Anime review: Kabaneri of The Iron Fortress

A review of the 2016 post apocalyptic steampunk adventure series directed by Tetsuro Araki and animated by Wit Studio. KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS
By Shannon Apple, Dec 14, 2016 | Updated: Dec 18, 2016 | |
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    Series: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
    Japanese Title: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri
    Release Date: Spring 2016
    Genre: Steampunk, Post-Apocalyptic, Dark Fantasy
    Director: Tetsurou Araki
    Script: Hiroshi Seko
    Studio: Wit Studio
    Episodes: 12

    Plot Summary:
    A mysterious virus appears during the industrial revolution that transforms infected humans into Kabane ("corpses") and rapidly spreads. Kabane are aggressive, undead creatures that cannot be defeated unless the glowing heart, which is protected by a layer of iron, is pierced. Unfortunately, most melee weapons and the steam-pressure guns used by the bushi ("soldiers") are not very effective against them.

    On the island country Hinomoto, people have built fortress-like "stations" to shelter themselves from these creatures. People access the stations and transport wares between them with the help of armored steam locomotives (hayajiro). One day, a hayajiro hijacked by the Kabane crashes into Aragane Station and they overrun the city. A young engineer named Ikoma uses the opportunity to test with success his anti-Kabane weapon, the "piercing gun" (tsuranuki zutsu), but is infected in the process, although he manages to resist the virus and become a Kabaneri, a human-Kabane hybrid. Assisted by Mumei ("Nameless"), another Kabaneri who appears to help them, Ikoma and the other survivors of the station board the Kōtetsujō ("Armoured Fortress") and depart to seek shelter elsewhere, fighting the hordes of Kabane along the way. (Source of plot summary: Wikipedia)

    Personal Opinion:
    My initial reaction to this show was “OMG, it's Attack on Titan (AoT)… WITH TRAINS!!" It looked awesome, but appeared strikingly similar. *insert sad face.* I thought "What the hell, let's watch it anyway!” It had the same basic idea – post-apocalyptic world, a civilisation on the brink of extinction and an existing threat residing outside of a barrier of some description. Not only this, but it is created by the same anime studio with some very familiar sounding voices.

    Having watched the second and third episode, it became obvious that those were the only similarities. It evolves into something totally deserving of not being constantly compared against AoT. If people want to keep doing that, that's their prerogative, but I must profoundly disagree. AoT's "villains" were gargantuan creatures capable of killing masses of people with one swoop of their clumsy hand, or a stomp of their foot. The power difference between the titans and the humans made for an entirely unfair world. In Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, the typical humans aren't powerless, they are perfectly capable of fighting back the kabane when they need to. They can travel between cities within the safety of armoured trains that the kabane are not strong enough to break through. If this was AoT, they'd be crushed like bugs inside a paper bag. The humans in the Kabaneri world do of course have the help of the two kabaneri. However, with armour piercing weapons, it is possible for a regular human to defend themselves. The biggest threat in this series was, in fact, other humans.

    First of all, the artwork and character designs in this show are phenomenal. I adore the steampunk genre anyway, especially for the visuals. There aren't very many steampunk shows around nowadays, at least not in anime, and not recently. (Full Metal Alchemist and Steamboy perhaps). If you are not familiar with Steampunk, it's a mix of modern and industrial revolution era technology.

    I was a little disappointed by the overall character development. With only twelve episodes, it didn't leave much room for fleshing out many of the characters beyond Mumei and Ikoma. They could have developed the world a little more too. In my opinion, this anime should have been about 20 episodes long and a little more slowly paced – just for detail. Although it was a little fast, the pacing was constant, which I suppose is it's saving grace.

    Many people were disappointed by Mumei and gave bad reviews for the entire show based on her character being childish. In all honesty, this is a 12-year-old child, so that is quite unwarranted and rather perplexing to me. How does one expect a 12-year-old to behave in real life? I'd imagine that a real kid of this age would be a lot more scared and naive than Mumei ever was. She's all badass and sensibility when she's with the rookie kabaneri Ikoma because she feels she has to be. As a human, Ikoma was a bit of a wimp, so even as a Kabaneri he needs her protection until he finds his bearings. This responsibility of looking after and protecting other people, forces her to act more mature than her years. However, when she's in the company of her older brother, she is completely in awe of him, she can be a kid again, and we, as the viewers, observe that he can easily manipulate her. She's twelve after all, so she looks up to her older sibling and believes that he's got her best interests at heart. That is, in fact, how I would expect a kid to behave around a sibling with a massive age gap. I love when an anime show brings out the reality of a situation like this one. Most anime like to create farcical child characters that act nothing like their real-world counterparts. If you haven't seen this show, and are planning on watching it, bear in mind that Mumei is a kid. Please don't act all infuriated with her for behaving like a 12-year-old and therefore having some level of weakness and naivety.

    As for our main villain, they were of course more of an anti-hero that believed strongly in their accomplishments, if you could call it that. "Villain" was someone badly in need of some time in a mental hospital the more I saw inside the character's reasoning and actions. They weren't the actions of a healthy individual. While what they did was typically evil, it was certainly through misguided intentions.

    The ending could have progressed so far south due to the fast pacing of this show. As it was coming to conclusion, I was concerned about how they were going to end it. I didn't want to see it rushed and ruined, nor ending with a cliffhanger. I guess, they have left it open for a season 2, but provided us a satisfying ending at the same time. They better make a season two. I'm interested in learning more about this world and what happens next.

    I'm going to give Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress a 7/10. It is a visually stunning anime, but the world building could have been fleshed out. It is steampunk with a zombie apocalypse though. What's not to like?

    About Author

    Shannon Apple
    Administrator of, graphic designer, rookie programmer, occasional gamer, and picky anime watcher.
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