Well. That was all… unexpected.
Not all of it, granted. There were a couple things that played out about the way I expected, but there were others that I never saw coming. As I said last week, if there’s one thing you should always expect with Koutetsujou, it’s just how much Studio Wit can fit into an episode.
This weeks installment is just one long series of plot twists that come so fast, it’s almost hard to really have time to comprehend the full ramifications of them all. As I said, some were expected, but others, they came out of the blue. Which isn’t always a bad thing, especially if it’s done in a way that is consistent with characterization or plot development.
While I was somewhat critical of last weeks episode, due to the frenzied brush that Biba has been painted with, and the lack of any major character work on Ikoma, this week makes up for at least one of those. Ikoma finally gets some character development, making him a tiny bit more three dimensional.
Biba does as well, in a way. Not as much as he needs, really, to make him an effective character, but we at least get some context for his actions. It would have been nice to get it several episodes back, as they could have positioned him early on as a more sympathetic character, but better late than never, I suppose. At the very least, it does show they were thinking about his character, rather than throwing him in there for dramatic effect.
One other thing the show accomplishes this episode that is worth noting before we begin. For the past nine episodes, Koutetsujou has, despite the nightmare reality these people live in, been focused on hope, optimism, and dreams of a future where humanity is free. In a single scene, they crush all of that rather ruthlessly under the heel of reality. There is no hope. Optimism is useless. There is no future of freedom.
The reason this is interesting is it creates a new sort of stakes for our erstwhile crew of the Kotetsujyo. Can they survive this turn of events with their faith, morality, and dreams intact?
This question plays most strongly to Ikoma, who after getting some actual development, is going to be the most heavily challenged of them all. His earnest desires for the future may not be able to survive the many and painful plot twists that have befallen him.
And so, let’s dive in, and see where the 10th episodes takes us, shall we?
The episode opens with the crew and refugees of the Kotetsujyo in a pretty bad position. Ikoma, especially, who has been locked in a cage, left to ruminate on Biba’s nihilistic world view. As usual, Ikoma simply refuses to accept the status quo, and vows to himself to stop Biba from bringing any more death and chaos.
Which is pretty much par for the course where Ikoma is concerned. While he is a vastly different character from Eren of Attack On Titan, in that he is more reasonable, thoughtful, and capable of strategic thought over running blindly into a situation, he’s still basically only defined by his desire to destroy the Kabane, and free all of humanity. So, his little speech to himself right at the start is just basically a summation of his entire character to this point.
Soon after Ikoma’s moment of reflection, the soldiers under Biba’s command and a group of dudes in white arrive, bringing the Kotetsujyo refugees some food. Among the solders is Sukari, who upon being called a traitor, admits his policy is to follow the guys with the biggest guns. Yukina takes some food from him as the guys in white tell people wearing red armbands to head to the back. Sukari stops her before she can walk away to give her a bamboo flask containing blood for Ikoma.
She takes it, but gives him one of the best burn and die looks ever. For his part, Sukari seems both bothered by the hatred he is getting, but understanding of it as well. Considering everything they have been through, it shouldn’t be surprising that he’d switch sides, any more than it would be for everyone to resent him for it.
If I can take a moment, the reason it didn’t surprise me that Sukari would abandon his fellows from the Kotetsujyo is because that is how his character has been developed. He is pragmatic, first and foremost. He’s also a bit of a selfish dick. Yet, there is kindness there. It’s a tough love kind, but it’s there. Changing sides at least allows him to try and help the refugees of the Kotetsujyo from a position of minor authority, while covering his own ass. It’s very much in character for him.
Yukina delivers the bamboo flask as Ikoma watches the guy in white who has the keys and makes a note to himself. Back in the food line, Takumi gets his portion, giving Sukari a look that is almost as intense as Yukina’s. As he starts to walk away, Sukari reminds him he is wearing a red armband, and needs to head to the back. Infuriated, but without any room to do anything about it, Takumi does, and we get to see what’s up with the armbands.
Biba’s people are taking blood donations. Sure, it’s at gun point, but it’s still kind of a donation. The armbands show the rotation of the prisoners, so nobody is giving too much. A very efficient system, if pretty damn inhumane. About what we’d expect of Biba.
As Takumi sits, doing his part for Biba’s cause, he sees another of the Kotetsujyo refugees asking one of the dudes in white to leave his wife out of the blood gathering. He vows to give his share, and her’s as well. In a sign that not all of Biba’s followers are monsters, the guy in white asks one of Biba’s Kabaneri, the same guy who stabbed the spider a couple episodes back, if it’s okay. He shrugs and says it’s fine with him.
This all shows that Biba’s people aren’t unreasonable, and are capable of recognizing the motivation behind the refugees request. It gives them a bit more humanity, which considering what happened last episode, they do need. Of course, considering everything the refugees of the Kotetsujyo have survived, it also shows that the philosophy Biba’s group has about the strong deserving to live is an actual belief. The Kotetsujyo people are strong, because they survived. So, the request is treated with respect and accepted.
Then, one guy has to fuck it all up. Because there’s always that one guy who has to fuck it all up.
Right after the Kabaneri dude, who’s name I’ve never caught, gives his permission, another of Biba’s soldiers, whose name I also didn’t catch, stands up and says there’s no fun in accepting the refugees request. The refugee dude says that he’ll give enough for three, or even four people, if that’s what it takes. Soldier guy accepts that and offers to shake on it. When the refugee reaches out to do so, solider guy straight up chops his freaking arm off.
Why? Because when you have a cause like Biba’s, you are going to attract some of the worst humanity has to offer, no matter how good you think your intentions are. It’s the nature of extremism. It attracts the nastiest examples of humanity, every single time. People who just revel in the misery and sorrow of others. People that make you question if another human being can actually be born without a soul. That’s why.
Takumi is, naturally, horrified by this. The spider stabbing Kabaneri dude just looks disgusted as the solider orders a guy in white to soak up all the blood. Spider Stabber tells the soldier he’s sick of watching him pick on the weak, but the dude straight don’t give a shit.
As he walks away, covered in blood and calm as fuck, Takumi calls him out. It takes two guys to hold him back, and several more pointing guns at him to get him to stop fighting. Soldier dude calls him fat, and says he could probably donate the same as thirty men, if he’d like to make a deal. Takumi somehow manages to suppress his rage, but it obviously isn’t easy.
Spider Stabber doesn’t look overly pleased by all of this either, and since I know he’s a Kabaneri, I’m wondering why he doesn’t show solider dude just how weak he is instead of standing there, but then again, he’s a minor character, so his job is just stand there and look disgusted and annoyed, I guess. And stab spiders, of course.
Again, I point out how the frenzied pace of the story sometimes has negative effects on character development way down the line. But, that horse is dead, and I’ve beat it enough, so let’s move on.
By the time Takumi gets back from giving blood, Ikoma is done with his own liquid lunch, and is giving the bamboo flask back to Yukina, who gives it to Sukari. Takumi demands to know when they are going to make their move, as he can’t stand this situation any longer. Ikoma just tells him to move, cause he’s busy watching the guards. When Takumi insists, Ikoma finally tells him they will make their move tomorrow night.
Elsewhere, Biba is playing host to Ayame. There’s tea and everything, as he tries to act like a gentleman, while threatening the lives of everyone from the Kotetsujyo. Ayame, recognizing that she has no leverage, agrees to use her status, and her relation to a member of the shogunate, to help Biba get through the gates of Kongokaku. It’s the only move she has if she is to keep her people safe, and she’s smart enough to know it.
She does ask what Biba plans to do when he meets his father, and we finally get the full story on his background. It’s a good story, and would have been way more useful some episodes back, as it does give a lot of context to Biba’s actions. As I said above, better late than never, I suppose.
Basically, it’s more or less what we already knew. Ten years ago, the shogunate dedicated 400,000 troops to the Kyushu region to wipe out the Kabane and reclaim the area for humanity. Biba himself, despite being only twelve at the time, was placed in charge of this operation. This actually isn’t the unusual, as he is the eldest son of the Shogun, and would be expected to prove himself from a very early age. Odds are, though Biba doesn’t mention it, he had a bevy of advisors to assist him in all this.
Their campaign was very successful, and they managed to establish several bases and form a defensive line that pushed the Kabane back. The suggestion in this all is that they were close to creating a position from which to retake a significant portion of Japan. However, out of the blue, supplies stopped coming. Ammunition, medical supplies, food, everything just ceased. Eventually, the bases and defensive line they had formed crumbled and fell to the Kabane.
The Shogun himself was behind it, leaving all those soldiers, and his own son, to die on the brink of their greatest success. But, it would have been Biba’s success, and remember, feudal Japan was a place of vary paranoid lords. The actions of the Shogun are not very surprising in that light, as his son’s success threatened the father’s grasp on power.
I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to the story, though, as we’ve not gotten the Shogun’s side of things yet. Could a massive attack elsewhere forced them to divert their extremely finite resources, causing the supply cutoff? Perhaps we’ll find out.
At any rate, Biba has vowed to punish his father with his own hands, so his answer to Ayame’s question is that he plans to kill the Shogun when they meet again. In a way, you have to respect Biba’s total dedication to this cause. On the other, dude is obviously no longer playing with a full deck, which considering what he survived, isn’t really surprising.
And I guess that’s why I regret not getting more time with Biba as a character. There’s a lot here to work with in terms of PTSD, mental illness, and revenge as a motive that could be really fascinating to see. This is Koutetsujou, though, and the train barrels on.
Later that evening, Ikoma gathers the Kotetsujyo refugees and explains his plan. It’s a pretty simple plan, really, but those are good, as they don’t have as much chance to go wrong. In a nutshell, the plan is for the refugees to rise up, overpower the guards, and grab the keys off the one guy who has them. Then, they fight their way to the locomotive of Biba’s train, and seize it, forcing him to back down, as well as return Ayame and Mumei.
Since they will cross the Great Wadatsu Bridge soon, and arrive at Kongokaku by the next day, it’s now or never. Kibito agrees, saying that if anything were to happen to Ayame before Kurusu, who fell off an elevated train line last week, comes back, he’d never forgive himself. The other Bushi of the Kotetsujyo feel the same, and they head off to gather up whatever they can as weapons.
After they leave, Takumi asks Ikoma if he really thinks Mumei will rejoin them, and he says it doesn’t matter. He’s decided to bring her back whether she likes it or not. Clearly, he has forgotten the many ass kickings she’s given him, but again, this is Ikoma’s entire character. He makes grand pronouncements, with no way to carry them out. He’s good at planning, but only with immediate short term goals. He never thinks about how to deal with long term problems. He just declares he will do it, and that’s that. Because he’s a hero, and that’s what heroes do, apparently.
Takumi asks if Mumei is lot like Ikoma’s little sister, Hatsune. Ikoma blows that off, claiming that besides being about the same size, they are nothing alike. Takumi clearly isn’t buying this, and neither am I. Ikoma admits that he feels as if something is telling him to do this. That this time, he won’t run away. This time, he better save her. He wonders briefly if it might be God, but Takumi tells him that, no, it’s just his own conscience. Ikoma is surprised by that, but quickly admits that Takumi is probably correct. That’s probably exactly what it is.
Like, duh, Ikoma.
Takumi gives him a bit of shit, telling him he’s finally figured out how Ikoma thinks. Ikoma is surprised it took so long, and Takumi basically agrees, but adds that it was hard to figure out, because Ikoma is actually pretty simple. Ikoma gives him a playful punch in the arm and gets one in return, setting them both to laughing.
Me, I’m smiling, because Ikoma finally got some character development. What’s more, it’s totally in line with the plot and everything we’ve seen. He is simple. He thinks in very simple terms. He deals with everything in moral absolutes, and finally, somebody in the show itself acknowledged this, and basically said, that’s just who he is, and that’s okay. Ikoma is a simple character because Ikoma himself is a simple person.
It’s kinda thin as character development goes, but it’s something, and Ikoma needed it.
Elsewhere, Mumei goes to find some answers on what the hell is really going on, and starts with the surgical room where Biba turns people into Kabane. She storms in, demanding answers from the dudes in white, especially where Horobi and what happened to her is concerned. They ignore her, and she quickly spots the refugee who got his arm chopped off as the dudes in white, who are scientists and doctors for the most part, try to save him. Mumei tries to ask what happened, but they ignore her, and the refugee guy is in way too much pain to answer. Her fears about Biba seem to be reinforced with this scene.
Since the guys in white won’t answer her questions, she goes to ask Biba himself, who is deeply involved in staring at that giant Kabaene heart he keeps around. Mumei barges in on his quasi religious/sexual experience, demanding to know why he’s taking blood from the Kotetsujyo refugees.
Instead of answering, he asks her what she thinks the Kabane are. Mumei, of course, gives a simple answer. They are the enemy who must be destroyed. Biba responds by saying that, despite this, they have revealed the true enemy who must be struck down. Confused, Mumei tries to grasp the whys of it all, as she always thought Biba just wanted to reunite with his father.
He turns and reaches for her, but she recoils from him. He notices, and actually seems somewhat sad to find she now fears him. Regardless, she wipes some blood from her cheek that splattered there when she was watching the dudes in white work on the refugee guys arm. Another of his subordinates arrives with paperwork he needs Biba to sign off on when he has time, and Biba flat out ignores Mumei by saying he has time now.
After a moment, he tells her he can see the people of the Kotetsujyo mean a lot to her, and promises to send word down the line that, so long as they remain peaceful, none of them are to be harmed. Mumei, relieved by being able to help her friends, and by Biba not being as monstrous as she was beginning to fear, accepts this and leaves. Once she’s gone, the subordinate asks if she needs repairs, and Biba confirms that she does. Very serious repairs.
Soon enough, it’s time to put the plan in motion. Kibito and the Bushi have gathered some makeshift weapons, and everyone knows their part. Takumi does give Ikoma a piece of wire to work as a lockpick, something we saw Ikoma was skilled at waaay back in the first episode. With that, it’s game time.
The soldiers and dudes in white get everyone lined up for the meal rations, and to collect blood. One person in line, however, suggests that if they want blood so bad, they should take their own. One of the soldiers steps up, but the dude in white quickly realizes it’s Ikoma, who is using the masterful disguise of draping a sheet over himself.
Naturally, all the soldiers quickly form up around Ikoma to keep him from attacking. However, this is where Takumi and the others come in, as he, Yukina, Kajika, and the rarely seen Suzuki, turn a bunch of release valves and flood the compartment with steam. Kibito and the other Bushi take advantage of the confusion to attack, overwhelming the guards, and taking their steam rifles away from them.
They rush ahead, and Ikoma handily defeats the guy with the keys. Before he can gather them, though, he sees Takumi attacking Sukari, who is just trying to avoid him. Ikoma intervenes, and explains that Sukari was only pretending to help Biba’s people, so he could gather information about Biba’s train, and pass it to Ikoma in the bamboo flask.
Now that everyone knows Sukari isn’t a total sell out, Takumi calms down. Yukina, however, gives Sukari a solid whack on the head for making her think he had betrayed them. As far as plot twists go, this one was nice, as Sukari had been set up from the start to be the kind of guy who puts self interest first.
With that handled, they have a new problem. The soldier who chapped the guys arm off earlier has taken a hostage, and is threatening to kill him. Ikoma dives in, and the two have a brief fight, which Ikoma dominates, because he’s use to training with Mumei and Kurusu, both of whom move way faster than this guy. Things turn, though, when the guy gets his hands on a gun. Before he can shoot, Takumi whacks him over the head with a pipe, saving Ikoma and ending the threat.
Cause Takumi don’t play around anymore. When he sees the look of shock on Ikoma’s face, he angrily demands to know if it’s that funny he’d save the day. In a moment of total honesty, Ikoma admits it is, but with a proud smile.
Pushing ahead, the refugees secure more weapons, and Ikoma grabs the keys to let them get farther into the train. They even manage to get Ikoma’s piercing gun back. In the next car, however, they encounter way more soldiers than they expected, but charge ahead anyway.
Biba gets informed of what is happening, and orders Mumei to deal with it. After a long moment of thinking about it, she refuses, as the passengers and crew of the Kotetsujyo are part of her family now. Even when Biba threatens to cast her aside and let her become a full fledged Kabane, she refuses.
Slightly disappointed, but not surprised, Biba accepts this, and dudes in white try to grab Mumei. She shrugs them off, spots that one of them is carrying some kind of injector, and releases her inhibitor, going full Kabaneri on the soldiers who rush forward to stop her.
To her surprise, she runs out of energy much faster than she should, and is quickly overwhelmed. It turns out that Biba expected this, and lowered the amount of blood she was getting every day in order to keep her weakened. Feeling betrayed, Mumei can do nothing as she is tranquilized.
Elsewhere, Kibito and the other Bushi are keeping the soldiers tied up, but it’s taking too long, so he tells Ikoma to go ahead. With Takumi by his side, he rushes to the next car, but finds the key won’t open the door once they reach the end of that one. Turns out, it’s all a trap, which they discover when they try to double back and go around the outside.
Now, I could point out here how going along the top of the train would have likely been a better option. This is a heavily armored vehicle, after all, so as long as everyone moved quietly, it’s doubtful anyone would have heard them. Why Ikoma didn’t chose to do this, though, I can’t say for certain. Maybe he felt passing through the interior was faster, or safer. It does seem like a big hole in his plan, or more to the point, a nice plot contrivance to get him into this spot.
For the sake of the show, however, I’m just assuming it didn’t occur to him, as you rarely go outside a train when it’s moving, for any reason. If there are tunnels along the way, as we saw some episodes back, that’d be a major hindrance, and we did see Biba’s train pass through a tunnel earlier in this episode, so it’s not totally illogical Ikoma would reject an exterior travel route. Just kinda convenient.
Biba arrives with Spider Stabber and a bunch of soldiers. Turns out, he figured the same thing as Ikoma, that this was the perfect moment to stage a revolt. So, he switched out the keys to ensure Ikoma’s plan would fail. With that, he pulls a gun and shoots Ikoma.
Except, Takumi dives in front of him, taking the bullet.
Ikoma is devastated, unable to even form coherent sentences, as Takumi explains he had long regretted not doing this the last time, way back in episode 2. So, finally, he gets to make it right. He protected his friend the way he should have before, and he’s okay with dying for that.
Ikoma can do nothing but watch his best friend die in his arms. Wracked with guilt, sorrow, and loss, Ikoma collapses into tears.
Biba gives him a moment to grieve before asking how he feels, losing his friend. Depending on the answer, he promises to spare Ikoma, and make him one of them. Why he asks is obvious, having lived through the loss of so many friends of his own. For a moment, Biba thinks it possible that Ikoma may become a kindred spirit.
Except, Biba’s losses were to Kabane. Ikoma’s loss was at the hands of a man. The two, they are nothing alike, which Ikoma makes abundantly clear as he stands, griping his piercing gun, and asks Biba just what the hell is wrong with him.
A fair question, really. The only question worth asking where Biba is concerned, but one that Biba himself is unconcerned with. When one of his subordinates asks if he’s done, Biba says yes, and that subordinate proceeds to kick the ever loving crap out of Ikoma, eventually knocking him into a lever that opens the sides of the car. We saw before that this train had several cars that could do this, for mortar teams and motorcycle exits. Biba picked the spot well.
Too far gone to his grief, Ikoma isn’t thinking, and keeps getting up, almost mindless in his pain. Biba sends Spider Stabber to get Mumei as Ikoma rises again, reaching for the subordinate that’s been beating the shit out of him. That guy raises a shotgun and blows Ikoma’s arm off from the elbow down, causing the stone he keeps tied there to fall.
Barely clinging to life, Takumi sees it, and gathers it up, as Ikoma collapses, fully defeated.
The final blow comes when Biba welcomes Mumei, and orders her to kill Ikoma. Shocked at the lifeless look in her eyes, Ikoma doesn’t even try to react when she stabs him through the chest, and lets him fall out of the train, over a cliff, and into the ocean.
Biba congratulates her, calling her actions those of his Mumei. Her reaction is hidden as she looks down at Takumi, who has passed away, holding Ikoma’s precious stone. Biba’s train steams on towards Kongokaku.
As I’ve said a few times now, Biba suffers from the same lack of character development that has plagued Ikoma, but it’s in those little moments that give some context to his actions, at the very least, that shows more thought was put into him than a surface exam would make you think. His tale of the betrayal of his father, and his reaction to Ikoma’s grief shows a man who is driven by the need to avenge, to change the world the only way he can see, and desperate for someone who is a peer.
Yet, that’s all stuff you should be able to get without having to spend a couple days thinking about it. Which is where his character fails. If you have to spend days thinking on their motives and actions, it wasn’t conveyed clearly. Which is where the show itself falters. It fails the characters.
Not enough to render it a bad show, mind you. I still enjoy the hell out of it, and look forward to it eagerly each week. It’s just the one big thing that I wish they had done better.
We still have two episodes to go before we’re done, though, so there’s always that chance Biba will get the moment he needs to become a decently written character. It took them ten to get Ikoma to that point, though, so I’m not really expecting it. It may even surprise you to know I’m okay with that.
Koutetsujou never set out to be art. It set out to be a watchable series, with an absurd premise, that took a lot of old cliches and did some different, if not new, things with them. In all that, it has succeeded. The failure to properly develop their central antagonist doesn’t ruin the show, at least, not for me. After all, it took them ten episodes just to do something interesting with their protagonist, so I’m not gonna ding them too hard.
All that aside, as I mentioned at the start, the show does change the stakes rather dramatically. The death of Takumi will resonant through the Kotetsujyo crew, as he was both a member of Ayame’s inner circle, and an every-man that the refugees respected. Nobody is going to let this slide, and Biba has made a critical mistake with this, even if it was something he didn’t intend to do.
More importantly, the loss of Takumi threatens the optimism of the rest of the cast. Their ability to believe that they can survive this with their hopes and dreams, not to mention their morality, intact. This is the game changer, and nobody is going to come through this fully the same.
Especially Ikoma, who I’ve no doubt survived. He’s the protagonist, after all. It’s his eternal belief that he can overcome that has been damaged now, though, and that may not be something he can recover from.
Last thing. I had no doubt going into this episode that Kurusu survived the fall from the train tracks last week. Now, I’m not so sure. There is a real chance he died. Since they made such a big deal about that case Ayame dropped, though, I expect he’ll be back, and bringing it along with him. Most likely, he’ll find Ikoma, and despite all their past differences, they’ll team up to save the day.
Guess we’ll find out next week. See ya then.