Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is a Wit Studio original production. The writing was handled by Okouchi Ichiro, who also worked on Code Geass, Shigofumi and the Brave Story film. Yeah, the quality of his work varies a lot. So, how does he do with this one? Let’s take a look.
Our tale takes place in a steam punk world where a zombie-like infection is turning humans into monsters called Kabane. Survivors live in walled cities called stations and travel betwixt them using massive armoured trains. Our protagonist, Ikoma, is a scientist in Aragane station and he’s trying to develop a new weapon that can better pierce the kabane’s heart cage. We see the station authorities following the procedure to bring in a train. During the course of inspecting the people for bite marks, the guards become paranoid over one of the passengers. Ikoma steps in, earning himself a night in prison. That’s when there’s an accident with the second train and the station finds itself swarming with kabane. Can the people of the station escape to the train and get out of there alive?
That actually brings me to the first problem with the series. During the inspection of the first train, we see the procedure they go through and we see how paranoid these people are when it comes to the kabane. Then the second train comes and they immediately ignore those procedures which directly results in the station getting overrun. Basically, the story requires these people blatantly acting like idiots in order to get momentum. There’s also the kabaneri, creatures that are part human and part kabane. We’re told that males are rare, but we only see a few in the series and half of those are male. Furthermore, there’s nothing about the way that they get manufactured that should favour women so there’s no readily apparent reason behind the men being any rarer and they don’t offer any explanation. Even something as simple as the X chromosome being more resistant to the process would have worked. That brings me to the third narrative issue I had with the series, the ending. I’ll try not to spoil too much but the very basic issue here is that they set everything up for a bitter-sweet ending but they don’t have the ovarian fortitude to follow through with it. The result is an ending that’s safer but also trite and disappointing.
With all that being said, there are quite a few positive aspects to the series as well. The world building is strong, with a lot of detail going into the whole thing. I will also give the series full credit for taking the basic idea of zombies and using them in a unique and creative way. That’s not easy to do, given how much they’ve been over-used in mass media. The narrative itself is also quite engaging and does a good job of keeping you invested, in spite of its few major missteps.
This is one of those series where the major characters are pretty well fleshed out and have complexity to them while the side characters vary. Some of the side characters have verisimilitude, in spite of us not spending much time with them. Others are pretty much there as fodder or stay on the sidelines just to be present in big scenes while not really contributing anything that you couldn’t use any other random character for. I do quite like the stuff that explores Mumei’s past and Ayame’s whole arc of building herself up as a leader is nicely handled. Then we have the antagonist. He has motivation behind his actions, but they’re also kind of flimsy. To be fair, a big part of that is just that there’s not much time devoted to him. If the series had had one or two more episodes to flesh him out he might have been a really strong villain, albeit a bit bonkers.
I’ll give Wit Studio full credit on this one, the artwork looks really damn good. The backgrounds are nicely detailed, the character designs are fairly unique, the action sequences are strong. The various steam punk gadgets we see just look really interesting. It’s basically what you’d expect from one of the studios who worked on Shingeki no Kyojin.
The acting is nicely done. We get strong performances from Senbongi Sayaka, Hatanaka Tasuku, Uchida Maaya & Masuda Toshiki. The side characters all get actors who are minimally competent although most of them do give performances that are pretty good.
There’s not much. The dynamic between Mumei and Kajika comes across as a bit homo-erotic.
Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is a pretty decent series that could have been great. My final rating is going to be a 6/10. It has a lot of potential, but also some significant problems. If you like the idea of a steam punk world with a zombie infestation, consider trying it. Next week I’ll look at something a bit lighter with Sansha Sanyou.