RogerBW's Blog

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri 17 March 2017

2016 steampunk action, 12 episodes, anime original: AniDB, vt "Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress". With the shogunate ravaged by zombies (kabane), civilisation survives in great walled "stations" and the armoured steam "fortresses" that travel between them.

The story is about Ikoma, an inventor who's come up with a new way to kill kabane: a armour-piercing steam-carbine powerful enough to penetrate a kabane's heart-cage, which would allow mere peasants to join the fight, rather than relying on warriors to protect them with swords; and it's about Mumei, a young girl he meets who seems to be supernally good at fighting kabane. Unfortunately for him, he's going to find out why: she is a kabaneri, an infected human who retains her own mind, and he's going to be one too.

In many respects this is more the story of Mumei than of Ikoma, who follows a bog-standard heroic arc of trying harder and getting better: Mumei, not Ikoma, has to make the really hard decisions, and face betrayal by those she trusts. But as well as that story, it's an action series with brutal fights involving hordes of glowing-hearted zombies, crowds of humans, massive fortresses, and – what clearly got more of the artists' attention than anything else – lovingly-rendered iron-girdered trackwork, and steam trains armed and powered as only a steam train can be armed and powered.

Steam trains that have to take on water, but never need fuel. Running on tracks that don't need maintenance. And people somehow get enough to eat, even though the countryside and rice paddies are long since lost. Hmm. Yeah, worldbuilding wasn't really a priority here.

(I choose to think that these engines are Lyle Borst-style nuclear boilers, with HEU dissolved in sulphuric acid, partly because of the elaborate startup sequence shown in episode 2, but mostly because this is already a crapsack world and if everyone died of cancer a few years down the line that would just put the cap on it.)

Yes, all right, Ikoma is a bit of a wimp at times, Mumei has to be kicked into thinking for herself, and the villain is a madman. The narrative tone shifts from survival action, via cheesy overdone action, into revenge thriller where One Woman Will Make The Difference. But the trains really are gorgeous, and the action does help carry one over the rough spots in the story. Look, one of the characters wields a steam-powered bow, OK?

A sequel series is expected in 2018.

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