If I was to rank the flaws of Koutetsujou, I’d probably have to place the pacing as the number one issue. Which isn’t something I ever thought I’d say, but as we hit episode 9, the ramifications of the breakneck speed the show has moved at offers up its first major problem.
Part of the reason the show has been paced the way it has, I suspect, is in response to the many complaints that Attack On Titan moved too slow. Which is a fair assessment, though it never really bothered me. Largely because the pacing was consistent, so slow was sort of its thing. Koutetsujou could have probably done with a bit of that, to be honest.
The reason I say this is because we’ve hit a point where some characters have not been allowed to develop as fully as they should have been. While I’m a pretty laid back guy, and accepting of things, rather than critical, I can see this problem pretty clearly. There are two characters in particular that have been affected by the speedy pace.
The first is Ikoma. As I said last week, he’s pretty much the least interesting character on the show, which is weird, as he’s suppose to be the protagonist. Pretty much every character around him is more well realized, fleshed out, and interesting. Ikoma himself is just sort of there. Making grand statements, with no means to back them up. He’s a rather two dimensional hero.
And now we have a rather two dimensional antagonist to go with him. Biba has, sadly, suffered from the lack of development in the name of speedy pace problem that has plagued Ikoma since the beginning.
Not to say I don’t see what the writers are thinking with both of these characters. I do, and it’s pretty interesting. It’s just that they haven’t really taken the time to flesh either of them out enough for it to connect properly. Ikoma is a fairly dull heroic lead, defined mostly by his cliches, while Biba serves as the counter to him, again in a very cliche way.
It’s odd, because Mumei is a very well realized character, including her flaws, and the same goes for Ayame, Kurusu, Yukina, Sukari, Takumi and so on. Even Kajika is a more well realized character than Ikoma or Biba. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a show where the supporting cast was better developed than the central protagonist and antagonist.
Yet, this is Koutetsujou, and like with all things where it’s concerned, it walks a fine line between being fascinating, and faceplaming. So far, they’ve managed to stay in the middle ground pretty well, and I’ve given the show a ton of leeway because of it. For the first time, I’m getting worried that before it’s done, the show is going to falter off into the faceplaming side.
Of course, we still three more episodes after this one, and if there’s anything I’ve come to accept about Koutetsujou, it’s that they can do a hell of a lot in just three episodes. So, we’ll see what happens over the next few weeks.
For now, I’m still cautiously optimistic that Studio Wit can pull out an interesting finish to a curious series.
The Kotetsujyo, along with Biba’s train, has arrived at Iwato station, where they are not allowed to enter. The Kotetsujyo passengers are ordered to disembark and head into the station, but just them, for reasons that become clear soon enough.
Kongokaku, the station the Kotetsujyo has been trying to reach since their home was over run, is also the seat of power for the Shogun, who has ordered Biba and his people not be allowed to pass through Iwato. Since the Shogun left Biba to die on a battlefield full of Kabane, I’m guessing he isn’t eager for a reunion. With Iwato being the last stop before Kongokaku, this creates a dilemma for Biba, who is actually super keen on a reunion.
Not that I think he’d totally kill his dad. Nope. Not Biba. He’s the very soul of reason, after all.
For her part, Ayame is glad to be separated from Biba and his people, but she and Ikoma are both concerned for Mumei, who they more or less think is totally brainwashed by Biba into being his faithful lackey. They aren’t wrong, either.
As the refugees get settled in Iwato, Ayame and the rest of the central cast have a brief conversation about matters. With Biba hauling Kabane around in his train, they feel it may be best to put some distance between him and themselves, though they aren’t eager to leave Mumei in his hands. Ayame more or less orders Ikoma to do something about it before heading off with Yukina to meet with the lord of the station. Just what he’s to do is unclear, however.
Outside the station, Biba has laid out his plan to get inside the station, which relies on Mumei to succeed. She’s all too eager to be of service to her “big brother”, too. When one of his men informs Biba that the lord of the station has agreed to meet with him, but only if he is accompanied by women and children, he’s all too happy to oblige. Since he has women and children who are also Kabaneri, that isn’t surprising.
He sends Mumei off to prepare to enact his plan, leaving him alone with Horobi, one of his Kabaneri. She regrets that they had to lie to Mumei, though Biba insists he didn’t actually lie to her. Though, he does admit, that even if he had lied to her, it wouldn’t change what they have to do. Horobi asks if he had decided to use her first because Mumei has returned, but Biba avoids answering. Looking both sad and happy, Horobi wonders if she will die this day.
Yeah, that’s not ominous as fuck.
Meanwhile, Ayame is meeting with the station’s lord, where she learns he will also be meeting with Biba to discuss food provisions. As she and her people were traveling with Biba, that’s why only women and children are allowed from their group as well.
Obviously this guy hasn’t seen what the women and children of the Kotetsujyo are capable of.
Regardless, Ayame is surprised to learn he will be meeting with Biba. She learns from one of his Bushi that the lord isn’t aware of the specifics of the feud between Biba and the Shogun. In fact, the lord believes Biba has put that behind him, as he’s spent the last ten years killing Kabane for the Shogun.
Yeah, this guy really has no idea what’s going on.
Soon after, surrounded by Bushi, Biba, Horobi, and Mumei head to meet the lord. Mumei finds their cautions laughable, pointing out that she and Horobi could easily take all these guys. Horobi councils her to not be so over confident, as that can lead to a sudden and unexpected death. She blows it off, claiming that she won’t die until she has returned Biba home. Horobi just gives her a sad look that suggests Biba has other plans for Mumei.
As they make their way up to the lords manor, Takumi spots them and runs off to tell Ikoma. Cause when ya see something weird, you go tell the person with the superpowers, proving Takumi is the smartest person around this episode. Mostly because Kibito isn’t seen much.
Once they arrive to meet the lord, Biba is all grace and polish, but both Ayame and Yukina look concerned. Which is the feeling you get when you know a dude is hauling a train load of zombies. Ayame also notices he brought Mumei.
Things get a little tense when the head Bushi of the station decides the best way for this conversation to proceed is if Biba has a gun to his head. The lord is annoyed by this, but the Bushi insists, and despite Horobi looking like she wants to rearrange the guys insides, Biba accepts it. Once they get that settled, Mumei asks to use the bathroom, and Biba gives everyone a look that says, “Kids. Whatcha gonna do?” before asking someone to take her.
Outside the manor, Takumi and Ikoma have arrived, concerned about Mumei.Who they then spot hauling ass away from the manor, having easily overpowered the guards sent with her. Out in Biba’s train, his men mark the time, noting that soon, payback will be delivered in full, as they send out a group of motorcycles with bags of blood attached to them.
Mumei arrives at the stations gate, takes out the guard, and pulls the lever to open it, so Biba’s train can come inside. She considers it insulting, after all Biba has done, that Iwato station didn’t welcome them in with open arms, so this seems the righteous thing to do to her. Basically, she seems to think she is handing the station over to Biba.
I can well imagine it, really. Open the gate, let the train in, then Biba’s people seize control of the station in his name. That done, they head on to Kongokaku, having liberated Iwato from the tyranny of the Shogun. What isn’t noble about that, really?
Probably the part that Biba left out, where those motorcycles are leading the Kabane, which have also been let out, right into the station. That’s what the blood was for. Kabane follow the scent of blood. With the gate open, those motorcycles roll right in, hundreds of Kabane right at their heels.
Somehow, I get the feeling Biba didn’t share this part of the plan with her. Which is what Horobi meant by lying to her. Though, since she didn’t ask, technically Biba is also right in saying he didn’t lie to her. After all, his train will be coming inside the station. It’s just that he left out the part where it would be preceded by an army of Kabane.
Ikoma and Takumi arrive in time to see what’s happening and try to close the drawbridge gate before too many can get in, but Biba’s people have already severed the cables, meaning there’s no way to rise the draw bridge, and no way to keep the Kabane out.
Iwota Station is finished.
Up in the manor, the lord and everyone else hears the alarm bells. This is the signal Biba has been waiting for, and he takes out the overly cautious Bushi that has been holding a gun on him with a single blow. He and Horobi take out the rest of the Bushi in short order. Ayame grabs a spear off the wall and tries to intervene, but Horobi throws a dagger at her. Yukina leaps in the way, taking the blow, causing Ayame to abandon the spear to catch her before she falls.
With them contained, Biba turns to the lord, who begs to know if Biba deceived him. Biba says that the one the lord serves deceived him first and kills the lord. In this single act, Biba has forsaken even the argument of only killing those who were trying to kill him. That was cold blooded murder, and worse, we know the lord was defending him, and likely could have been an allie. Biba has crossed the line with this, and truly become a villain.
I’ll get into that more later, though.
Outside, it’s pandemonium as the Kabane tear through Iwota, slaughtering everyone. Mumei watches in horror, trying to understand what’s happening. Overcome with guilt and fear, she dives into the city, hoping to save as many as she can. Ikoma starts to go after her, but Takumi stops him, pointing out they need to get back to the rest of the Kotetsujyo refugees and protect them. Reluctantly, Ikoma agrees, as Biba’s train steams into the station below them.
Ikoma and Takumi arrive back where the refugees are housed to find Kibito and some other Bushi from the Kotetsujyo holding off the Kabane thanks to the jet bullets. Ikoma asks about Ayame, and learns she hasn’t returned. Since she has the master key, they can’t even falls back to the Kotetsujyo. Kurusu rides up on a horse and promises to go find Ayame, because he’s Kurusu, and that’s what he does. Promise things while on horseback.
Elsewhere, Mumei is wandering the streets in a state of shock, trying to reconcile the image she holds of Biba with the man who would create so much carnage for no obvious reason. She spots a mother and her child as they are about to be attacked by a Kabane, and acts quickly to save them, the one thing she does know how to do. To her horror, the mother uses a suicide bag on herself and her child. Mumei had only just killed the Kabane, and couldn’t move or react in time to stop them. Her shock turns to full on horror.
Over at Biba’s train, Ayame demands to know why Biba has done this, but he gives a cryptic answer about needing fuel to accomplish anything, then his men order Ayame into the train. She demands she be allowed to treat Yukina’s injury before agreeing to anything, because Ayame is no longer the scared, spoiled princess she once was. As they are loaded into the train, Kurusu, who was heading for the lord’s manor, spots them and turns to try and catch the train as it begins to move, heading for the opposite gate, that leads to Kongokaku.
As they arrive, a large group of Iwota Station’s Bushi are trying to figure out what to do. They seen the train stop on the elevated rails and figure that’s their best chance to survive and head for it. Before they can reach it, however, Biba’s soldiers step out and open fire, killing all of them. One of his men calls it retribution for the Shogunate’s cowardice over the last ten years.
Considering that these guys would most likely be more loyal to the Shogun than to Biba, I get why they did it, but still, that’s damn cold. Mostly because these guys have nothing to do with the feud between Biba and his father, but especially because they are just soldiers, and didn’t even take their orders from the Shogun himself.
Inside the train, Biba has drawn blood from the giant Kabane heart he keeps around. He turns to Horobi, and holds her for a moment, asking if she’s shaking. She claims she’s only afraid because he is afraid of her. He insists he isn’t, but she calls him on that, saying he’s always afraid. Rather than discuss it further, he injects her, and she begins to transform into the heart of a fused colony.
Still retaining her own mind, she leaves the train and begins to gather all the dead she can, becoming a giant, like we saw before, and makes for the gate. Literally everyone in the station sees it rise up, Kurusu and Ikoma in shock, a scientist aboard Biba’s train in pleasure, and Biba himself with no real trace of emotion at all. He does vow to liberate everything, though. The land, the people, and even their fears, before ordering Horobi to smash the gate.
She still seems to be herself, because that’s just what she does. The Bushi defending it try to stop her with cannons, but to no avail. A fused colony is just to big and powerful.
Over at the refugee shelter, Kibito and the other Bushi hold the line. One has his steam tank run low, and calls for a backup. A boy, which I believe was the same one who lost his dog before, comes out carrying spare tanks, but is attacked by a Kabane.
Back at the gate, Horobi hurls herself forward before the Bushi can reload the cannon. Radio operators inside try to warn Kongokaku as she smashes into it, crushing everything. Apparently, they got the word out in time, though, which is sure to put a crimp in Biba’s plans.
Regardless of their valiant effort, the gate, and much of the wall near it, collapses as Horobi obeys Biba without reservation. We also get a brief glimpse of Ayame bandaging Yukina’s injury as the scientist guy cheers the fall of the gate, saying Kongokaku won’t stand a chance against something like that. Neither of the ladies finds that a heartwarming notion.
Mumei arrives and demands answers of Biba. He points to the devastation, to the mass dead, and says that this is the world of fairness they have been striving towards. Mumei struggles to understand as he walks away.
Nearby, whatever Biba injected Horobi with begins to overwhelm her. The fused colony falls apart as she begins to transform even further, into some new kind of Kabane. A more terrible thing than ever witnessed before. Mumei watches, realizing that it was Horobi in there, as the scientist we’ve seen so much of curses that the restraints didn’t hold the virus back longer. Apparently, he had planned for Horobi’s fused colony state to last longer, possibly long enough to assault Kongokaku itself.
While everyone is staring at Horobi, Kurusu arrives and jumps onto the train, still searching for Ayame, cause he’s a single minded fucker if ever there was one. He stealths up as one of the scientists fellows brings out a case, saying they should give the white blood to Horobi. Scientist man blows him off, saying there’s no way to bring her back from this point.
While they are debating that, Kurusu starts hitting people, which is really one of his God given gifts. He takes out a couple of guards before old scientist dude grabs a fucking Gatling gun and tries to mow him down. Kurusu uses a guard as a shield, while Ayame kicks the assistants ass and grabs the case, threatening to throw it off the elevated rail line if scientist dude doesn’t back off.
Cause she’s Ayame, and she’s fucking awesome.
He doesn’t care for that, as apparently, what’s in the case is pretty damn valuable. He points the Gatling cannon at her, and Kurusu says nope and attacks him, taking him over the railing. The Gatling goes off, scattering bullets all around Ayame, who ducks, but drops the case, which falls into the smoke below along with Kurusu and the scientist.
Over by the gate, Horobi has finished her transformation.
Yeah. What the actual fuck?
She goes on a killing spree, taking down Biba’s men with wild abandon. None of them can stop her, as even direct hits with the steam rifles glance off her new armor plating. Also, she’s inanely strong, blindingly fast, and able to project some kind of massively destructive energy beam. Basically, the worst possible thing you want to see in a zombie.
Tired of killing toy soldiers, she goes after Biba. She takes out his guards as Mumei begs her to stop, and nearly takes Biba’s head. She stops at the last possible second, however, when she sees a bead of sweat run down his face. Something of Horobi survives, because she smiles, having had it confirmed that he is, indeed, afraid. Not just of anything, but of her.
Biba takes that moment to stab her through the heart, killing her instantly. He calmly wipes her blood off his face as Mumei stares in utter horror, then he walks away to survey the devastation.
Over with Ikoma and the others, Biba’s men arrive and arrest them all. Ikoma tries to stop them, but gets his ass kicked by one of Biba’s top lieutenants, who lets him know he shouldn’t resist. They are interested in his blood, but can take from him dead just as easily as they can alive. Enraged, Ikoma finds he has no choice.
Back at the gate, Biba addresses the survivors of Iwota Station, telling them he has liberated them from their cage. He urges them to abandon the stations and join the fight.
We turn again to the refugee center, where the boy who was attacked earlier we now see was bitten. Biba’s men kill him without reservation, as Ikoma screams for them to stop. He could have saved the boy, made him a Kabaneri, but these guys don’t care. Now, he has joined his beloved dog in the next world, leaving his family to grieve him, as they did their pet.
Biba continues addressing the survivors, telling them that this is the world as it is. Cowards die. The strong survive. To make the world free, he will lead them to tear down the very symbol of the cowards, the Shogun’s castle. His men chant liberation again and again, as Mumei is arrested as well, finally beginning to see that Biba was using her from the start.
That realization may well break her.
And so, we wrap up the 9th episode with our heroes captured, broken, and defeated.
Now, to address what I said at the top.
With Biba, I can see everything the writers are wanting to do. He was betrayed by his father, left to die on a battlefield against an army of Kabane, yet survived and has thrived. He has come to see the Stations as cages, meant to allow the Shogun to control the masses. The only way to free people is to destroy their cages, and let those strong enough to live do so, while those who would just drag humanity down die. In his mind, he is the hero of this story.
Yet, that is all conveyed poorly. Or rather, it’s all happening too quickly. We’ve not had a chance to get to know Biba as we have the rest of the cast. So, rather than coming across as a well constructed antagonist who genuinely believes in what he’s doing, he comes over like a lunatic.
It’s much the same problem they have with Ikoma, who is very two dimensional. He gives speeches about saving the world and killing Kabane, while making grand promises he can’t possibly keep. That’s basically his entire character. The only difference is, we’ve had nine episodes to get use to Ikoma, something Biba doesn’t enjoy.
Personally, I think they should have allowed Biba to join the story a few episodes sooner. The one philosophical debate he and Ikoma had was cut short, and that is something that really needed to go on longer, as it would have at least allowed Biba’s viewpoint to be conveyed more clearly before he went on a massive killing spree. Even that much would have given context and understanding to his motives and actions, that is currently lacking.
Which is where the pacing of the show has finally managed to hurt it. Until now, it helped disguise the fact that Ikoma was a pretty flat and lifeless character. Once they put the spotlight on Biba, in the frenzied pace they have done so, it has also managed to showcase Ikoma’s failings as a character as well.
Like I said, literally everyone, even Kibito, has had better characterization than the shows central protagonist and antagonist. This is more to do with the pacing than with the writing, as all the right ingredients are there for both Ikoma and Biba to compelling, fascinating characters. They just haven’t been given time to gel into what they suppose to be.
However, even with this failing, Studio Wit has garnered enough good will from me, at least, to still rate the show very highly. They may have missed the mark on the delivery, but they’ve still managed to create a very watchable, engaging show all around.
With just three episodes left, all we can do now is wait to see if they manage to stick the landing.
See ya next week.