It gets better later” is only if the show actually needs to tell you what it’s about to be good. But in the end, it’s rarely ideas alone that make a show good, as it is the execution of the show overall, and that exists even before “ideas”.

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