One of the things about Koutetsujou No Kabaneri that keeps jumping out at me in how utterly insane the entire thing is. Not just the whole steampunk zombie apocalypse Snowpiercer aspect, either, but all of it. Six episodes in, half way through what at the moment appears to be the whole series, and things just keep getting crazier.
Need to up the threat level of the Kabane? Throw one in that can use weapons and fighting tactics, call it a Wazatori, and keep steaming along. Need to top that? Throw a literal metric shit ton of Kabane into a groaning giant capable of menacing the entire train. It’s all good, cause we’re already into crazy town here.
Yet, it all works. All the crazy, from the vampire/zombie hybrid Kabaneri, to the tactical zombies, to the giant monster works. As a viewer, I at least am totally on board for the ride, and completely okay with these twists that, just about anywhere else, would make me roll my eyes and change the channel.
Part of the reason it all works, I think, is for two reasons. The first being that they take it all seriously. While these various little twists by themselves are laughable, the writing staff at Wit Studios treats every single thing as a serious matter.
The Kabaneri don’t get enough blood, and they turn into Kabane. This is never treated as anything other than the horrible fate it is. Neither for the Kabaneri, nor the people who are entrusting their lives to them. Either Mumei or Ikoma goes over that ledge, and it could spell doom for everyone on the train, and it’s always treated as such.
The same goes for the Wazatori and now the giant bundle of Kabane they face at the end of last weeks episode. These are not laughing matters. These things are terrifying, because the writing treats them as terrifying. A Wazatori can easily demolish an entire group of Bushi with ease, and this new threat can take out an entire town with ease. There’s no tongue in cheek horror here. For the characters, this is their reality, and the writers never forget that.
Which brings me to the second reason it works. We are invested in the characters. If the characters were any less well written, this entire thing would collapse. None of it would work if we didn’t care about this bunch, and want to see them survive. From Ikoma to Ayame, and even Kurusu and Sukari. By making them characters worth investing in, worth our time to care about, we react to the nightmares of their world the same way they do. With abject horror, and an iron forged will to overcome and live.
It’s a delicate balancing act Wit Studio has put in place with this show, and so far, they’ve not fallen. Every episode has upped the ante, broadened the characters, and had a singular moment of awesome worth remembering. They seem well aware of how narrow that tightrope is, too, balancing the character moments with the action with an expert touch.
One thing is certain as we reach the midpoint of the series. Nobody is going to keep comparing this to Attack on Titan. Kotetsujoo has distinguished itself quite nicely on that front.
So, when we last saw our heroes, Mumei and Ikoma were trapped in a collapsing mine shaft as a giant monster reared up and turned its eyes on the Kotetsujyo, which was trapped behind a fallen tower Ikoma had failed to move out of the way. If ever all hope seemed lost, it’s now.
Naturally, to up the suspense, we open on an expanded version of the flashback we caught a bit of last week, as Mumei remembers watching someone shoot a woman in the back. It doesn’t exactly make things clearer, but it does give us a bit more context. Namely, Mumei and the other two appeared to be fighting Kabane. The women was injured, and killed by the man, who then urged Mumei to get moving, as the Young Master had arrived. Instead, she went to the dead woman, tears in her eyes.
What all this is about, I’ve no idea, but as we’ve already fully explored Ikoma’s backstory, I guess it’s time we turned our attention to Mumei’s, as she is most certainly the co-star of this. While Ikoma was billed as the hero of the story, Mumei clearly was always intended to be standing right by his side. An argument could be made that this in an ensemble cast, really, with no one character being the clear protagonist.
Anyway, that aside, Mumei wakes up too find herself trapped under rubble from the mine collapse. Making things worse, she’s exerted herself too much, and gone too long without a fresh infusion of blood, which means she’s beginning to change.
Did I say that was worse? Yeah, well, up top, the Kotetsujyo is experiencing even worse than that, as the giant cluster of Kabane comes tearing after them. Yukina has thrown the train into full reverse, and is trying to escape it, but this thing is fast.
One of the things we see right away is that this creature is, in fact, made up of lots of Kabane. Just how that happens, we sort of have explained later on, but for the most part, I get the feeling nobody actually knows how it happens. Which is fine with me. I don’t always need to know just how a thing works. Even better, if there’s no one involved that can explain it, then it really shouldn’t get explained.
Sorry for the ramble, but it always bothers me when people expect every thing to be properly explained, even if there’s nobody in the cast who could reasonably explain the thing. That Kotetsujuu No Kabaneri is fine with not explaining this creature completely makes me happy.
Anyway, Yukina backs the train up to the entrance to Yashiro Station, which besides being protected by a draw bridge, also has a big ass gate. Kibito and a few other Bushi haul ass over to close that gate, firing on the behemoth as it approaches. Just in time, the gate slams shut, and the giant monster hits it, which causes it to kind of scatter into its individual parts, most of which fall off the elevated track. The rest then just kinda oozes off the track.
Damn, I love this show for that. Seriously, the giant monster ran into something it couldn’t overpower, and just… fell apart. That’s so freaking crazy and awesome.
With the train momentarily safe, we turn back to Mumei as Ikoma, who managed to avoid being buried, finds her and starts trying to dig her out. As he does, the two talk a bit, with her assuming he wants to blame her for this whole mess. Ikoma admits she ruined his plan, but he abandoned the crane when she fell, so he screwed up, too, making both of them idiots who need to survive this and make it right. Mumei seems surprised by his attitude, for reasons that become clear shortly.
First, back to the Kotetsujyo, where things are not much better. While they could fall back and take another route, they still have the food problem, as well as the fact they’d have to go all the way to the other line in reverse, which means not enough speed should the giant reassemble itself and come after them.
One of the more sensible heads among the train’s, I guess committee, thinks they may be able to take advantage of the scattered giant’s state and push past the fallen tower, escaping that way. Since it’s their only real option, everyone more or less agrees.
Takumi brings up Ikoma and Mumei, and one of the other committee members basically shouts him down that those two deserve their fate for basically creating the situation they are in. A lot of people clearly disagree, but it’s Kibito who speaks up about it, and Ayame agrees that the situation can’t just stand the way it is.
Back down in the mine shaft, Ikoma is having no luck getting Mumei out. He tries levering the rocks up enough she can crawl out, but they are too heavy. He tries pulling them loose with a cable and a small steam engine he finds, but that fails as well.
As he works these various methods of freeing her, the two keep talking, not so much about the situation, but about their opposing world views. Mumei would rather he leave her to figure out a way free of her situation on her own. If she does, then she is strong and worthy of living. If she doesn’t she’s weak and deserves to die. Ikoma basically ignores her, pointing out that trapped as she is, she’s clearly weak, but more importantly, if the weak only have the choice of dying, then how can anyone expect them to ever become strong?
Mumei tries to ignore that, but her body beginning to turn into a Kabane ends her argument. Fortunately, Ikoma has some blood in a little bamboo vial from before they left the train and gives it to her, preventing the transformation. She’s grateful, at least, as much as her philosophy will allow her to be.
This prompts Ikoma to ask if not feeding will cause them to turn fully into Kabane, to which Mumei admits she doesn’t know for certain, though everyone from her “group” changed. What the hell that means, I don’t know, but I’m guessing it has to do with the flashbacks we’ve been getting.
Their conversation is cut short by the arrival of a hell of a lot of Kabane, who have found their way into the mine shaft. Out of time to get Mumei free, Ikoma decides he’ll save her after he kills all of them. As he prepares himself, the Kotetsujyo plows through the remains of the giant, heading for the tower.
Ikoma tells Mumei they are both weak. Her dismay at this is obvious. However, he adds, that doesn’t mean they have to just accept their fate. With that, he charges the Kabane.
As he fights, Mumei remembers the day, when she was a child, that the Kabane came to her Station. One of the Bushi, overwhelmed by fear, shot her mother right in front of her, and would have shot her as well had he not been stopped by a man on a horse. Possibly the Young Master? I’m not sure, but this fills in some blanks with Mumei, why she sees the world the way she does, and what lead her to this point.
Without seeing what happens to Ikoma, she passes out. When she wakes, Kibito, Kurusu, and some of the Bushi have dug her out. Apparently, they found a way into the tunnel and chose to try and save she and Ikoma while the giant works on putting itself back together.
As she comes to, she asks about Ikoma, but they haven’t found him yet. Mumei heads deeper into the tunnel, following the trail of dead Kabane, the Bushi in tow. They marvel at the sight, wondering if Ikoma could really do all this, but Kurusu confirms it had to be him, and actually seems ever so slightly impressed.
Mumei soon finds Ikoma, who has seen better days.
To her surprise, he’s still very much alive, even though a Kabane bit into his stomach. She is in shock that, despite both of them being weak, they are still alive, wondering how such a thing is possible. Ikoma just tells her that he’s in too much pain for heavy thinking. Seeing they are both alive, Kibito urges them to come on so they can all get out while they have time.
As they exit the mine shaft, they spot the big beastie, which has finally reformed itself. However, instead of heading for the train, its headed for them. Mumei calls it a fused colony, prompting Kurusu to ask if she knows what it is. Kibito points out this isn’t the time to talk, and everyone agrees he’s smarter than them by heading for the train.
Once there, they see that the Kotetsujyo has picked up a small crane and the big wall cannon Sukari spotted earlier, both of which are now mounted on the locomotive. Ikoma tries to thank them for coming back for he and Mumei, but Sukari makes it clear they came back for the cannon. Ikoma and Mumei are just extras, so if he really wants to thank them, he’ll get to work.
While they do that, Kurusu asks again about the giant, which Mumei says is called a fused colony, a gathering of Kabanes that make a single whole. They watch it dig into the mine shaft, as apparently, it will eat and absorb anything, including dead Kabane. While she’s never seen one before, she’s heard of them, which is why she knows only a little.
Again I point out my joy at having a thing which none of the characters can fully explain being left unexplained. Part of that joy is that the writers resisted the urge to have Mumei be a font of knowledge on all things Kabane. She knows a good bit, but not everything, and that’s what you call believable character writing.
She does know how to kill it, though. A single Kabane has become the heart for the entire thing. Destroy that, and the entire critter will fall apart and not get back up. Shooting it, even with the cannon, isn’t feasible, though, as it’s covered up by a hell of a lot of other Kabane. What they need to do is hit it just right to give Mumei an opening to take it out.
Ayame and the committee agree to this, as she wants to fix her mistake that lead to this mess, and everyone seems to more or less be okay with that. Probably because it means they don’t have to take any real risk themselves, but also because some of the goodwill she’s garnered is still there.
As they all discuss this, Ikoma is out using what power the crane still has to finish raising the fallen tower, giving them a way clear. It’s starting to look almost like something that might resemble a plan.
Mumei heads out to get ready to kill the fused colony, but on the way, she encounters the boy whose dog died last episode. Neither he, his mom, or the other refugees that were around for that seem happy to see her. To their surprise, she pauses to apologize to the boy for saying it was good his dog died. She tells him she’s going to go kill the fused colony, and when he asks if she can, she just smiles.
Leave it to your bodyguard.
As she leaves, the looks of disdain turn to smiles.
The fused colony finishes gathering the dead, and now bigger than before, turns to the Kotetsujyo, which is just pulling past the raised tower. Yukina pours on the steam as it climbs up and comes after them. Takumi, Sukari, and Suzuki are finishing up getting the cannon ready, meaning it’s go time.
Mumei takes to the top of the train, flanked by some Bushi as the fused colony grows closer. She passes word to Takumi, who is manning the cannon, to wait until the last possible second to fire. He is, once again, pants shittingly thrilled by this, which causes him to fire too early. It takes out a chunk of head, and slows the colony creature down, but doesn’t give Mumei the opening she needs. When she bitches at him, he reminds her he’s never fired a cannon before, so back the hell off. Which she does.
Ah, characters that act like people. I love all of you aboard the Kotetsujyo, so much. You’re like my snuggly little bunnies.
Actually, that’s… something I’ll have to explain later, cause this show weirds me for a reason related to a bunny.
With Kabane from the colony falling on the train, Ikoma and Kurusu decide to get involved. Kurusu in particular will now be using the sword Ikoma made. Ikoma tells him not to blame the weapon if he dies, to which Kurusu actually responds with, “Very funny.”
Did… did Kurusu just make a joke? Ye Gods, this must be the end of the world, after all!
Oh, and they make a hell of team, these two.
Spotters in the train freak out at being chased by a giant collection of Kabane, and tell the locomotive it’s about to over take them, which is true. Ayame tells Yukina to pour on the steam, and like a damn boss, she does.
Yes, yes, my love of badass ladies is well documented, but still… DAYUM! Yukina been working out.
Unfortunately, the train does not go faster. Something is blocking the gear thingy that lets them go faster. It’s right next to a spinny thingy that’ll rip your arm clean off, so naturally Yukina calls Sukari and tells him to fix it, and that he might wanna be careful.
Sukari no likey, but Yukina can kick his ass, so off he goes to risk literal life and limb to fix the problem.
The cannon is ready to fire again, but despite everyone rushing him, Takumi waits until the colony has jumped onto the train, kicking the rear car clean off. The impact almost sends Sukari face first into the spinny thing, but also allows him to yank out the lump of Kabane that was blocking the gear thingy.
Yes, I’m good with mechanical terms, I know. It’s a gift.
With that done, Yukina puts the mother fucking hammer down, and the Kotetsujyo rockets forward, just as Takumi blast the colony clean in half, exposing the heart for Mumei.
As she dives in, she spots the Kabane that forms the heart, and it faintly resembles her mother. This gives her pause for about a half a second before she goes in and stabs the thing to every kind of death possible, making the entire colony explode apart. Caught in the air as it scatters, Mumei falls towards the train, and is caught by Ikoma, who continues to keep his vow that he won’t sacrifice anyone.
With the colony defeated, everyone heads back into the train, which takes a turn going way faster than it should and starts to list, coming off the tracks. Ayame scrambles to one of the pipes they use to communicate throughout the train, and tells everyone to get to the right. As one, everyone aboard the Kotetsujyo plasters themselves against the side, shifting the weight just enough to drop the train back on the tracks.
And like that great bat out of hell, the Kotetsujyo blows this nightmare of a popsicle stand.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure after last week just how they were going to get out of this, but damn, did they do it in a style worthy of the epic ass music that was playing over those final moments.
Like I said at the top, a lot of what makes this show work, at least for me, is that the writing staff never fails to treat every crazy thing they whip up as dead serious, by letting the characters be honestly afraid, and heroic in the face of it all. This makes Koutetsujou No Kabaneri a strange beast, as nothing about it should work so well as it does.
And, of course, it’s got so damn many bad ass ladies. It could just be that I’m giving it a lot of leeway because it hits me right in my weak spot. I admit that, and own it, and honestly, I’m okay with it, because as I’ve said a few times now, this is just my kind of crazy ass ride.
One of these times, I’ll explain just why that is, but it has to do with zombies, bad ass ladies, and a bunny. It’s a bit of a story, so it’ll have to wait. For now, let me just say one last thing.
Pour on the steam and don’t mind the coal, Yukina. You got this shit.
See ya next week!