Director – Hiroyuki Tanaka, Hironori Aoyagi, Hitomi Ezoe, Tetsuaki Watanabe, Yasuhiro Akamatsu, Tetsurô Araki, Kunihiro Mori, Takayuki Hirao, Nobuyoshi Nagayama, Noriyoshi Sasaki, Fumihiro Ueno
Cast – Tasuku Hatanaka, Sayaka Senbongi, Maaya Uchida, Yuki Kaji, Toshiki Masuda, Mariya Ise, Kensuke Satou, Kanae Oki, Ryôta Ôsaka, Mamoru Miyano
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I came across this anime series while searching Amazon Prime Video and was immediately down to give it a go. Why? Well I was in the mood for a horror anime, and this one not only has a steam punk theme but also comes from the creators of Attack on Titan. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a tremendous anime heavy in action, violence, and an addicting character arc for the lead. Those wanting an anime experience of the horror variety should give this a look.
It is the industrial revolution and an unknown virus that turns humans into Kabane (corpses) is sweeping Japan. These are not your ordinary living dead though, as they must be killed by either piercing their glowing hearts, which are protected by a layer of steel, or decapitation. The survivors on the island of Hinomoto have built large fortresses, referred to as stations, where they can live free from the Kabane. They travel from fortress to fortress on fortified steam locomotives called hayajiros. When a hayajiro hijacked by the Kabane breaks through his station, a young engineer named Ikoma watches helplessly as those around him are slaughtered. Eager to test a piercing gun he has created to kill the Kabane, he succeeds but ultimately finds himself infected. Thanks to his engineering background he is able to resist the virus, becoming a Kabaneri – a Kabane/human hybrid. What seems like a curse becomes a blessing when Ikoma learns to harness his newly acquired powers, using them to save his country from enemies both living and dead.
If there is one thing I love about anime it’s that they have the raddest ideas. This 12 episode series contains numerous elements I enjoy seeing. To make matters even cooler, I am seeing these elements used in the horror realm. To start, the reliance on steam is unlike other steampunk projects I have seen. Not only do the hayajiro’s run on team, but also the guns used run on steam. Instead of gunpowder sending the bullet downrange the rifle uses pressurized steam. I thought this was pretty cool and it is something I have yet to see elsewhere. Because the Kabane have steel infused hearts, these rifles are not always effective in piercing the metal. The same goes for samurai swords. This is where our lead Ikoma comes into play. This lowly engineer, disrespected by the soldiers (referred to as “bushi”) and his peers, outdoes them all when he piercing gun proves to be a success. Ikoma’s gun provides the piercing power necessary destroy a Kobane’s heart, with the only negative being that it needs to be used in very close quarters. Of course, this means more action for us, and what should have been certain death for Ikoma. His ingenuity allows him to halt the transformation into a Kabane, allowing him to keep his mind for the time being. This is both a curse and a blessing. It is a curse as it outcasts him with his fellow survivors, and he must also consume blood or start losing himself. The benefit? It gives him superhuman strength, which he uses to fight the Kabane and even save those who would prefer he be exiled. On top of this, it leads to his close friendship with a fellow Kabaneri, Mumei (nameless). Mumei is a primary character to the series and also serves as the primary badass. Her skills are incredible, and she plays a central role in training Ikoma to hone in his powers.
Watching Ikoma transform from a disrespected underling to the savior of his fellow survivors was fantastic. This arc isn’t a surprising one, but it is one that is well executed. Mumei’s character is great, albeit a bit one-dimensional, with her own arc taking place very late in the series. There are many other characters I enjoyed, like Ikoma’s best friend Takumi and the princess’ bodyguard Kurusu – who is someone I wanted to see much more of. He is the samurai of the group, and provides for some awesome sequences when Ikoma coats his sword with an element that pierces a Kabane’s heart. If I have any complaint with how the characters were used is it that there weren’t enough main characters dying. At least one does, and while it was very effective I feel there should have been more character deaths for conflict’s sake.
The series’ directors do a fantastic job with this series, giving me copious amounts of everything I wanted. The action is awesome, which is to be expected of a good anime, but I really enjoyed the lens here. Their execution of the fight scenes was incredible. Seeing Ikoma blast open chest cavities with his piercing gun left me smiling ear to ear, and the Evil Dead-esque arc towards the end of the series had me nodding in agreement. There is a fair amount of gore, but that isn’t a selling point for the show. The show does provide some great horror thanks to the Kabane, and I found them to be great antagonists. Granted, most of them are mindless, but every now and then you get one that adapted and learned some skills to make them even more dangerous. I viewed the film with English subtitles, so I cannot comment on the Japanese language performances. These performances are solid and I found every character convincing. They are not without their dramatics, which only makes the series more fun. Simply put, let’s just say if there is an English dub of the series I would still rather view this in Japanese.
Overall, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a horror anime I highly recommend. This especially goes out to those who enjoy action films as well as the “infected” sub-genre. With engaging characters, great action sequences, and addicting antagonists, this deserves a watch.
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