Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Humans live huddled in fortress cities. Kabane–former humans infected by a virus that leaves them unthinking monsters–have taken over the countryside. Only the great iron trains dare to travel from city to city. Ikoma is a steam smith for these trains, until an attack on his city leaves him infected with the Kabane virus. Yet he manages to stave off its full effects, and rises to fight them as a Kabaneri . . .

I’m so torn about how to recommend this show. I love the beginning. It’s gorgeously animated, over-the-top zombie-busting fun. The characters are shallow but they serve their purpose, driving the plot from battle to battle as the tension ratchets up. This isn’t a show about deep characters or weighty philosophical questions or even accurate physics: it’s about killing as many of those critters as our heroes can stab, shoot, or blast apart, and fighting with style against the backdrop of a great soundtrack.

And then the show tries to add a human villain and totally falls apart.

Some of the problems are just pacing. At 12 episodes, Kabaneri would’ve been long enough for just zombies or just humans, but trying to do both in one show left the human element decidedly too little time to build up to anything, so all we get is evil dude being supremely unlikable and getting nastier all the time, and then we’re at the finale.

Overall the story doesn’t accomplish any of what it seemed to be building up for in the beginning, like Ikoma’s investigation into what the Kabane are and how to cure the disease–or failing that, just wipe them all out. Then it introduces some additional intriguing questions (and some annoying questions) with the human villains that it also mostly fails to follow up on. The pinnacle of my annoyance came during episode 11, when Ikoma is hiding from Kabane rather than trying to go out in a last blaze of glory. (Dude’s already lost everything—why wouldn’t he try to take the creatures he’s hated with a passion out with himself rather than cling to a life now devoid of purpose?)

And then the last episode managed to partially redeem itself, so I ended feeling more positive about the whole thing than I had expected, though still annoyed we couldn’t have just ripped the last several episodes out and started over with where the series was originally going.

If you like zombies, nice animation and action, and don’t mind a bit of gore, you might have fun with this one. Just temper any expectations of it being great. I still plan to buy this when if it gets a disc release, as I would easily re-watch the beginning (and possibly the very last episode), and I’ll try to pick up the soundtrack as well if it comes down in price. I rate this Neutral.


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