Anime Review: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Season 1

By Drew Hurley 11.12.2018 1

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Season 1 (UK Rating: 15)

It's easy to pitch Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Season 1. Throw Snowpiercer, Train to Busan, and Attack on Titan into a hardcore anime blender. This original anime series comes from WIT Studio, which exploded to fame after the adaptation of Attack on Titan and here it is getting a chance to play with a totally original story. In the fictional country of Hinomoto - which bears a striking resemblance to industrial revolution Japan - the people are locked away in cities, outside of which the Kabane roams, feeds, and slaughters any unlucky enough to get spotted. Heavily armoured trains are the only way to travel between these cities, and for the little city of Aragane, one day the train brings in some unwanted passengers. Coming courtesy of Manga Entertainment, this first (and only) season is available from 10th December.

Zombies have died down again - pun intended - but for a time, they were the hottest thing in media. This big resurgence ran from the success of The Walking Dead and infecting a huge wave of games, movies, and TV shows. For the discerning zombie fan, the type of zombie was very important. Was it a classic Romero, shuffling, brainless machine, biting to infect and driven to repeat its habits from its previous life? Perhaps a sprinting fast rage machine, like 28 Days Later? Maybe even just zombie idols, like in this season's hit, Zombie Land Saga. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress combines some classic elements with some new ideas, and then goes absolutely crazy, just for fun.

The Kabane is a fast moving group of zombies that spreads the infection with a bite - so far, so normal. The only way to kill these is to sever the head or destroy the heart - again, familiar aspects. However, that physiology of the Kabane is quite different to the walking cadavers of most media. Upon transformation, the skin and whites of the eyes darken to a pitch black, while the veins, heart, and iris glow like molten fire. The Kabane also develops something of a natural defence - a cage surrounds the heart, one that is impervious to most regular weapons.

The Kabane is thought to be a curse, but a couple of Train Engineers in the city of Aragane are theorising to try and save the world - trying to establish if it's really a curse, or if it's some sort of blood-borne infection; trying to develop a weapon that can overcome the armoured defences of the enemy. This pair is Ikoma - the protagonist of the story - and Takumi - his bumbling best friend - and as Steam Smiths, they are seen as lower class by the "Bushi" Samurai Warriors of the town. The theorising of the pair gets put to the test in the first episode when a train smashes into town, releasing a horde of Kabane.


 
It's not good news that Ikoma gets to test the theory of the bite - he does so because he himself is bitten. Instead of going all Rick Grimes and removing the bitten area, he decides to stop the infection reaching his brain by blocking it getting that high. Effectively hanging himself with an iron collar, yet it works! Ikoma becomes something between, not Kabane, but not quite human, either. Meanwhile, a girl named Mumei (it means anonymous) who happens to be briefly stopping off at the station seems to be able to single-handedly tear the Kabane apart.

She reveals herself to Ikoma as a fellow infected but not quite dead hybrid. That is the source of her strength, and the two join what's left of the town in a desperate escape upon their train. This group is headed up by Ayame, the daughter of the recently deceased lord of the town, her loyal bodyguard Kurusu, an apprentice engineer amongst other warriors and civilians. They escape their doomed town and begin a grand journey to Kongokaku, the capital of this country where the Shogun resides, in hopes of safe-haven for the civilians, but also to enlisting aid, to gather forces and take back their town.

Their journey is not an easy one. Tempers fray between the passengers and the archaic view of Kabane being a curse means that the other passengers are constantly either afraid or plotting the death of their saviours… thinking them both Kabane… but they aren't. They are the titular Kabaneri, and much of the early episodes is spent with Mumei teaching Ikoma just what being a Kabaneri means. How they have to drink human blood to survive, how there is no cure, how they one day will become Kabane, and, most importantly, teaching him how to fight.

Also in the early episodes, the pair takes on wave after wave of Kabane that regularly assault the train. This escalates even further when it is revealed there are more secrets to the Kabane still to be revealed. There are Wazatori, Kabane who were once warriors and retain some of their abilities, able to use tools and weapons, and who use tactics instead of mindlessly attacking. Then there are colonies… something that needs to be seen to be believed.

There are many other threads weaved throughout. The basic premise would easily have been enough to keep the show interesting but it's even better as political intrigue, dark pasts, developing bonds, and huge monsters are all bundled into a fantastic narrative.

This release comes with both the original Japanese dub and a new English dub. The English is fine for the main cast, but the supporting and extras is gratingly bad. The Japanese really is the best choice here, but the important thing in regards to the audio here is the music. The soundtrack is simply spectacular. The opening theme is by Egoist, previously known for its openings for Psycho-Pass and Guilty Crown. The closing theme is by the veteran artist Aimer, an artist with numerous awards who has produced closing themes for a mass amount of anime. The soundtrack is more than just these two themes, though, as the tracks throughout the entire series are absolutely top tier. This is one where it's worth hunting down the soundtrack.

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Season 1 takes everything great about Attack on Titan and replicates it, but with zombies and samurai, instantly making it about 33% cooler. The combat and action is dynamic and explosive, the characters interesting, and the presentation superb. About the only real negative here is that the show is short and, even worse, there's still no sequel in the works, and, being an original story, there's no manga or light novel release to rush off and pick up. Fans will be left waiting until 2019 for a film sequel.

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Seems pretty legit

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