The ride hasn’t stopped but we’re at our stop for now.
Kabaneri initially started off as something I overlooked as the season began and as the end of the first week drew to a close, I happened to watch it on a whim, only to be impressed by the visuals, music, and practically everything else that set everything up quite nicely. After a few weeks, it became apparent that I wasn’t the only person feeling this way about our “Shingeki no Kyojin” with zombies. In the end, I think a better comparison can be made to the studio’s previous work with Guily Crown. Compared to highschool kids fighting against an established government, I think fighting against super-zombies with steam powered weaponry ontop of trains is a way more interesting premise which ultimately leads to a more enjoyable experience.
But did it turn out decently in the end for our original studio work that grabbed everyone’s attentions for the season? Let’s find out
KnK takes place in a “Steampunk” setting in Feudal Japan where a mysterious outbreak of zombie-like creatures called Kabane ravage the countryside. These Kabanes “reproduce” by biting and infecting other people and they are known to be hard to kill as the only surefire way is to pierce their armored hearts. The only hope for the regular denizens are large steam trains that travel across the country that provide as a secondary home as well as the primary means of defense against the mysterious creatures. Our protagonist is Ikoma, a Steamsmith who works in one of these stations who had previously abandoned his sister and had resolved himself to find a way to assuredly kill the Kabane and end the stigma and paranoia that plagues humanity regarding those who have been infected and haven’t been. One day, the station that Ikoma works on comes under attack and during the escape, Ikoma is bitten by a Kabane and he is able to asphyxiate himself and stop the infection from reaching his head. Ikoma survives and then later encounters girl named Mumei, who reveal to him that they both are a mix of Kabane and Human, known as Kabaneri.
While I can definitely see the comparisons to Shingeki no Kyojin, let’s be honest here, when more than half the series was just watching people fail miserably to fight any titans with the exception of a few characters, I can definitely say I enjoyed KnK a lot more. Plus it has freaking trains, one of the few surefire ways to get me excited for something since I have some sort of fascination with combat that takes place inside trains.
Ikoma was a decent enough main character who, unlike a certain other main characters I will be comparing this series with, actually gets the job done. He can at least get to fighting and generally being useful in killing some Kabane and he only one mopey scene near the end of the series. While he wasn’t the greatest and most awe inspiring main character, he’s miles ahead of Shu and Eren I feel. Eren went off crying about how much he wanted to kill titans and first thing that happens when his squad actually goes off and fights, he gets his leg bitten off and has Mikasa do everything for him and later on, it’s just all about his titan form than his actual self. Granted, Ikoma is already in his “afflicted/merged” state so I guess by execution, I found this more appealing. All in all, I liked Ikoma. Mumei is our main female protagonist so she basically gets compared to the likes of Inori and Mikasa. Individually though, Mumei was alright and if anything, she was the one making dumb decisions rather than Ikoma so I guess she’s part of the reason why I enjoyed Ikoma since all the “why would you do that, you dumb x” went to her. Other than that, she was alright, she wasn’t nearly as insufferable as Inori who didn’t do anything and if anything, she might be inferior to Mikasa because the latter did absolutely everything in her series.
Kabaneri had a load of side characters that actually made for a comfortable time when there weren’t Kabane accusations flying around, which admittedly is around half the series. First off, we have the only side character to die, Takumi, who was a pretty cool guy. While I expected another character to die before he did, I always appreciate a good “bro” character to the MC. I expected the nice girl, Kajika, to assuredly die first since she has no combat skills and was only there to be pretty so I was surprised when nothing bad happened to her. Sukari and Yukina didn’t get too many notable scenes other than the latter’s display of some serious muscle. Suzuki was absolutely balling and I loved every few seconds he talked in his comprehensible english. Moving on to the upper class, Ayame was just the princess and I had hoped she had showed up with her steam-powered bow more than once. Other than being the carrier of the mcguffin as well as being a humanoid mcguffin because of her status, she didn’t really do all that much in the end. Kurusu started out as a dick but gradually become a pretty cool guy, he even freaks out when Ayame gets nice with him which was entertaining to see. Last but not least, Mr. Big Nice Guy Kibito was another person I thought was going to die for sure but once again, he made it out alive. It’s usually the nice guys that end up dying first and the “big guys” are usually the ones who sacrifice themselves so their punier allies could survive.
As far as antagonist go, there’s nothing interesting to talk about the Kabane other than wonder where they even came from since the series doesn’t bother explaining. Biba was the focal point of the second half of the series and one of the reasons the series sort of lamed itself out with the tired vengeance plot line. While the fear, stigma, and paranoia are topics to focus on, Biba’s entire reason for doing the shit he does just for revenge against his own kind just didn’t feel like it lived up to the performance of the episodes before it.
Kabaneri’s visual style is definitely something to appreciate with its glossy like shine. The lighting always makes it look like its sunset so visually speaking, it’s definitely a looker. Animation wise, it’s quite the stunner too. Fight scenes happen nearly every episode and Mumei provides what she lacks in decent brain power with flashy acrobatics. The fight scenes get a lot of bias from me since combat inside trains always make for some fun stuff. Something about the fights in enclosed spaces on a constantly moving, iron ram of a locomotive, plus zombies in tight areas definitely add more tension to it. As far as visuals go, Kabaneri wins in nearly all points with great character designs, fluid animation, and great looking environments. With nothing but praise in the general presentation, keeps this section delectably short.
The original designs and music compositions comes from the same team that handled Guilty Crown and thankfully enough, Kabaneri was at least more enjoyable. With that statement, I can definitely say that while the story itself wasn’t all that amazing, everything else about the series was at least commendable. Guilty Crown’s flaws lied in its boring characters and terrible plot while practically “everything else” was good about it. Kabaneri was able to up the ante, no matter how little it actually was, to make its own characters and plot at the very least, acceptable. The setting is the that gets the points since the entire zombie setting in steampunk Edo Japan gives a stronger sense of “fantasy and sci-fi” than highschoolers running around being terrorists. While the opening and ending songs aren’t really the ones to stick to my head, they’re still fairly enjoyable songs I bothered listening to fully from time to time.
The only matter of issue is the aforementioned “slightly better than Guilty Crown’s characters and plot”. The plot itself is merely about survival and Biba’s entire story with Mumei isn’t all that compelling. Biba’s vindication serves as one of the weaker points and I didn’t enjoy the second half of the series as much as I did about the first half, where the focus was on surviving and overcoming challenges. Biba’s entire reasoning of revenge and slaughtering others seemed a bit less grandiose than I thought what his initial goal was going to be so I guess it’s a mix of disappointment and expectations not being met on his character. Granted, it did tackle the entire point about paranoia and fear that grasps humanity in regards to the Kabane but Biba just felt so weird with his goals since the series played him up so damn much.
In the end Koutetsujou no Kabaneri ended off as an above average show. With the amount of work put into its visuals, animation, and sound, I’d say it has enough points for it to merit a watch. Sure it gets weaker as the series progresses and it ends off without concluding anything on the Kabane itself but at least anything else after this won’t be about Mumei and her stupid-ass decision making. The first few episode are definitely the most entertaining portion of the series and I won’t lie, it had me hype in certain moments where everyone worked together to survive. But when most of that becomes a bit skewed by the end, it was entertaining but it just felt dumber than the series was already trying to pull with the black smoke monster and the likes.
But if Guilty Crown had slightly better characters and a slightly less retarded, wishy-washy plot, then Koutseujou no Kabaneri would be did, with a better setting to boot and an MC that’s not wimpering for over half the series before he does something. Along with that, Inori made for a terrible main female protagonist and Mumei, as dumb as she is, has something going for her that isn’t just her looks. Overall, an upgrade to the beautiful trainwreck that Guilty Crown was on a series that literally takes place on a train, and I really wish that didn’t end up as a pun.