Attack on Titan comparisons is inevitable. Attack on Titan is a smash hit anime in which humanity is not the dominant species and now have to hide away behind towering walls from the superior race that treats humans as snacks. In Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, we have a similar setup, humanity is being overridden by zombie hordes, the Kabane, and to survive we know live in fortified cities or on hugely armoured trains that wend a dangerous path between the outposts.
Needless to say, if you’re an Attack on Titan fan, then you should absolutely check out Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is gorgeous. There are all those steam engines and the great machines built to enable these fortress cities in what might otherwise have been 19th-century Japan make for a memorable visual style. It sounds great too; whether it’s Kabane hordes or the strain of powerful engines.
Plot-wise, it is a little more complicated. If you’re into the action, then Kabeneri gets off to a good start, and we’re very quickly given zombie attacks. However, there’s a very definite shift halfway through which provides the series with a stronger focus on politics and factions. If that’s what you prefer, then you’ll have to make your way through some violent action first.
Yeah, it’s a bit like the same change of plot and pacing as in Attack on Titan.
I like both, in fact, I want a bit of both, and for things to be mixed up, so Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress suited me very well. The problem I felt, which is only a slight one, is with the pacing.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress felt rushed at times or as if it was skipping so much potentially awesome scenes and character development just to get to the end. I’d hazard a guess this isn’t a unique challenge in anime where they might take a long-running manga series and try and condense it down to just one animated series. In this case, though, I don’t think there was a manga that Wit Studio adapted.
The twists come pretty early. Being bitten by a Kabane means turning into a Kabane. That happens to our hero early on but he has the willpower to choke himself out, and so the infection doesn’t manage to reach his brain. This isn’t unheard of but is rare, and the result is a Kabane-human cross known as a Kabaneri.
There are other Kabaneri on the Iron Fortress, the colossal train that the anime is named after, of course along with powerful human fighters and people with political power and influence. These are the characters that act as hooks and lures into the drama that happens afterwards. While each one of these individuals his nicely brought to life by the writing and the animation, it is also fair to say you’ll be able to identify which ‘anime character class’ they fit into and their likely role in the plot without too much thought.
Ultimately, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is absolutely worth your time. I think the biggest lure to this anime is the unique setting and promise. It does deliver but doesn’t reach its full potential. This three-quarter filled potential, though, still makes Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress a contender for one of the coolest animes you see this winter.
My copy of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress was provided for review. The season one BD combo is available in the UK from this week.