NOTE: Review copy supplied by Manga Entertainment
Title: Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress
Anime Studio: Wit Studio
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Adventure / Post-Apocalyptic / Steampunk
Released: December 10th 2018
Extras: Trailers, Textless OP and ED
The world is in the midst of the industrial revolution when horrific creatures emerge from a mysterious virus, ripping through the flesh of humans to sate their never-ending appetite. The only way to kill these beings, known as ‘Kabane’, is by destroying their steel-coated hearts. However, if bitten by one of these monsters, the victim is doomed to a fate worse than death, as the fallen rise once more to join the ranks of their fellow undead. Only the most fortified of civilizations have survived this turmoil, as is the case with the island of Hinomoto, where mankind has created a massive wall to protect themselves from the endless hordes of Kabane. The only way into these giant fortresses is via heavily-armored trains, which are serviced and built by young men such as Ikoma. Having created a deadly weapon that he believes will easily pierce through the hearts of Kabane, Ikoma eagerly awaits the day when he will be able to fight using his new invention. Little does he know, however, that his chance will come much sooner than he expected.
Originally running from April to June in 2016, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is an original series from Wit Studio, who are perhaps best known for the runaway hit, Attack on Titan. And boy does it show. The animation in the series definitely has a Titan feel to it, and I mean that in a good way. All the smoothness of said series remains intact here, leaving it all feeling pretty good in terms of production values. The comparisons don’t end there either. The general theme of humanity being trapped within their strongholds as they tackle a near unkillable humanoid threat is certainly familiar. And let’s not forget that the opening theme would fit well in said fellow Wit Studio production.
In some ways, it’s the fact that these comparisons are so easy to make that is the biggest stumbling block for the series. While the visuals and general themes should sit well with fans, the show soon trundles off down its own path – which is no bad thing – but doesn’t create quite the same level of storytelling balance. The lead heroes, Ikoma and Mumei, are decent enough. They’re fairly likable, and are easily distinguishable form the rest of the cast, but they don’t quite feel as fully fleshed out as they could be. In much the same way, the general plot points present us with plenty of questions, but few in depth answers. This can probably be put down to the short twelve episode run time meaning that a lot of ground needed to be covered in a relatively short period of time, but even with that explanation, it’s a shame, because the ideas here are really quite interesting.
That’s not to say that the series isn’t enjoyable though. The action is phenomenal at times, with not only the zombie-esque kabane being satisfyingly creepy, but the larger Fused Colony creatures (which wouldn’t look out of place in a more traditional yokai themed piece) creating a real sense of danger. On top of that, even if comparisons can be drawn to other series, the quality of the animation is an absolute joy. In particular, the way the team animate fire is absolutely beautiful.
What we get of the story is decent, and really does go a long way to trying to make the series stand out. The sheer harshness of how things progress at times is also really fitting with the dystopian steampunk setting. And believe me, when I say harsh, I mean harsh. The opening sequences do a great job of conveying the horror of the world that the characters live in, but more harrowing is a later scene where a mother kills herself and her daughter in fear of the kabane. This level of fear also justifies the mistrust between the pure humans and the half-human, half-kabane kabaneri. In truth, had the humans been instantly accepting of the concept, it would have done nothing more than break the illusion of the world feeling fairly realistic.
This then leads into the ‘only the strong survive’ theme that runs through some of the main story arc. This is instigated by the human villain of the piece, Biba. Now, he’s been fairly divisive as a character, but personally, I quite liked him. While his motivations were perhaps a little too simplified, both his suave manipulation of those around him and his willingness to bring about some brutal moments make him a decent villain in my eyes. He’s not perfect, sure, but he does make it easy to root for the heroes, as well as progressing their story a little.
The OST is also worthy of a mention here. On top of a top notch opening theme, the entire series is littered with music that not only fits with the setting but also creates a sense of epicness when appropriate. The only possible exception to this is that one of the insert songs that plays during a battle in episode two felt out of place in tone.
So, what we have here is a series that hits upon some strong themes and provides a plethora of memorable aesthetic touches, but falters due to run time. This being the case, it’s not going to please everyone, especially f they’re hoping for a consistent tale that’s full of fully formed ideas and character progression. While not perfect though, it has a lot more going for it than against it, and remains an entertaining, easy watch throughout. As such, I score it 4 out of 5.