Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Review — The Running Dead

And boy can they run.

So whilst we’re waiting for the Attack on Titan sequel to appease the fanboys, let’s look at what Araki is making whilst waiting for the manga to pick up steam. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, an original anime where the Guilty Crown team decide to move on from ripping off Code Geass to ripping off Wit Studio’s first big hit – which is okay with Wit Studio as long as they’re the ones producing it. And why wouldn’t they? The majority of their resume pretty much consists of ripping off Attack on Titan as is, so they might as well trade in the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment for trains and the giant titans for video game zombies if it means turning up a profit. It’s a pity they also ripped off that show’s low-budget moments as well. Given how long it took for this show to come out, I expected some less noticeable outsourcing.

I think I’ve said this before, but I’d say it again anyways: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – and Wit Studio’s action stuff in general – is the kind of shonen action show that anime should be producing all the time. When I watch a show about people bashing other people’s faces in and forming manly bonds with either male or female, I don’t want something that’s completely self-aware of its stupidity and plays that aspect up with their super moves and their idiotic one-liners like an insecure child who spends thousands of hours on Nether Realms’ fighting games. I want them to take the stupidity completely seriously and just run with it, like with Hot Shots or every video game Hideo Kojima has ever made. Nothing says camp more than the most ludicrous of shit being treated like we’re in the setting of Apocalypse Now, and it’s that kind of self-seriousness that made Guilty Crown one of the best anime of the last decade, whilst every other anime comedy pretty much failed by the first three seconds.

And believe me, you can easily tell it’s the same team without looking it up, because Kabaneri shares alot of plot points from its predecessor. You’ve got bullshit religious symbolism that’s mostly just there to be cool, just like Guilty Crown. You’ve got a main final antagonist whose motivations make about as much sense as the existence of Pepsi, just like Guilty Crown. You’ve got a protagonist who powers himself up into something inhuman, but said power doesn’t cure his complete stupidity, just like Guilty Crown. And if anyone bothered to explain where this mysterious virus that created the Kabane came from, they’d probably just say “outer space”, exactly like Guilty Crown did.

Having said that, Kabaneri doesn’t really have much of a story to give it the same kind of momentum its predecessor had. There’s not much to say about the plot besides “group of individuals trying to survive zombie apocalypse on a train” and most of the conflict comes from compromises regarding what’s necessary in order to survive, which all gets resolved relatively cleanly for the most part. The majority of the characters are fun and interesting enough, but they’re mostly there to be support to the show’s two main half-human/half-zombie leads: a young angry science nerd named Ikoma and a little badass, yet emotional girl named Mumei. And even then, the former mostly exists either to support the latter or just be a fighting nerd, only really coming into his own as a character in the last arc when he’s confronted with an antagonist who can actually speak the human language. Or at least I assume that’s what Biba speaks, even though I had about as much trouble understanding him as everyone else did.

Without that sort of momentum, Kabaneri’s cheesiness can be more cringeworthy than hilarious at times. One moment in particular that comes to my mind is Mumei’s un-ironic desire to eat rice after the Kabane virus disappears from the Earth that persists all the way to the end of the show when she makes it, and Ikoma’s own goal to help Mumei get that desire. Oh yeah, I should point out that even when he comes into his own as a character, Ikoma’s existence and drive is pretty much entirely dependent on helping out the female lead. Again, just like Guilty Crown. Mumei isn’t exactly Inori, but only to the same degree that Ikoma isn’t exactly Shu. A large part of her character arc involves learning to depend on others whilst also breaking her bond with the person she grew up depending on, so you’re pretty much looking at the wrong show when it comes to particularly strong characterizations, especially since Kabaneri’s execution of its tale is mostly straightforward.

But hey, how about those production values? Well the animation gets progressively worse over time, but Wit delivers in terms of pleasing the eyes for the most part, and manages to keep the quality when it actually matters. The action is generally good and they get so many points for relying on strategy, not speaking when that gets thrown away for being “badass”, and keeping the fights short and sweet that they’d have to turn everyone in stick figures before I start marking that down. I’m a little disappointed that almost all the fights are against zombies who can’t speak, as they don’t exactly make for the most charismatic of villains, but at least they’re a genuine threat so there’s some actual tension when people fight them. The super zombies kind of push it a little in terms of threat credibility, but the bullshit religious metaphors associated with the creation of one makes it hard to really mark them down because I’m too busy chuckling at how much effort the writers are putting into making me take them seriously.

My conclusion is that in terms of action anime, you can do a whole lot worse than Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, but you won’t get much better in terms of the Spring 2016 season overall – if only because almost everything else this season has self-awareness issues up the butt. It’s accessible to both anime nerds and casual audiences and delivers on all the basics without really excelling in anything. Not something I’d call popcorn, but nothing I’d revisit anywhere down the line. Having said that, I hope this team plans to make more of the show sometime in the near future because it pretty much ends on a “let’s continue our journey” sort of way and the characters are about as close to solving the zombie problem as I am in getting the Republicans to admit that global warming exists.

I know a lot of people are down on the last arc, but I thought it could have been worse. That statement isn’t exactly something Crunchyroll is going to quote on its DVD box, but overall I think there’s quite a bit more you can do with this setting and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how that pans out. Like maybe in the second season, the Kotetsujo crew run into a bunch of Nazi zombies and Ikoma becomes their Fuhrer, leading them into ransacking an evil dictatorship as expendable fodder. Basically Empire of Corpses by way of Guilty Crown’s fascist arc.

Minor Quips

  • So apparently, being self-aware is an all-purpose excuse now as long as you’re not being made by KyoAni?
  • Another thing Wit Studio anime are doomed to be for the rest of their lives are controversial. Not that that’s a bad thing.

2 responses to “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Review — The Running Dead

  1. I feel like questioning both your comparisons to Guilty Crown (the equivalent “fascist arc” here was nothing more than the villain’s throwaway ideology and never affected the protagonist) as well as the fact that such a thing would be good, but I am feeling tired. The whole show was nothing more than a glorified JRPG in my opinion.

    • But…but…the fascist arc in Guilty Crown was hilarious!

      The whole show was nothing more than a glorified JRPG in my opinion.

      JRPGs are more entertaining than most anime these days so I’m not sure how this is supposed to be a negative.

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