I honestly don’t know where to start with this series… because I absolutely loved it! Kabaneri is an exciting and creative take on the “zombie” genre. Think Attack on Titan meets Day of the Living Dead with some Snowpiercer thrown in. Mainstream civilizations have fallen due to the kabane curse and transportation between stations is only made possible by armored trains known as hayajiro. A young steam smith named Ikoma is driven to invent a weapon powerful enough to eliminate the infected humans, but his time for inventing is cut short as the kabane breach his home station.
Ikoma and Takumi discover that the kabane curse is a blood disease. The infected humans known as kabane are difficult to kill as their hearts are encased in a steel-like alloy. Ikoma hopes to eliminate the growing threat by developing a piercing gun that will break through the kabane’s heart cage. After the kabane break into Aragane Station, Ikoma uses the opportunity to test out his invention. He lures a kabane into his workshop with his own blood and is shocked when the piercing gun eliminates the threat. Ikoma’s celebration is cut short when he realizes a bite mark on his arm. Understanding the course of the blood disease, Ikoma quickly adheres a device to his body in order to prevent the spread of infection into his brain. The barbaric device appears to work and Ikoma makes his way to the train station to join the rest of the survivors.
Ayame, the eldest daughter of the Yomogawa family that govern Aragane Station, is escorted to the hayajiro kotetsujo by Mumei. Mumei is an extremely skilled combatant who easily disposes of multiple kabane at once, while the Bushi military struggles to even kill one. Mumei is an absolute beast. Once the citizens board the kotetsujo, Ayame instructs the train to depart. A hoard of kabane attack the train and Ayame sees her infected father on the tracks and realizes that she is now the leader of her people. One kabane is able to break into the train which Ikoma is able to eliminate. The passengers are horrified when they notice the glowing yellow aura, indicative of kabane infection, coming from Ikoma’s chest. The Bushi force the shocked Ikoma off of the train.
Ikoma continues to fight off the kabane and defend the train even after being betrayed by his own people. The kotetsujo becomes stuck and Ikoma comes to their aid. After witnessing Ikoma’s valiant effort, Mumei helps him get back onto the train. Mumei explains to Ayame and the Bushi that Ikoma is not a kabane, but in fact a kabaneri. In order to better make her case for Ikoma, Mumei reveals that she too is a kabaneri. The kabaneri are allowed to stay on the kotetsujo, but are asked to remain in their own compartment. Mumei trains Ikoma to develop his enhanced abilities. The pair of kabaneri defend the kotetsujo on multiple occasions and earn the trust of most passengers. Kabaneri still need to drink human blood in order to maintain their sanity and strength. A select few of the passengers agree to share their blood in order to help their allies.
The kotetsujo arrives at Yashiro station, only to learn that the track has been blocked due to a kabane attack. The citizens of Aragane Station encounter a “black smoke” monster which is a monstrous being formed from thousands of kabane. Mumei explains that this creature is known as a hybrid colony. Ikoma, Mumei and a few others fight their way to a crane in order to remove the debris from the track. After narrowly escaping the clutches of the hybrid colony, the kotetsujo is able to flee from Yashiro station and continue their journey to Kongokaku.
Arriving at Shitori Station, Ayame barters the knowledge of enhanced weaponry capable to piercing the kabane heart cages in exchange for supplies and medical aid. While in Shitori, the kokujo arrives. The kokujo is the hayajiro run by Biba, the Shogun’s son, who leads the karikatashu. The karikatashu are an elite fighting force tasked with eliminating all kabane. It’s revealed that Biba once saved Mumei and pushed her into this fighting lifestyle. Ikoma is instantly wary of Biba and his true intentions.
Biba and his men were abandoned by the Shogun and left to die at the hands of the kabane. Biba is driven by revenge and manipulates Mumei to help him in his quest. It is revealed that Biba is the one responsible for the creation of the hybrid colonies that have devastated multiple stations. The karikatashu take the citizens of the Kotetsujo hostage which forces Ayame to help Biba’s twisted quest in exchange for her peoples’ safety. Ikoma attempts to lead a revolt against Biba on the hayajiro, but loses an ally and a hand in the process. Mumei appears to be brainwashed by Biba and stabs Ikoma and throws him off the train.
Kusuru, Ayame’s personal guard, finds Ikoma washed up on shore and explains to him that Biba plans on turning Mumei into another hybrid colony’s heart. This news rekindles the flame in Ikoma’s heart and the pair make their way to Kongokaku to save their people and defeat Biba. Ikoma goes full on Army of Darkness and attaches his piercing gun to his arm stump. He then takes the black blood serum in order to amplify his kabane abilities and have the chance of using the white blood antidote on Mumei. This scene looked like steampunk mega man going super saiyan and it’s amazing! Seriously though, look at that image below! Ikoma and Kusuru obliterate an army of kabane as they make their way though Kongokaku. Biba is able to manipulate his father, the Shogun, and subtly infects him with the kabane curse. This creates an all out panic in Kongokaku, while the karikatashu release an endless hoard of kabane inside the city walls.
The season culminates in a final battle between Ikoma and Biba. The display of ferocity from both sides is a spectacle to behold. Ikoma gains the upper hand long enough to inject Mumei with the white blood serum to counteract the black blood used to turn her into a hybrid colony. Mumei regains control and defends Ikoma from her former “brother.” Mumei helps Ikoma get back to the Kotetsujo and leave the kabane overrun city of Kogokaku. Ikoma recovers from his injuries and the people of Aragane Station continue their journey on the tracks.
If it isn’t evident by the amount of detail I put into the summary, I loved this anime. It was a fun mix of familiar concepts presented in new ways. I have been itching for a solid new series with action, violence and gore. The kabane had an incredible design reminiscent of the “glowies” from Gears of War 3. The post-apocalyptic setting mixed with a steampunk influence makes for a refreshing take on the zombie/monster mob genre. Before the series was even released, many people called Kabaneri out for being a “ripoff” of Attack on Titan. The familiar tones, animation and premise are unsurprisingly similar as both franchises come from Wit Studio. I can see why some would cast aside Kabaneri for being similar, but those people are missing out on an outstanding work of art. There are so many concepts woven within this anime that make it quite unique.
I was blown away with how much character development was achieved in just 12 episodes. I found myself caring about fallen characters much more than expected. Ikoma is a protagonist worth rooting for. His backstory is very similar to Eren from AoT, but his character evolution is one of my favorites in recent anime. Mumei is an absolute beast in every sense of the word. Her fighting style literally had my mouth wide open is shock and awe. Kusuru, Takumi, and Kibito all have standout moments that make you cheer and feel for them. Biba is a solid antagonist with proper motivation, but I wish his personalty came through more.
The action is outstanding! Having the infected maintain proficiency in weaponry they knew before being turned is GENIUS!!! These suped up kabane, known as wazatori, were fantastic mid level bosses that broke up the monotony of an endless barrage of faceless enemies. The fact that Ikoma was able to use his knowledge of steam powered weaponry to create and upgrade his allys’ personal equipment was impressive and enjoyable to watch. Using the alloy from the heart cages of the kabane to strengthen their katanas is such a cool concept and made for an awesome weapon redesign. The music elevates every scene. The melodies help weave together the beautiful chaos being portrayed on screen.
My only complaint about the entire season is the last few minutes of the finale seemed to throw away their chance to display the severe consequences of Ikoma using the black blood serum on himself. The idea that there was only one antidote available for either Mumei or Ikoma generated a true sense of peril and sacrifice. The moment Ikoma was magically healed for no obvious reason took away from the severity and stakes cultivated by the entire season. If Ikoma had lost control and become a full-on hybrid colony as Mumei and the kotetsujo escape Kongokaku, I would have lost my freaking mind and given this franchise a standing ovation. I wanted Ikoma’s sacrifice to truly mean something, but in the end deus ex machina comes in to save the day because you know… main antagonists can’t die… Even though this was a massive lost opportunity, I still praise Kabaneri’s creativity and visuals. I completely understand anyone who would push this series aside for being so similar to other franchises, but Kabaneri hits all the right notes for me. Two films and season two for Kabaneri have already been announced for 2018.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo includes all 12 episodes on 4 discs (2 Blu-ray/2 DVD). The season can be enjoyed in both English and Japanese. Extras include textless songs and trailers. If you would like to purchase season 1 of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, which I highly recommend, you can find in on Funimation’s online store right here!
We received a free copy from Funimation in return for an honest review
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress48.74
- Fantastic character and weapon design
- Creative "monster" design/abilities
- The action is a spectacle to behold
- The final moments of the finale don't match the severity presented by the rest of the season
- Character origins very similar to Eren from Attack on Titan