It’s about damn time I get to something that I thoroughly enjoyed this season. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s a series of controversy. It seems I can’t escape this nonsense no matter what my opinion is. But if I can give any advice, don’t be swayed by what people are saying about Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. I say this because most people hate this show soley because they don’t get it, or are missing the point. This seems to be a trend with the Infamous hollywood style director Tetsuro Araki, given another misunderstood show he did in Highschool of the Dead. But I’m here to defend all things I like and maybe give some much-needed insight on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, why I think it’s so good and how to properly enjoy a show like this. If that opening statement doesn’t sound prevention enough, we’ll see if we can get worse.
So I want to get into whats appealing about this show and sort of have it snowball into what is good, whats bad and why they both work together to make an entertaining show. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress’s purpose as an anime is to be the coolest anime to ever anime. It sets up from the first two episodes all its cool and unique concepts and gives a very clear road for where these concepts will take us as viewers. From the concept of Kabaneri and the high-powered, close range steam gun that Ikoma invents in the first episode, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress shows that its cool ideas are meant to be taken for face value and nothing else. To some this may seem as bad writing, not having ideas that make logical sense in the world. But Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress makes its logical sense on a meta textual level. Its “loop holey” as all get out, but it makes for some of the coolest ideas and execution techniques to be seen in anime. An example would be Ikoma’s weapon. Logically, in the shows universe, it wouldn’t make sense for Ikoma to invent a close range weapon at the risk of being bit and turned by the kabane. In a meta sense its brilliant because close range combat and plowing into stuff makes for great and creative action scenes. The same can be said for how Mumie gets superhuman like powers by being a Kabaneri. It doesn’t really make sense but it would be cooler if she was spinning around and doing backflips while wielding sawed off Kabane killing shotguns. All throughout Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress there are cool ideas for the sake of showing those ideas in the coolest way. And while it doesn’t always make the “most” sense in the universe, it is grounded enough with everything else happening that it doesn’t seem foreign or forced. All these wacky ideas seems natural for the world and the way the characters react to them.
So you may be asking why the meta-textual justifications work in something in Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, and not something like Sword Art Online, the show where people will never learn that VR/AR video games will always end up killing people. The reason is very simple, Kabaneri’s justification fits the tone/intent of the show. You see the events that happen never supersede what is cool about the show in the first place. The story will never get in the way on why the show is cool and enjoyable. But in shows like Sword Art Online, where the “plot” is the main pull of the show, if things don’t start to make sense then everything is up for scrutiny. Because now you have made the thing focus of the show not make sense and that’s “bad writing”. For the most part, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress knows why its cool and knowingly sacrifices certain narrative logic to make its cool ideas shine past that.
Now another reason that Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is so cool is because Ikoma is just so interesting as a character. Mumie is awesome and cool but as a shortcoming of the show, its really Ikoma’s story and Mumie gets the unfortunate role of being sort of a tool for his development. Early on its seemed as mutual growth but the last arc makes it clear who the stories hero really is. Which I’m fine with. Rarely do we see a character like Ikoma in an anime. He’s not like the Shinji Ikari/ Eren Jeager type that we find in these post-apocalyptic series. He has clear motivations, and has struggles that are more relatable and believable in their execution. Basically they don’t make his character or his problems over dramatic. He’s smart and fiercely determined and knows what’s right to begin with. Where as in most similar stories the main characters morality would be tested, kinda like with Mumie’s development. Ikoma’s struggle is purely on himself getting over his past failures, and literally not being strong enough. Ikoma wants to progress, he wants to help, and he wants to make the world a better place. But sadly he’s ill equipped, and the enjoyment comes from watching him struggle and earn the life and world that he wants to make a reality. Honestly its a fresh spin on the shonen action style hero that I welcome in full. Actually most of the characters in Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress were super cool. Mumie and the pink haired train girl are total waifu level awesome. The rest of the cast is great and memorable in their own cool and stylish way, and always steal the scene whenever they are given the chance.
So with all the cool concepts, accompanied by a stellar soundtrack (with people like Hiroyuki Sawano, Aimer, and Egoist its kinda hard not too), amazing art direction, and confident animators where does Kabaneri fall short. You could say that the concepts get too crazy some time where they break the suspension of disbelief. Honestly this wants a big issue for me because the result was always something cool that I could have fun with and the show never focused on or tried to rationalize. The other could be the predictability of the show, where I can say that it was always obvious where the show was going. There was a little transparent writing but may be forgivable seeing that its impact wasn’t too far from the realm of irrational. Biba’s motivation was certainly hard to understand given the way the show explained it. The whole military government situation was hard to follow and should have been either further explained or cut out, given how boring and a mess it was. Ultimately Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress functions for what it was made to be and it does a great job. There isn’t any evidence that it wasn’t exactly what the creators intended to make, which was something cool and fun with griping actions scenes and cool characters that you could care about.