"Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress" offers an insightful look into humanity's response to the brink of extinction. While this theme has been explored in other series, it still provides a fresh perspective worth watching, despite being overshadowed by more accomplished anime like "Attack on Titan." With just 12 episodes, it's not a significant time investment, and it stands out with its stunning visuals, thanks to the studio "Wit" (known for "Attack on Titan," "Vinland Saga," and "Great Pretender") behind it.
In the series, humanity lives in fear of zombie-like creatures called "Kabaneri" and seeks refuge in fortresses to protect themselves from the threat. These Kabaneri are extremely difficult to kill, as their only weakness is their heart, which is protected by a layer of iron. Initially, I was somewhat unsure about the monsters in the series and feared it might be like any other zombie story. However, they introduce different levels of these creatures along the way, making them more intriguing and formidable adversaries.
However, I must say that I never felt the threat they posed was as massive as when they gathered together in massive hordes. One aspect where I felt the series struggled is that I never truly felt the main characters were in real danger, even though they were in peril at all times. Without giving away too much, there are discoveries and developments related to the infection that make the story more convincing.
Through its premise, "Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress" sheds light on the best and worst that society can offer, but what it excels at is showcasing the pervasive power fear can have on people's actions. While not necessarily a new concept, the way fear is spread throughout the story and how it's constantly reminded is quite effective. Moreover, it illustrates how fear can be used to control people effectively. The fears of the city's inhabitants are portrayed just as vividly as the fears the main characters must overcome.
The story, in general, is enjoyable with beloved characters like Ikoma and Mumei, and it's truly engaging with its well-executed action sequences, enhanced by the accompanying music and sound. They managed to create a story largely set on a train, or as they call it, "Koutetsujou," and it's genuinely exciting to see these dynamic scenes.
While I wished they explored the outside world more, it was logical that they didn't venture too far from the safe zone of Koutetsujou given the nature of the world they live in. The story takes a few twists along the way, making it a fast-paced hour with little to no filler. While some plot threads could have used more development, I was never bothered by its simplicity, and I came to appreciate it in the end.
However, my favorite aspect of "Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress" is its world. It's a highly steampunk world but also deeply rooted in tradition, inspired by the industrial revolution in the era of samurais. For me, this was one of the most compelling aspects of the series, as it sees this world transitioning into a more modern era while still holding onto its traditions. This setting also allows for some interesting designs when it comes to weapons and machinery.
Constructive criticism aside, the character backgrounds were somewhat short in this series. Given that it has only one season and one movie, it makes sense, but the areas where you could build strong emotional connections with the characters were rushed and presented quickly. I was more preoccupied with the issues they were dealing with in the present, which suits the premise of this series as these characters always have to look forward to the future to survive. Some characters also fell into common tropes, but each managed to distinguish themselves in unique ways through their traits and actions.
Regardless of its flaws, I overall enjoyed "Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress." It's a show you can quickly breeze through over a weekend and sometimes, something being enjoyable and entertaining to watch is all it needs to be. It's much better than it's often credited for, with many strong moments, beautiful animation, fantastic sound, a unique world, and dynamic action scenes.
After the anime series, a movie titled "Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: The Battle of Unato" was released in 2019. It was divided into three episodes/parts after its initial release in Japan and is available for viewing. You can definitely watch it if you enjoy the anime series!