Rail Wars! Episode 1-8
by Hope Chapman, Aug 31st 2014
The only thing more frustrating than watching someone try to sell you something is watching them try and fail at it. This is the viewing experience you can expect from Rail Wars!: a journey through poor salesmanship and improbable boobs.
The show takes place in an alternate version of Japan where everything is pretty much the same, except that the Japanese National Railway system was never privatized. This ranks it quite high on the list of "least exciting parallel universes," second only to the one where everyone buys potato chips individually and all M&Ms are orange because it's Reese's Pieces that come in rainbow colors instead. All this really means is that the government has a private academy for future JNR employees, who are held in great esteem as servants of the people. Graduates become trainees who can hope to work for JNR someday. (They're really building this up here, aren't they?) The lucky youths in security, where most of the show's action takes place, get to carry guns, defuse bombs, and generally act like real cops instead of just employees for a monolithic institution that spend their days filling out paperwork and occasionally responding to complaints of on-train-butt-touching.
There are only three characters in the story important enough to be defined by the slimmest of personality traits: milquetoast lead Takayama, tsundere main girl Aoi, and yamato nadeshiko Haruka. The fourth member in their trainee squad, the muscular Iwaizumi, is neither a self-insert boy nor a girl with huge breasts, so he's forced offscreen immediately and only given anything relevant to do starting in episode 8. It doesn't matter anyway, because every episode plays out the same beats, reshuffled and advanced through time, but all progressing the same way in each twenty-minute chunk. Takayama contemplates the path his career is taking, he discusses some piece of train-otaku-ephemera with his squad, the squad is assigned to a mission, the mission becomes urgent or life-threatening in some way, and the squad makes it through with the obscure train knowledge they discussed in the early minutes of the episode. Along the way, every girl that so much as slips past the camera thrusts her assets into the audience's face, often in bizarre new ways as the minutes of fanservice pile on and the show is forced to seek out new angles for voyeurism. If anything, Rail Wars! could almost be praised for the sheer number of ways it finds to showcase its bookoos of boobs and bottoms. Still, much like the show's fanatical infatuation with the history of Japanese trains, its forays into fanservice innovation are more embarrassing than laudable.
Ostensibly based on a series of light novels, Rail Wars! is more like a series of recruitment videos for the JNR where every other second is punctuated by bust-lust. Let's face it: at no point is JR line security, much less a pack of trainees, going to be asked to defuse a bomb (and track down the bomber for days afterward!), act as bodyguard detail for a pop star (almost getting stabbed on stage during the concert!), or dramatically transport an organ to a hospital via rusty pedal-powered proto-train (in the rain so we can see through all the wimmens' clothing!) Day-in-the-life series that follow a specific occupation through all the little details the outside world never thinks about can be fascinating, and Rail Wars! had an opportunity to fill that niche for the train-curious, but that's not the path it chose.
This anime isn't day-in-the-life, it's pure fantasy and not even exciting fantasy. This is fantasy specifically for some hypothetical, boring young man who dreams of becoming a nationally revered officer of justice and train engineer all at once, surrounded on all sides by beautiful women who can't seem to keep their clothes on. It's a show fueled by uninteresting trivia, buffeted by desperate attempts at sex appeal and action-movie excitement on a shoe-string budget. (Episode 5 in particular is so off-model, all the characters look like they're coming apart at the subatomic level.) The worst part of it, sadly, is that Rail Wars! is a lot more fun to write about than it is to watch. The ludicrosity of the whole experience only sinks in on reflection. The experience of sitting through it is mostly dull, broken up by blessed moments of "Whaaaaaat?!"
Perhaps the only good thing about Rail Wars! is its ridiculous episode plots that ramp the stakes and danger high in directions they were never meant to go. Every episode plays against all logic and to the fullest employ of the most cliché soap opera plotlines. At this point, the most we can hope for is new forays into life-threatening melodrama to mirror the show's constant fresh forays into oddly framed T&A. Here's to more episodes of this summer's most uniquely awkward show!
Rail Wars! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Hope 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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