If you've spent enough time familiarizing yourself with the anime community, you'll come to realize that we're a demanding bunch. That should go without saying, given just how much anime tend to diverge from most mainstream trends. Because of this, we're always on the lookout for the next best thing. Constantly asking for something innovative. Captivating. Unique. Competent. Something to not only entertain but also to satisfy on some intellectual level. In a way, we're spoiled, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. We push for more because we've seen the medium deliver time and time again. Anime isn't afraid of addressing social taboos, nor does it shy away from concepts that most other mediums won't dare to touch. It's a format that isn't afraid of stepping on a few toes (also, it helps that Japan is batshit insane). So we make demands. We ask for further development. We lobby for anime's continuous growth because we care about the medium... and yet... despite this progressive attitude... every season without fail, we support and exalt the titles that stand as the antithesis of all of the requirements we beckon for.
We could always point the finger at the industry, holding them accountable for the type of shows we get, but that's just pointing out the symptom and not addressing the actual problem. The anime industry is a business, and like any other business, it provides a consumer need. If consumers show an invested interest in schlock entertainment, then guess what? Schlock entertainment is what they'll offer on a silver platter. Ladies and gentlemen, at the risk of sounding like a condescending prick, I write this intro, not for some personal agenda but for us as a community. If we want better, we must first discard inferior goods. Nipping the bud of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress's popularity isn't something you passively acknowledge while twiddling your thumbs, it's a matter of civil duty at this point. If you want change, supporting another cheap Attack on Titan substitute is not the answer. But you know what would be a step in the right direction? Gathering up your pitchforks with me as we burn this title at the stake.
Watching Kabaneri is like watching a 5-car pile-up on a busy intersection. It's devastating, but hard to look away from. With each plume of smoke breathes a new fiery furnace of stupor; divulging deeper into new unforeseen territories of hackneyed writing. Where other shows simply crash and burn, Kabaneri decides to push forward with a broken axle and the power of irrationality to combust its engine. It's a wondrous, smoldering pile of fecal matter on wheels. A beautiful travesty captured in frame by uninspired creators, seeing just how close they could pass their hand over the surface of unoriginality without being scorched by the heat. And trust me when I say that Wit Studio got their hands pretty fucking close. Had they gotten any further, we'd be naming this Shingeki no Kabaneri: Volume II. To say they're cashing in on an existing fanbase would be an understatement. These hacks took the cash-cow home, milked it dry, then butchered it for any remaining morsels that they could scrape together. Kabaneri isn't just below average, it's the residual excrement that resides at the bottom of the barrel.
The only thing more overwrought than my need to articulate ways of calling this show shit is the actual execution of the show itself. This anime is bad, I cannot for the life of me stress that point enough. There isn't a mountain high enough to utter this phrase to unexpected viewers. So instead, let's trudge through the latest member of the dung heap, as we explore the hidden depths of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
Set during the time of 'unexplored settings' in the lands of 'who cares about proper world building', we're introduced to our protagonist SeaweedWig-kun (also known as Ikoma), as he grunts around mad at everyone and everything around him, working as a steam smith for his town. In a world overran by kabane (humanoid super zombies), SeaweedWig-kun and the rest of society find themselves residing inside giant walled-in cities to protect themselves from annihilation. With the assistance of steam propelled weapons they—... wait, what am I doing? Silly me, just recite Shingeki No Kyojin's synopsis and call it a day. After all, this is Wit Studio's 3rd repackaging of the same setup.
In my Owari no Seraph review, I created a template to help viewers identify shows with this typical premise. For the sake of saving ourselves time and me not paraphrasing what I've explained in the past, I'll just insert that here as well:
One day humanity is suddenly attacked by a group of [insert name of threat here] and is brought to the brink of annihilation. Over [insert amount of years] later and it seems like there's no coming back from this almost divine punishment. But with the discovery of [insert name of weapons or power here], they were able to fight back. We follow our protagonist [insert name here] as he and his comrades use [insert name of weapon or power] to fight the [insert name of threat here] and reclaim humanity in this post-apocalyptic world and slowly discover the crazy mystery of their sudden appearance that might be closer to home than everyone thinks.
Kabaneri joins its cousins God Eater, Black Bullet, Knights of Sidonia, Owari No Seraph and others as the new iteration of this tired trend. With the same director, musical composer, theme song performers, script writers, sound director, color designer, and much more being brought back from their work on Attack on Titan, the intent of Wit studio couldn't be more obvious. I could drill this point home further if need be, but every show deserves to be evaluated independently (even if there's very little worth evaluating). And while Kabaneri isn't winning any anime awards in innovation anytime soon, there are a few distinctions made that separate it from the rest. For one, it's heavy use of steampunk.
While the steampunk in Kabaneri is treated with as much relevance as a script for a porno, it was still a distinction that many were initially drawn to. It gave it an identity outside of its overused setup. As pointed out by fellow colleague themegamancave, the involvement of massive trains made to accommodate and sustain people while they travel from city to city, had aspects that were reminiscent of the movie Snowpiercer. This may have given off an impression that the show was possibly going to be more than its doppelgangers (no matter how brief that hope was). With zombies, huge trains, steampunk and an industrial-like setting, Kabaneri could have been an entertaining romp, had it been entrusted in the hands of more capable creators. Even the protagonist, as rambunctious as he was at times, still demonstrated some qualities, that if smoothed out, could have made for a compelling lead.
But that's as far as the show got, by the end of episode one the writing was already on the wall. The show was going to be a trainwreck. Many may not have seen it, but for those that did, we buckled up, grabbed a tub of popcorn and waited for the title to eventually derail. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait long, as Kabaneri started off stumbling, only to further lose its footing on its quick descend downwards (which I would discuss in detail in my spoiler section).
In typical fashion for this type of show, SeaweedWig-kun's homeland is invaded by the kabane after a freak accident causes a part of the wall to be knocked down. Accompanying us on our trainwreck to hell, we're introduced to Mumei, or as I like to call her, Bipolar-chan. While the citizens run around in a panic with the kabane slowly picking them off, SeaweedWig-kun and Bipolar-chan takes matters into their own hands. Bipolar-chan, a 12-year-old terminator, made quick work of the kabane fodder while giving us glances of her prepubescent pantsu. And while this is going on, our protagonist SeaweedWig-kun concocts a plan to ambush a zombie with a weapon he made with what remaining time he didn't dedicate to yelling at people. After the dust settles from all the chaos, our remaining citizens find themselves aboard Thomas the Tank Engine as they leave behind the charred remains of what they called home. And so our adventure begins.
With caked on color gradients, a grandiose soundtrack by Sawano, and nice action set pieces, it isn't hard to see why initial impressions would cause mass hysteria for more Kabaneri. But little did people know, what they were getting was a ticking time bomb, just waiting for the slightest nudge to explode. Even elements that seemed to be a strong attribute at 1st couldn't keep up the façade for long. Take the art and animation for example. Because of the polish look the show draped over everything, many viewers often fail to notice the fact that several scenes throughout each episode were actually still shots, with no more than a shaky-cam effect to mask it. And outside the moments that fight scenes broke out, the actual fluidity of the animation was no higher than the usual standards demonstrated by other studios. Kabaneri was a mess only held together by duct tape. And when it started bursting from the seams, episodes like 9 began to happen. And what little makeup it had to distract from the truth that was there all along, it was no longer enough to fool even the most gullible of individuals.
These slight of hand tricks weren't limited to later episodes either. The degree to which the audience notice these shortcomings depended entirely on their initial investment. And seeing how my invested level was lower than dirt, Kabaneri was an eyesore from the moment SeaweedWig-kun had bright ideas about how the body's circulatory system works.
But even a trainwreck like Kabaneri had some positive qualities. As previously mentioned, the soundtrack by Sawano did wonders for the show. It helped shape the mood and tone of the show's universe. Swelling up whenever the action came to a boiling point or simmering down during quiet moments; whatever the occasion, Sawano had all ends covered. It made the experience far more enjoyable than it would have been had a less talented composer been given the job.
On a side note, there was a minor character with a widely inconsistent vernacular. I'm not sure if the voice actor wanted to be British, American or Australian. It's like trying to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to trick someone into believing he's a part of the British Intelligence. The random hammy phrases uttered by this individual got me to chuckle every time. Outside of that, the rest of the cast did fine. But ultimately the biggest highlight from the auditory department was that of Sawano. A man that unfortunately had to sully his hands once again with a project undeserving of his talents.
And speaking about creators that elevated Kabaneri from the shit pile, Tetsurō Araki directorial work once again shines through. No matter the project he takes on, his flare for the dramatic is never underplayed. The man knows how to get the most from the material he's given. Whether he's directing the Spiderman view shots of the 3D maneuver gear in Attack on Titan, or defying physics with the matrix boobs on High School of the Dead; Araki goes all out every time. He's to anime what Zach Synder is to film. Whether you view that as an insult or not isn't of concern, the fact is he never stops delivering his signature flare, no matter the quality of show he's working with.
But this is where the praise comes to an end, as our trainwreck makes its final pit stop. For those of you who've seen the show and had a hard time spotting plot inconsistencies or contrive narrative decisions, don't worry, because I'm feeling extra generous today. Join me in the spoiler section as I break down this idiotic title by each episode. And for those of you who haven't seen Kabaneri yet, scroll down past the "end of spoilers" indication to avoid having this 'masterpiece' ruined to you.
Kabaneri showed cracks in its foundation from the very beginning. This breakdown will cover them all.
The show thinks the body circulatory system works by bullshit logic, with the main character hanging himself to stop a virus. There're two kinds of choking: one that restricts blood flow to the brain, denying oxygen intake, and the other is strangulation, which cuts off your air intake altogether by closing your windpipe. Restricting your blood flow or air intake doesn't stop blood from going to your brain, it restricts it. It's like going from a gush of water to a slow trickle. So choking yourself isn't going to prevent a virus from spreading to your brain, all that would do is leave you unconscious and eventually cause death when there's no one around to help resuscitate you. This still doesn't even address the fact that he slit his wrist, which, if you don't know, could cause you to bleed to death. There's a reason it's a common method of committing suicide. So our protagonist committed two acts back to back that would usually lead to death, yet survives both, all for an end goal that logically makes no sense whatsoever.
Even if we put aside how illogical this solution is, and suspend our disbelief to buy into it, the fact remains that our protagonist never informs anyone of this accomplishment. If temporarily cutting off circulation to your brain and infected area is all that it takes to combat this virus, why would he not inform the other citizens about this after he had gained their trust, instead of having them kill themselves with pocket bombs? When you take this into consideration, our protagonist is essentially responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of people. For someone who tries his hardest to protect others, he sure does a piss poor job at doing it.
Mumei single-handily wipes out dozens of Kabane with ease. This may not seem like a big deal until you realize what it does for the stakes of the show. If these monsters are made out to be such an imposing force to humanity, only to have them be taken out with little effort by a 12-year-old girl, what does that do to the stakes? Yes, the Kabaneri inclusion spices up the story but it also removes any sense of tension when you have a one-man army on your side.
After saving the lives of everyone, the Kabaneri are scrutinized by the people. This isn't the actions of sensible adults, this is the writers turning an entire population into imbeciles. No matter the time period or cultural upbringing, using weapons to extend survival has always been intrinsic to mankind. Taking precaution to keep them locked up? Sure. But to outright discard them right after seeing their effectiveness in combat? Now that's plain lunacy. To top it off, these buffoonish adults gather in a mob to threaten the Kabaneri, despite seeing their physical prowess against kabane; beasts they could barely take out as a group. This is also where Bipolar-chan began to show her wishy-washy personality; switching from one archetype to another at the drop of a hat.
A kabane has the ability to wield a samurai sword with as much proficiency as a trained warrior. At this point, red flags should be going off in your head. This is insanely stupid, I shouldn't have to explain why this is a huge problem.
Mumei's flip flopping characteristics become increasingly worse. She's always been bipolar before this episode, but this is the point where the writers show that they don't know how to write a mentally disturbed character, from one that simply flip flops between different personality traits. She goes from tsundere, to yandere, to kuudere, to dandere, back to tsundere again. This is terrible characterization. The last time I've seen a character this inconsistent was Slaine Troyard from Aldnoah.Zero.
LOL The Black Smoke. Do I need to say more? At this point, those red flags in your head should be set ablaze. This is where the show nosedives at 100mph.
Impoverished, with little food to feed their people, yet they have enough resources to waste on a celebration? This desperate attempt to add levity only backfires. To top it off they light fireworks... FIREWORKS! That's how you attract hoards of kabane to your location. The show temporarily forgot that it was a zombie survival story and does something far too stupid to be excused. Also, this is where Biba makes his first appearance lol And God knows what that means.
It's the introduction of Biba and the relinquishment of any integrity Kabaneri may have been holding on to. Not only does he collect Kabane like he's a pokemon master, but he's also a genocidal lunatic with little in the way of proper reasoning for any of his actions. Where other antagonists take an inch, Biba takes a mile, and then some. Also, Bipolar-chan's gullible personality is poorly excused with the actions taken by Biba to get her to the mental state she's in.
As far as I'm concerned, the show jumped the shark with the colony kabane monster, but this serves as the most noticeable case of it going off the rails completely. The Kabaneri are now pokemon, with Hyper Beams, agility, and double team. This, my friends, is what schlock action looks like. This is also the moment that many people gave up on the show. There's literally no defense possible to excuse this. The show has 0 value at this point.
This doesn't even touch upon the fact that Biba killed thousands of innocent people for what amounts to him being butthurt.
Mumei is still a flip flopping idiot, Biba is still demonstrating Saturday morning cartoon levels of villainy, and in what was suppose to be an emotional sacrifice, where Ikoma's friend Takumi jumps in front of a bullet to protect him, losing his life in the process, turns out to be just another failed attempt by the show. You see, there's just one problem with this "emotional" scene, he didn't need protecting, to begin with. We've seen Ikoma have chunks of flesh ripped from him by hoards of kabane on several occasions, as well as other life-threatening injuries. The kabaneri are known to have amazing regenerative abilities. So had Ikoma been shot, it wouldn't have mattered all that much. This makes Takumi's sacrifice pointless and only there to add emotional weight for a moment that didn't have any. And after hitting a conveniently placed lever that opens up the train's walls (seriously, what function does this even serve?), Ikoma falls into the river after Bipolar-chan stabs him, in what is the most overused fake death scene in any storytelling medium.
Ikoma turns into Rambo and staples a gun to his arm (because reasons) and takes a drug to go super saiyan, which has the side effect of depleting his life and killing him (remember this); while Biba devises a plan that operates entirely on plot convenience. It required his father to kill him using a weapon that he himself had devised as a trap, with a convenient formula that instantly infuses your blood with Kabane's, a substance that we never saw before (which makes no sense given the prior cases of kabane transformations we've seen).
The show couldn't keep its promise and at least deliver Ikoma as a sacrifice for Mumei's life. Instead, it chose the pussy way out, by keeping him alive (despite what they said just one episode prior to him taking the drug). Ikoma temporarily became a Jedi and used the force to send a train flying off the tracks. They also try to humanize Biba at the last minute with perhaps the dumbest revelation up to this point. Remember, this is a guy that committed multiple genocides because he's a little butthurt, so seeing the show try to add humanity to him at the very last minute is not only unwarranted but plain stupid. And the way he goes about receiving this forced "redemption" opens up another can of worms, in perhaps the show's stupidest mistake up to this point. If Biba cured the Kabaneris with the formula that the scientist had, doesn't it stand to reason that the same cure could work if you're bitten by one? This revelation not only ruins what little semblance of urgency the show had, it effectively erased all the danger of every encounter up to this point. It also negates the struggle that Kabaneris faced with not being completely human. It's astonishing just how many dumb things the show does in the last few minutes of airing. This isn't even accounting for the numerous stupid moments littered throughout the episode. The show went full-retard, there's no other way to describe what happened.
So with all this said, when I see people say the show was good then got bad after a Kabaneri spammed a 'Grand Rey Cero', I'm honestly perplexed, because, from my account of every episode up to that point, the show has always been bad.
***end of spoiler***
Whenever a title receives widespread popularity, a slew of variations and rehashes of that project tend to follow. Like in the case of The Matrix, which effectively started a trend of high-concept dystopian action movies like Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, and Minority Report. The anime community has no shortage of this event happening either, with the two biggest recent examples being Sword Art Online and Attack on Titan. Titles that saw with it a huge incentive for the anime industry to pump out MMO augmented reality shows and the next humanity monster survival tale.
The only time these trendsetting tidal waves subside is when the audiences no longer express interest for that product. Kabaneri wouldn't be the last unless we as an audience say enough is enough. And while they're anime viewers who simply love the idea of more Attack on Titan, remember that this will only lead to negative backlash later on. If you consume the same product every day, sooner or later you're going to get sick of the taste. Over-saturation is what kills interest, and as long as you give these half-baked shows a monetary gain, studio heads would see no incentive to stop.
Kabaneri is entertaining in the way watching a dumpster fire could be seen as fun.
Thankfully the only casualty of this trainwreck was the integrity of Wit Studio's staff, and perhaps the brain cells of those that actually thought this had a chance of being good. I really hated this show at first, it was doing illogical things but not to the point of alerting other viewers. So while I sat there uninterested, others saw something "good" or at the very least, entertaining. But then the show got increasingly worse, eventually getting to the point where even casual viewers couldn't possibly ignore it anymore. And as it quickly decreased in quality, my enjoyment quickly shot up as a result.
Kabaneri's writing is impressively bad, like worthy of a Razzie bad. I'm all for dumb fun, but what I don't advocate, however, is confusing "so bad it's good" titles with actual "good" ones. And while I enjoyed making fun of this show, laughing at each new idiotic plot thread, it is by no means a good title. It's a confused, contrived mess that made for great B-movie entertainment. So while this dumpster fire occasionally whizzed out fireworks for my amusement, I can't promise the same results for everyone else.
Kabanaeri is the malignant tumor slowly eating away at the anime community's set standards of what constitutes as a "good" title. Each new layer is like a slow descent into madness; deciphering your way through the muddled maze of abysmal writing and "so bad it's good" narrative decisions that even experienced viewers would be baffled by. Very few shows left me dumbfounded with its stupidity in the way Kabaneri did. I suffered many convulsions trying to process the sheer level of absurdity that each new episode brought, and just as I thought it was done with its surprises, it manages to pull another rabbit out of its (ass)hat. Unintelligible, uninspired and gasping for air, this anime is on the verge of being comatose. Pulling the plug is the only humane solution left. It reached the apex of nonsensical writing, and there's no cure potent enough to save it from dying of brain damage. This is truly the representation of "schlock" in its unadulterated form.