Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
In a parallel-world Japan called Hinomoto, hordes of ravenous zombies called Kabane have reduced humanity to perilous footholds in walled "Stations", and transportation is limited to armored trains that move between them. A young mechanic named Ikoma, bitten by a Kabane, escapes full transformation into one of them (basically by strangling himself), but nevertheless remains the object of deep suspicion, and some open hostility, from normal humans- though he does get a supporter, of sorts, in the form of a Kabane-slayer named Mumei.
The great thing about parallel-world building is that you can do a mashup of shoguns, steampunk, and The Living Dead, though making it all work might be a little tricky; but this show makes it work extremely well, largely thanks to gorgeous landscape art, well-executed 3DCG, and, most of all, some well-developed, very sympathetic characters.
Our male lead, Ikoma, finds that he really isn't unique- there are others like him, individuals that are part human and part Kabane; they're called the Kabaneri. But ordinary humans are, quite understandably, scared to death of the Kabane- to the extent that people are always being examined for bite marks, and anybody known to have been bitten is "encouraged" (as in, at gunpoint) to commit suicide. The fact that an individual has somehow been able to halt the transformation partway does nothing to guarantee trust. In fact, we'll see that peoples' suspicions of the Kabaneri are not without foundation; Ikoma nearly succumbs to the flesh-eating zombie inside him on several occasions, worst of all when among people that are trying to be trusting and supportive.
Of course there are also advantages to having a Kabane body- for the Kabane are fast, strong, and unusually bullet-resistant. (Aside from the trains, another steampunky theme here is that the force of all projectile weapons is augmented with, well, actual steam- even that of bows-and-arrows.) Our other leading Kabaneri character seems to have their Kabane side under control better (though they came to this condition in the first place by a different route than Ikoma.) But both our Kabaneris now require human blood for sustenance, which obviously presents its own problems.
Our other "good" Kabaneri is that Kabane-slayer, Mumei. When we first meet her, she's in traditional Japanese dress, and performs the interesting feat of beheading a Kabane with the heel of her sandal. But in a later scene, when she's in full Wonder Woman- style battle regalia, I was afraid they were just going to make her another insufferable, cocky, hotshot fighter, and, considering her initial treatment of Ikoma, one of the more violent sort of tsunderes as well; but she does grow closer to Ikoma over the course of the series. (And MUCH closer in the OVA.) It seemed to me that she started deliberately biting off more than even SHE could chew, simply on the expectation that Ikoma would bail her out of trouble if things got too overwhelming. She's a one-woman army, but when one is up against hundreds of opponents- AND if one tends to suddenly collapse with fatigue after prolonged fighting, which she does- then one might certainly need some trusty backup. So she DOES have some physical limitations, but her greatest vulnerability may lie in misplaced trust of another.
We've also got a more-than-usually interesting supporting cast. There's a princess named Ayame Yomokawa; Ikoma initially dismisses her as useless spoiled royalty, but she proves herself a surprisingly strong and capable leader. I certainly didn't care much for her right-hand man, named Kurusu; he might be a capable swordsman, but he took a long time to trust Ikoma and, much worse, he's a particularly swinish male chauvinist; late in the OVA he offers "advice" to Ayame along the lines of (direct quote here): "Don't speak up in council. They won't take you seriously." To all of which Ayame says "Hai!", but I'm pretty sure there's a twinkle in her eyes while she's "agreeing" with him. We also have a young woman named Kajika, who has the "compassion" stuff covered- she babysits the children, and does her part to bring a potential couple together; but despite this sweet demeanor, she's a demon at haggling. And we have Yukina, who's driving the train, and who, when she doffs her jacket, provides some fanservice for fans of female bodybuilders. (The "Iron Fortress" in the show's title refers to this armored train, which our heroes are riding through both the series and OVA. It's named the Kotetsujyo.)
The OVA, The Battle of Unato, carries on the story six months later, with our heroes trying to help locals reclaim that title city. (Somehow efforts to "reclaim" territory in these sorts of shows always end up with said territory in smoking ruins, but that's war I guess.) Ikoma smells a rat in all this, but nobody trusts him for the usual reason of having that Kabane half, and even his strongest backers abandon him- Ayame, for his lack of diplomacy; and Mumei, because of another tiff between them.
Production values on the OVA seem less lavish than the series, at least on the character art and some of the 3DCG, though the backgrounds remain beautiful. But the OVA's got a rousing closer that's getting added to my list of all-time favorite anime endings.
I'm getting near the end, so time for the usual Random Remarks:
-The opening animation (both series and OVA) seems a bit imitative of Attack on Titan’s
-I've never quite gotten one thing about zombies- at least since zombies have been depicted as the result of some infectious agent, rather than the product of voodoo, as they were back in the day: OK, a bite turns you into a zombie. I would therefore assume that zombie bodily fluids are infectious. Given that, wouldn't just getting spattered with zombie blood lead to infection? This certainly is true for real pathogens that are present in blood, from hepatitis to Ebola- if infected blood gets in your mouth, or eyes, or a skin abrasion, you've got an excellent chance of getting the disease. Mind, this doesn't apply to the Kabaneri here, since they're ALREADY infected, but plenty of ordinary humans get positively drenched with zombie blood in this show without turning Kabane.
-I thought the Kurokeburi ("Black Cloud") things were mainly composed of Kabane aggregates, but the last one we see doesn't seem to be. I'm probably the only person who worries about the composition of monsters.
This is now one of my favorite shonen shows. It's well-paced, has some endearing characters, and the battles are mostly free of the posturing nonsense of other shonen series, if for no other reason than that bragging about your fighting prowess does not impress nearly-mindless zombies AT ALL. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Some mild fanservice (mostly during the "inspections" for wounds people are made to endure, which somehow reminded my of Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters.) But the violence is fairly extreme. Rightstuf rates the DVD 17+.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime (series) and Netflix (Battle of Unato)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress © 2016 WIT Studio
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