Koutetsujou No Kabaneri Episode 12 Recap: “Iron Fortress”

And so, we come to the end of this rather thrilling, occasionally bumpy, train ride through the apocalypse. If nothing else, it is plenty obvious Studio Wit aimed very high with Koutetsujou.

Whether they aimed too high or not, I leave to other reviewers and commentators. I’m not really much of a critic, so much as I am a watcher who occasionally has an opinion from the viewpoint of a writer. I concern myself more with themes, subtext, characterization, and general plot movement than I do with whether or not something is “good” or “bad”.

Granted, I got plenty harsh on The Shannara Chronicles a while back. Some may even say I got overly critical of it. That’s fair, and I won’t argue it. The difference between The Shannara Chronicles and Koutetsujou No Kabaneri, however, lies in the fact that one broke its own world building so badly it was impossible to ignore, while the other didn’t.

Because, say what you will about Koutetsujou, it never did enough significant world building to really break it. What world building it did do was limited solely to what they needed of the plot, and it’s really hard to break that. Shannara, on the other hand, supposedly set thousands of years after a global nuclear war, somehow had surviving film reels of Star Trek for Amish goth ravers to dance to.

This isn’t to say Koutetsujou was perfect, because it absolutely wasn’t. It had plenty of flaws, just not totally story breaking ones. I’ll get into all that next week with my series recap, though. No sense bogging down this post talking about the series as a whole, when the episode itself has plenty to talk about.

One final thing I do want to mention, as it does seem important. The anime shows I blog about are shows that I enjoy personally, for my own personal reasons. I am not, and will never claim to be, a professional reviewer. I enjoy anime, and I enjoy talking about anime. That pretty much sums up what I’m doing here, how I choose the shows I recap, and why.

So, please, don’t take my opinion as some kind of professional thing. I’m just a guy, watching, and talking about what I watched.

So, that said, on to the final episode of Koutetsujou No Kabaneri, or as I like to call it, Snowpiercing The Walking Dead.

Right away, we see that Kongokaku has seen better days. The once glorious city burns as its citizens are annihilated by the Kabane left and right. Basically, it’s become Detroit. Which is always a sad thing to see happen to a city. I’m not sure even a Robocop can save them now.

12-01

As the city burns, Biba sits in the throne room of his father, reflecting on the many failings of the human race. Cowardice breeds fear. Fear makes humans lash out at things they don’t understand. Which breeds war, and many other social ills. It’s the internal monologue of a person who has given up on humanity, and, seeing no other way, decided to simply burn everything to the ground and be done with it.

As he thinks on these things, we see a group of civilians threatening the still imprisoned Kotetsujyo crew, as well as a Kongokaku train firing on the fused colony form of Mumei, trying to stop her, but only succeeding in spreading more Kabane through the city. These things almost seem to back up Biba’s thoughts, and in a lot of ways, he isn’t really wrong.

Humans do lash out at what they don’t understand, and allow fear to drive them to acts they would otherwise consider unthinkable. Just look at the Brexit vote in the UK, and the surge in racism, or right here in the U.S., and the success of the Trump Presidential candidacy, one based solely on fear, mistrust, and racism.

So, in many ways, I do get what Biba is thinking about, and what drives him to the acts he commits. Just burn it all down and let those strong enough to survive start anew. If there isn’t anyone to start over with, then that’s even better, as we keep repeating the same cycles over and over, never seeming to learn anything.

Enough about Biba for now, though. Let’s catch up with Ikoma and Kurusu as they join the battle.

In the main rail yard of Kongokaku, a large number of Busi are doing the best to hold back the seemingly endless numbers of Kabane flooding in. They are obviously doomed to failure, too, until Ikoma and Kurusu arrive. The Kabane, sensing a bigger threat, ignore the Bushi to attack Ikoma. In typical stylish fashion for Koutetsujou, they two alone take out all the Kabane.

Afterwards, however, Ikoma is having trouble getting his vision to focus, as the Kabaneri virus, enhanced by the black blood goop, is burning through his life very quickly. Also, for some reason, he doesn’t look half as badass as he did at the end of last week’s episode. Must be budget restrictions.

Kurusu asks him if he’s okay, and when he doesn’t answer right away, he grips his sword and asks him what he is. Ikoma answers that he’s a Kabaneri, and Kurusu relaxes before promising if Ikoma goes full Kabane and looses his humanity, he will kill him. It’s about as close as Kurusu can come to calling him a friend, really, and in many ways, it’s way more significant than that. As a Bushi, Kurusu is basically recognizing Ikoma as a peer.

Leaving the Bushi to protect the rail yard, Ikoma and Kurusu head out after Mumei, who is still rampaging about. We get a brief recap of what we learned last week. The white blood can counter act the black blood, returning Mumei to her normal Kabaneri state. If they wait too long, though, she’ll end up like Horobi, and there will be no saving her.

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Elsewhere, the Kotetsujyo gang is facing an angry mob, while locked in prison cells. The mob thinks the Kotetsujyo brought the Kabane virus into the city, and wants to burn them alive. Trapped, there’s not much they can do about it. Which is why Ayame comes to the rescue.

Yes, Ayame. I know right? So freaking awesome. The lady gets to save the people. I will always give Koutetsujou props for its awesome female characters.

She confronts the mob, flanked by a Bushi and her Uncle, and tells them the Kotetsujyo had no hand in what’s happening. They don’t believe her, because they are panicked and afraid. One of the mob points a rifle at Ayame and claims that she should be defending order. When her Uncle and the Bushi go to draw their swords, she waves them down.

Order should protect the people, she declares. She accuses the mob of pointing their guns at the wrong people, then steps right the fuck up to the mob guys rifle and tells him, with total authority and complete conviction, that what must be eliminated are their doubting minds and hearts.

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Mob guy slowly backs down, unable to meet the intensity of her stare, and do not ever fucking tell me Ayame had no story arc or character development. She does, and right there you see the end result of it. Gone is the uncertain young Princess, replaced by a leader.

As the mob guy lowers his gun, you can see it on his face as he realizes what he was about to do. Burn innocent people alive, out of fear. Slowly, the rest of the mob realizes it, too, and back down, shocked at their own actions. With the situation defused, Ayame tells them that they are going to escape Kongokaku, and all of them are welcome to come with her and her people aboard the Kotetsujyo.

Like I said. A leader.

Outside, the Kongokaku forces continue to fail at stopping Mumei, who is lost somewhere in a dream like state. There, she flees a swarm of red butterflies as she hears the accusations made against her by others. How many she’s killed. How many she’s let die. How undeserving of life she herself is. Terrified, she tries to run, but can’t.

Something about this scene I like is the way it internalizes both the virus running through her body, and all the Kabane she has fused with with the red butterfly visual. It’s a neat way of showing that she is still fighting to maintain her humanity, even as she struggles against her own doubt that she has any, with the accusations of her own memory. It’s really cool.

Across the way from her, Sahari, whose name I did end up remembering, reports to Biba via radio that Mumei is likely to reach the palace in about thirty minutes. Biba tells him they will all meet on platform thirteen to evacuate, before wondering to himself what he’ll destroy next.

Before he can give it much thought, Sahari sees a familiar figure running towards the palace and quickly reports it to Biba, who also soon spots Ikoma hauling ass across town. His expression kind of says it all.

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Ikoma carves his way through Biba’s soldiers with almost savage fury, and when it becomes obvious that he can’t be stopped that way, Sahari orders snipers to look for a head shot that will end him. He gets another surprise when Kurusu shows up and takes out the snipers, leaving him few options to deal with Ikoma.

He does settle on one, however, and it’s a pretty good plan. The soldiers manage to lure Ikoma onto the tracks, where Sahari tries to run him over with Biba’s train. Odds are, this would have worked, but Ikoma is in no mood for getting Snowpierced.

After throwing off two guys who were trying to keep him from escaping, he unleashes the same highly destructive energy blast we saw Horobi use, flipping Biba’s train completely off the tracks, and blowing it to smithereens.

12-05

This leaves him severely weakened however, and his vision nearly slips away from him again as Kurusu joins him. Ikoma manages to wrest control of himself away from the virus once again, just in time for Sahari to come walking out of the smoke, and attack him.

Ikoma manages to hold back his attack, and quickly disarms him, planting his gun arm right to Sahari’s chest. He tells him that he’s killed too many, and blows him almost in half. It’s a big deal, really, as we see that Ikoma really has accepted that you can’t save everyone, especially those who don’t wish to be saved. Even more, he has accepted that sometimes, he must take a life, to save many, many more lives.

This was a hard lesson for him to learn, but he has, and in so doing, has become a much more well rounded character, for which I’m glad.

From the palace, Biba has been watching all this, and is impressed Ikoma is still standing. Spider Stabber and a guy in white approach him, with the white clad guy telling Biba that the Kabane have spread far faster than they expected. He gives Biba a vial of the white blood, just in case something bad happens to him, and to his credit, Biba takes it.

Spider Stabber asks if he is to kill Ikoma next, looking very unhappy about the prospect. He is surprised when Biba tells him no, that instead, he should gather as many of their people as possible and escape the city. Spider Stabber asks if he’s coming to, and Biba says no as he removes a collar from around his neck. A dying man awaits him.

Ikoma and Kurusu get separated when a piece of debris destroys the elevated rail line they are using to reach Mumei. Ikoma is on the side that will let him reach her, while Kurusu is trapped on the other, with a hoard of Kabane approaching. For a moment, Ikoma is torn, but Kurusu assures him that he will be fine, and that he needs to go either stop, or save, Mumei. To his credit, Ikoma accepts this, and heads on alone.

Mumei, meanwhile, is losing her battle with the virus.

12-06

Giving in to her grief and despair, Mumei is nearly gone as Ikoma races towards her, screaming her name. Lost in the fused colony, she first senses him, then sees him coming towards her as a blue butterfly. She shakes off the red wings she’s grown and reaches out for him, only to have the swarm of red butterflies envelope her. From the outside, Ikoma watches as the fused colony collapses and stops moving. Mumei is trapped between her hope and her despair, stopping the monster she has become.

Ikoma approaches, trying to tell her he is going to save her, but is stopped short as Biba arrives to block his way. In a single moment, Ikoma accepts that to save Mumei, he must kill Biba first.

Before he can, though, he has another bout of weakness, and appears to go blind in one eye. Instead of taking advantage of this, Biba stalks him, telling him he has long waited for a soul that knew no fear, so he could hunt it. This just pisses Ikoma off, and he comes at Biba with a fury.

The two duel a bit, with Biba asking what was so important that Ikoma would take the black blood. Ikoma tells him it was for no reason other than to save Mumei. Biba responds to that by stabbing Ikoma through the shoulder, which is typically a fight winning comeback.

Mumei, still surrounded by the red butterflies, can only watch, still seeing Ikoma as a blue butterfly, also surrounded, and losing the battle. Weak though she is, she tries to reach out to him.

Ikoma is actually doing pretty okay, though. With the black blood enhanced Kabane virus slowly taking him over, he gives in a little, finds more strength, and flexes so fucking hard he shatters Biba’s Kabane heart iron enhanced sword, much to Biba’s shock.

12-07

The two fall into fist fighting, and Biba tries to dislocate Ikoma’s good arm, which just makes Ikoma even angrier. He repels Biba with another energy blast, and starts coming at him, nearly gone to the virus. Biba can only watch in complete terror as the now nearly monstrous form of Ikoma descends on him.

Then, Ikoma’s vision goes completely, leaving him totally blind. Shocked back to himself by this, he flails about trying to find Biba, who has quietly moved over to grab what’s left of his sword, gotten behind Ikoma, and is preparing to stab him through the heart.

Mumei continues to struggle to reach Ikoma, but fails to move her fused colony body. All she can do is open her hand and drop the stone Ikoma use to keep tied to his right hand. The one Takumi gathered up with his dying breath, and Mumei took. It hits a pool of water, and Ikoma hears that well enough to turn, planting his gun against Biba’s chest.

For his part, Biba seems honestly relieved, even proud, as he acknowledges that Ikoma has found a coward. Then, Ikoma blows his arm off, and we learn the real way Biba survived all these years.

12-08

Yup. He’s a Kabaneri. Which actually explains a whole lot.

Still blind, Ikoma struggles towards Mumei, climbs inside her fused colony body, and gives her the white blood. From her perspective, she reaches out through the swarm of red butterflies to let the single blue one land on her finger. As it does, the entire swarm turns blue. With that, the fused colony begins to dissolve, collapsing into goo and bits of a bone like substance, as Ikoma cradles her close to him.

She wakes a few minutes later, as the sun rises, to find Ikoma has placed the green stone back in her hand. Looking around, she spots him lying motionless a few feet away, as a tattered Biba stalks towards him. Biba takes a pot shot at Ikoma as he slowly grows angry that Ikoma appears to be dead. He shouts that he is still standing and demands Ikoma rise and fight.

Before he can strike at Ikoma again, Mumei grabs one of the bone like left overs of the fused colony and stabs him through the heart. Biba is shocked for a moment, but Mumei explains that, even though they are weak, they will live, and thrive. They will grow rice paddies, and feed everyone, and survive against all the odds.

12-09

Hearing all this, as well as her apology for killing him, Biba seems somewhat at peace, and calls her Mumei once more. She corrects him, saying her name is Hozomi, and holds him as he dies.

Over at the Kotetsujyo, refugees are being loaded as Ayame and her council try to decide not only where to go, but how to get out of Kongokaku. All the destruction has likely damaged many of the lines, but they figure Biba left himself an escape route somewhere, so they just need to find it.

As they discuss this, Spider Stabber arrives, leading a whole mess of wounded soldiers from Biba’s army. He offers to tell them, if they accept he and his men onto the Kotetsujyo. The council roundly refuses, and the sister of the boy he ordered killed a few episodes back straight up slaps him the face. To his credit, he takes it, and even seems to understand that he did deserve it.

Regardless, Ayame accepts their offer, as they are clearly desperate as well, since they aren’t using force to try and get their way. Spider Stabber appreciates that his peaceful gesture and request for aid has been recognized as genuine, so he tells Ayame that both Ikoma and Kurusu are in the city, which surprises her to no end.

Back near the palace, Kurusu catches up, because of course a whole hoard of Kabane wasn’t going to stop him, and finds Mumei back to herself, but Ikoma apparently dead. Kurusu’s reaction to this reveals just how much he’s grown to care about Ikoma, really. Mumei begs Ikoma to wake up, but Kurusu realizes that the black blood has taken its toll, and that Ikoma is gone.

Before he can say anything, though, Kajika’s voice comes over the city speaker system, calling out to them, and telling them to meet up with the Kotetsujyo at platform thirteen. Sukari had to risk his life to get that message out, by the way, which he grumbles about even as he does it. Kajika finishes the message by telling Mumei that they are all waiting for her, which brings her an indescribable amount of joy. Kurusu gathers Ikoma and they head out, Mumei giving one last look back at Biba, who she has covered with his cape out of respect.

Ayame uses the master key to get the Kotetsujyo fired up, and they pull out as the end credits begin to roll. We aren’t done, though, and the story continues, as the best kind do, even as the credits go on.

With Mumei leading the way, clearing Kabane with her trademark ease, she and Kurusu head across the city. On the Kotetsujyo, Kajika leads the other ladies in sewing a giant cloth net for reasons we’ll see in a moment. Soon, a lookout on the Kotetsujyo spots Mumei and Kurusu as they ride a small cart along the rail line, trying to catch up. They are separated by a bit of distance and higher elevation from the Kotetsujyo, though.

Which is what the giant cloth net was for. So they could jump and get caught. When they lift it up, Mumei sees the whole Kotetsujyo crew is helping, and with tears in her eyes, tells Ikoma they are home before throwing him across. Her perfect aim lands his body in the net, and she follows a moment later, easily making the landing, and getting a huge hug from Kajika.

12-10

Kurusu goes last, landing easily, but almost falling. Ayame grabs his hand to steady him, and welcomes him home. With his usual dignity, and a bright red blush, Kurusu thanks her.

With everyone back on board, Ayame gives the order to haul ass. Yukina drops her jacket, writes badass on her resume as her previous job, and drops the god damn hammer, outrunning the collapsing rail line and shooting out of Kongokaku as the entire city is engulfed in flames behind them.

Safely away, the crew finally has a chance to deal with Ikoma. Mumei begs him to wake up, even reminding him that he promised to make her human again. Slowly, the crew realizes he isn’t going to wake up. Mumei begins to as she grows panicked and grief stricken, shaking him, crying, and begging him to wake up.

Which he suddenly does, as the effects of the black blood slowly begin to fade. Mumei quickly sorts out that at some point in their fight, Biba must have injected Ikoma with the white blood. Most likely in an attempt to counter act the incredible strength it gave him, which is the only reason I can find. The show itself doesn’t answer the question, which isn’t a surprise, as there are a lot of things the show hasn’t addressed.

Regardless, with everyone safe and sound, they gather on the viewing deck of the Kotetsujyo, where Mumei returns the green stone to Ikoma, telling him forget it. With that, the Kotetsujyo steams it’s way into the future.

12-11

There’s a lot to unpack with this show, really. Too much to really get into here, so I’ll save most of it for my series recap next week. The big thing, though, does come down to why Biba would give Ikoma the white blood.

As I said above, the only reason I can think of was to rob him of the effects of the black blood, giving Biba a decided advantage in their fight. Others may say it was to save him, but I never got the impression Biba was really interested in doing such a thing, what with taking pot shots at Ikoma and getting ready to stab him through the heart, from behind, twice. So, really, to give himself the upper hand and prevent Ikoma from stopping the fused colony form of Mumei is all that makes sense.

As for why it took so long to take effect, odds are is was because of how much Ikoma had let himself go to the virus during his fight to reach Mumei. Or just because it was more dramatic that way. Either one works, really.

The big thing, of course, is that the show managed to pull a total win for the good guys, when one didn’t seem possible after last weeks episode. More over, they didn’t have to really break the story, at least not in a completely impossible to ignore way, in order to pull it off. It was a bit dues ex, sure, but not completely unbelievable.

After all, Biba was the one who created the white blood, more or less, so that he would have more on his train isn’t that hard to accept. Once we learn he’s also a Kabaneri, it makes complete sense his scientists would bring it to him as the situation in Kongokaku got worse than they expected, faster than they expected. That Biba would then use it on a black blood fueled Ikoma in order to tip the battle his way is also pretty reasonable.

So, not story breaking, if somewhat convenient for Ikoma.

The big surprise of the episode was, of course, Biba being a Kabaneri all along. His motives are a good deal clearer in that light, as he really personally has nothing to fear from the Kabane, besides being annoyed by their attempts to kill him. It is not unreasonable that he would even see himself as above humans, and that from his new, nearly immortal viewpoint, they really didn’t deserve to live after making such a grand mess of the world.

Of course, there’s a whole lot of things the show leaves vague, plot points it drops, secrets it hints at, then never develops, and character arcs that fall apart on even the most cursory of examination. I’ll get into all that next week, though, with my Koutetsujou No Kabaneri series recap.

See ya then!

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