Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – Review
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress was awarded as a Runner-Up for Best of Spring 2016 in our Anime Awards.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress:
Original Air Dates: April 7th, 2016 – June 30th, 2016
Synopsis: The island of Hinomoto struggles against the Kabane, zombie-like beings formed from the remains of the living. They threaten to tear the last vestiges of humanity apart. The only defense against them are the fortresses scattered around the island as stations, with thick huge walls to defend the remaining population. The only way to travel between these stations is via the Hayajiro, massive trains that transport troops and people from one station to another.
A young man, Ikoma, who lost his family to the Kabane, has been working for five years on a new weapon that’ll change the tide of the battle against the Kabane. But during the arrival of a Hayajiro, Ikoma makes the mistake of standing up for a man suspected of being a Kabane. Due to his interference Ikoma is thrown in jail, just as another Hayajiro arrives, transporting in an army of Kabane hungry for the citizens of the city….
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: Kabaneri is a feast for the eyes and the action fan with its colour palette and animation really helping to evoke a vibe of danger and intensity. The fight sequences are animated beautifully with the characters pulling off moves that seem both graceful and brutal. But at the same time, sometimes Kabaneri seems to be a bit careless with its animation and flow of scenery, having its characters get from point A to point B in a flash during chase scenes, to the point where you start to wonder if the characters possess the power of teleportation.
Tom: Kabaneri takes a lot of inspiration from Attack on Titan (unsurprising as they share the same Director) especially visually, with a similar brown/sun set bronzed color palette. Kabaneri also stands out from many of this season’s other offerings with character designs that harken back to older anime from the 80s and 90s giving it a distinct look that was absent from today’s more modern designs. It remains through its twelve episodes one of the more unique looking series this season, visually striking thanks in addition to its graphic use of violence to enhance the visual feast among the many more tame offerings. It’s not a masterpiece, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Kabaneri is remembered for some years to come based on its visual style alone.
Linny: The comparisons to Attack on Titan have been relentless and are understandable when you think about their similarities. Both shows have a hero who’s trying to redeem himself for being unable to save someone in their past, an allusion to internal conspiracies and of course the post apocalyptic settlements of people in walled off cities. But that does not mean that Kabaneri is an Attack on Titan rip off. Yes, the director is clearly and heavily inspired and influenced by his time with Attack on Titan, but Kabaneri manages to have enough substance to stand on its own. The characters and the story plays out with enough difference to not be a mere rip off, but a show that can be enjoyed on its own merits.
Tom: Kabaneri does indeed stray from the Attack on Titan comparison, abandoning its walled in city, focusing more on the human interactions of this post-apocalyptic steampunk world rather than the mysteries of the zombie outbreak, and moving at a much more brisk pace. That said, I’m not sure Kabaneri ever strays as far from Attack on Titan as some might believe. Like Attack on Titan, it follows along similar themes of conquering fear, conspiracies, as well as executing similar forms of escalation for Ikoma’s or Mumei’s Kabaneri abilities. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Kabaneri never seems to truly escape the similarities it has with Attack on Titan, for better or worse. It’s not to say Kabaneri is a carbon copy, or an inherently bad series for as much as it pulls from Attack on Titan, but just that it deals with many of the same ideas and makes use of similar elements as it progresses. It remains very much a series that exists along a similar vein as Attack on Titan. What this means is that if you’re familiar with Attack on Titan, there’s a good chance a few elements might feel overly familiar, or you may even reach a point where you can predict a few twists and turns based on your Attack on Titan knowledge. At the same time, however, I believe Kabaneri might actually improve on its similarities with Attack on Titan, utilizing its themes and ideas in a more constructive, perhaps even more satisfying manner.
Linny: There was a personally frustrating point for me in the story with some incredibly wishy washy characters who changed their mood in a literal and actual second. Without spoiling too much, it’s an incident where the second they are saved from an attacker, they turn on their saviour even though everyone is clearly aware of the danger they were in a second ago had their saviour not stepped in. Some might argue that it was to show how fear can completely unbalance a person’s rationale but the sudden and complete shift in attitude felt a little too dramatic and forced. However, in the long run, the humans start to better mingle and support the Kabaneri even in extremely dangerous situations, so the darn humans do finally come around for those of you who worry about the Kabaneri and humans constantly battling each other rather than their primary enemy.
Tom: Kabaneri makes sure to move quickly, far faster than Attack on Titan (which received some criticism for padding events out.) Kabaneri runs the gambit of similar ideas (along with its own wholly unique subplot) in just half the episodes Attack on Titan ran. But in doing so Kabaneri sometimes sells itself short. In at least one instance, we skip quite a bit of time between episodes, leaving the audience playing catch up. More importantly some events which should have a strong underpinning of emotion fall flat. For instance, the series gives us a flashback for one of the main villains mere minutes before we need the knowledge it contains to have a surprise twist make sense from a logical standpoint and a thematic one. But because the moments are squeezed so close together, the weight behind it feels forced and the themes built on this revelation in the finale feel more like lip service. It damages what could’ve been an incredible finale and instead left me feeling meagerly satisfied with the series.
Linny: For people who like their shows and stories to get as dark and futile as possible, Kabaneri does a decent job of stretching out the doom and gloom. Despite its short 12 episode run, it spends a good three consecutive episodes just making things go from bad to worse with not even the slightest sign of hope. Despite this sounding like it’s browbeating its point, it actually works rather well and helps to make the show feel unique for being this dedicated to making the situation as bleak as possible when compared to other similar length shows that usually never let things get as bleak or for as long as Kabaneri does. Our heroes in the show just keep failing and losing episode after episode which makes for a tense viewing experience.
Tom: Kabaneri’s emotional and thematic issues aren’t a big problem if all you’re asking for is dark, gritty action. The struggle to survive, and the turmoil Ikoma and Mumei and the rest face is rendered wonderfully here and the fast pacing should keep its deeper issues unnoticeable for viewers who are less discerning or detail oriented. It helps that the animation, as we mentioned above, is so visually striking, and that the music contains such an epic quality, you can get completely caught up in Kabaneri’s superficial aspects to forget about its deeper failings.
Linny: In a lot of ways, Ikoma could be dismissed as yet another self sacrificing hero but the moments where the show has him mentally and physically breaking down and lashing out with frustration help to make him feel real. The show has a lot of female characters, starring and supporting and right off the bat, I was worried that Ayame, the princess, would turn out to be another one of those girls with high morals and intense emotions who tries to take charge and instead leads her men to ruin as she has no common sense or grasp on reality. Thankfully, she grows wiser as the show proceeds and avoids being the sole cause of a crisis, which a lot of older ‘princess’ characters seemed to have a habit of doing.
Tom: Ikoma remained a little too thin for my tastes. Yes, he does periodically break down from the pressures of the story, but Ikoma has a near one track mind for much of the series, focused on a singular goal that is only pushed aside during the series’ final multi-episode arc. We don’t deal with any other potential elements that could be on his mind, like reclaiming his humanity, or his own, more personal fears (although these do get touched on with a repetitive flashback) but instead we tunnel vision on defeating the Kabane or whatever more pervasive threat exists. Everyone else is just as thin, focused squarely on whatever the main plot is about at the time (usually the Kabane) rather than exploring the other issues that might exist in this situation. The series is near relentless in this, rarely delving into subplots (although there is at least one episode that explores the characters away from the main plot and it’s a pity Kabaneri wasn’t longer so we could receive more moments like that.) Mumei is the only character who I felt had real depth, conflicted by her allegiances, her views on Kabaneri and Humanity challenged by Ikoma, and who truly evolves as an individual over the course of the story. Her character speaks to trust, weakness, and strength all elements of the story under served on by everyone else (save Ikoma. Strength and fear basically define his entire character.) If Kabaneri gets a follow up, and I’m not too sure it will, I’d actually maybe like to see the series refocus on Mumei.
Linny: This show really hooked me with its female cast members but they can sadly still be solely defined by singular archetypes. They do not get that much character development and some get very limited screen time but when they do appear, they more often than not steal the spotlight. There’s a type of female character to pander to every kind of viewer. You get the bad ass Mumei, the nobility Ayame, the nurturing Kajika and even the muscular Yukina, someone who I am certain has inspired a fair share of death by snusnu jokes.
Tom: In the end I’m not sure I’d say Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is any better than Attack on Titan. Both deal with similar themes, and utilize familiar elements, but both have flaws that keep them from feeling like timeless classics. Still, Kabaneri is very enjoyable for what it is: a rush of crazy fantasy and action that manages to be dark without becoming too ‘edgy.” The ending is a little off, and wasn’t as impactful and memorable as I’d hoped, but I still think Kabaneri is worth a watch, especially for anyone still starving for an Attack on Titan season 2. This is your pity prize, folks.
Linny: You should most definitely watch this show for the action and its post apocalyptic survival theme if that’s a genre you enjoy. If you’re looking for well fleshed out characters and story, you will most likely walk away disappointed as the show does stumble with badly depicted chase scenes, under defined characters and a confusing ending. It resorted to a feel good ending and given its erstwhile dismal scenario, the ending feels rather underwhelming and out of line with the rest of the show. That’s not to say it isn’t worth a watch but it’s definitely going to disappoint anyone who wants more depth and not just awesome combat scenes.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is available for streaming via Amazon.com