Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Episode 2 – No Adults Allowed on this Ride

Before anything else, I want to make it clear that I had a lot of fun watching the last episode of Kabaneri, as well as the first. It’s propulsive, and full of funny moments. Are all of them supposed to be funny to me? I doubt it, but some are, and I’m never laughing at the show too hard. And yet, I’m going to focus on some of the things I did not like, because the things I do like are mostly about pacing and direction and general atmosphere, or just the very subjective feeling of fun I’ve had. There’s not a lot of words for me to say about it other than to just say it is so. But when it comes to the episode’s writing, and some meta-concerns related to that, which I liked considerably less, I actually have a lot of words to say. So, keep in mind that I’m enjoying the show as you read what is to follow.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 2 - Ikoma wants people to see him prove himself

Somewhere between the two, Ikoma and Takumi are such dorks. Such fun goofballs. Hollering and clasping over their successes. No, it’s not funny that they do, but how they do it is almost straight out of a shounen manga. But from that we go onto just how dumb Ikoma is sometime. Or rather than dumb, he does things without relaly thinking them through. Last week we had him cutting his hand to draw the Kabane without thinking through of how it’d hurt, and let’s not return to the auto-asphyxiation scene.

(Though this piece uses Kabaneri’s second episode as its focus, it also shares some ideas I have about how a certain brand of anime deals with its ideas. The “GrimDark “”Seinen”” shows.)

This week, a Kabane is stuck out of the train, so what does our protagonist do? He needs to kill this Kabane! And he needs everyone to see it! So he literally opens the door and lets the zombie into the closed room with all of the helpless civilians, and then looks at them expecting praise after he manages to defeat it. What a dumb-ass, really. But this fits into his character arc, that for now mostly revolves around the refrain of “SEE ME.” More than he wants to save people, he wants to be acknowledged. He wants redemption from the dead, and acceptance from the living. His heroism is all about the common refrain of pride and dignity and honour, which he wants to have.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 2 - Mumei calls Ikoma an idiot for crying

This is not what I call a seinen series, but rather what I call “”seinen”” series, where all the GrimDark and the common themes of proving your mettle and casting down the old order as corrupt are very much designed to appeal to young adult audiences (mostly older teenagers, and people just entering the work-force). They’re the same stories of bildungsroman and special powers that shounen stories are comprised with, steeped in a thick veneer of blood and grit and cynicism. And then you have moments such as this, “Are you crying? What an idiot.” It’s actually quite fascinating, how we look at media for boys as if it tells them to not cry, but shounen have male protagonists breaking down and crying all over the place, and that’s exactly what makes them so powerful. And then the “”seinen”” shows are all about regression from expressions of emotions and humanity, until people come out on the other hand, where shows depicting adults, for adults, once more accept emotions and tears as part of the human condition.

You know, though Naruto, say, and this season’s MHA as well, and many other shounen manga revolve around “See me! Recognize me!” coming from a place of loneliness, it’s more of an LN thing where the protagonist has the same lines, but coated with a veneer of distaste and superiority to others, where it is not about their loneliness, but how lesser everyone else. Ikoma’s would-be final monologue, of, “Live with the anguish of letting the person who saved you die! Live with it forever!” is what the cliché of “Emo edgy/goth kids” is all about. He’s Kylo Ren.

You can argue the show is making fun of him, especially with the “Are you stupid for being this emotional?” reaction from Mumei, but that only says showing weakness and feelings is weak, rather than making fun of him as a joke, in a fun way, such as with the aforementioned interactions with Takumi. The show is serious in the wrong places. Which brings us to the other place where all these ideas and ideals of “Strength! Pride! Honour!” all exist. It’s not that Ayame’s father and the older bushi are wrong because they espouse silly ideals, but because they don’t really follow them, and talk down to children just because they are.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 2 - Ayame and Kurusu are brushed away as children

I mean, Mumei telling Ayame she’s a bad leader, that she’s weak, and that she lets people die, because she’s not militaristic enough. Calling back to her father running away from the fight, which also led to his death, and later, her breaking down and crying over people becoming Kabane, and being unable to see her father as what he is now, a burden, an obstacle. More “Rah rah!” speech, alongside with the final theme of such “”seinen”” shows, and which can be seen in Black Bullet as well as countless others:

Adults are bad. Adults are useless. The show at least made a concession that everyone is filling in and lost, now that they have to operate with the B-Team, as all the adults died out/ran away. This is also a tool used to increase tension and horror, as there’s no one to rely on, and everyone is operating out of their depth, without anyone to come and save them. But most of all, especially with the final scene of the train leaving the flaming and ruined city of civilization behind for the green forests, it’s all about the age old theme that is designed to appeal in bildungsromans: Cast off the past, the cowardly and weak traditionalism, and grasp power by your own hands!

Just like in Black Bullet, the voice of the establishment spouts lines that are inherently nonsensical, who won’t listen or believe even their own eyes, instead relying on another figure of authority to make (bad) decisions for them. It’s a scarecrow. To some degree it’s necessary so the protagonists could save the day, but you can let the old guard out with some dignity, rather than making sure they have none left, to kill them, after they sign away basic decency, and then lose even the last vestiges through their death.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri anime / Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress anime episode 2 - Ikoma is proud over his success

Also, of course Mumei is presented as ridiculously and over the top cool and collected, making a game of it. And yes, she’s cool. She’s a badass.

Also, final few words on production: The kabane flying through the air, as well as Mumei whirling were great. But look at these three frames. They’re 3 consecutive frames. What you see in them takes 1/8th of a second. That, and a couple other moments were extremely choppy, as there weren’t enough slides in between to make the action come off as smooth. It was especially jarring with how lovingly animated other scenes were.

Music, the ED, like the OP, is solid, competent, and doesn’t excite me. The music in the episode, likewise, was quite good, better than most shows, but not nearly as good as Sawano’s output in Aldnoah.Zero, Attack on Titan, or Kill la Kill. I expect better from you, man. You can do it.

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

12 comments on “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Episode 2 – No Adults Allowed on this Ride

  1. edsamac says:

    “Brazenly abrasive” seems to be the prototypical character that Araki’s shows tend to focus on. Looking at it the way you mentioned actually kinda makes more sense, since I can’t help but feel that there’s a certain two-dimensionality in the characters so far – like they’re trying to fulfill genre roles that resonate with certain dissatisfied young adults (i.e. Seinen).

    But Ikoma really is a little over-the-top for your prototypical emo-attention-hungry-hero. His lines border prophetic, almost as if he feels entitled to the position of greatness. How the worldview pummels him down as a threat out of fear for their own security, but is then labeled as something else (i.e. “not a corpse, but not a human, either; rather, something in between”) kinda felt staged, as if it was attempting to draw away from the labels that society likes to put on people. And so we have words like “kabaneri” — neologisms to classify a group of individuals that refuse to identify with society, or the status quo for that matter — taking center stage and serving as the MC to push for the “out with the old, in with the new” philosophy that you described.

    There’s a sort of rebellious nature to this sort of work, and the execution isn’t exactly elegant. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t cool. Mumei is just so friggin’ cool in this episode. Although I have my own misgivings about how the double steam-powered gun looks eerily similar to the 3D Maneuver Gear from Attack on Titan (not to mention some of those back flipping moves Mumei did with it), the whole sequence of her running after the Kabane was just win all the way.

    The animation also took a steep dip. I wasn’t expecting it to get this bad this quickly. And what’s weirder, the animation picks up again in the second half. I just hope they try to reduce the instability of the key frames over single episodes. It’s one thing for a single episode to have inferior animation as a whole, but it’s an entirely different thing if it’s happening between individual scenes. D:

    • Guy says:

      The “ostentatious action sequences” were well-animated, the “incidental non-set pieces action sequences” were animated very badly. I’d like both to be closer to average, probably. Definite Attack on Titan vibes there as well, heh.

      And it’s not just Araki, this is what a lot of LNs/manga protagonists are about. It’s all about the MC shaking things up, and “brazen” and/or “abrasive” is part of it. Heck, Natsu from Fairy Tail, Ichigo from Bleach and Naruto from Naruto (:P)) all fit this archetype as well. I’m sure we’ll get Ikoma fleshed out, but he’s more “going against the establishment,” and everything feels subservient to that, rather than being a loner who gets things done and appreciated as is the focus elsewhere. And thus, the focus on corrupt or cowardly adults is big here.

      Also, I actually wrote about it in my notes, but forgot here, the Kabaneri are about liminality, just as in Tokyo Ghoul, Attack on Titan, Bleach, Naruto, and almost any other such series, where the protagonist is borderline not-human. This is about rites of initiation, about being repulsive, but also about questioning what it means to be human. Maybe I’ll write an organized piece on it one day, but for now check out my Attack on Titan editorial, which should touch on it somewhat.

      And I think the way they’ll take Ikoma is to flesh him out as someone trying to atone for his own past sins and weakness. It’s just that most characters get worse in this show as they speak. Mumei’s actions were cool, but her speech was “”cool””, and well, bad, for an adult watcher.

      • ClaudeH says:

        So you’re telling me I am not an adult watcher? Oh well.

        cries and hides his real age from public knowledge

  2. fgfdfh says:

    There are many kind of escapism, I think. Super serious stories about how the world is fucked, and only the main protagonist “get it”, they belong to a type of escapism as well. I intensively dislike those stories. That’s the reason why I hate a lot of recent Hollywood films, Western television, and everything from Ayn Rand. I’d rather have Star Trek idealism. Star Trek made me happy.

    Naruto’s first part is much better than the second. When Naruto was about a lonely kid trying to do his best and make friends, it’s cute. When it tried to comment about war and other philosophical shit, it’s extremely dumb and boring. Honestly, many manga and anime authors don’t seem to understand their limit.

    And for Attack on Train, I dropped it. There is only so much screaming I can take for a week.

    • Guy says:

      Haven’t seen enough of Shippuuden to comment. And it’s an interesting question, just how escapist is media that tells you “This is how the world really is!” while we know it’s not? Is this escapism when you, the watcher, believes it to be true?

      I don’t have an answer, but it’s an interesting question.

      • fgfdfh says:

        I don’t really know as well, but I think the results are all the same: a feeling of validation and satisfaction. Star Trek’s utopia is how viewers want the world to be. “Dark” anime, unlike actually mature anime,still give protagonists powers they realistically can’t have. Those shows satisfy and validate viewers by confirming that their power fantasy and worldview are good.

        Of course, that’s just my speculation and generalization. Many people watch kabaneri because it’s unintentionally hilarious.

        • Guy says:

          It’s close, but I mean something subtly different, it’s not the “Will I bring peace” power-fantasy versus the “Will I bring destruction and fear” power-fantasy, or even “The world is a good place filled with good people who need help to realize it” versus “The world is full of bad people who deserve to be destroyed,” but – is it more of an escapism if you wish a show that depicts the world as you wish it were than how you believe it actually is?

          Though all questions are interesting.

  3. King Marth says:

    Ahh, the Exotic Half-Breed. Is there any problem you can’t solve?

    It is interesting that Mumei’s attendant used the suicide bag when it seems to be known to this ruling caste that there exists a way to not only survive infection but become immune and also turn into some form of superhero. It’s still likely a recent development and poorly understood and hence Mumei’s mission is probably to report in with the other survivors of this process… but it fits nicely with your analysis there that the only thing adults get to be competent about is solemnly passing over their place in the world to the worthy next generation.

    The soldier shouting that someone pleading for life was a monster brought a scene from Tokyo Ghoul to mind, the heartless inspectors that had to explicitly remark on how sickened they were at seeing ghouls “pretend to be human” to reinforce the dehumanization and not go (more) insane on killing them. It’s different here in a couple of ways; the protagonist had that heart-cage which is a decidedly non-human feature making the killing easier (psychologically… Is he immune to normal guns now?), while every single Kabane we’ve seen is a mindless zombie so seeing an intelligent one would be jarring. Of course, we’ve also seen otherwise-normal people inspected for bites, so perhaps it isn’t all that unusual for otherwise-cogent people to be partially transformed. It did seem that the transformation happened quickly once it started, even if the “infection”/curse has an incubation period.
    Prior precedent changes the meaning here quite a bit, from “inherently nonsensical justifications to force observations to fit pre-established worldview” to “has seen this end badly before and needs to say the words to feel better”. The former’s still most likely, but the poor guy has some kind of point without our vantage point of seeing the title drop. Now, how will that soldier take the logic bomb of a trusted official and fellow warrior-caste showing signs of being a kabane?

    Opening the door for the kabane, though? Bad form, goofy protagonist. You don’t need to be showing a metal heart to have people reject you after that.

    • Guy says:

      The Tokyo Ghoul comparison here is lacking, because in Tokyo Ghoul, the ghouls are people, who think and feel and interact. While also summoning forth the fear of the unknown lurking in our midst. In Kabaneri, they are not people, so seeing someone thinking should make it clear it’s also not a Kabane, while there’s also less room for philosophical musings beyond “If something used to be human, is it forever human?”

      I won’t be surprised if Mumei’s attendant killing himself is later seen as a plot-hole with information we’ll receive. The show is mostly playing things for impact, and not really caring for continuity overmuch. Even though I argued elsewhere that it very much cares for the appearance of being logical and grounded and everything having a solid in-world explanation.

      • Jroa says:

        Unless you can then demonstrably and plausibly argue the attendant could still feasibly undergo whatever process Mumei went through, or copy what Ikoma did, at that exact moment without succumbing to the full Kabane state first…I wouldn’t be so sure about calling it a “plot hole” in a preemptive sense.

        • Guy says:

          That’s why I said “I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened,” rather than that I am sure it would happen.

          Also, not sure why I got 2 comments from the same IP address using 2 different handles within 5 minutes.

      • King Marth says:

        The show admittedly has made a lot more sense once I view it as playing things for impact rather than trying to actually interpret character motivations. Comparing to Tokyo Ghoul does give it a bit too much credit, but I don’t regret using the excuse to bring the idea up.

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