by Jacob Chapman,
Everyone's eyes are still sliding around on their faces. JNR still keeps putting entirely too much responsibility on one clueless kid. Every potential moment of tension still gets broken up by poorly rendered busts and booties. Basically, it's still Rail Wars!, but this is the strongest episode of the show yet, and that's something to be thankful for.
For one thing, the "awkward jamming of trivia into scenes where it doesn't belong" problem isn't present in this episode. The bits and bobs about the inner workings of trains are all plot-relevant this time, either foreshadowed from the previous episode, or explained very quickly in the appropriate context during an action scene. This is the kind of educational-but-seamless-trainfo-dumping the show could have engaged in from episode one, but weaving action and dialogue together is hard, breaking them apart into little chunks is easy, and Rail Wars! has a schedule to keep, I guess.
Episode 11 is all action, from taser fights to hostage switcheroos to train-walking, which is refreshing, especially in light of the show's poor animation. Its characters' bodies may be flopping and melting all over the place, but this little engine that could is going to be all action this week regardless! It turns out Rail Wars! is also stronger when it focuses on its main players; paper-thin though they may be, they're still more engaging than the side characters of the week. The prince(ss) of Fictional European Country ends up getting sidelined in her own kidnapping adventure, but that's okay. We care more about seeing Haruka or Sakurai in harm's way than we do the tiny blonde prince(ss), and it's less uncomfortable to see them exploited for fanservice along the way as well. (This episode features a shot of Takayama bandaging Sakurai's ankle that is intentionally staged to look like he's going down on her. The fanservice in Rail Wars! may not be the most explicit, but it's always been weirdly creative.)
Ultimately, the "assassination plot on the rails" premise of this two-parter was a front for focusing on the relationship between Takayama and Sakurai, fully cementing her status as "canon girl" over Haruka before next week's finale. To say episode 11 "developed" their relationship is giving Rail Wars! too much credit in the character department, but it does give the two characters focus. It smushes them together as clear romance targets and punches all the basics on its one-way ticket to Genericville, and it works. We certainly don't want them to plunge ahead into Clayton Ravine on the out-of-control choo-choo, and their happy ending is a bright spot on the entire Rail Wars! experience.
Next week will probably give us more closure for the prince(ss)' story, as Takayama determines the final direction he wants his career to take: engineer or security? In any case, Rail Wars! has definitely improved as it's gone along, (if only by a little,) so chances are good there will be a happy ending waiting for us at the end of the line.
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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