After a stellar first episode, which managed to both capture the feel of, and distinguish itself from Attack on Titan, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is back with their second episode. Can they continue to emulate, but separate themselves from smash hit Attack on Titan? If this episode is any indication, that’d be a resounding yes.
Before we get into the episode, just let me say again that my thoughts are with the people of the Kumamoto Prefecutre as they recover from the devastating earthquake that stuck there on April 16th. Though it may often feel as if you are alone, the world is with you, giving you strength in these tragic times.
I say this because I’ve seen a number of complaints across the internet about having to wait for the second episode of Kotetsujou, and for real folks… your anime can wait a week while Japan tends its wounded, and grieves its dead. Priorities people, let’s get some.
Moving on to the episode itself, it dives right back in where it left off, then promptly doubles down on its own awesomeness. Something like this, it could only come out of Japan.
Right away, we get an opening theme that is damn operatic, and chock full of images that seem to indicate the series is going to go nigh on Snowpiercer as the few survivors of the destruction of Hinomoto Station hunker down in the Kotetsujyo, trying to stay alive. While I’m certain there are other Stations ahead, the Kabane have already been shown to be clever and resourceful, which means the folks about the Kotetsujyo are gonna have to step fast to stay ahead of them, as nowhere is actually safe anymore.
We get another glimpse of Ikoma’s memory/vision as a Station is over run with Kabane, and a young girl cries out for help, though she has already turned. It’s pretty damn horrific. Ikoma jerks awake from the dream, panting, then takes in the dead Kabane next to him. After a moment of processing it all, he realizes that he didn’t turn into a Kabane after being bitten, and to say he’s thrilled is an understatement.
Of course, if I got bitten by a zombie and didn’t turn, I’d be pretty damn happy, too, so I feel him on this.
Takumi arrives, worried about his friend and armed with a very deadly looking broom. Ah, the stories of the Kabane he’s slain with that broom are too many to mention.
Joking aside, that he’d come to rescue his friend, armed with a broom against fast, clever zombies says a great deal about their friendship, which will be revisited soon enough.
Ikoma is thrilled to see Takumi, and immediately begins telling him how the piercing gun was a massive success, thanks to Takumi’s idea to increase the explosives in the bullet. Once it sinks into Takumi’s head what’s happened, that Ikoma has killed a Kabane, well…
Excitement Face Achievement: Unlocked.
Then Takumi asks if Ikoma is okay, and Ikoma admits the Kabane bit him. Takumi goes from thrilled to horrified in about .0003 seconds. Which is perfectly understandable. He doesn’t stop being terrified, either, even when Ikoma tells him that they were right about how to stop the virus, and that it means others who have been bitten can be saved.
Now, before we give Takumi any kind of shit over being terrified, let’s all bear in mind that from what we’ve seen so far, these ideas on how to stop the Kabane virus were just theories up until about five seconds ago for him. He has no idea what sort of lasting effects there may be, or if his best friend is really cured. For all he knows, it’s just been slowed, and in a few hours, Ikoma could turn and try to kill him. So, his fear is completely understandable.
It also plays into later events in the episode, but we’ll get to that in due course. For now, let’s go check up Mumei, who casually beheaded a Kabane with her freaking shoe.
She’s got some kind of device in her hand as she enters a building where a ton of people are hiding. She pays them no heed, however, as she is too busy calculating the distance to the Kotetsujyo, and how much time she has left before it leaves. She is utterly calm as she accepts she may not make it.
Elsewhere, Princess Ayame is still waiting for her father to send the single that the Kotetsujyo is secure, after he bravely ran away leaving his daughter to die. A real man of the people, that asshole. To say things are bad where Ayame is would be underselling it massively. They are surrounded on all sides, and couldn’t reach the train even if the signal did come.
The only thing they have to their advantage is that the Lord of Hinomoto’s house is on a high hill, giving them the high ground as the Kabane scale upwards to reach them. This buys them little time, however, and the gunners trying to hold the Kabane off are caught in a losing battle. The samurai on hand are too busy standing around the Princess to be bothered doing anything that might actually help save her. Which seems super honorable, and completely stupid.
After seeing one of the gunners get dragged down and killed, Ayame is at a loss for what to do. Several peasants begin to get agitated that they are standing around, instead of heading for the train, and point this out. She says they have to wait for her father to send the signal, and they argue that there isn’t any signal coming. If they don’t leave, right now, they’ll get left behind, and if she isn’t willing to lead, then they will leave her behind. One of the samurai, a dude in a blue jacket named Kurusu, tries to shout these people down by reminding them that with the Lord absent, they all must do what Ayame says.
This works about as well as you’d think. Look, I get it. Kurusu is a samurai, one of the Bushi, and has a very strict way of living his life, and thinking. The hierarchy is everything to him. He can’t see that in the face of the apocalypse, nobody else gives a crap about any of that. Since he appears in the opening credits, I suspect this is a lesson he’s gonna need to learn.
Before anyone can get too carried away, Mumei shows up, wondering what the hell they are all doing standing around, making her the official voice of reason in these parts. She very casually comments that they’ll be arguing this until dawn as everyone notices she’s changed her wardrobe into what can only be described as ass kicking gear.
One of the peasants tells her to shut up, calls her a child, and tries to put his hands on her. Two seconds later, he’s laying on the ground wondering where his entire life went wrong. The best part? Mumei doesn’t even break a sweat putting him down there. It’s freaking awesome.
Yes, I have a severe weakness for the ass kicking ladies. You guys may have noticed this by now, I’m sure, and if you haven’t, well, go read my novel. It’s full of ’em.
After kicking grumpy’s ass, she asks if there’s anyone here who can drive the train, and finds out there is as a young woman steps forward. We met her briefly during the opening of the first episode, and I haven’t caught her name yet, but we do know she is capable. Mumei finds this acceptable, and tells the others to follow while she clears a path.
Then… oh, be still my heart… she kills literally everything in her way. I mean, I can’t even describe this shit properly. It’s just a frenzy of awesome as she slaughters every single Kabane between her and the train yard with totally cool detachment. How, we’ll find out soon enough, but she gets a ton of style points on the execution from me.
Seriously, it’s just awesome to watch.
On a different note than my obvious adoration of this kick ass lady, there’s a couple of things this fight sequence shows us. First, Mumei has guns that can pierce a Kabane’s heart. It takes two to three shots, but it can do it. More importantly, the Kabane get mad when you kill Kabane in front of them. Like, royally pissed off mad. That’s not a very zombie like attitude, which makes me wonder just what the hell these things actually are.
As Mumei dispatches the Kabane, everyone behind her just sort of stares in awe, then gets their shit together and hauls ass for the train. They may be sexist, but at least they ain’t stupid. When the short gal gives you a path of escape, you take it.
Meanwhile, Ikoma and Takumi are hauling ass for the train, while Ikoma goes on and on about mass producing his new gun so they can kill all the Kabane and retake the world. That’s our Ikoma, always ten steps ahead of where he actually is. This is both a good thing, and a bad thing.
It’s good, because he clearly has a plan, and knows how to carry it out. Bad because it isn’t just up to him, and none of the Bushi Lords, much less the Shogun is likely to give the time of day to some random kid. Gotta admire his heart all the same.
Of course, there’s another matter they haven’t considered. To get on the Kotetsujyo, they have to submit to an inspection, and as Takumi quickly points out, nobody is going to buy that Ikoma cured himself of the Kabane virus. This is all rendered a moot point five seconds later when actual Kabane show up, sending the entire boarding process into the clusterfuck I noted it would become in the last episode.
Where others see despair, Ikoma sees opportunity, though. He reasons that if people see him kill Kabane, they’ll have to accept him. He’s such an optimist. Also, kinda stupid.
As it is, he doesn’t get his chance, because Mumei shows up and takes out the Kabane, then wanders off yawning. Ikoma remembers their conversation when he was locked up, though, and after a moment, she recognizes him as well. While he’s trying to figure out how she took out the Kabane, she’s trying to figure out why he changed his look.
Yeah. I love her. She’s too cool for words. Especially when she picks up on him not being totally normal anymore just by smelling him.
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Ayame and the peasants, who rush the train, ignoring her as she tries to tell them where the passenger cars are, and promising them the train won’t leave without them. It’s rough being a stewardess. Nobody listens to the safety lecture, then gripes at you when they run out of peanuts.
Ikoma is amazed Mumei lead everyone here, but she blows that off, claiming they just followed her, which is technically the same thing, but different enough that it gives us an interesting bit of insight into how her mind works.
With everything settled, Mumei yawns again and tells them to go get on the train. Before they can, Kurusu shows up, ticked off that Ikoma didn’t have the decency to stay in his jail cell. Ikoma doesn’t give a damn, at least until Kurusu levels a rifle on him, thinking that maybe he got out because he’s not human. Before this can get out of hand, Mumei wanders back and tells him Ikoma isn’t a Kabane, shutting down his righteous Bushi outrage that someone would abandon their jail cell during a zombie attack.
Yup. Kurusu is too blinded by tradition to think an original thought. Makes me wonder what the story has in store for his dumb ass.
With the train yard now secure, everyone starts getting their asses to Mars… uh… I mean on the train, while the engineer Mumei picked up readies the locomotive. This requires Ayame, who has the ignition key around her neck for some reason. Once the Kotetsujyo is fired up, Mumei joins them, commenting that Ayame isn’t much for war, which is why so many people died. She doesn’t take this well, but doesn’t argue it, either.
Honestly, with the state of the world, you’d think the Bushi would be a little more open to training their Princess in such things, but some people just don’t know how to change with the zombie apocalypse.
Kurusu lets Mumei’s insult to Ayame slide, as they are short handed and he wants her to guard the rear of the train. She blows him off as she hunkers down, pulling her cloak around her, hiding even her head, commenting only that she’s out of time. Then, we get this…
Kurusu is outraged, but Ayame shuts him down, pointing out that Mumei did fight like, all the Kabane on the way to the train yard. He lets it go, but you can tell, he isn’t use to having people ignore him when he demands they do whatever dinky thing enters his dinky mind.
The engineer gets the Kotetsujyo up and running, links to the rest of the train, and gets them moving out as the Kabane begin to flood towards them, having eradicated the rest of the Station. Kurusu wants her to hurry, but the engineer knows they can’t without risking blowing the boiler, so they slowly pull out as the Kabane storm the train yard, slaughtering the guards still outside, then attacking the train itself.
In one of the passenger cars, Ikoma and Takumi try to find a place to get comfy as a Kabane attack knocks a steam pipe loose. Ikoma stops it from falling on a young woman and several children, shoving it back in place. When Takumi tries to touch it, he almost gets burned, giving us our first big hint as to how much Ikoma has changed after his run in with the Kabane virus.
Suddenly, the door to the passenger car shoves open as a Kabane tries to get in. It looks as if it wasn’t secured properly, and panic begins to run through the passengers. Ikoma, ever ready to show off his new gun, opens the door and manages to kill the Kabane. Rather than gratitude, however, he gets fear, and not without good cause.
Ikoma realizes what everyone else has. He’s not fully human anymore. To everyone else, though, this can only mean he is Kabane. Ikoma begins to panic, pleading with Takumi to see he isn’t a Kabane, but when he approaches, Takumi steps back. It’s understandable why he would. His friend appears to be turning into a monster.
Kurusu and some other Bushi arrive, spot Ikoma, and give not a second thought to the situation. Kurusu especially seems to get pleasure out of putting a bullet to Ikoma, knocking him out of the train, leaving him for dead.
Here is where Ikoma’s optimism crashes against hard reality. The Bushi will take no chances. None. For any reason. They don’t care about facts, science, or anything else. The Kabane are the enemy, and if you even look as if you might have been bitten, as far as they are concerned, you are Kabane, and show no mercy.
On the one hand, this is beyond harsh, as if crosses fully into martial law, stripping people of their rights, and robbing them of even a semblance of dignity. On the other, this is how you survive. For all I have, and likely will continue giving Kurusu shit for being pea brained, unable to see beyond his own sense of honor long enough to know that the way they have been living won’t keep them safe forever, I also understand. He knows no other way. This brutal way of life has allowed humanity to endure. It has let them survive. Survival is all that matters, and he’ll do whatever it takes to ensure survival.
He did what he thought was the right thing. To save everyone on the train, including himself and Ayame, he did the only thing he could do. This doesn’t make him evil, or even good, just afraid, and very human.
That Takumi tried to stop him, makes Takumi much more noble, however, and if humanity is to ever face extinction, by any means, I’d hope we would do so with nobility, dignity, compassion, and humanity. I know we wouldn’t. We’d be like Kurusu, try to fight it with everything we had, and hope that it made a difference somehow. It just leaves me to wonder if there is a middle path that would allow for both.
Perhaps there isn’t.
As the Kotetsujyo pulls away, Ikoma lies on the ground, stunned, and vulnerable as the Kabane approach. Takumi can do nothing but grieve.
Kurusu is soon called back to the locomotive, as there are a number of Kabane on the tracks ahead of them. A spotter waves him up, and Kurusu quickly sees the problem. Ayame wants to join him, and despite his best efforts to keep her away, does and sees the same thing he did.
The Lord of Hinomoto has fallen. Then risen anew.
Ayame is stunned, and begs Kurusu to do something. Her father is out there, after all. Kurusu, as gently as he can, gives Ayame her first lesson in the new world order she finds herself in. That is not her father. That is just another Kabane. Grief stricken, she accepts this as Kurusu gives the order to run down all the Kabane in their way.
His loyalty to the Lord and his family extends far, but not beyond death.
A few moments later, the Kotetsujyo arrives at the draw bridge on the other side of Hinomoto Station. There’s an automatic switch they can engage to lower the draw bridge, but it isn’t working for some reason. Outside, we see that there’s a Kabane arm in the way, likely the Lord’s, meaning even in double death, he’s a fuck up. Regardless, without the switch, there’s no way to lower the draw bridge, meaning they are trapped.
The Kabane assault on the train continues, in a remarkably coordinated way, leading to the water tank being damaged. Without the water in that tank, the train won’t move, not it’ll matter much if they can’t get the draw bridge down. Kurusu knows there’s a manual lever outside, however, and decides to go throw it, well aware he’ll be committing suicide to do so.
Okay, Kurusu, I give. You got some backbone, after all. When others try to talk him out of it, he even flat out says they are samurai. If they aren’t willing to put their lives on the line now, then when? Which means he’s got a spine, and a big brass set.
I’ll make an effort to be slightly nicer to you, Kurusu, but I make no promises.
He doesn’t get the chance to sacrifice himself, however, as the spotter has spotted something else moving among the Kabane. That something would be Ikoma, who isn’t done saving the fucking world just yet, thank ya very damn much.
More than that, he wants them to watch. He wants them to see. Every last one of them on that train. He wants them to know, that the man they cast out, is the man who bled for them, died for them, so that they might live. He vows to laugh at them from the after life, even as he throws the switch, and saves every single person on the train.
Ayame wants to help him, but Kurusu doesn’t, even as he watches, and knows, Ikoma did the very thing he himself just called out a fellow samurai for not being willing to do. This boy, this mechanic, this nobody, was just every inch, and more, the samurai he thinks himself to be.
It hurts him, and you can see it. He hates Ikoma for it, too.
As the draw bridge lowers, the Kotetsujyo begins to move, leaving Ikoma behind, once again. Wounded, weary, and broken of spirit, he can do nothing but cry at the cruel hand fate has given him. He only wanted to save people, and now, though he has, he is left behind, thought to be the enemy, and everything he worked so hard for means nothing.
His life amounted to nothing.
Until the cable lands by him, thrown by Takumi, who will not leave his friend behind a second time. Yet, he is tired, and can only stare at it, knowing that even if he took it, the people on the train would just throw him off again. He has no place left to go, and can wait only for death.
As the sun rises over the ruins of Hinomoto, shining down on Ikoma, Mumei lands by him, and chastises him for crying before hooking the cable around him and ordering Takumi to pull. Despite a couple other people trying to stop him, he does, and soon has Ikoma aboard as the Kotetsujyo pulls out into the morning light, leaving the ruins of Hinomoto Station behind.
It doesn’t matter what others think. To Takumi, and Mumei, Ikoma’s life was worth saving. His life does not amount to nothing, not in their eyes.
Still, Ikoma chastises them for saving him, as he is clearly becoming a Kabane. Mumei blows it off, since they already got him on board. Kurusu is less impressed as he arrives with several samurai and offers Ikoma a suicide bag.
He claims to feel no shame in being saved by Ikoma, yet he offers to let Ikoma kill himself, with dignity, rather than be shot down, which tells a very different story based on his earlier actions. Before Ikoma can respond with a giant Go Fuck Yourself, Mumei explains to Kurusu, again, that Ikoma is not a Kabane.
He’s like her. A Kabaneri. Something between human and Kabane.
With that, we close out the episode.
Building on what they did last episode, the second outing for Koutetsujou No Kabaneri manages to pack a lot of action, emotion, and character building into just twenty some odd minutes. It’s actually pretty impressive, from a writers standpoint, how effortless they make it look.
First off, there’s Takumi, who moves from worried, to elated, to concerned, to afraid, to determined, all in the span of a brief period, cementing his friendship with Ikoma as something he values enough to risk his own life for. Personally, this is something I love seeing, as male friendships in American television usually end up revolving around being utter dicks to each other.
Ayame, a pampered Princess, is suddenly thrust into a leadership role she has not been trained to take on, and struggles with, as well as the death of her father. This is a good piece of character work, as it is precisely how she would act and react given her upbringing and current situation. I look forward to seeing her grow into her leadership role.
Kurusu, who I’ve ragged on, and given credit to, is another character I’m interested in seeing grow. The position he is coming from as a samurai makes the things he now faces difficult for him to understand. He is use to the world being black and white, and now, it’s turned to a big fat shade of gray and he is lost in it all, clinging only to his honor and code to get him through.
Most of all, there is Ikoma, who had his idealism and optimism broken when it hit upon reality. Yet, still, he clung to it, and fought on to save people, even the people who rejected him. This is a classic hero in every sense, and right now, a timely one, as the world seems to have forgotten just what a hero actually is about.
This is again a way in which Koutetsujou separates itself from Titan. Eren was consumed by the need for revenge, to the point he would act rashly, and sometimes, got people killed because he was too busy pursuing his own selfish desires.
B contrast, we have Ikoma, who was willing to save even the people who refused to accept him, knowing it would be his final act, and not caring. His ideals mattered more, and their lives mattered even more than that.
This is shaping up to be one hell of a ride. See ya next week, for episode 3.