Anime Corner: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Review

Are you Human, or are you Kabane? Neither! I’m a Reviewer!

What’s the Story?

Fear reigns in Japan. Hordes of remorseless undead, known as Kabane, have overrun the country and the only safe havens left for humanity are the ‘stations’, huge walled cities, and the armoured trains that run between them. However the walls and armour aren’t always enough to keep the Kabane out, as steamsmith Ikoma is about to find out. When his home is attacked, Ikoma doesn’t run, in fact he’s been waiting for this as it’s a perfect chance to test out the ‘piercing gun’ he’s been working on. It’s pretty effective too, killing one Kabane, unfortunately Ikoma gets bitten during the fight and while he manages to stop the infection reaching his brain, he’s no longer human. Now he’s a Kabaneri, a human with the body of a Kabane, and along with fellow Kabaneri, Mumei, he’ll have to fight to survive, because Kabane aren’t the only monsters out there.

The Review:

Samurai! Steampunk feudal Japan! Armoured battle trains! Zombies! If at least one of these things doesn’t capture your attention then I’m afraid there really is no hope for you. I kid, but aside from the zombies there is so much in the premise of this show that had me jumping up and down with excitement, right up until I realised I didn’t have access to the streaming service this series originally aired on. That…that was a pretty hard pill to swallow, but Kabaneri eventually made it’s way to Crunchyroll where I could finally partake of all the steampunk samurai goodness. So, was it worth the wait? Eh, kinda. Don’t get me wrong, Kabaneri is a good series, I had a lot of fun watching this. There’s plenty of high-energy action, some fantastic fight choreography and a really interesting set up for a world here, but, somehow, the series never quite blew me away the way I wanted it to. Maybe it was weight of my expectations that did this or, maybe I just didn’t come at this series from the right angle. Actually let’s start there, because if I’m going to talk about Kabaneri then I need to mention one other series, Attack on Titan.

Now, I know people have called Kabaneri an Attack on Titan clone plenty of times before (I remember a lot of clickbaity titles to that effect when the show was airing all the way back in 2016), but I don’t feel that’s fair. I can certainly see why people would draw that conclusion, both series were made by the same studio with a near identical staff working on them, the music certainly always made me think of Attack on Titan, but aside from that comparisons are mostly skin deep. Yes, humanity is living inside walled cities to protect them from monsters on the other side. Yes, we have a main character that swears to destroy all of said monsters and often makes loud, angry speeches to such effect. Here’s where the differences come in though, Attack on Titan is a dark, traumatic and often bleak look at the very worst aspects of humanity and a near-constant struggle to survive. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a popcorn action thriller. When a Titan shows up you wet yourself and find somewhere to hide. When the Kabane show up you cheer because it means either Ikoma or Mumei are about to kick some undead backside.

Kabaneri isn’t a dumb series by any regard, but it is far more interested in setting up its characters and getting to the next action set piece, rather than any deep musings on the nature of humanity. There are certainly themes of paranoia and fear on full display, showing some of the stupid things that people can do when they’re scared, but it never digs in too deeply. Yes, when people are afraid they can be utterly terrible to one another, but I feel that if this series was really interested in that topic it would have dug more into Biba’s back story and given us more than a few lines of dialogue and some quick flashbacks to explain his deal. As it is, the fear and paranoia are there mostly to set up conflict between the various players and give our characters some glorious moments were they overcome that fear.

The action in this series is fantastic, always fast and fluid (even if a few of the big zombie attacks are reduced to a few still frames to save the budget), when it counts, this show knows how to impress visually. However, it’s not as if this series is wall-to-wall action, the series does take it’s time to let scenes breath and have characters talk to one another. We never learn all that much about the characters, but we learn just enough to care and, although the majority of the main cast make it through unscathed, when someone is killed off, it’s incredibly effective. That being said, there are parts of this world that are best not to think too hard about, like how the hell they managed to build all these giant walls and railroads with the Kabane out there. Or, and this was a big one fro me, how Ikoma can go from screaming about how life is sacred and how you shouldn’t kill, to Mr. Judge, Jury and Executioner for the bad guys in the final few episodes, that kind of character change really needed more development.

Again, I did really enjoy watching this series, but I feel you need to come at it with the right headspace. Sometimes all I ask for from a series is some cool action, likeable characters (for the most part) and an interesting setting, and that’s exactly what Kabaneri gives me. It’s just the right mix of action, fun and cool concepts. If I want to watch something with a bit more meat to it, I can always pop in my Attack on Titan DVD, but when I’m in the mood for a fun ride, watching some exciting acrobatics and zombie fights, well, then I’ll be reaching for this one.

The Verdict:

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is not a deep show on any level, but it’s a fun ride. The action is fantastic, the characters, for the most part, are engaging and the visual style and music make this a very enjoyable watch. Yes, you can find weightier and deeper series elsewhere, but if you’re in the mood for some frantic battles against zombie hordes, as well as a chance to see a steampunk feudal Japan, then I’d recommend giving this series a watch. This is one train I’ll happily get on again and again.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Next week it’s time to celebrate as this little blog turns six! But a cold wind blows across the blogosphere. There’s a review I’ve been meaning to do since last year, an old foe is calling to me. Let’s close the circle. Next week…

Where the North Wind Meets the Sea.