Koutetsujou No Kabaneri Episode 11 Recap: “Burning Life”

With the arrival of the penultimate episode, Studio Wit sets up for a grand finale by raising the stakes far higher than I think anyone ever expected. Between the previous episode and this one, they are in a really good position to deliver a climax that promises to be epic. All they gotta do now is stick the landing.

There’s a few other things they manage to accomplish this week in terms of the characters, as well. Most importantly, Ikoma stops making grand pronouncements, and starts acting on them. This is massive because it does totally change how his character is perceived. He isn’t just that guy that says things, he is truly willing to go to whatever end he must to make them happen.

More importantly, he accepts that there are things he can’t do, and chooses to focus on the things he can. That’s a massive shift for him, as before he was always about the ideas, but never really seemed to have any idea how to do anything, other than state his ideas. We’ve seen him willing to risk his life for his ideals, but never in the way he does this week.

The other big thing is the character of Biba. While I often feel he has been underdeveloped due to the time constraints of the series, there are lots of ways the writers manage to give us more insight into his character. While it’s still a little late to really make him the kind of character they obviously wanted him to be, it is still nice to know that they had a fully fleshed out person in mind.

If ever I’ve wanted there to be an extended directors cut of an anime before, it’s with this series. I’ve got a weird feeling that there was a lot that had to be cut for time, and it would have given us a lot more insight into Biba, especially.

That aside, the show is what it is, and while it’s still the totally bat shit insane show it’s always been, things feel different now. Takumi’s death, of course, hangs heavy over everything, but there’s more than that. There’s a sense of genuine danger, of a threat that not everyone, or possible anyone, can escape. For a series that has always focused on the optimistic, that’s pretty breath taking.

I’ll admit right now, I can’t guess just what will happen next week, which is a wonderful thing for me. I love the not knowing, the not being sure. Takumi’s death really did change the dynamic of the series, and it is now entirely possible that any of the characters may die. Odds are, some of them even will.

First, though, let’s get into this weeks episode. We can talk about the finale after it happens.

We open on Biba’s train in the immediate aftermath of Ikoma’s defeat, and Takumi’s death, as the rest of the Kotetsujyo team catch up and discover what has happened. Kajika, who according to the show’s wiki, is Takumi’s childhood friend, is devastated and cradling him as she cries.

Props to the voice actress on this. It is a literal hitching, screaming sob. It’s painful to hear, because if you’ve ever heard it before, you know it is the sound of inconsolable grief. She nails it beyond belief.

Kibito is by her side, looking lost, as Sukari and Yukina can only watch. The tension instantly mounts as one of Biba’s soldiers moves forward and tries to force them to return to the back of the train.

Remember how much I’ve lauded the well written women on this show? Yeah, we still got ’em.

Kajika goes off on the solider, screaming at him to stay away. The dude actually recoils. Like, in fear.

One of Biba’s top lieutenants, the same guy who kicked Ikoma’s ass, steps forward and delivers a much more intense threat against their lives. Kajika ain’t having it though, and goes off on him as well. She basically dares him to do it. Yukina finally steps in, trying to calm her before this guy actually does, and Sukari joins her, blocking the way to Kajika, as the Bushi behind Kibito get ready to fight.

11-01

It’s a powerful little moment. Kajika is a steam smith, a technical engineer, who has taken up the job of caring for the orphaned aboard the Kotetsujyo. She’s basically a nobody. She doesn’t fight, and her entire role in the story so far has been that of a background care giver. Yet, Yukina, Sukari, Kibito, and a handful of Bushi are ready to fight to the death to defend her. It speaks volumes about the separation between the crew of the Kotetsujyo, and the people under Biba.

Before things can get out of hand, Spider Stabber calls the other guy off. (He calls him Sahari, but I doubt I’ll remember that later.) Spider Stabber says to leave the clean up to the Kotetsujyo crew. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen him actually be considerate towards them, and it makes me wonder just what his deal is. I’d love to know more about him.

Reluctantly, Sahari agrees, and Biba’s people leave, allowing the Kotetsujyo crew to grieve their dead, and their lost. There’s another powerful moment as the Bushi gather Takumi to carry him.

Elsewhere, Ikoma washes up on a shore, half drowned, but alive.

Over with Biba, he recounts to a mind controlled Mumei how there have always been secret feuds going on around the Shogun’s throne. It’s implied pretty heavily that this all drove his father to be a very paranoid man who became increasingly abusive towards Biba. At one point, he even tried to stab his son when he was still just a child, fearful of Biba one day taking away his power and authority.

11-02

He is telling her this because she has always believed she could help mend their relationship, something that is too broken to ever be fixed. It’s how he’s always known her kindness was her weakness, and why he’s always planned on using her as he did Horobi. Which he immediately does, injecting her with the same blue goo from the big Kabane heart he keeps around.

Yes, we watch as Biba injects Mumei, the other central protagonist of the show, with the same stuff that turned Horobi into a fused colony. There is no last minute save, no sudden interruption. Nothing. It actually happens, and suddenly, everything just went holy shit shaped.

Then, we finally come to Kongokaku, the most well defended city in Japan, and seat of power for the Shogun, as he gives a speech reassuring everyone that though Iwato has fallen, nothing can get past their defenses. He tells them that Kongokaku is unbreachable, which sounds a little like every petty dictator ever.

Of course, that’s just how you keep people feeling as if you are protecting them from an outside threat. Especially when said outside threat is steampunk zombies.

It also goes back to what I’ve said before about feudal Japan being a place of paranoia for those in charge, always afraid some one, or something, would take that power. Biba himself confirmed that, and now we see how the Shogun operates, by telling people that everything is fine, no matter what’s really going on, just to maintain the illusion of total control.

Backing this up even further is the Shogun telling everyone that Biba destroyed Iwato, then giving the usual stuff about how they can not be broken. It’s very “England Prevails” from V For Vendetta. (Go watch that movie if you haven’t.)

After his speech, the communications guy who managed to receive the message from Iwato about the black smoke monster approaches and asks if they should tell people about that. Ya know, what with that being kind of a big deal. The Shogun confirms that he is the only communications officer that heard it, then kills him. Why? Because excessive information breeds excessive fear.

Yeah, okay, Biba is clearly right to want to kill this guy. He’s become so paranoid and fearful, he’ll do anything to maintain power, and even the illusion of power.

Let’s check in with Ikoma!

He’s having another nightmare about his sister dying, but this time, she becomes Mumei. Looks like Takumi was right. Ikoma wakes up, and after a moment of confusion, remembers what brought him to this point. Under the weight of it, he collapses, and pretty much gives up the fight, having come face to face with how little one person can really do to change the world.

11-03

It’s pretty much everything I was hoping for, as he grieves not only Takumi, but Mumei, and faces the fact that all those grand pronouncements and promises he made were all things he could never do anything about. It’s a real, human, response.

He hears a sound, and spots a Kabane near by. Still missing his arm, which has not regenerated yet, he scrambles around to gather his piercing gun and hide inside an old derelict ship nearby. Ikoma, lost in his grief, is alone and terrified.

Back at Kongokaku, the Kotetsujyo has arrived. Biba’s train is, naturally, nowhere to be seen. The real reason he offered to escort them to Kongokaku is now very clear. He needed them to get in the gate. It also gave him an unexpected opportunity to use Ayame to help.

Word is carried to the Shogun of their arrival, and that they have captured Biba. He is reluctant to believe this, but still allows them in, on the off chance they are telling the truth. Security is very high, however, as there are a literal shit ton of soldiers ready to open fire the moment things look hinkey.

11-04

Ayame gets to finally reunite with her uncle and tell him of her fathers death. This is interrupted quickly by another dude who looks skeptical they could have captured Biba. Ayame, who has him tied up right next to her, assures him it is the truth before deftly turning the conversation to the refugees aboard the Kotetsujyo who need to find safe harbor.

The skeptical guy tells her they will have to spend three days in jail, regardless of the absence of bite marks, and she accepts this. Somewhat mollified by her seeming subservience, he tells her that she and Biba are to go before the Shogun immediately. For his part, Biba looks pleased, as he was obviously hoping it would go down this way.

One thing I do want to say about Biba. He doesn’t put everything into one chance. He injected Mumei before they even arrived, so on the off chance his father told the soldiers to shoot him on sight, his plan would still go forward. Sure, he wouldn’t get to see it, but he’d know Kongokaku would fall. For a crazy guy, he is a very good tactician, willing to take even his unexpected death into account.

Back over with Ikoma, he is hiding from the Kabane, and ends up stumbling over some crates. Except, it isn’t a Kabane. It’s Kurusu! Alive, and somewhat rumpled, he finds out everything happened from Ikoma is less than pleased that Ikoma did not protect everyone.

11-05

Kurusu isn’t alone, either, as he’s dragging around the scientist dude he went over the rail with. While I expected to see Kurusu alive again, seeing the old scientist guy surprised me.

Kurusu wants to go save everyone, but Ikoma has given up, so Kurusu leaves him to his self pity, saying only that he was wrong about Ikoma. Which is a pretty big statement, as he initially wanted to kill him. It’s in the little dialogue moments that you often get to see how much the characters have changed and grown, such as here, with Kurusu being mad at Ikoma for not being as awesome as he’d come to think.

It’s also worth noting that upon learning of Takumi’s death, Kurusu looks genuinely shocked and pained. Upon learning that Mumei has become an enemy, however, his expression turns to outrage. More than anything, these are things he blames Ikoma for failing to prevent, which is a pretty neat little moment of subtext for how much Kurusu has come to care about them.

When I think back to the kind of guy he was at the start, I gotta say, he’s had probably the most growth of them all, and it all happened so naturally. I really like the guy now, where I could barely stand him at first. That’s a pretty amazing thing from a writing stand point.

In Kongokaku, Biba has been brought before his father, and things are about to get interesting. They are in the Shogun’s throne room, surrounded by a load of guards, and the Shogunate. Basically, all the important people that keep everything running. Biba begins sounding contrite, but his dad doesn’t buy it for it second.

When they took him, all his stuff was surrendered as well, which was another good move on Biba’s part, as one of the things in his belongings is the same short sword he had Mumei stab Ikoma with. Turns out, the Shogun gave this short sword to Biba a very long time ago. He even refers to it as nostalgic.

Biba admits that it was the one thing his father gave him, and if he is to die, he wants it to be by his fathers hand, using that short sword. The Shogun is more than ready to agree, but when he grips the hilt, he feels a slightly pain. Looking down at his hand, he sees a drop of blood forming.

Yup. Sneaky Biba.

As his father grapples with that, Biba tells him that before anything happens, he wants to tell his father the secret of how he survived after he was abandoned on that battlefield. He claims to be able to tell who is a Kabane waiting to happen, and who isn’t. Basically, who has been infected, but is not yet showing signs.

He tells everyone that there are Kabane among them even now, and that they had better look closely so they don’t become a Kabane as well. He calls the inspections for bite marks a waste of time, as there are Kabane in the throne room at the very moment, and none of them are aware of it.

Naturally, this sends a wave of panic through the guards and Shogunate. Of course it would. I mean, c’mon. If your biggest fear was the zombies outside could get in, and then someone told you they already had, you’d at least be nervous.

This is the point where the Kabane virus that entered the Shogun through the tiny needle hidden on the hilt of the short sword takes effect, and his hand changes as the virus begins to sweep through him. One of the guards sees it, and freaks right out, pointing a gun at the Shogun, who freaks out right back at him.

As the virus spreads, changing the tone of the skin on the Shogun’s head, Biba calls that out, and the guard shoots him. Then more guards. Then a bunch of guards. Biba urges them to keep shooting, as you can’t pierce a Kabane’s heart with one shot. At least, not without jet bullets, which these guys don’t have. With everyone distracted, Biba also frees himself, as Ayame can only stare in shock at what Biba has done.

11-06

Finally free, Biba grabs his sword, and stabs his father through the heart. Before he does, he tells him, “It was not me that killed you. It was fear.” Earlier, in a flashback as Biba told Mumei about his father trying to stab him, we saw his father blame his fear. So, yeah, this is truly Biba’s moment of victory. It really was fear that killed that the Shogun. Without that fear, Biba never would have become the man he is now. It’s a profound moment I wish we could dive into more, but the show rolls on.

Seeing the Shogun dead, and a Kabane to boot, sends the Shogunate into a panic, and the guards into full on paranoia. Then Biba gets on the loudspeaker reserved for speeches from the Shogun and tells the entire city what has just happened, and that there are Kabane hiding as humans all over the city, sending all of them into a wild panic.

It is chaos in seconds, urged along by Biba’s most loyal as they slip around, injecting people with the Kabaene virus to help spread the panic even further. This, unsurprisingly, works very well as the throne room descends into a free for all, as does the city outside.

Locked up near the Kotetsujyo, the rest of the crew can do nothing but fret about Ayame, who was escorted out of the throne room by her uncle after she tried to get everyone to calm down and deal with the situation rationally.

Seriously, if this show does not end with Ayame as the new Shogun, I’ll flip a fucking table.

Over by the city gate, the guards are in a state of disarray as they try to figure out how Kabane got into the city without them noticing. Spider Stabber and some others kill them, and open the gate to let Biba’s train in. Which promptly dumps all the Kabane they are carrying off the elevated rail and right into the city.

11-07

Shit pretty much goes south after that.

In the throne room, skeptical guy from earlier has figured out what Biba did and confronts him, so Biba shoots him the head. He looks down and sees one of the Shogunate kicking his dead father, cursing him for causing all this, and shoots him in the head, too. The Shogun may have been a paranoid dick, but he was still Biba’s dad.

His vengeance complete, Biba sits on the throne, and tries to remember the good times he shared with his father. It’s an odd scene, but says a lot, which I’ll get into later. Because I liked it, and want to talk about it more. For now, let’s stay with the show.

11-08

Hopping to Ikoma and Kurusu, our overly noble Bushi is trying to get one of Biba’s motorcycles up and running again while our glum Kabaneri sits and broods. I love how they just show the motorcycle, implying how Kurusu got to this point, as well as him struggling to get it running again. Show, don’t tell.

Anyway, the scientist is bitching and moaning that he’ll miss Mumei’s transformation if Kurusu doesn’t hurry the hell up. That gets Kurusu’s attention, and makes him think again about what Ikoma told him. The scientist blows Ikoma off as having already given up on life, and no different than the Kabane.

So Kurusu punches him in the mouth, tells him he’ll decide that for himself, and goes to talk to Ikoma. Cause he’s done with bullshit.

He tells Ikoma that he saw the wound Mumei gave him, and as a Bushi, not to mention one of the most skilled swordsmen alive, he knows one thing. She missed his heart by too small a degree for it to have been an accident. She meant to. She wanted to. Ikoma thinks on that a second, and realizes that Kurusu is telling him that, even though Biba may have brain washed her, she’s still in there, fighting for him, and everyone on the Kotetsujyo.

11-09

Now having Ikoma’s undivided attention, Kurusu then tells him it doesn’t matter, as even now, Biba is turning her into black smoke the same way he did Horobi, and goes to walk away. His calculated move works, as all the passion returns to Ikoma’s voice when he stands and demands to know how that works. For just a second, there’s a very pleased look on Kurusu’s face.

Turning back to Kongokaku, we join Mumei as she walks the streets of the now burning city, her heart already glowing blue. She recalls a story her mother once told her about butterflies summoning the souls of the dead and carrying them on. Everywhere she looks, she sees the dead, and imagines them with glowing butterflies sitting on them.

She realizes she couldn’t save these people, or anyone really. She asks their forgiveness all the same as she begins to change. She thinks of Ikoma, as she accepts that the butterflies are beckoning her as well, and then thinks of her mother, letting her know, she’ll be joining her soon.

11-10

Mumei becomes a fused colony, gathering the dead around her.

Back with the other guys, Ikoma has heard all about how the fused colony deal works, as well as that there may be a way to save Mumei from dying from the process. The case Ayame dropped before has this cure, as well as some of the blue goo that turns Kabaneri into fused colonies. Now understanding it all, Ikoma goes inside the old shipwreck, cuts his hair back to a manageable length, and bolts his freaking piercing gun to his severed arm, rigging it so he can still fire it.

Like, seriously. Dude. This just got… well, it was already dark, but freaking darker. Like, a whole new level of dark.

11-11

Stepping back outside, he asks the scientist for the blue goo. The dude tells him it only turns women into fused colonies, but Ikoma don’t give a damn. He wants it anyway. The dude tries to tell him that, while taking it will make him even more powerful, it’ll also kill him, and fast.

Ikoma flat out tells him he doesn’t care. Saving Mumei, and stopping Biba, is all he has left to live for. This is very interesting, and Ill get into it more in a bit as well.

The scientist gives in, and Ikoma injects himself with the blue goo. He rapidly changes, but can’t seem to go much further. The scientist urges him to remove his inhibitor, the thick iron collar he wears, and while Kurusu begs him not to, Ikoma does. He does it because he recognizes that this moment, it is when he can finally become a man he can be proud of. A man who won’t run away.

As soon as it’s off, he becomes something even more.

11-12

Back in Kongokaku, Mumei has become a full on fused colony. Biba watches from the palace, urging her on. Urging her to destroy it all. Sadness, grief, love, everything. In the heart of the colony, she obeys.

And that would be a giant ass cliffhanger, right there.

As I mentioned, there’s two things I want to get into. The first is Biba’s odd moment on the throne, as he reflects and forces himself to remember a moment of happiness with his father.

The reason this struck me, much more powerfully than it likely did others, was because it pretty much backs up my initial observations on Biba. This isn’t about vengeance for him. He doesn’t really want to kill his father. Despite everything, he loves his father. However, the world has become rotten. The Shogunate is corrupt, and ruled by paranoid, power mad people willing to kill their own children to hang on to that power. The world, as it stands, is so horribly wrong, Biba simply cannot tolerate for it to go on.

Granted, the world he wants to replace it with is nightmarish, but he genuinely does believe it is the only way to insure that this kind of corruption never again turns people into cattle, so fearful they are willing to give away everything just to feel safe.

This actually hearkens back to something Ikoma said in the first episode when the Bishu killed the naked guy. Their fear drove them to murder a man who was probably innocent. Back then, Ikoma was outraged about their cowardice, and nearly got shot himself for confronting them over it.

Biba really is just the flip side of the coin to Ikoma. He hates the same cowardice, the same fear driven responses. The only difference in them is that Ikoma isn’t willing to sacrifice others, while Biba is willing to sacrifice everyone. All for that slim chance humanity can be free of tyranny, fear, and the weakness that allows those things to give up all their freedom for the illusion of safety.

In a lot of ways, I think this was why Biba was written the way he was, so that we could see just how much they are different sides to the same coin in the penultimate episode.

Which brings me to the other thing I wanted to talk about. Ikoma’s decision to sacrifice himself to save Mumei, and whoever might still be alive, from Biba’s insane plan. Which, to Ikoma’s mind, is a totally insane plan.

What’s fascinating about it is that until now, Ikoma never really considered that in order to save others, and not sacrifice people, he would have to sacrifice of himself. As soon as he understands that, he is willing to do it, without hesitation. He knows he is going to die, and that it will be very, very soon, but he rushes towards that without fear, because it is the only way.

Back in the second episode, after the refuges on the Kotetsujyo refused to allow him aboard, Ikoma threw the switch that lowered the bridge so they could escape. He wanted them all to see, and remember forever, that someone they had cast aside had saved them. Yet, he didn’t want to die there. He wanted to live. He just wanted to live while saving everyone.

Now, he knows that isn’t possible. You can’t save everyone. You have to pick and choose who you save. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but he has learned it, and has chosen to save Mumei, and whoever else he can by stopping Biba. He is willing to die to do it, too.

It’s a wonderful character arc, especially considering how little development Ikoma got for much of the show. Now I see that with both he and Biba, it was so they could get to this moment. Biba is willing to let the whole world die for his ideals, while Ikoma’s ideals drive him to let himself die for the whole world. That’s a strong duality, and it just makes me even more excited for the finale.

It’s gonna be epic as hell. See ya back here next Monday for it!

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