Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Anime Review

Zombies meets Attack on Titan?!

More and more, whether it is within the medium of Video-Games, T.V. or films, the genre's of horror and or dystopian-sci-fi, have indeed flooded our personal viewing space. Whether you like them or not, for the past 5 to 10 years, it's arguable that we've seen or heard of T.V. series and other artistic interpretations that have latched onto these dystopian/horror genre's that focus on the 'what if?' scenario; a scenario which see's a character or a specific group placed into a setting or time that is in a state of catastrophe that reflects our societies greatest fears and miseries. A well-known example of this, of course, is The Walking Dead which is a series that centres around a group of survivors running/fighting against a mass zombie apocalypse. Naturally, this premise of 'zombie survival' and other dystopian-esque narratives became much more prevalent in anime, more noticeably within Attack On Titan, a Japanese animation which not only contains a context that see's terrifying Francis Bacon-oddly looking giants devouring the populace, but was a series that in turn, blew out of proportion with extensive popularity and recognition. Indeed, Tetsuro Araki, the series director of Attack on Titan, knew how to keep a consistent level of entertainment value that engaged its target audience throughout the span of 25 episodes. While, disappointingly, it doesn't span itself as much as its older anime brother in Attack on Titan, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is an animation that also displays an avid amount of well told character/story development and action sequences which rival Araki's previous workings...

Set within a fictionalised Japanese industrial revolution, with a cyber-punk contextual and artistic style, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a Japanese animation that places the characters of this series in a world that is infested by the Kabane. Once human, Kabane are zombie-esque manifestations that cannot be defeated unless, their glowing hearts, which are protected by a iron layer, are pierced. On the island country, Hinomoto, people have built fortress-like stations to shelter themselves from the Kabane. On one fatal day, an armoured locomotive, hijacked by the Kabane, crashes into the Aragane station in which outbreak ensues, with many Kabane over-running the station causing many to panic and quiver in fear and shock. With an opportunity that can't go wasting, Ikoma, an engineer of the Kotetsujo train, tests his new anti-Kabane weapon, the Tsuranukizutsu (Piercing gun) but is infected in fending off the wild Kabane. In managing to resist the Kabane virus spreading through his body, Ikoma becomes a Kabaneri, a human-Kabane hybrid species. Assisted by the young Mumei, another Kabaneri who helps them, Ikoma and the rest of the survivors of the station board the Kotetsujo, departing to seek shelter elsewhere, fighting hordes of Kabane along the way and discovering more of the mystery of the Kabaneri...

Now, being that Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress was made by the same studio, Wit Studio, directed by the same person in Tetsuro Araki, has the same art director in the form of Shunichiro Yoshihara and has the same musical composer of Hiroyuki Sawano who all contributed to the worthwhile success of the first animated season of Attack On Titan, it is inevitable that  you will see some striking resemblances between the two. It would be abusive and nit-picky, if I was to address every-single comparison that Kabaneri has with Attack On Titan. However, it is worthy to note as these affinities, and slight differences, can sometimes look rather good and complementary, and other times poor, predictable and unnecessary. The two series both share similar premises, with societies and utopias that are walled off from the outside, and characters that have shared ideologies/attributes, with the main lead in both series wanting revenge against the villains of the piece as well as adapting to new and weird supernatural gifts, and the female leads becoming the 'femme fatale' and defeating their enemies fairly easily expressing hardly any emotion whatsoever. You could even argue the fact that Kabaneri shares similar contexts with Araki's previous workings of the Japanese animation Guilty Crown; in terms of how the main male leads progress through their own journey, seamlessly hitting a hard emotional and physical knock-down near the end, but powering on through with their special abilities. Certainly, it is arguable and plausible looking at how Kabaneri is set up and advances through its story and how the characters develop, that you have indeed watched similar programmes and animated shows like this before and becomes pretty obvious as to what is going to happen next, this is for sure, one of the problems that Kabaneri upholds. Even still, there are indeed differences that this show subtly shows. One of these differences would the characters models and designs. Yes, the animation and the rather dark and cantaloupe colouring of the foreground and background evokes a lot of the animation work that was done in Attack On Titan. But, what is slightly different with Kabaneri, is how it looks completely washed-out; almost as if it was a oil painting showing off its style in an abstracts manner. The characters look distinctively different, with the iris' of their eyes being different from any other animation I've seen. 

Among its most attractive features, in showing off visually appealing animation and action set-pieces that fit well with this steampunk-styled Feudal Japan, is a rather flowing and flashy story that demonstrates well this idea and dystopian motif of 'man's imperfections' so well, which few narrative settings are better at exposing than the zombie-dystopian genre. In Kabaneri's case, it is the destructive power of fear and characters differing attempts to master this emotion which is the cause of conflict within this series. What Araki does so well, is that he presents to us not only an animation that only has mindless and epic drawn-out action tid-bits that is commonly seen in this sought of apocalyptic tale, but a series which correctly displays the more frequent sci-fi themes in a very political and accessible means. A mainstay of the sub-genre that Kabaneri embodies, is that the true enemy isn't the mindless beasts that are driven by the consume of the flesh of the living, but the survivors and the other leaders that come into the fray. Kabaneri exploits this story-feature in a much political fashion; with every authority figure, that our main characters meet upon, abuse their power for their own guarded and selfish reasons. What is good to see, with a premise such as this one, is how Kabaneri adds on to this with the arrival of Biba (pronounced funnily like that one singer we all know of!) who seeks to instigate a chain reaction which will plunge what's left of the civilised world into anarchy, using fear to accomplish this. In terms of what's going on in this day and age, Kabaneri is an implacable political that rightly shows off the mentality of survival and how each group has their own ideology. While the goal of Kotetsujo, Ikoma, Mumei, Kurusu and Ayame is to travel to survive and potentially defeat the Kabane so they can live 'normal' lives, Biba and his military factions goal is to overthrow the 'established' order and seek control for themselves. What we have in return then, is this infliction of philosophies; with both Ikoma and Biba sharing a desire to rise above the storm, but independently have their own way of doing things, which was interesting to watch and is something that Attack On Titan lacked ever so slightly. The only concern that didn't really fit in well with Kabaneri's political grittiness, is the overexposure of the supernatural elements that we see. On a few occasions within the story, there are times when we do see giant Kabane figures that are made of little Kabane spawns and was something that I thought didn't fit into what Kabaneri was offering. Without spoiling much of the story, the end definitely feels overblown and being that Kabaneri has aesthetic and contextual elements that look familiar to previous Japanese animations, you do wonder if there could have been a conclusion that suited the grit that this offered right from the get-go.

Despite the stale taste the ending left for myself, it does have to be said that the soundtrack, composed by Hiroyuki Sawano, fits perfectly to the mood of Araki's Kabaneri series. Like with other great anime in the forms of Cowboy Bebop and Clannad, Araki diligently places Sawano's composed musical pieces in the right scenarios; making you engaged with the scenario that the characters are placed in. A perfect example of when the music adds an emotional depth to the story, is within the first few episodes; when we either see Ikoma overcome the Kabane virus, which ensues dramatic musical score, or when we see Mumei fending off against the Kabane in the most bad-ass way possible, in which up-beat and engaging non-diegetic music starts to play. The music within Kabaneri is a good example of just how important sound can be and what different purposes it can set up throughout the duration of an episode. Much credit, as well, has to go to the other music that was implemented in the opening and closing credits; with the J-pop group Egoist providing us with a racey yet catchy opening and a whimsical and beautifully tender ending credit score.

To conclude everything that has been said, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is, most definitely, a companion piece to its older brother of Attack On Titan. While it can't be understated that Tetsuro Araki implemented rather intersting ideas to Kabaneri, with intersting contextual dystopian story-motifs, animation which is still vivid and abstract and music that complements the events that we see on the drawn screen, it has to be said that there are many similarities to Araki's previous workings which makes the story outcome rather predictable. With overblown supernatural elements unnecessarily added into this gritty concept, Kabaneri, overall, is a fun watch that could have done so much more. It will be intersting indeed, to see what comes of this series. For myself, I hope we do see more of Kabaneri's world in the near future...

And on that note, it's time to end. As always everyone, thank you for reading my latest anime review and I hope you enjoyed the read! This is in fact my first anime review I've done in a long while, and I hope to do more for you all! If anyone has an opinion on the Kabaneri or on the review itself, please feel free to drop a comment down below in the comments section. As for next week, I'm unsure yet of what I what to review for you all. It could very well be a review on the latest Nicholas Winding Refn film Neon Demon. I'm still unsure to be honest with you all. Anywho, thanks again for everyone who shows up to read my reviews and if I'm not back next week, I will definitely be back the week after that. Until then, have a nice day! Adieu!! :)

8/10 - Alex Rabbitte

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