The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Title: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress aka Koutetsujou no Kabaneri
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Wit Studio
Format: 12 episodes
Date: 7 Apr 2016 – 1 Jul 2016

Synopsis: A feudal yet industrialized Japan is in shambles. Kabane, zombie-like beings that infect humans instantly upon bite, have killed off much of the human population. The remaining humans have built fortresses and use locomotives for transportation between them. One of the people working on the locomotives is Ikoma, a low-ranked engineer who is bent on vanquishing the Kabane. He gets critically infected when his town is invaded by the Kabane but miraculously survives. After meeting a mysterious girl by the name of Mumei, he learns the identity of his new self: a Kabaneri, one who is neither Kabane or human.

The Highlights
Action & music: Top notch and grand; the two saving graces of the show.
Story Line: Full of tropes; ideas blatantly copied from other shows.
Characters: Shallow and predictable; Mumei’s transition is a disappointment.
Araki Tetsuro: His directing style is becoming recognizable, for better or worse.

Director Araki Tetsuro is carving quite a reputation for himself. His previous works, which include Guilty Crown and Highschool of the Dead, illustrate how he has a knack for flair but lack in substance. While he has directed a few exceptional shows that have style and engaging plot twists like Attack on Titan and Death Note, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress shows he is back to his usual habit of emphasizing over-the-top action sequences while forsaking more significant aspects such as plot and character development.

Kabaneri is a visually spectacular series. Sleek, fluid and packed with adrenaline, the action is up there with some of the best he has ever done in other shows and there is not one dull moment in the desperate war between the Kabane and the humans. Coupled with the mayhem is music by Sawano Hiroyuki, a man known for his powerful orchestral compositions of which some of his best are featured in shows like Mobile Suit Gundam UC and Blue Exorcist.

Unfortunately, the visuals and music are the only two things worth enjoying in Kabaneri. Everything else, to put it mildly, is quite a mess. The show is full of ideas blatantly lifted from Araki‘s past shows, such as Guilty Crown‘s dramatically stylized scenes and Attack on Titan‘s setup and ambiance. Worse, the similarities are only on a superficial level; for example, Attack on Titan explores the mechanics behind the Titans and the fleeting rationality of a few selected humans. Kabaneri is devoid of all that; it has the setup of a profound story but degenerates into a train wreck of narrative tropes and cookie-cutter characters.

Speaking of characters, this is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the show. The cast is nothing more than shallow exploit copied from Araki’s previous works. In particular, Ikoma as the emotionally charged and simple-minded protagonist and Mumei as the cerebral and cynical female lead are shallow copies of Attack of Titan‘s Eren and Mikasa respectively. On top of that, Mumei’s transformation into an emotionally weak and gullible victim is a major disappointment. Her eventual descent from the strong female persona lacks credibility, and furthermore, it weakens the character dynamics between Ikoma and Mumei. The pair’s respective weaknesses complement each other well at first, but it soon turns into the generic knight in shining armor rescuing a damsel in distress cliché.

With Kabaneri as the latest addition to his portfolio, it’s becoming easy to spot an Araki series from afar. With a few exceptions, his fondness for aesthetics over good story and character development establishes him as the Michael Bay of anime. His work will appeal to audience who are in it for mindless action, but it can’t be helped if discerning viewers begin to approach every new series from him with a bit of reservation.

The Rating: 4

Reviewed by: AC

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