On the island of Hinomoto the Industrial Revolution has found itself curtailed by the appearance of a deadly virus that rapidly transforms those infected into Kabane; lethally fast, mindless predators of incredible physical durability who thirst for the flesh & blood of the living, that now infest the countryside. To combat it the population have retreated to fortified towns, now know as stations as they serve as stop-over points for the heavily armed & armoured rolling stock that now serve to link the dwindling outposts of humanity.
When an inbound train is overrun and bursts through Aragane Station’s wall, the surviving population find themselves building a new life crammed into the carriages of the Kutetsujo - a train that had already been in the station when the attack occured. However there are two examples of a new breed of humans infected by the Kabane virus but who have undergone steps to prevent the virus reaching their brains. And these two now possess a measure of the Kabane’s strengths, but they can only unleash this for a short time before risking the virus taking them over. (This sounds rather ominous... - Ed)
Now this is a home release that feels like it has been far too long in coming. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) first aired April 2016 and was one of the first “big” anime live-streaming acquisitions by Amazon for their Prime Video service (I do wonder if the Amazon Video might be part of why it’s taken quite so long for KotIF to get this home release) and surprisingly, KotIF comes with an (actually quite good) English dub? The lack of fanfare and the delay in it coming to our shores is a bit of a shame because honestly this is a very good show there is a lot to like about i.;
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is another excellent effort from Studio Wit, seemingly in the gap whilst they were waiting for fresh Attack on Titan material to accumulate, and continues their track record of exceptionally animated productions – the aforementioned AoT, Seraph of the End, The Ancient Magus Bride, After the Rain to name but a few. This quality bodes rather well for the upcoming Vinland Saga which I am quite excited for!
In the same vein, the cast are an attractively designed bunch of young survivors from a varied array of backgrounds:
- Ikoma – ostensibly the hero of the piece, one of Aragane Station’s steamsmiths who obsesses over ways to better equip people to fight Kabane. When the station is overrun he is bitten whilst using his experimental “piercing gun” but is able to prevent the virus reaching his brain, transforming him into a Kabenari. Subsequently he struggles somewhat to be accepted by the Aragane survivors but never hesitates to throw himself into harms way in defence of others. This frequently becomes a source of black humour throughout the series as he does tend to get the **** kicked out of himself in ways that are as gruesome as they are exquisitely animated. Also seems to shop at the same outfitter as Akira’s Tetsuo, body-modification and all…..
- Mumei - our main female lead and second Kabaneri, Mumei is the pocket ass-kicker who tends to get stuff done whilst Ikoma is being horribly mauled. Her internal struggles form a core part of the latter section of the series.
- Ayame – surviving member of the Yomogawa family who ruled Aragane Station, and defacto leader of the Kutetsujo survivors in the wake of her fathers death. A skiled archer who uses a (frankly boss) steam-enhanced bow.
- Kurusu – Ayame’s bodyguard and leader of the surviving Bushi. Has a bit of a rod up his ass, especially when it comes to Ikoma, but is a lethally talented swordsman who acts with the best of intentions. The mutual attraction between Kurusu & Ayame does make you want to crack the pair of thems heads together…..
- Takumi – Ikoma’s best friend and fellow steamsmith. Helped in the design & construction of the piercing gun, and tries to help his friend lighten up.
- Kajika – a fellow steamsmith of Ikoma & Takumi, she finds herself caring for several of the younger orphans but has a streak of steel within her.
- Yukina – a younger member of the Kotestujos crew who becomes its lead engineer and driver in the wake of the Aragane Station massacre. Taciturn but could probably bounce anyone else off the walls of the train (no seriously, girl does not skip arm or back day) as this link shows!
At 12 episodes long it’s a concise show that never outstays its welcome, and in that running time it manages a lot of world building without worrying about much in the way of unnecessary exposition. My only complaint would be that the series' ultimate villain is so obvious when he shows up that it becomes a waiting game for when they finally turn on our heroes, and then the resolution seems somewhat sudden (if in doubt, just keep an eye out for the character with the most stunning hair…).
The Kabane however are a most interesting foe. Ostensibly zombies, what with the whole shambling hordes vibe they have going on, there are certain elements to them that hint at a far more vampiric origin to them – the desire for blood (not flesh), the hardening of the heart – their main weak spot – that requires enhanced weaponry to pierce, how some victims can retain elements of their former skills. All things that would usually be more attributable to the more bestial examples of vampire lore, than to zombies. I won’t deny, if a second series ever comes out I’d be most intrigued to see if they explore the nature of the Kabane any further….
Now, as to this release. I have to say there are some… interesting choices in how the show has been presented. The bulk of the series (episodes 1-9) sit on the 1st disk, whilst the 2nd finishes up the series (episodes 10-12) alongside the extra features. This does lend the series an odd flow, given how used we tend to get to watching shows like this in 6-episode bursts, but means that the final trio of episodes can be viewed handily in one go. The transfer however is impeccable, and the show looks fantastic. (Reminiscent of how the Cat Planet Cuties bluray was presented... -Ed)
Overall I cannot recommend this series more highly. It is great looking, has a novel hook, an engaging cast, and a story that can be forgiven some misteps thanks to the excellent character work. Given it has gotten a trio of theatrical releases – two recap films and a sequel movie – hopefully that means a second season could be on the table in future!