Well, that escalated quickly.
So, episode seven ended up being a nice lull in the nonstop action, giving us a bit more insight into the various characters as the show launches into its second half, which is already shaping up to be wildly different from the first half. We got to learn that there’s more to Sukari’s grumpy demeanor than we thought, saw a softer side to tough as nails Yukina, learned that Mumei has deep seated existential fears, and that Ayame doesn’t take sitting around and waiting lightly.
Ikoma is exactly what he seems, though, so no big surprises there. Honestly, this show amazes me in how the so called protagonist is the least interesting character in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ikoma and all, but compared to literally everyone else, he’s kinda boring.
Kajika haggling everyone in sight was fun, so I’ll forgive Ikoma not being a very deep person. Everyone else sucked up all the character, leaving him with determined idiot as the only available character arc. Not his fault, really. Just the way the characterization cards were dealt.
We also learned that Mumei’s brother, Biba, son of the Shogun, is going to play a part in the story beyond just being part of Mumei’s background. Just what part he will play becomes clear as we head into episode eight, and so far, it isn’t looking like he’s going to be a helpful allie. If anything, he may be the most dangerous antagonist the crew of the Kotetsujyo will face yet.
By the by, in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, Kotetsujyo, the name of the train, translates to Iron Fortress. Fitting name, really. Nice and badass, well suited to a badass train run by some badass folks.
Anyway, that aside, the arrival of Biba starts us on a new story arc, so let’s get into it.
Mumei is thrilled to see Biba again, and immediately begins telling him all about Ikoma. Biba seems somewhat surprised, but doesn’t really get a chance to react, what with the screaming adoration of the masses going on, and the arrival of Ayame. She introduces herself, and Biba is polite in return, until Ikoma arrives and stops just short of calling Biba an asshole.
Basically, he walks up and calls him out on teaching Mumei that the weak only exist to die. Mumei gets a bit pissy, but Biba sends her to get her body checked before inviting Ayame, Kurusu and Ikoma onto his own train, citing how noisy it is outside making it hard to have a proper conversation.
From elsewhere, the station lord and the representative of the Shogun watch all this with some pretty unpleasant expressions, making me think they are planning for Biba to have an accident.
As Biba is escorting them through his train, he confesses he has been disavowed by the Shogun and is no longer considered his son. Right after that bomb is dropped, they come across a boiler that is leaking. Biba apologizes and sends Ayame and Kurusu on with one of his aides as he dives in to help repair the boiler.
Ikoma, slightly impressed at seeing someone of Biba’s stature doing grunt work, decides to stay and help as well, since he is an engineer and all. Biba welcomes him and the two get to work.
Biba’s aide drops Ayame and Kurusu off on the walkway outside the locomotive, asking them to wait there. One of Biba’s soldiers shows up a minute later, being creepy towards Ayame before asking for Kurusu’s sword, which he refuses to surrender. So, the solider pulls a dagger and moves on Ayame. Kurusu covers her, of course, and is about ready to mix it up when the solider reveals he was actually killing a spider, which is why he asked for Kurusu’s sword. He then leaves, claiming they should all be friends.
Uh, yeah, this was kinda of my first warning that things weren’t all cool here. Dude could have just told them the spider was there. Instead, he tried to make a big show of things. This does not seem like the actions of a mentally well balanced individual.
Part of what makes it stand out so much is that Koutetsujou, as a series so far, has managed to avoid a lot of the standard anime cliches in characterization. So, seeing something like this now, eight episodes in, is like a giant red flag going up. Something ain’t right with this guy, or this situation in general.
I mean, Biba openly admits he’s been disavowed. Why did that happen? What did he do? What does this have to do with the shogunate stockpiling weapons? Cause they must be connected.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The whole sneaky spider killing thing set off my warning bells and made me start wondering a lot of things ahead of the episode showing and telling.
Back at the boiler, Ikoma and Biba get to have a little chat. Biba wants to address Ikoma’s concerns about his philosophy about the strong and the weak. Basically, he says that the strong do survive and the weak do die, but Ikoma argues that that shouldn’t mean the weak have no right to live. Biba doesn’t disagree, exactly, but thinks that hiding isn’t the same as living. He isn’t interested in just ignoring the weak, but in saving them by teaching them to be strong, to chose to live by fighting for it. Much as Mumei did.
This is enough in line with Ikoma’s own views that it makes him hesitate, wondering if perhaps he just misunderstood Biba’s perspective. They don’t get a chance to discuss it any further, however, as the alarm sounds. The Kabane are attacking.
However, it appears they didn’t happen on this station by chance, but were lured here by bodies tied to a horse. The Shogun’s representative makes it sound as if Biba and his people did it, so they could save the town and look like heroes. I get the impression, however, that the representative was behind it, as a means to draw Biba out onto a battlefield, where his death could be ensured.
As the station’s defending Bushi try to hold off the Kabane, Biba asks Ikoma what he plans to do. Ikoma answers that he is going to fight, and Biba approves, saying he’ll see him on the battlefield.
Biba joins his people inside his own train, where he learns how many Kabane there are and lays out a plan of attack. He says there’s only enough for one canister, whatever that means, then draws a sword coated in Kabane iron, just as Kurusu’s sword was by Ikoma. Looks like Ikoma isn’t the only clever boy around.
The Kotetsujyo can’t fire their own cannon because of the Kabane being so close to the wall, it’d run the risk of damaging that, so they join the Bushi laying down suppression fire as Ikoma heads outside the wall to fight them there. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Biba’s train heads outside the wall.
Big doors open up, revealing mortar teams that lay down some heavy ass suppression fire, before Biba himself charges out on a horse, followed by his top fighters, who are riding freaking steam powered motorcycles. I really do love this show. It makes crazy look so easy.
Foot soldiers follow the mounted Hunters, wiping up the remnants, as the station’s Bushi watch in awe. Which is understandable, as what Biba’s people are doing is pretty damn impressive. They are wiping out a massive horde of Kabane like it’s a walk in the park.
Which, when you think about it, would make the Shogun pretty nervous. If Biba’s forces are this skilled against Kabane, what could they do if they decided to seize the capitol? Paranoia was a hallmark of the feudal era in Japan, after all.
The battle is going very smoothly for Biba’s forces, until a Wazatori that appears to be the start of a fused colony shows up. It’s big, fast, and strong, so Biba sends Mumei and another of his soldiers, Horobi, after it. We quickly learn that Horobi is also a Kabaneri, suggesting strongly that all of Biba’s top fighters are as well.
Yeah, that whole paranoid Shogun thing is starting to look pretty reasonable, actually.
Horobi and Mumei take out the Wazatori with flawless teamwork and perfectly coordinated athletic strikes. It’s pretty damn impressive, really, how well orchestrated the action always is on this show.
As the battle winds down, Biba finds a vantage point, as well as Enoku, who is lying in wait to play the assassin for the representative of the Shogun. Before he strikes, however, Enoku offers to reveal the name of every conspirator against Biba he has seen, if only Biba will ask it of him. Basically, he’s trying to trade them for a way back into Biba’s circle.
Biba basically tells him to fuck off. Enoku gets pissed and goes to strike, but Biba kicks his ass. The way Biba sees it, had Enoku been serious, even after being told to fuck off, he wouldn’t have attacked. That he did attack just shows that he always intended to attack. As such, Biba has no qualms about killing him.
Ikoma tries to stop him however, as he sees killing an unarmed and defenseless person as wrong. Of course, he missed the part where the unarmed and defenseless person was an assassin that tried to kill Biba, so for the most part, I kind of have to agree with Biba here. Enoku has forfeited his right to live by being a dumbass.
To be clear, let me say something about this. No, I am not pro killing people. However, if someone where to come into my home and try to kill me, I wouldn’t worry over the moral implications of killing them in return. That’s just self defense, and really, that’s all Biba is guilty of here. Enoku tried to kill him at the first sign his attempt at bribing his way back into Biba’s circle wasn’t going to work. That makes it reasonable to believe that, even had Biba welcomed him back, there was no real way to know if the information he would give was reliable, and even if it were, no guarantee that Enoku wasn’t just looking for a better opportunity to assassinate Biba in his sleep.
So, yes, despite Ikoma’s moral high ground, Biba wasn’t entirely wrong to kill Enoku. This is something that makes everything that comes after a little harder to judge as clearly right or wrong.
At any rate, Ikoma is outraged that Biba kills Enoku, claiming that since Enoku was asking for help, it was wrong. Takumi tries to get him to shut up, having seen more of what happened than Ikoma and knowing Enoku pulled a sword first. Biba seems confused as to why Ikoma even cares, as Enoku is a complete stranger to him. Before things can come to blows, Ayame intervenes, apologizing on Ikoma’s behalf. This seems to settle the matter, at least, for now.
Elsewhere, the representative of the Shogun and the station lord are beset by some of Biba’s people. Everyone but the lord and his assistant are killed, with those two taken prisoner. Probably should have guessed it’d work out this way, and in fairness, the lord really didn’t want anything to do with all this from the start.
Ayame formally apologizes for Ikoma’s behavior, and Biba accepts, before pointing out there there is still a great deal of danger all around them. He offers to escort the Kotetsujyo to Kongokaku. Ayame seems unsure, but Biba gives her a smile, and it is agreed.
I want to defend Ayame here. This is the son of the Shogun, disavowed or not, and the leader of an exceptional group of Kabane fighters. There was no reason not to accept his offer, that she had seen, and his effort to appear friendly likely just reassured her that he was being sincere. I don’t see any reason to believe that she got all weak in her lady parts because the handsome prince smiled at her. So, let’s not get into that. She’s proven herself at this point, and from the character’s perspective, there is no reason in the world not to trust Biba.
That said, the Kotetsujyo is hooked up to Biba’s train, and the new mega train heads out of the station. This is where shit starts going pear shaped. Of course, nobody sees it yet, as the refugees are relieved Biba the Liberator is protecting them, meaning they can rest easy.
Ayame, however, still seems unsure, and is second guessing her decision. Kurusu thinks she made the right call, but she has doubts, for reasons she can’t even name. Nor is she the only one, as Ikoma tries to explain to Takumi why he doesn’t trust Biba, starting with the whole strong versus weak argument. Takumi isn’t buying it, though. At least, until Ikoma points out that Mumei told him she’d never been bitten by a Kabane, begging the question of just how she became a Kabaneri. That’s enough to get Takumi to move their conversation away from prying ears.
Meanwhile, we are shown more of Mumei’s background, picking up where previous flashbacks left off. Namely, after a panicked Bushi shot Mumei’s mother, and she was saved by a man with a bow. It was, of course, Biba, who then told her to take up a sword and kill the Bushi, which she did. As a child. This pleased him, that she was willing to fight for her own right to live, so he took her in. Some time after, Mumei chose to be turned into a Kabaneri, though a process that Biba’s people seem to have perfected.
Which is pretty damn creepy.
Back in the present, Biba asks Mumei to get the master key for the Kotetsujyo. When she points out Ayame has it, he asks if Ayame is stronger than her. When she says no, he claims it shouldn’t be a problem to get it, and what he’s implying is pretty damn clear. Take it by any means necessary. Needless to say, Mumei feels conflicted by this request, but heads out to do it anyway.
While she goes to do that, Biba is ready to question the station lord in the creepiest room that ever existed.
Okay, seriously, what the fuck is all that? Why does he have a giant Kabane heart, and so damn many Kabane? The station lord kinda wants to know this, too, but Biba isn’t interested in talking about that. He wants to know about that day, ten years ago.
The same thing the Shogun’s representative mentioned.That day, as it turns out, was the day Biba and his forces were betrayed and left for dead on a battlefield. Seems the station lord was their supply master, and he abandoned them. Biba wants to know who was involved, and finds out the order came from the Shogun himself.
This information comes after Biba shoots the lord’s assistant, which gets all those Kabane riled up. Ikoma senses them, and heads off to find out just why Biba has so many Kabane on his train.
As he’s doing that, Mumei arrives at Ayame’s office and asks for the master key. When Ayame asks her why she wants it, Mumei threatens her, though it clearly tears her up to do so. Yukina is passing by and hears this, then steps in, giving Mumei the master key, which she had for some works he was doing. Mumei, grateful she didn’t have to hurt anyone, takes it and flees.
Except, what Yukina gave her was the key to the boiler. Ayame’s fears and suspicions are beginning to come together into something tangible as she and Yukina try to figure out why Mumei would try to take the master key, but before they can hash it out properly, Takumi arrives to tell them about Ikoma and his sensing the Kabane.
Over in Biba’s train, he figures out the ruse with the key, and tells Mumei that Ayame and Yukina lied to her, because they don’t really trust her. Which is a pretty liberal version of the truth. I mean, of course they didn’t just give her what she wanted. She didn’t explain anything, and threatened Ayame’s life. Why would they just trust her at this point? Not to mention telling her that they were giving her a key other than the one she asked for?
Yet, Mumei’s faith in Biba is total, and she accepts his explanation. This goes back to earlier episodes, when Kurusu and the Bushi didn’t trust Mumei, threatened to kill her, and only didn’t try after Ikoma promised they’d stay in the rear of the train. Taking that previous attitude into account, it isn’t impossible to believe that Mumei would buy Biba’s half truth.
She has a blind spot where this guy is concerned. The same one that made her act so rashly during the fused colony events a few weeks back. One that she is either going to have to get over, or betray everyone to maintain. I’m kind of curious as to which it’ll be, because while a typical anime would have her turn on Biba and stay with her friends, Koutetsujou is no typical anime, and it’s very possible Mumei will betray to crew of the Kotetsujyo for Biba.
Ikoma reaches the back of Biba’s train and starts banging on the door, demanding to be let in. Biba sends Mumei to turn him away, letting her know that if he gets inside, they will kill him. She is bothered by this, but does as he asks.
She confronts Ikoma, and it gets ugly fast. She knew about the Kabane on Biba’s train, and admits that he turned her into a Kabaneri, but says it was at her request. She wanted to be strong, for him, not weak like her mother, so she became a Kabaneri, the only option she had as a child.
Ikoma calls Biba a coward who uses his power to kill others. Mumei argues back that he is her brother, and no coward. She pushes Ikoma away, calls him a liar, and says that Biba is right about everything, that there would be no more sadness if only everyone would learn to be strong.
Ikoma tries to reach her, but she walks away, choosing Biba over her friends. As Ikoma watches her return to Biba’s train, he is joined by Takumi and Ayame, where he drops the final bombshell of the episode.
When Biba killed Enoku, he was smiling. The kind of smile a person gets when they enjoy something. He enjoyed killing Enoku, and as Ikoma tells them this, we see Biba, having killed the station lord, and smiling with the mans blood on his face.
This was no case of self defense. The lord was tied up. He posed no threat. Biba, the hero, the Liberator, appears to be a cold blooded killer, who enjoys it. Worse, the Kotetsujyo is hooked to his train full of Kabane, every one is at his mercy, and Mumei has made which side she’s on abundantly clear.
With only four episodes left, things have actually managed to go from bad to way, way worse.
The interesting thing about Biba is that it’s hard to get a good read on his intentions. So far, he’s a very morally ambiguous character. One the one hand, he seems to enjoy killing people, but on the other, the only people we’ve seen him kill, were people who tried to kill him.
Enoku, obviously, tried during the Kabane battle, and from what little we’ve picked up, apparently did something in the past that made Biba consider him no longer trustworthy. Yet, Biba didn’t kill him for not being trustworthy. He killed him only after Enoku pulled a weapon and tried to kill Biba.
Sure, he seemed to enjoy it, but last I checked, taking pleasure in killing the people who just tried to murder you didn’t make anyone evil. Kinda messed up, sure, but not evil.
The same goes for the lord of the station. Ten years ago, he abandoned Biba and his forces on a battlefield full of Kabane, with the clear intention that Biba was to die there. Yes, it was under orders from the Shogun, but he still did it, and as such, is guilty of trying to kill Biba, same as Enoku.
So, both times we see him kill someone, he has an actual reason. Well, there’s the lord’s assistant, but that guy was being a jerk, and helped tried to orchestrate an assassination attempt on Biba, so yeah, he still counts as having tried to kill Biba.
While this makes him a lot less heroic, it does not so far make him evil. Certainly, in Ikoma’s absolute black and white view of the world, it does, but the world isn’t black and white, and nothing is really absolute when you start talking about morality. In many respects, Biba is justified in his actions.
So, the question then is, what will happen next? I can’t say for sure. It’s possible Biba will turn out to be a morally gray allie, or he may end up being a villain who’s moral views put him in conflict with the Kotetsujyo crew. I don’t think, right now, he’s going to turn out to be totally batshit crazy evil, but that’s also a possibility.
Whatever happens next, the biggest question will be which side of things will Mumei end up on. As I said, in any other anime, we’d know, but here, things aren’t so certain.
I suppose we’ll find out next week. See ya then!