Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Episodes 1-2

by Jacob Chapman,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress ?

If you've come to this review seeking more obvious Attack on Titan comparisons, you can get all the ones I'm ever going to make from my preview guide entry on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. I'm also not going to comment much more on the show's jaw-dropping production design (unless it starts going south). Kabaneri continues to look like a million bucks and deliver all its biggest moments with a cinematic power and confidence rarely seen in television anime. This show wears its impossible-to-deny influences right on its sleeve, and it has gigantic stupid nards for being such a blatant riff on the director's previous adaptive work, so all I can do at this point is appreciate Kabaneri on its own merits as a blockbuster epic of gory glory. And do I ever! Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress has already infected my heart. I have already become its slobbering steampunk zombie slave, no matter how similar it is to another massively successful show I already love.

There are two scenes in Kabaneri's second episode that perfectly encapsulate what make this show so wonderful already, even though it's barely begun. The first one comes from a delightful scene right at the beginning that also provides us with the screencap above. Ignoring its fantastical faux-period setting, the dialogue goes down pretty much exactly like this:

Takumi: "OMG bro there's blood everywhere WTF?"
Ikoma: "LOL I just blew a big-ass hole in a Kabane, you were totally right about the explosive ratio thing."
Takumi: "oh shit did you get bit b/c that would be the absolute worst."
Ikoma: "NO i mean yes, but I'm just immune now or something, this new weapon is gonna be so sick dude."
Takumi: "wait u killed a kabane are you srs?"
Ikoma: "its totally dead, im totally srs rn."
Takumi: "OMG no wai!"
Ikoma: "Wai!"
Takumi: "Aaaaaaaaah! :D "

And then they both power-high-five and it's the most perfectly satisfying power-high-five you can imagine, because anime absolutely needs more scenes just like this one. The world may be falling down around their ears, but Tetsuro Araki still felt it was necessary to give these two best friends a scene where they turn into happy squealing dorks in a moment of pure nerdy victory, just like all the rest of us would after we pulled out a can of whoop-ass like that and reunited with our BFF against all odds. Of course, scant minutes after it aired, I saw the screencap above flying around social media accompanied with emojis of approval, just as its creator no doubt intended. All hail Araki-sensei, king of the memes.

Tetsuro Araki's insanely reliable success as a director comes from many mainstream-friendly elements of his style, but my favorite thing about him has always been his ability to capture ridiculous yet immediately relatable emotions with complete sincerity, tweaking the bombast slightly depending on what kind of content he's working with. From the campy theatricality of Death Note to the overpowering dread of Attack on Titan, he has a pretty solid handle on the most effective tone his material will have on an audience at any given time, right before choosing to blow it up thousandfold. On that note, it seems like the tone for Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress going forward will be "vicarious nerd glee," as Ikoma embraces his role as action protagonist (and clear director self-insert) with all the grace and restraint any true otaku would possess in his situation. (That is to say, no grace or restraint whatsoever. "I'm half-zombie now! F***ing AWESOME!")

At the same time, Araki is wise enough to grant his hero the vulnerability and imperfection he needs to be truly compelling to a wider audience, leading to the second scene I mentioned that gives this second episode its true power. After Ikoma gets booted off the train with an incendiary blast right to the chest on suspicion of being a Kabane, he gets up, dusts himself off, and recites a monologue not unlike this infamous image meme before pouring what he believes to be the last of his strength into saving the rescue train that abandoned him. This scene could have been played completely straight and gotten the same idea across, but instead of leaving Ikoma with a stoic bitter smile or a stone-cold badass expression as the train pulls away from him, Araki lets Ikoma fall into a bloody heap and just bawl his eyes out. That was the moment I knew that whatever else happened in the show, I definitely loved this main character.

Because even after all the crazy action hero stunts he's pulled, Kabaneri's nerd lead is still human at heart, and being left behind to die alone by the people you worked so hard to save would be a really painful experience to go through. Of course, the high-octane nature of Kabaneri can't just leave him weeping on the ground for very long, and it's easy to turn that brief moment of sympathy right back around into laughter when Mumei comes back with a cable to literally drag him along for the ride ahead. She's a Kabane-bite survivor too, making them the only two known "Kabaneri" in a world of humans terrified of the zombie's curse.

In an anime world overstuffed with lame, dishonest, and forgettable nerd fantasies, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a revenge-of-the-nerds adventure that actually delivers on the promise of its premise: that giant dorks can be heroes without letting go of their geekery. There's a lot of ways this show could still go wrong in the nitty-gritty of the writing, but I have nothing but praise for the absolutely fearless way Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress has gone about entertaining its audience. Now that we're out of the city and trapped on a train with a bunch of superstitious survivors, I can't wait to see how Ikoma adapts to being an undead superhero with an attitude that doesn't play so nice with others. This is the must-watch show of the season.

Rating: A+

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Jake has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.

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