This season’s “Attack on Titan” is a label that this show is going to have a hard time fighting, even if it doesn’t quite deserve that particular problem. There are definitely some obvious similarities between Kotetsujo no Kabaneri and Shingeki no Kyoujin on the surface, but if this episode proves anything it’s that the former is adding enough wrinkles into the formula to both set itself apart, and be something pretty darn entertaining. Entertaining is a good enough place to be at for an anime series, but whether Kabaneri exceeds that level and becomes something memorable and more akin to a hit, is yet to be determined.
See, unlike Shingeki no Kyoujin, Kotetsujo no Kabaneri doesn’t really have a unique premise or idea. With Attack on Titan, that show was basically a post apocalyptic show of sorts, one where “giants” were terrorizing humanity, treating them as live stock, and it was about how the living humans dealt with it all. At least, that’s what it was at the outset, and things definitely changed quite a bit as that show went on. Kabaneri though? Its a got fairly standard premise in that its basically just a zombie show. A zombie show, that’s a got very Medievil Japan touch to it, and an added steampunk element for good measure.
So Steampunk trains, Samurais and Zombies is, if nothing else, a pretty odd combination. Has this been done before? Yes. But the similarities between Kotestsujo and Kyojin don’t just end there. See, much like how Eren in Kyoujin ends up being something other than human, so too does Ikoma in this show become something inbetween a “Kabane” (this show’s name for Zombie) and a human. In fact, unlike Kyoujin, this show is really flaunting the inhuman aspect of its main character, even going as far as to have the guy yell the fact that he’s a “Kabaneri” in the Opening itself.
And before I move on, its worth noting that much like Mikasa in Kyoujin, we have another female character in Mumei, that’s going to be a partner beside Ikoma, but is probably a lot more capable and badass. The final similarity, at least on the surface, is that much like Kyoujin, there’s some obvious disparity and injustice in human society as it struggles and grapples with this “Kabane” problem that it faces.
So thus far, we have a show that seems like it takes the essence of Shingeki no Kyoujin, and transplants it into a steampunk zombie world. Dig a little bit below the surface however, and you do find that this show actually takes great pains to try and separate itself from Shingeki no Kyoujin.
The biggest difference is in its main duo of characters. Ikoma is the opposite of Eren, in that he’s a lot less angry and vengeful and the core of his character actually revolves around the desire to preserve his humanity rather than achieve revenge by any means necessary. I have to say, that in all the zombie shows and media that I’ve encountered, I haven’t seen a main character who’s shtick is around the idea that Zombies could be saved, and that survival at the cost of losing the good in yourself, is not really worth it.
Its the kind of ideological angle that only Japanese writing can take in a story like this. Despite the intensely painful reality that Ikoma lives in, he’s got a boyish charm and a very geek like side to him, in that he wants to solve the Zombie problem via science and invention, and refuses to remain helpless. Beyond just the fact that Ikoma is a tinkerer and has a much more refreshing world view than most of the other characters in the show, he’s just got a positivism to him that makes him easy to root for.
And I think Mumei is the same way. Her character is almost the opposite of Mikasa’s from Kyojin, and I doubt that wasn’t intentional. Mumei is a younger girl, she’s got a very playful edge to her character, and she’s kind of funny instead of cold, hard and calculating. Mumei’s also not got any relation to Ikoma, and there’s actually no romantic undertones between them (yet…). Despite my tendancy to want to pair up certain characters with other characters, I don’t think that this show actually needs that. Mumei and Ikoma are interesting enough separately, and stand out enough as they are.
There’s also of course, the interesting notion of the fact that Mumei is very much like Ikoma, a Kabaneri, as we learn this week. Its an interesting choice, especially because it kind of makes Mumei into the senior, more experienced person of the two, and one that might end up guiding/helping Ikoma come to terms with who and what he is now.
Added to all of that, its interesting to note that while Mumei is definitely the stronger and more graceful of the two, she’s also got a “cool down” period, where she can’t really do anything but rest and try and have the Kabane part of her die down. It adds a sort of twist to the idea that Kabaneri are suddenly all powerful and strong enough to deal with both humans and Kabane. The flipside to their increased power is the danger of their Kabane portion overwhelming them. It remains to be seen if Ikoma has the same problem as Mumei, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t.
The other major difference, and it is a big one, is that Koutetsujo (which kind of translates to Iron Fortress I guess) actually features a cast of characters that aren’t military, rather they’re civilians. In this world, the military/samurai or “bushi” as they’re known are horribly inept at protecting everyone. Humans as a whole feel like they’re a lot more cornered here, with Ikoma’s home being overrun in the first episode, and most of the suriving population running away via the huge Iron Fortress Train.
There’s a B-Plot of sorts, where the daughter of the so called head of that settlement has to take over, because of her father’s cowardly selfish actions, and how she’s got a faithful Samurai servant beside her. Truth be told, I’m not too thrilled with this “ojou-sama” named Ayane and her attendant/second in command named Kurusu. Ayane is the worst combination of stereotypical damsel in distress mixed with “young child that suddenly has to rule” cliches. She barely does anything throughout this two episodes (the first and this one). Ayane just kind of goes with the flow, protesting and gasping at whatever inhumane things the others around her do, but not really taking a stand or stopping it. She just kind of stands confused in every situation, and waits for someone else, be it Mumei, Kurusu or Ikoma to bail her and everyone out.
Kurusu, isn’t much better, in fact, he’s even less bearable than Miss Walking bundle of cliches. Kurusu is just a jerk, a jerk that doesn’t really value others, can’t really think beyond whatever weird prejudices he has and seems to be asserting control and putting Ayane above everyone and everything else. His whole spat with Ikoma, which ends with him shooting our hero off the darn train, is pretty annoying to see unfold. Ikoma is clearly NOT acting like a Kabane, and instead of investigating it or just stopping to think, Kurusu not only shoots him at first, but even suggests that the guy kill himself after he saves EVERYONE.
Speaking of which, I actually kind of liked Ikoma’s little character arc around these two episodes. He kind of has things that he believes will lead him towards victory, and he kind of achieves those things, only to realize that they aren’t what he imagined. Yes, Ikoma is able to STOP the virus, as he puts it, but the result isn’t exactly a full cure. On top of that, Ikoma’s belief is that if he can conquer the virus and defeat the Kabane, then the larger populace will accept both him and his ideas. As we see in the episode, the reverse happens, for the most part.
Its only Ikoma’s best friend Takumi that realizes that despite outward appearances, Ikoma is still very much his friend and a hero. And thankfully, that’s a subversion of cliches right there. At one point in this episode, Kotetsujo no Kanaberi did come dangerously close to the cliche “inhuman protecting humans who hate him” scenario. Thankfully, there’s characters like Takumi and even Ayane kind of redeems herself a bit by suggesting that Ikoma be helped.
As for Ikoma, the fact that his thought of “revenge” is to save everyone and have them hate themselves for abandoning their savior, is a pretty sweet idea. His crying? It actually sells the kindness and the good nature of the character a hell of a lot more, and if we were comparing him to Eren, well, I know who I like out of the two a lot more.
Plus having a sort of bromance/friendship dynamic in Ikoma and Takumi, is a pretty sweet addition to the larger story. I like the fact that Takumi is kind of responsible for helping Ikoma not only figure out the nail gun of his, but also that he’s the one who risks himself and attempts to save Ikoma before the train leaves. Takumi is going to be an interesting side kick to Ikoma and perhaps even Mumei.
And Mumei? Well she’s definitely an interesting character too, especially because she does end up revealing her true nature in an effort to protect Takumi. Again, I’m not so sure about the actual “We’re Kabaneri” thing that the episode ends on, but as characters, I definitely find both Mumei and Ikoma endearing.
And I think its that combination of interesting leads, divergences from standard cliches, and stunning production values, that may give this show a chance at real success. Yes, Kotetsujo no Kabaneri looks BEAUTIFUL, even more so than Shingeki no Kyoujin. Its I think, this time, that Studion WIT really got a chance to stretch their artistic muscles and kind of really go crazy in the visuals and with the animation.
There’s a lot more grunge and fire in the art direction this time, but with all the blood, rust and bright fire is a sense of shine and polish that gives the show a very “impressive” look to it. The use of color, use of high contrast lighting, the yellows and reds kind of conflicting with the grayish backgrounds, the steam kind of playing off against the more glowey Kabane, it all looks so darn flashey and just nice. Its probably worth noting that because this series is being simulcast on Amazon, perhaps that particular situation might’ve led to a better budget for this show. For Amazon itself? I’m really glad that the streaming service is starting to grab original anime content, and If Kotetsujo no Kabaneri is any indication, than Anime on Amazon Instant Video has a pretty good future.
So… At the end of episode two, we have a show that looks great, has some nice original little twists to its core scenario, but also suffers from some cliche dialogue and a few characters and plot points that aren’t all that great. What we have as the sort of “whole” is an entertaining and great looking series, that still has quite a bit to prove. Where the story goes from here, where the train itself is going to go, and what the dynamics of all these characters is going to become, will play a large part in whether Kotetsujo no Kabaneri becomes something more than just a fun visual feast.
For me? I see enough potential from this episode and the previous one, to be excited. While Flareknight kind of beat me to the first look, I’ll definitely be covering this series week by week regardless. I suspect that it will be a good time at the very least, and in this season where not a lot of series have been doing it for me, that’s more than I could ask for.
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