Twenty years after immortal zombie-esque creatures known as ‘Kabanes’ showed up out of nowhere during the Industrial Revolution, inhabitants of the island country of Hinomoto seek shelter from these beasts in fortress-like stations that are accessible only by steam locomotives called Hayajiro. Ikoma, a steam engineer from Aragane Station is bitten whilst testing his new piercing weapon (which is used to penetrate the Kabanes lead-covered heart) when the station comes under attack and has to act quickly to stop himself from becoming a Kabane. After managing to keep the infection at bay, he meets Mumei, a girl who also shares the same condition as Ikoma and reveals that they are what are known as Kabaneri (neither human, nor Kabane). With his new found power, Ikoma joins with Mumei and other members of the Hayajiro ‘Iron Fortress’ in a battle against the Kabane, whilst also trying to convince the humans that they are not there to harm them.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) is brought to us by Wit Studio, the immensely popular Japanese animation studio that provided the world with the phenomenon Attack on Titan, and that series’ director, Tetsurô Araki, helmed some of these episodes. This original work is short but incredibly captivating and possess a lot of potential to grow into something great; but only if it manages to break free of the shadow of its very similar and more popular predecessor.
Without spoiling the major plot points, it’s very simple as a fan of AoT to see the glaring similarities: monsters appear out of nowhere; cities/fortresses are formed in order to keep the creatures at bay; protagonist develops an ability that will lead to him being able to fight the monsters and also wanting revenge because a relative/loved one was killed by said monsters. However, what really sets Kabaneri as its own behemoth is the fact that this story is not bogged down by source material as it’s not based on a manga series.
Another key aspect that makes Kabaneri a thoroughly entertaining and enthralling 12-episode series is that not just the main characters are fleshed out. A lot of our side characters, from Ikoma’s best friend Takumi to the hilarious Suzuki (who speaks English phrases that catch you completely off-guard) feel like they have real impact on the story. As far as our main protagonists go, Ikoma’s arc throughout the series is very reminiscent to that of AoT’s Eren Jaeger, which works appropriately for where the narrative takes us, but the real standout of the series is the background of the mysterious Kabaneri; Mumei. Her journey from when we first meet her to the epic conclusion in Episode 12 is a rollercoaster of emotion. Not only does it wrap up nicely in our climatic episode, but the foundations are there to really explore more of her story in the future. At the moment, a theatrical movie set six months in the future is scheduled for release next year, with a second series planned if the interest in there.
The animation during the series is some of the best seen today in anime. The action scenes are explosive and vibrant, the dramatic scenes are dipped in emotion and they even throw in some gorgeous looking hand drawn sequences at key moments of the story too. This really is a superb time to be a fan of anime. The score by Hiroyuki Sawano captures the essence of steampunk and certainly packs a punch during some of the gory and horrific sequences with our antagonists, the Kabane. One cannot fail to mention the triumphant and sing-a-long worth opening theme song that will definitely stick in your head (as most anime themes tend to these days).
Although, as mentioned, many similarities to fellow post-apocalyptic anime can be drawn, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is still a fantastic and thrilling ride from start to finish. With stunning animation and interesting characters, both main and side, this anime series will have you checking your loved ones for bite marks in order to stay clear of the Kabane threat.
KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: ROBBIE DAYMOND, BEN DISKIN, RICHARD EPCAR, TOM GIBIS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW