I’ll confess my relative ignorance of the particulars of the Japanese rail privatization-vs-nationalization debate, but considering the rough time the government has had in the past few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if some pro-nationalization entity tossed some cash at the relatively new studio Passione and told them to explore the question “What if the Japanese rail system was never privatized and broken up?”
I’m not saying Rail Wars! is some kind of insidious pro-nationalization propaganda—it’s not that sophisticated. But the introductory narration goes out of its way to paint the picture of a kind of “railway utopia” that young Japanese can aspire to join and be ensued of comfortable and tranquil (if not particularly ambitious) lives. So far, the show’s characters are more interested in being part of something larger than themselves than becoming bigger than everyone else. I can relate!
I may as well also confess my love of trains and in particular the Japanese rail system. Private or not, its efficiency and competence impressed me deeply on my travels there, and is definitely a system to take pride in, though it may not be perfect. In the world of Rail Wars!, that system is under the complete control of the government, and we see it from the wide and exuberant eyes of Japanese youths who want to share in that pride.
Things get off to a shaky start with the dull Takayama Naoto (Fukuyama Jun) serving as a step-stool for the fiery, man-hating Sakurai Aoi (Numakura Manami) then earning her ire for possibly glancing at the comely features of Koumi Haruka (Uchida Maaya). That’s right, Zane: Yuuta and Rikka are reunited as a couple here. Rounding out the quartet is Iwaizumi Shou (Hino Satoshi), the physical, enthusiastic male sidekick.
I’ll be blunt: there’s not much to these characters; not yet, at least, and we could do without the very lazy cliches of bouncing boobs (wear a damn sports bra for physical activity!), looking up skirts, or falling atop each other in intimate positions. But while the characters are broad and prone to cliche, together they have the makings of a highly capable public safety crew. Haruka is the brains, Aoi and Shou are the brawn (Aoi being the more precise brawn, but she can fly off the rails…pun intended.)
Naoto is the average kid who has an above-average knowledge in the equipment and its operation, plus he’s a decent, cool-headed fellow. While less immediately evident than the others, his skills prove essential on more than one occasion, first when the quartet must get an vintage steam locomotive up to speed (COMBUSTION EFFICIENCY!), and again when purse-snatchers try to get away by train, leading to a brief but fun (and not bad-looking) Railgun/Index-style combat sequence.
Rail Wars! mirrors the efficiency of the rail system at its core by propelling the introductory story forward with similar efficiency and confidence, getting the core team assembled, throwing diverse challenges their way and combining their skills to get the job done, if not precisely by the book. The episode also doesn’t skimp on the trains, showing us an eclectic array of machines and letting Naoto geek out.
In the end, the “wars” in Rail Wars! aren’t about the privatization debate, but the wars within the characters themselves, over whether they have what it takes to be Japan National Railways public safety officers; the myriad challenges they’ll face in their new positions, and the competition they’ll surely have between other crews. Oh, and the occasional rumble with hoodlums.