Finally, an episode with a slower pace. Only took us half the season to get here.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. The pace the show has had up until this episode has worked perfectly for it. Usually, with intense shows like this, the slower paced episodes show up much earlier, by episode 3 at the latest. Once again, though, Koutetsujou is content to do it’s own thing, and do it pretty damn well.
Which more or less sums this show up, really. Everything it does, it does really well. It isn’t shaking the foundations of heaven or anything, nor is it changing the way we view television. It’s telling the story it wants to tell, and doing a damn solid job of that. It’s entertaining, engaging, and pretty exciting, which is all it set out to be, so near as I can tell, it’s pretty successful at being what it wanted.
I say all this because I’m aware that, in general, Koutetsujou is seen as a dumb, if fun, series that offers nothing new. For the most part, it seems to be getting received as entertaining, but forgettable, because it isn’t doing anything new and different. This leads me to a question that has been lurking in the back of my brain for a while now.
Why does any piece of fiction have to be doing something new and different to be taken seriously? When did telling a good story well become substandard?
Honestly, there is nothing new out there. Originality hasn’t existed in a very long time. Everything has already been done, and the only thing happening these days is telling the same old stories in a slightly different manner. Different is common, but new? Yeah, there isn’t anything new, much less new AND different at the same time.
You guys know I’m not big on the whole hipster thing, much less being critical for the sake of being critical. It all seems like a big waste of time in my mind. If you look hard enough, you can flaws with anything and everything, after all, so being critical just to be critical is nothing more than an exercise in being a pedantic asshat.
Is Koutetsujou new? Not really. All these elements have been used before. Is it different? Yeah, I think it is. I’ve never seen these things used in this particular combination before, anyway, much less filtered through such a uniquely Japanese perspective. Is it entertaining? Hell yes. Is it forgettable? I don’t think so, but I’m partial, as I really like the characters.
Which is what I think a lot of people are missing out on when they criticize the show. It isn’t about the zombies, or the steampunk, or the trains. It’s about this group of characters, and on that front, Koutetsujou really is a great show. The characters are exceptionally well written, to the point that even when they screw up, like Mumei did in the last couple episodes, there’s a solid character based reason as to why and how they messed up, that is believable and in keeping with the characterization and character arcs.
That’s pretty damn cool, if you ask me. Not a lot of writers can pull that off these days. Most of the time, characters mess up for plot reasons, making them look really stupid in the process. So, give credit where it’s due. The writers on Koutetsujou are doing a way better job than most.
Which brings me back around to this episode, and how the slower pace plays well into the characterization we’ve seen so far, adding more depth and nuance as we prepare for the second half of the series.
Off we go, with episode 7.
As the Kotetsujyo chugs along through some long abandoned farm land, Ikoma is back to training with Mumei, learning how to use a sword. While her instructions still leave a lot to be desired, Ikoma has managed to pick up some moves that Kurusu is known for.
Kurusu himself looks kind of annoyed by it, while Kibito is impressed. Mumei explains that Kabaneri are good at mimicking things, prompting Takumi to give Kurusu a whole lot of shit. Honestly, he throws enough shade to cover New York City.
Kurusu decides to prove his superiority by hitting Ikoma in the face with a wooden practice sword. This gets him called childish, which he doesn’t take well. Takumi thinks Ikoma should steal that move, too, and use it on Kurusu, which is funny, until Ikoma says he will and Kurusu goes from indignant to genuinely upset, and the whole thing gets hysterical.
Thing is, Kurusu was kinda in the right here. Just because Ikoma learned one move doesn’t mean he’s ready to engage Kabane with a sword, or that he’s on the same level as a Bushi. Still, he makes his point in the most arrogant way possible, and gets knocked down a few pegs for putting his pride before common sense again.
However, he also did Ikoma a favor by letting him know he wasn’t as good as he might think. While he’s still kind of a dick, Kurusu has really come a long ways in being accepting of the Kabaneri, and Ikoma in particular. Despite the prideful manner his help came in, he was being helpful, and that’s a big step for him.
Before the silliness can get out of hand, a Station is spotted, and everyone scrambles to get a look, hoping this one is still safe. Remember, the Kotetsujyo is very low on food, water, medicine and materials for repairs. They need a rest stop at a safe place badly, and as luck would have it, when they sound the train whistle, they get a response.
At last, the refugees have found a safe haven.
In another sign of how things have changed, as Ayame prepares to go meet with the lord of the station, she leaves the train in the hands of the committee, who are very agreeable. The respect they now have for Ayame is obvious, as is their willingness to work with her, rather than trying to grab power for themselves. With everything they’ve been through, it makes sense, as the Kotetsujyo has become a miniature town unto itself, and survival means being part of the team.
Suzuki informs Ayame they need more daita-iron, the main material used for making jet bullets. Sukari adds that they need materials for repairs, and Kajika figures she may as well bring up the need for more clothes and medicine. Basically, they need a lot of stuff, and have been asked to depart by the 8th, which is the next day, so they have very little time to get it all together.
It also means that today is Tanabata, a holiday where wishes are hung from a bamboo tree, hence the title of the episode, “Begging The Heavens”. Sukari thinks it’s a waste of time, but Mumei isn’t even sure what it is, so the meaning of the holiday is explained to her. She thinks it sounds like fun, and Ayame agrees.
Actually, Ayame is obviously thinking of how the folks on the Kotetsujyo need something like this, for morale. Which is why she parts with a little box of some sort so they can afford to buy everything they’ll need. The box is important, I know, but I forget why, or if we saw it earlier, and I don’t have time to go hunting for it, so we’ll just move on, after acknowledging that Ayame is the best leader ever.
Sure enough, the folks on the Kotetsujyo are super excited at the idea of celebrating Tanabata, and are in high spirits as they get to be out of the train, stretching their legs for a change.
Soon enough, the cast splits up and heads out to do the shopping needed. Sukari and Yukina head to the repair shop, Takumi and Ikoma to buy material for making jet bullets, and Kajika and her bunch to get food, clothes, and so on. At Kajika’s insistence, Mumei goes with her team, as Kajika knows the merchants aren’t likely to give them fair deals without men around, and they’ll need their bodyguard to make sure they don’t get ripped off.
This leads to one of the funniest scenes the show has ever had.
At one store after another, Kajika engages in such aggressive haggling, I’m kinda surprised she paid for anything. Through each of these encounters, Mumei just sort of stands there watching. Doing nothing. Yet, slightly afraid.
Elsewhere, Ikoma and Takumi are getting what they need from a supplier when Ikoma spots some fireworks, realizes the burst charges used in those would make the jet bullets better, and starts to negotiate for some. He’s interrupted in explaining what jet bullets are by a Bushi who wants his rifle fixed, and figures the peasants can piss off while he gets what he wants.
It’s a good scene that shows how much Kurusu and the other Bushi on the train have changed, as they didn’t act much different than this guy in the first couple episodes. Likewise, Ikoma and Takumi are so accustomed to literally living in the laps of Kurusu and the other Bushi on the train, they find this kind of rude behavior inexcusable, and take the Bushi to task.
In the end, Ikoma throws the guy out of the store, and the Bushi, having had his ass handed to him, agrees to wait until that evening for his rifle. Then, Ikoma goes right back to explaining jet bullets to the awed shop keeper. Takumi just rolls with the whole thing, having seen and done way more terrifying things than argue with a puffed up Bushi.
Over at the repair station, as Yukina is inspecting the goods they have acquired, a young boy approaches, asking if she’s from the Kotetsujyo. When she says she is, he tells her his dad works on a train as well. We get to see a softer side of Yukina here, as she tells the kid that makes him one of them.
Except, it turns out, his dad was on the Husoujyo, also known as the train the Kabane took over and rammed into the station back in episode one. The kid’s dad is long dead, or worse, a Kabane. Yukina, rather than tell him, tries to play it off like she isn’t familiar with the Husoujyo.
Sukari is having none of it, though, and tells the kid everything. When Yukina starts to get mad, he tells her it’s better than having the kid waiting for his dad to come home, when he never will. Sukari hints that he went through that, and as the boy starts to cry, he kneels and tells him that he’s sorry, but the real fight starts after the tears end.
Yukina stands back, getting a new measure of Sukari, as do we. Seven episodes in, and there’s still character development happening. Just wonderful.
Elsewhere, Ayame is still waiting to meet with the lord of the station. Kurusu thinks it’s bullshit to be waiting so long, but Kibito points out all the reasons it isn’t, as well as the ways in which Kurusu is starting to sound like Ikoma. Rather than dwell on that, Kurusu decides to go speak with Ayame, but catches her literally stuffing her face with sweets. Embarrassed, he performs a tactical retreat, all but ignoring Kibito’s inquires as to why he changed his mind.
First off, thank you for giving Ayame this little scene. It’s been a while since she had to flee for her life from her home station, where she was a Princess, take charge of a train, endure multiple challenges to her leadership, and ultimately, prove herself worthy to everyone. Yes, she’s stuffing her face with sweets. In her shoes, I would be to. It’s a wonderful little character moment that reminds us that she’s still, in many ways, just a teenager, despite all she’s been through.
Plus, it’s fun to see Kurusu not know what the fuck to do, and just sort of be flustered.
Yummy sweets aside, Ayame soon gets a can full of waiting and takes matters into her own hands. First, she has Kurusu fire off a steam rifle, getting the attention of one of the station leaders, a Minister of something or other. Then, once she has his attention, she shows off what a jet bullet can do, offering to trade the secrets to making them for food, medicine, and an agreement that the station will take in the sick and injured aboard the Kotetsujyo.
The Minister is so impressed, he pretty much gives her everything she wants without even trying to haggle. Which, honestly, I totally get. After all, it isn’t every day you see the kind of piercing power these jet bullets have. While the Minister’s attendants are not thrilled, the lord isn’t there, so the deal is made.
Turns out, though, that the reason the lord of station is late is because he’s meeting with a representative of the Shogunate, who has a familiar face in tow, none other than Enoku. Seems the Young Master, also known as the Liberator, will be arriving soon with his Hunters. The station lord begs off getting dragged into politics that have nothing to do with him or his station, but the representative cites an event from ten years ago. Reluctantly, and resentfully, the lord listens to what the representative and Enoku want.
As all that is going on, the shopping teams meet back up. Kajika shows Mumei how the Tanabata festival works, and Mumei has a flashback to when she was a child, seeing her mother do it. This leads to what happens next with her, but for now, everyone is gathering their things and getting ready to head back to the train.
Except Mumei’s vanished. She didn’t take her lunch with her, a bamboo vial of blood, so Ikoma heads out to look for her, eventually finding her at a shrine. She confesses that she now remembers Tanabata, but only because she had that memory of her mother hanging a wish. She also reveals that her real name is Hodsumi, and that Mumei is the name her “brother” gave her.
She doesn’t remember how it’s spelled, though, prompting Ikoma to take a stab at it, which ends up coming out in Kanji to something about eating lots of rice. Mumei thinks that’s silly, as nobody can grow rice anymore. She gets a bit melancholy after that, talking about how every time she goes to sleep, she worries she’ll wake up as a Kabane, with her mind, and her memories, just gone.
Ikoma declares he will make human again, then destroy all the Kabane, so she can eat rice like her mother wanted. Mumei thinks he’s being absurd, until she realizes he’s being dead serious, and is touched by his devotion to this insane idea.
After they return to the train, it’s time for the hanging of the wishes. Mumei gives Takumi some crap by stealing his and reading it. Once she sees that his wish is to survive this and live on, she’s sorry, especially after he points out there’s nothing else to wish for in this world.
Ikoma takes umbrage at that, however, and declares that his wish is to defeat all the Kabane, and return the world to everyone. Sukari points out that’s a bit unrealistic, which Ikoma argues against by asking if it’s enough to just be alive? For him, that isn’t enough. He wants more. He wants everything. He wants the world.
In the spirit of that, Ayame declares she is wishing to reopen their home station, drawing chuckles from others. Kurusu tells her her father would be proud. Takumi decides to wish to be rich and have three wives, but nobody cares. Yukina wishes for her own train, but tells Sukari he wouldn’t be welcome on board. Kajika wishes to be a teacher, and Mumei wishes for a belly full of rice.
Kurusu refuses to share his wish, but only because it’s obvious he wishes Ayame would fall in love with him, as he so obviously has with her. Poor guy.
Que the fireworks, and hey, it almost feels like we’re gonna get a happy ending for a change.
Yeah, that’d be a lie.
The next day, the Young Master and his Hunters arrive. The man who took Mumei’s true name, and taught her the weak only exist to die. The son of the Shogun himself. Mumei’s brother, Biba.
With Enoku here, and the bit we hear that the Hunters retake the land from Kabane and give it to the people, as well as the rumor that the shogunate is stockpiling weapons to be used on people, I have a very bad feeling that the Kotetsujyo is about to find itself caught up in an attempt to either assassinate Biba, or for him to try and seize control from his father.
Either way, I think the second half of Koutetsujou is about to get a hell of a lot nastier than the first half.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Now, because I was sick as a dog last week, I’m a week behind. The episode 8 recap will be up tomorrow, and hopefully, we’ll get back to a regular schedule with things now that I’m feeling better.
There’s other good news as well that I’ll be sharing in a post a bit later, so check that out, and come back tomorrow for the episode 8 recap. Shit’s about to hit the fan, I think, and the Kabane may well be the least of our heroes worries.
See ya tomorrow!