Rail Wars! – 12 (Fin)

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Rail Wars! was never going to win any awards, but it was, for me at least, a consistent source of entertainment, but also offered something unique and quirky in its extensive train-lore. With the royal assassination attempt arc resolved, the show is free to sit back and relax a little with an episode that nicely encapsulates many aspects of its run.

Oh, Rail Wars...you just couldn't resist...
Oh, Rail Wars…you just couldn’t resist…

For one thing, Takayama Naoto has always been passionate about trains to the point of good-natured meddlesomeness. Even aboard a train where he has no jurisdiction, he can’t help but want to help when he spots a little hiccup of trouble. Nothing severe like no brakes, mind you, just things that would mar an ideal train ride. But also, he just can’t seem to sit still on a train, and Iida is swept along with him.

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Having Iida as his companion for most of the episode was an interesting move that I agree with for the last episode. The flirty Iida has never shown to have a serious romantic interest in Naoto whether due to age or her status as his superior, or because she’s just not interested in him in that way. That doesn’t change here, but Iida still admires Naoto as he jumps from one problem to the next.

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We still get a fair share of all the girls who are into Naoto, but because they’re back at D4 headquarters, the episode can focus more on the minutiae of simply enjoying a long train ride, but also have Naoto solve a few more problems without it involving intimate contact with Aoi or Koumi. He does borrow Iida’s still-warm panyhose, and she presses against him once or twice, but these incidents are pretty inconsequential. Most of the time, the trip was less rom-com, more slice-of-(train)life.

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But Naoto doesn’t fix everything by himself. He’s become much stronger thanks to the combined talents of the rest of his D4 team, including Iida, and he’s cognizant of that while acknowledging he’s very much the center of attention at the surprise get-together in his room. The harem situation isn’t resolved (nor should it have) and everyone raises their drinks to Naoto, “The Womanizer.”

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We really only hate it when a guy is liked by many gals without a good explanation, but it was always clear here (he’s bright, kind, and brave when he needs to be), so it wasn’t that bad, though we remain Naoto/Aoi shippers to the last. The show also made every one of the trains it featured characters in and of themselves, and the impressive gas turbine-powered KiHa 381 “Bulldog” was a fitting final “guest star.”

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Final Average Rating: 7.25
MAL Score: 6.58

Rail Wars! – 11

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A good action story rule of thumb is that things are always more exciting on a speeding train. A train job is more exciting than a bank job; a bank train job would be the ultimate. Heck, a train shower is better than a shower in some lame stationary structure. Rail Wars! instinctively understands and capitalizes on this fact in its penultimate episode.

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Like the draisine miniarc, the characters are almost constantly on a speeding train here, which lends a lot more adrenaline and momentum. Prince Bernina doesn’t take up a lot of time here, as she’s whisked off to safety by Iida after D4 successfully fends off the thugs and captures two of them in a team effort (and thanks to that really weak taser). With the guest star out of the way, we can focus on the regulars; a focus I favor, especially so close to the end of the run.

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When the other thugs take Haruka hostage and tell them they’ll exchange her for the prince, Naoto dresses up as the prince. It’s a gambit that doesn’t work a moment longer than it needs to for D4’s heavies—Aoi and Shou—to do what they do. It gets a bit hairy, but in the end the bad guys are vanquished and Haruka is safe and sound. Unfortunately, the train’s controls are also vanquished, thanks to all the gunfire.

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That’s what’s so great about employing trains in an action scenario: it ain’t over till the train is successfully stopped. Naoto does the brave thing: deciding to disconnect the engines so the cars behind will slow and eventually stop on their own. Not wanting him to steal all the glory, Aoi stays with him to decouple, but she later reveals the shootout left her wounded. But when Naoto has his chance to jump off, he stays right there with Aoi.

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He says it’s because he was scared, but let’s be real: he’s not the kind of person to save himself and leave someone behind, especially Aoi. He tenderly dresses her wound, and catches her in his arms when the track turns, and for maybe the first time, Aoi looks like she’s finally going to confess. Hey, if they’re about to die, why not?

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Alas, the cavalry interrupts their lovey-dovey moment, but what a cavalry: three DF51s in tandem going down the up line! RW has had a huge wealth of equipment to work with throughout its run, and has always been adept at breaking out the big toys when the situation warrants it. Fittingly, the episode ends with Naoto, looking every bit the shining prince, gallantly carrying Aoi off the train, to reunite with their colleagues.

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Rail Wars! – 10

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After D4’s biggest challenge yet, there’s no rest for the weary, as we go straight into the next mission, which is just as well, as there are only two more episodes left after this one. Naoto & Co. are charged with protecting Prince Bernina, fifth in line for the throne of Atela, as his highness travels in style aboard the Hakutosai to Sapporo for a sister city ceremony. “I thought broads loved this royalty shit!” C’mon, Naoto, don’t you know Aoi? She’s a knight.

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Why Bernina is putting his faith in JNR public safety trainees rather than having his own entourage of highly-skilled royal guards is never explained, but whatevs. Also, we know D4 is more than capable. For his part, Bernie’s is your typical delicate blonde European type, but rather than be an entitled little snot, he’s quite nice and down-to-earth, and really into trains, just like Naoto. I can’t blame him; that Hakutosai looks like fantastic way to travel.

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Unfortunately, Aoi misses the train because she’s chasing someone, intent not just on protecting the prince because its her duty, but protecting Naoto because she looooves him (we can assume). Her blank expression as a wordless response to Naoto’s comment that “anyone she seduces is in for a lot of pain” is more evidence, as if we needed any. Naoto’s kinda got a big mouth this week; he also kinda tells a shorter-skirted (for mobility) Haruka she only has to be bait.

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Shuu can’t hold off two would-be baddies going after the prince, and one of them shocks Naoto repeatedly with a taser, which seems to be set to “tickle.” Even if Aoi’s training involved building up Naoto’s pain threshold, he seems to take a ridiculous amount of shocks. That stalls the baddie long enough for Aoi to swoop in and clean up. We missed Aoi, but her absence for most of the episode gave her surprise arrival more heft. The first threats to Prince Bernie’s life have been neutralized, but there will surely be more as this story continues next week.

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The central twist, which wasn’t all that surprising, is that the prince is actually a princess, a secret known only to the royal family…and Naoto, who busts in on her when he hears her fall in the shower. I chuckled at Naoto’s strategic placement of his head and arms when he made this realization, but it remains to be seen if there’s a connection between her secret femininity and the baddies after her. For now, we’ll rate this as Aoi rated Naoto’s performance: “Not bad.”

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Rail Wars! – 09

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Halfway into last week D4 wrestled their Little Draisine That Could to life and started their harrowing journey across the Usui Pass on a retired line. That draisine keeps rolling throughout most of this episode as they battle tree roots, a punishing ride from the ABT that keeps them planted to the rails, and gravity and brake fade when it fails.

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The draisine is therefore the entire world for D4 for an extended period of time. It’s a world that depends on their constant alertness, smooth cooperation, and quick thinking when disaster threatens to strike, which it does, again and again. Had the team simply sat in their seats for the ride, they’d have derailed a half-dozen times over last week alone, before they got to the old tunnels.

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Due to the close quarters and the constant demands of the draisine, it’s also an intimate and physical world, with bodies flying all over the place, hanging (or almost falling) out; pushing and pulling and yanking and pedaling and sweating…“Almost sexual, isn’t it Smithers?” Unsurprisingly, Naoto and Aoi come together the most, but what’s clever is that all their contact is incidental, and crucial for that task at hand.

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Everyone gets pretty trashed, including the Draisine, which leaves a trail of shed parts in its wake. Shou hurts his foot pushing off the tunnel wall to right the train, but still pedals with all his might, and even jumps out the back and slides along the rails on his rubber soles, trying to slow the draisine. Ultimately, the others have to bail out, with Naoto cushioning both Haruka and the organ box.

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Ah yes, the box. While Haruka’s role in the mission is largely non-physical (or at least less taxing than those of the others), she’s also responsible for taking care of that organ box. If it’s damaged or falls off the train, it’s Mission Failed. That, and her quickly-acquired mechanical know-how comes in handy again this week, and on the last curve, all four have to lean out, including her.

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The draisine was a micro-world for a while, but it was also a crucible: one in which D4 became stronger and closer. Naoto thanks his team and tells them even if he wants to be a driver, right now he’s public safety, and there’s no where he’d rather be now. Once the mission is complete, they have another go at the simulator and pass, and the group finally gets to relax and have fun—or rather less death-defying fun—together.

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Rail Wars! – 08

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The girl standoff is defused in the ep’s first two minutes, which I thought was a good move. Goofy harems? Not so exciting. Emergency organ delivery runs via draisine? Way more exciting…not to mention topical! The story is simple: a storm has caused rockfalls and mudslides, knocking out rail service, but one of the train’s passengers is delivering an organ that won’t be viable by the time service is restored.

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Enter D4, who are in earshot of the dilemma and are ready and willing to do what they can to get that organ to its destination. Naoto, Aoi, Haruka and Shou have the blessing of both Narita and a high-ranking JNR official, and are assigned to a vintage four-man draisine to make the trip along the abandoned but possibly open old line.

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Naoto comes up with the idea, after Haruka offers to deliver the organ on foot, which is admirable, but would probably take too long. The draisine itself is a nifty mechanism in which to place D4: a small, temperamental machine in which the four members of D4 must work together as a cohesive unit, relying on one another’s individual strengths to traverse the not unperilous 11.2 km distance.

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I also like how this draisine’s operation isn’t as simple as pedaling and braking, as D4 finds out. Due to time constraints, Haruka speed-reads the manual and fills in the others in transit. Notably, the numerous bends in the track make the little car lean to one side, requiring the muscle of the group, Shou and Aoi, to lean out of one side or the other to provide counterbalance.

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It’s super-dangerous, daredevil work, but it’s absolutely necessary to prevent catastrophe, and neither hesitate in their task. Aoi even tears up her best dress in order to gain more freedom of motion. This crazy roller coaster ride turns out to be a far better test than any simulation without being as heavy a responsibility as driving a full-size train loaded with passengers. They still have lives to protect: their own, and one life to save: the organ recipient.

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At episode’s end they’re halfway there, reaching the old part of the line fouled by branches, roots, and other obstacles. That is, the “easy part” is over, and it didn’t feel that easy, which means the hard part should be that much more interesting. What I know for sure is that this episode was a lot of fun, which along with the bomb threat and concert episodes, form the three reasons I’m glad I’ve stuck with this show.

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Rail Wars! – 07

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Things could scarcely get worse than last week’s fiasco, so this week I reveled in the fact the episode was at least partially about actual trains and advanced training, as well as the fact no one was acting like a crazy person.

Sure, a (simulated) train is derailed, there’s a pointless bath scene, and we get perhaps far more Haruka camel toe than we needed, but at least she’s not running around naked while Aoi fires wildly across city streets. More than anything though, by the end of this episode it’s clear the show has laid the tracks for a Naoto-centered harem of generous proportions, and that’s exactly what we get.

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Mind you, it’s not terrible. Naoto may have some weak qualities about him, but I’m not going to sit here and say he doesn’t deserve the affection of any individual girl who is presently pursuing him at this time, be it Aoi, Mari, Haruka, or Aoi (he’s had the most time and contact with the latter). But to all go after him at once…it’s just a little exhausting.

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However, I do like how it affects their training. During the Usui Pass simulator run, which D4 thinks is the real thing, Aoi is upset about Naoto saying he wants to be a driver, which is another way of saying “I don’t want to be a public safety officer”, which she interprets as “I don’t want to be with you; you smell.” So she’s understandably upset, and they don’t go over anything before they set off with her in the rear locomotive and Naoto up front.

Because they never worked out the signals, Aoi increases speed when he signals for brakes, and I guess she’s either unwilling or unable to use the phone Shou and Haruka use to keep in contact with Naoto. So they end up derailing magnificently. If it were a real train, that would have been more than enough for them to wash out of the JNR entirely.

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It’s kind of a perfect storm of Naoto being coy about being a driver because he doesn’t want to upset Aoi, while Aoi lets herself be blissfully unaware that Naoto might want to be a driver, despite the fact he’s constantly geeking out about the engines. It all blows up in their faces, and then they blow up a train, which is thankfully fake, but they’ll have to work that much harder to gain back the trust of their instructor.

As for why Naoto wants to be a driver (beyond loving the engines), that’s a bit thin. I’m not sure how he ended up by a mountain railway “starving and alone out in the cold”, yet he has a camera and tripod. Were his parents that neglectful? Also, he wants to be a driver to “cherish lives”…but isn’t that more a public safety officer’s job? How often is he realistically going to have to pull his train over to rescue urchins?

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In any case, Naoto still isn’t quite sure what he should do, but his good friend (who wouldn’t mind being more, natch) Mari is there to cheer him up, while Aoi slips an apology in his door. And then, the next day, we have this huge harem explosion, with Iida ordering Naoto to a chapel in the woods, Aoi meets him there, Haruka shows up feeling betrayed, and then Noa pops out of the confession booth.

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I was kind of hoping Naoto would eventually settle down with someone—Aoi (holy crap she’s adorbs at the end of this episode) or Mari, preferably—but that’s looking far less likely, unless he gathers the agency to sort through all these girls and pick the one he wants, a task arduous enough to be deemed the Usui Pass of character development. With all that pushing and pulling, things can go off the rails fast.

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Rail Wars! – 04

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Rail Wars! manages to contrive a fairly logical reason to have a beach episode: Defense Four is appointed as the security detail of the pop idol Kashima Noa, who is having a concert on the beach in Izu in order to promote the National Railway, which so effortlessly, comfortably conveyed them to Izu. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a train with panoramic windows to the beach? I’m living in the wrong dang country!

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Noa comes off as most idols initially come of in these kinds of situations: aloof and largely indifferent to her latest minders (she even dozes off as Naoto waxes poetic about the train they’re on being named after a famous short story “Izu no Odoriko”, for which there’s probably been an anime or two at some point.) But when they alight from the train at Ito station and an overzealous fan goes for Queen Noa, Naoto is there to stop him, though Noa and her manager end up making a Naoto sandwich.

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It’s the latest in a series of incidents and threats, including one that promises Izu will be Noa’s final show, but this is where Noa shows her grit. She got to where she is by never stopping singing, and she’s not cancelling the concert under any circumstances. Since she’s not backing down, it’s up to Defense Four to protect her, and judging from their past exploits, it was never in any doubt that they’d succeed; only a matter of how they’d do so.

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What struck me is that even in a beach episode where the camera spends an inordinate amount of time on various parts of the girls’ bodies, the show still sweats the practical procedural details. When talking about searching a place for dangerous people or objects in earshot of the public, its better to use euphemisms so as not to induce worry in said public. Iida also insists Defense Four and in particular the lovely Aoi and Haruka don swimsuits that make them stand out in a crowd; a clear, busty message to any bad guys around that they’re out in force.

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The day of the concert arrives. After her first (very catchy) song, JNR reps join her on stage to make her an honorary security captain. The crim shows himself and brandishes a knife, but again Naoto is there to shield Noa from harm. The blade pierces his Kevlar vest (which all D4 members wisely wore while on duty) but is stopped by, of all things, the station stamp book Noa had returned to him after the sandwich incident that knocked him out. Because of that, in a way, after saving her, she saved him right back.

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Aoi, however, fears the worst when she sees the stabbing, and treats the perp to a righteous take-down, not missing a beat despite wearing a sultry one-piece and flip-flops, not her preferred garb. It’s a very cute reminder that Aoi really does have a thing for Naoto, who once again was looking at another woman most of the episode. And all of Naoto’s dedication, courage, and heroism has the effect of successfully wooing the idol, making me wonder if she’ll ever show up again.

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