What They Say:
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.
The sound quality has options of 5.1 English Dolby Surround and the Japanese a 2.0 Stereo option. There were no complications of the audio throughout the release and the 5.1 option definitely comes through well with no need to adjust default settings on the audio system I was using. There were no problems with the video synching in with subtitles as definitely acceptable as a DVD release.
Similar with the audio, the video is set in 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio via NTSC transfer to PAL format – with DVD releases nowadays the effect definitely seems more grainier compared to HD but in case it is barely noticeable, in fact how well the anime and the CGI meld together I could have swore this was on a Blu-Ray, making it one of the few releases I barely noticed the CGI as it flowed so well through the show – I only got the DVD portion of the combined set so I expect the Blu-Ray one to be even better – outstanding.
There was no packing for this test release.
The menu on both discs pretty basic – the first disc having images Ikoma and Mumei and the second disc have images of Sahari and Uryuu as the menus have a similar menu selection of Play All, Set Up (audio and subtitles) and Episodes. Both set on a dark background, the menus and images are unremarkable and standard, menu is quick and does its job with no glitches and can quickly return back to the main menu when watching the series, just uninspiring. (Also strange that Biba isn’t on the second one and just his second in command guys…)
There are no extras on the DVD release of Kabaneri.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress/Kotetsujo no Kabaneri is a series I heard of mainly due to the direction was done by Tetsuro Araki, famous for amongst other things, Death Note & Attack on Titan. And indeed, this series was done in between breaks of the first season of AoT and the 2nd one (even causing a bit of a moan with some fans because of that) back in 2016. And no surprise, the two series do get some comparisons and contrasts. Now when I reviewed Attack On Titan ways aback, I did like it but did admit it had some issues and felt it was actually a bit overrated mainly due to the idea of anyone can die premise really didn’t work in the 1st season (the latter two on the other hand…) so with this having a similar premise, I wondered if I’d find it having similar problems.
Turns out, it’s only problem regarding that was its length, which will explain in a second because – dare I say it – it actually does it better than Attack On Titan Season 1 at least despite its short length…don’t throw rocks at me yet guys, let me explain. There are a lot of issues with this series as well and what it wants to be and what it couldn’t be, yet in terms of an arc villain, likeable protagonists, an ongoing story and moral dilemma, it actually hits it better for me as will explain.
With a steampunk/cyberpunk vibe meeting a zombie apocalypse, we visit the country of Hinomoto, where the Iron Fortress in the title is the Kotetsujo, an armoured train who we first see being attacked by the zombie creatures known as the Kabane – who are former humans infected by a virus. Soldiers known as bushi fight them, yet they are very overzealous for the most part and aren’t exactly fully effective. We met our main character, Ikoma, who we see is working on a powerful gun designed to kill the Kabane who can only be killed by stabbing them in a glowing heart cage like area, which can’t be pierced by normal swords or bullets. When we see him stealing Kabane parts for his research, you know a) this will bite him in the butt later and b) become a plot point for said research. So we see a leader of a noble family, where we meet two ladies who also become important to the show, Ayame, a noble lady who is one of the few royals who seems to care about the lesser people, and my favourite character Mumei, a spirited young girl with no cares in the world, but is hiding a lot more as we soon see…
So when a passenger is killed when they suspect he might be suspected he was infected, Ikoma is enraged by the bushi not even thinking and just shooting, and gets detained. Mumei takes an interest in him but when the train is about to leave, Kabane attack which causes Ikoma to be freed and his rushes to get his gun (after getting an assist how to make it more powerful by his friend Takumi who becomes more important throughout the series) – he lures a Kabane to him with his blood and successful kills it…but not before being bitten. Knowing he is moments from transforming into a Kabane, he does a very risky thing including near strangulation to avoid the virus spreading to his head (don’t try this at home kids) and manages to revert to human….but not before we see Mumei kill a Kabane with a kick from her shoe after showing some very impressive agility…
So with the Kabane now needing to get past, Mumei says she can clear the way but Ikoma’s bite mark he is trying to hide, so with Takumi and other people like the engineer Yukina trying to help him and Ayame able to move the train with a master key. However, his Kabane bite is showcased yet Mumei still vouches for him, and despite Ayame’s bodyguard Kurusu wanting to kill him, she reveals that she and him are now both what is called Kabaneri…a human hybrid with a Kabane. This is where the Titan comparisons can come in (albeit not as giant monsters) and the distrust of the others with them (Ikoma was actually thrown off the train at one point but still tries to save others before being dragged back on by Mumei) but Mumei promises to ‘train’ him – here we learn about Ikoma’s past and why he wants to be a ‘hero’ due to his sister’s death at the hands of the Kabane and also the fact Kabaneri have to drink human blood to survive (leading to Ikoma’s having a delirious spell and nearly attacks Ayame) which leads to many of the crew distrusting them and even separating them (which ends badly for them unsurprisingly when they’ve got no-ne to protect them from Kabane) – it ends up with Ayame voluntarily supplying some of her blood to get Ikoma healthy and save them from some Kabane, and with her, Kurusu, and many of their friends like Takuma, Kajika, Yukina, Sukari and the one nice Bushi in Kibito, they are now deemed trustworthy.
We get some distrust between Ikoma and Mumei which leads them to both screwing up during a travel and attack (and learn about a Black Fog which is basically a massive cloud of Kabane) but they learn to trust each other and the human helpers like Kurusu, and even a relaxing episode where to celebrate Tanabata (which leads to a promise between Ikoma and Mumei to return her to being human as we learn her brother gave her that name from her real named Hozumi – that becomes important shortly…)but whilst they are relaxing, a hunter team known as the Kokojou arrives…it’s here we meet the other major character of the show Biba, who is the shogun’s son, a Kabane hunter…and also Mumei’s brother. He is not really her brother but more of a mentor and also has been disowned by the shogun, showing some animosity because the show slowly changes from the monsters being the kabana…to the monsters being humans. Biba shows no sympathy and has a creed for the weak must die and the strong survive, even killing people with a smile. Ikoma is suspicious from moment 1 and even suspects he was the one who infects Mumei. Biba is clearly influencing Mumei, to the point even tried to get the master key off Ayame via her, but his plan does unfold when with a meeting of a local shogun before they meet the top dog, they use Mumei as an innocent girl when only women and children would be brought on…and from watching the show you know she’s the most badass character in it so it doesn’t end well. When Biba kills the lord, Mumei lets the drawbridge down but the plan was in fact to let the Kabane in much to her horror. Biba clearly despises the shogun and his history as he kills all his samurai, creates another Black Fog beast from one of his subordinates to defeat all the Kabane (and then kills her after she has done her job) yet Mumei now realises her brother has lied to her all this time…
Biba uses the passengers blood to feed the Kabane he has captured (to say he’s an unlikeable character by now is an understatement) and convinces Ayame that he will let her people go if she can arrange a meeting with his father (and learns about his hatred further – it doesn’t give him much sympathy though but you do learns his motives) – she agrees but in the meantime Ikoma plans an escape whilst Mumei is captured and about to be used as the final part of Biba’s plan. And it leads to Ikoma escaping but Biba catching him, and even kills his best friend Takumi before releasing Mumei who is under Biba’s control and he stabs Ikoma and he apparently falls to his death…
…fortunately he survives, and with Kurusu also with him he realises Biba is about to turn Mumei into a giant Kabane monster with the plan being Ayame is pretending that she has captured Biba as a way to get a meeting with the Shogun. Biba manages to infect him and then kill him, also creating panic around the people that there are Kabane infectees everywhere, causing even more bloodshed…but Kurusu has captured one of the scientists that helps Biba, and he has two vials…a white one which can cure Mumei or himself…or a black one which can increase his power but make him fully Kabane. Ikoma unsurprisingly takes the black vial for himself (with Kurusu promising to kill him if he cannot answer him as a human). It leads to a final battle with Biba being revealed as a Kabaneri (and perhaps showcasing his only good action as he sneakily gives Ikoma a white needle in his attack), the two battle and Mumei needing to be saved…it ends as the train rides out…wondering what is going to happen in the future…
Let’s get the major issue out of the way first – the series suffers from what I like to call ‘Angel Beats’ syndrome. For those who don’t know what I am referring to, it is basically a really good show that is clearly meant for 24/26 episodes…but for whatever reason (budget, time scheduling) is reduced to 12/13 episodes. Kabaneri is one of those as you can tell they wanted to tell more, get more character interaction (The Tanabata episode showcases a few things about Kurusu and the other engineers for example) and get more history with Biba, Mumei and Ikona’s pasts, but due to the shorter time, they couldn’t do this and it feels MAJORLY rushed. Attack On Titan fortunately has at this present time 3 seasons so therefore can spread it out whilst Kabaneri as of this writing has just this – granted a game and a movie are due out after this review so there may be more to come and more expansion but at the moment, it is clear more is wanting from this story and it just feels very abridged. It is a shame as it is clear from the amazing visuals and music that the producers worked very hard on it and wanted to do more…
The other issue I can see people having is the fact that the story changes from the humans vs. Kabane to a more political story and the battle within is against fellow humans with the Kabane treated as a means to an end. For those who compare it to Titan, it does feel a little like that but without the depth it eventually got. Also, the fact the focus is on Biba, who for me, might be the worst part of the show because his reasons for his violence are a) very extreme and b) very petty and only seems to be doing it for the evil. Granted, it is a metaphor for how humans can be the worst people, but sometimes it feels like it was confusing what he wanted to do himself, and comes across as just very shallow. This in contrast with the two leading protagonists, both well developed and likeable despite the short running time, make his presence very jarring.
Which is an absolute shame as this series on the whole does make the most of what it can. The initial episodes in particular really draw you in with the transformation to Kabaneri, Ikoma whilst seen as someone who just wants to do good and has a very clichéd back-story, is still very likeable and you see that his friends do the same as does Ayame and eventually Kurusu…Ayame whilst taking a backseat is a respectable authority figure (especially with most of the Bushi and other figures, even her father who later turns into a Kabane, not exactly being well liked) and of course Mumei is awesome. A young girl who kicks so much butt, has an attitude but not horrid, learns from mistakes and by the end has a strong connection to Ikoma (which what I like isn’t considered romantic as they could have easily gone in this direction) which leaves the two hopefully relying on each other more if the series does continue.
And I really hope it does. The production values of it were amazing, the music is absolutely fantastic and what did occur with the dilemmas of the people vs. the Kabane was really enthralling. Sadly due to the condensed length and how Biba was portrayed and how it felt like a weak villain I can’t give it much higher than the grade I do, however I did actually enjoy this more than Season 1 of AoT at least and because that now has more seasons, yes, it is currently better but if this gets more seasons…we shall see where my opinion leads.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is an interesting gem of a series which will obviously get comparisons to Attack On Titan, and even some backlash as an inferior series. Personally I wouldn’t go that far, and in terms of the lead male and female would argue in that respect it is a better series. Sadly, the shift in villainy half way through combined with the short length means there was clearly more to be said but couldn’t say more. That said, I definitely will give this another watch and just hope there is more to come as the pains of death (Takami’s death was surprisingly for example), combined with the morals of it and the prejudice the hybrid Kabanari have to face before being accepted, there is a lot of drama and intelligent writing here, just wishes it had been for a longer series. Still recommend though.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: December 10th, 2018
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.