Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 08

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Before he even meets him, Ikoma isn’t subtle about his reticence towards Biba-sama. But the show is willing to give him a chance in our eyes when the two do meet, because Ikoma wastes no time calling out the twisted philosophy Biba ingrained in his sister who isn’t really his sister (he just lets her call him brother).

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We’ve seen a lot of sides of Mumei these past seven weeks, but one thing is for sure: being with Ikoma and Ayame and other normal humans has somewhat softened her previously hard line against all forms of weakness. She’s gone from someone with no need for a name (mumei means “anonymous”) to someone with friends who use that name as if it were Yuki or Haru-chan.

Once she’s back in her beloved brother and savior Biba’s shadow, however, she slips back into Heartless Battle Mode all too quickly. It’s a testament to how much history she has with Biba, and how carefully he molded her into a weapon. She’s not the only one, either: Biba’s force of elite Kabane fighters deal with a seven-horde raid with relative ease.

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In the aftermath of the battle, Enoku seems to simultaneously threaten Biba with assassination and offer his services, one among many assassins after Biba’s life. Biba has no use for him; he’s pretty sure Enoku will betray him no matter what, and that falls under his very strict code against all forms of weakness, including treachery, so Enoku buys it.

Unfortunately for Biba, Ikoma witnessed him kill Enoku free of the context of their particular situation. All Ikoma saw was Biba killing someone calling for help. The fierce sympathy Ikoma exhibits also seems to turn Biba off, as if feeling for other people is another form of weakness to be excised.

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Let’s also talk about that little smirk he gives Ayame, shall we? I’ll be honest…it kinda made my skin crawl. What villainy does that tiny grin portend?

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This week confirms what was already fairly obvious: Mumei didn’t become a Kabaneri by being bitten by a Kabane; she chose to become one and let Biba infect her with the virus to make her stronger. Biba’s train has medical facilities where Mumei and other weapons of his like Horobi undergo maintenance.

He also keeps a fair number of Kabane locked in captivity, and seems quite interested in a very bizarre and in no way altruistic experiment that looks like a giant Kabane heart cage. It’s pretty clear everything he does is for one purpose: to make himself stronger and surround himself with stronger weapons in order to protect himself.

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He knows exactly how much power he has over Mumei (all of it), and doesn’t hesitate for a moment in wielding it by asking her to collect Ayame’s master key. Once in Key Retrieval Mode, Mumei has no patience for Ayame’s questions, and even flashes a kunai to show she means business. It’s a chilling scene.

I shudder to think what would have transpired had Yukina not defused the situation with the boiler room key, but it’s only a temporary solution to a very very big problem: Biba’s train is right in front of Ayame’s leading the way, so in a way, Ayame and her train are already his to do with what he will.

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When Ikoma senses the captive Kabane, he races to the freight car, but Biba warns Mumei they’ll have to kill him if he gets in, so Mumei is as short and hostile with Ikoma as she needs to be to keep him away. There’s certainly a part of her that feels bad for what went down with Ayame, and a part that doesn’t want her shield Ikoma to be killed needlessly. But those parts are quickly being consumed by her unswerving loyalty and obedience to her brother.

As Ikoma says to Ayame after being shooed away, Biba is “no hero.” Indeed, he’s the first legitimate human villain; not a passive, ignorant ingrate who won’t hear the likes of Ikoma out, but an active user of people and things with potentially frightening plans.

He’s more dangerous than the Kabane right now, not only because he and his warriors are so good at dispatching them, or because he has Ayame & Co. in his clutches already, but because he has such a devastatingly complete hold over Mumei.

Still, he’s not a Kabaneri (at least as far as I know), which means Mumei could actually be stronger than her brother. Deep down, she could have a better moral compass, too. She just doesn’t know it, because he has her all twisted around his little finger. The key to defeating him, which may be necessary very soon, is to break that hold.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 07

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It had to happen sometime: you can only develop characters so much when their backs are constantly against the wall. Thankfully, the next station the Koutetsujou arrives at is not only populated by living people, but thriving; a veritable paradise compared to the various infernos the inhabitants of the train have gone through.

This brief but welcome period of piece is marked by what you would expect: the characters embracing the opportunity to kick back and relax for the first time in a long, long time. The train has stopped in the station, everyone is out in the open air, in clean new threads. It’s great to see.

It’s also a lot of fun. We’ve been in the frying pan and the freezer with these guys, so it’s highly satisfying to see them lower their guards, however briefly. I particularly enjoyed how impressed Mumei was with Kajika’s haggling skills, and Tatsumi using his newly super-strong best mate to teach a rude Bushi a lesson.

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Even secondary characters get their dues, as Sukari breaks it to a kid that the train his dad was on was overrun by Kabane, overriding Yukina’s attempts to spare him the grief. Sukari tells the kid the truth because it’s what he wanted to be told, but wasn’t.

Perhaps most amusing is Kurusu’s embarrassment at barging in on Ayame shamelessly stuffing her face while waiting for the station’s minister, or how that initially stingy minister offers Ayame all the food, provisions, and medical care she needs when she piles on the charm while demonstrating the power of the jet bullets.

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While we see Enoku meeting with Shitori, leader of the station, portending a possible rough political patch in the near future, and the occasional dive into melancholy (in the case of the kid), the show remains upbeat thanks in part to one guy: it’s protagonist Ikoma, whom I haven’t said anything about yet.

My favorite scene in the episode, and one of my favorite in the show, is when Ikoma tracks down Mumei, who feels blue after suddenly remembering she once celebrated Tanabata, which today just happens to be. Ikoma and Mumei have wonderful chemistry and it’s on full display in their exchange here.

Mumei feels safe with Ikoma, and opens up to him, telling him the dread she feels every morning, knowing one morning she’ll be a full-on Kabane and kill everyone around her. Now that Ikoma knows this, he immediately decides on a bold course of action: he’ll make Mumei human again.

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Her given name (another share) helps him make this decision, as well as his desire for her not to feel that way every morning. He believes her name, Hodsumi, was given by her mother in hopes her belly would be full of rice, and Ikoma is dead set on making sure that happens. He’ll kill all the Kabane, take back the stations and rice paddies, grow rice again, and full Hodsumi up, as her name, in its way a wish, demands.

Mumei is flattered by the offer, unrealistic as she may think it is, but Ikoma is so serious and charismatic, both she and everyone else gathered for Tanabata that night start to believe that simply wishing to survive isn’t enough; humans should strive for more, and more is what he wants to accomplish. It inspires everyone else to dream big. This is Ikoma starting to take on the mantle of leader.

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After some lovely fireworks and a restful sleep, Ikoma and Mumei awake to the sound of to jubilant crowds outside: the Scouting Legion—I-I mean, Hunters have arrived, along with some guy called the “Liberator”, Biba-sama, who is tall, beautiful, and tough as folded steel.

He’s also, as it happens, Mumei’s brother, and even though they greet each other warmly, Ikoma is suspicious. This is the guy who taught his sister that the weak are only good for dying, made her abandon the name Hodsumi, and who knows what else.

Just as I needed—and appreciated—an episode’s worth of rest and peace to get to know the shows characters better, Ikoma needs to spend some time with this guy to see if he’s right to suspect he’s not the gallant hero everyone worships.

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