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Rail Wars! Episode #03 Anime Review

8 min read
Rail Wars! Episode 3
Rail Wars! Episode 3

It seems that a friend of Naoto’s is in trouble. Can the team help out?

What They Say:
Episode 3: “You Were Really Cool”

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
So, we have a pair of girls…who like to record the sound of trains. Taking trainspotting to a rather extreme level. One of the girls, Sassho, turns out to be a trainee employee as well and is acquainted with Takayama. She’s not working in railroad security, however. She is training for the Japan Restaurant Enterprise Company. And we see what Naoto’s idea of fun is: he boards one of two trains headed for Tokyo Station in the morning and has them “race.” Sadly for him, the train he was on lost, while Sassho correctly predicted that the other train would win.

At Tokyo Station, we see the team in their usual activity. Sakurai knocks an alleged criminal unconscious. Naoto gets asked by a foreigner (speaking the expected stilted English…they couldn’t find one real American in Tokyo to record three lines of dialogue in a natural English voice?). We’ve seen this same joke played out over and over again…and of course it’s Haruka, the smart one, who comes to the rescue, as she speaks perfectly serviceable English. Still, I will hand it to the producers of this show. The English was stilted (a missing “the”), but at least it was not Engrish. The upshot of Aoi’s crime fighting, however, is that she has to write a formal apology to the man she knocked unconscious. Criminal though he might have been, the unauthorized use of excessive force is something she’s going to have to learn not to do.

The triangle becomes a square?
The triangle becomes a square?

It’s a small world. Sassho happens to be carrying out her on-the-job training at Sakura, the restaurant in the station that Nana introduced Aoi and Haruka to, and where this time Naoto and Sho decide to have lunch as well. We now learn Sassho’s full name, Mari Sassho, and that she goes to Kiryu Railway High School, the same school Naoto attends. It appears that she was greatly impressed by Naoto when he acted out his rail otaku ways in the classroom. Later, when in what could be thought of as a date situation, sitting on a bench eating taiyaki with Sassho, he still can’t help but act like a train engineer, pointing and shouting out things. But the humor is then quickly, but deftly, undercut when Naoto wonders out loud whether he can make it in security.

We saw what you did there.
We saw what you did there.

Just when you think it might get serious, that seriousness gets completely undercut with romantic complications (it’s now looking like Naoto may be the focus point of three girls’ attention) and fanservice slapstick (see picture). But…in yet another deft move, we are suddenly drawn right back into dramatic action as Mari calls Naoto the next day. Her friend Kaori, the girl we saw with Mari during the avant title section, has gone missing. She went out to a station to make recordings (apparently, the duo make ringtones out of train noises) and has not been seen since. So, the team spring into action. They go running out the door to find her right?

No. In yet another nod to realism, something that this show has done very well, the team hit the books, literally pouring over the station activity reports for all of the stops in and around Tokyo for the day before. If Kaori got caught up in some sort of incident, it would be recorded in the daily logs. This is how real police work is done. For comedy contrast, we’re shown Hitomi Goto and the Public Security Mobile Police, who obviously are JNR Security’s equivalent of a flying squad or a special response team, acting like a bunch of macho, gung ho types, making a racket while Naoto and K4 do some real work. Of course, they need a lucky break and they finally get one when the lady in Lost and Found hears Mari’s ringtone on her phone which sounds similar to one that was turned in recently. It turns out to be Kaori’s phone, though unfortunately it was picked up by a small boy somewhere and turned in by the parents, who don’t know where their son found it.

Real detective work starts here
Real detective work starts here

Now begins the detective work. They search the phone for evidence. In the end, the original author, it must be admitted, relies a bit on a cheat. From the last recording Kaori made, which has a male voice threatening her and apparently taking her away, Sassho listens to it very, very carefully, as if she were a trained sonar operator for a submarine and comes up with a clue. Even though this feels a bit like a cheat, the episode did do a competent enough job setting up this scene, as we were shown time and time again that Mari has excellent hearing and a prodigious sound memory.

Kaori was apparently near the seashore (Mari could hear the sound of waves in the background), so the team head out to Umi-Shibaura Station on the JR East Tsurumi Line, the only station which could fit that bill. So, now that they have their starting point, the team begin a thorough search along the line. After book work comes footwork. And it happens that the team finds Kaori being held in a storage building. They manage to get to her just before her kidnappers return. And then we have a fight (but in an obvious move to save on budget, the fight is just still-framed, not animated).

Now, while we might have our doubts about a bunch of high school kids taking on three drug dealers, Sho is on the strong side and Aoi seems quite competent at close quarters combat. So, it’s not terribly surprising that the criminals are apprehended and Kaori is saved. If one doubts too much, then it’s also obvious that Haruka, who helped Mari get Kaori out of harms way, would have immediately contacted her supervisor and reinforcements would have come as quickly as possible. Goto’s squad look like they would like nothing better than to beat up some lowlifes. That would just be a warm-up exercise for them.

While this is all fantasy, with high schoolers acting out the part of real railway security workers, what stops the show from falling over the edge into disbelief are those little touches of realism which are shown. In a normal wish-fulfillment, purely escapist fantasy, the moment the team were given their “rescue the princess” quest from Mari, they would have immediately been shown heading out into the field. Take the deliberately overblown and high action style scene which opened the second episode, the departure of Goto’s squad aboard The Black Star (see? The Super Special Response Team has a Cool Ship…er…Cool Train). That is what mediocre and cliched juvenile action fantasies do: they would give the teenaged protagonists a Cool…er…Vehicle and let them constantly go out in it. Here, in a somewhat more real and grounded world, the high school trainees hit the books, checking incident reports. When that doesn’t work, it’s true, resort is made to something of a cheat, Mari’s super-hearing and the lucky break with the phone turning up in Lost and Found, but as real police officers will tell you, sometimes real crimes are solved in exactly that manner. Some strange convergence of lucky breaks suddenly reveal exactly where a missing person is to be found.

What Rail Wars!…is not about.
What Rail Wars!…is not about.

So, what sets this show apart from many others is its keeping itself grounded in a real world logic for the most part. When it does depart from the probable, it makes sure to lay the groundwork well in advance. Thus, when Mari suddenly puts on headphones to listen to the last recording made on Kaori’s phone, I did not roll my eyes. We, the audience, were already prepared for this to happen, as it was made clear again and again that Mari could listen to a recording made anywhere along a Japanese railway line and get some hints as to the location. That kind of preparation and attention to detail, instead of the lazy pulling out of a deus ex machina which is all too common in many other shows, is another point in this show’s favor.

In the end, what sets apart the good shows from the bad shows for me can be summed up in one word: execution. The good shows, even if they are cliched, trope-laden, and don’t have a single original bone in their entire bodies, are well executed. And a poorly-executed concept, no matter how innovative, how thought-provoking or challenging it may be, is just not going to have the same positive entertainment value or impact. This show executes well and thus why I look forward to it every week.

In Summary:
Takayama is called upon by his classmate Mari Sessho to help find her missing friend. Unfortunately, there are few leads to help them. But that does not stop him as he and the K4 team do their best to solve the mysterious disappearance. This show may not be original in its themes and situations, but it has solid execution and deft handling of the material. Transitions from comedy to action drama seem fairly natural, not jarring. Important plot developments are set up well in advance, so that sudden events or lucky breaks do not feel like the producers are pulling stuff out of nowhere to advance the story. If you want a well-executed police action show with helpings of comedy to break the tension, I highly recommend this show. Just don’t mind the train otaku hanging around it.

Episode Grade: A-

Streamed by: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Apple iMac with 4GB RAM, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard