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! – 06

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Um…what in the ever-loving name of nationalized railways was that? What a train wreck of an episode. There were better ways to deepen Naoto and Haruka’s relationship…like any other way imaginable! Instead, the show decides to turn everyone into crazy people. Ugh, where to begin? Better go into…RABUJOI LIST MODE…List Mode…List Mode…

1. Everyone in D4 is supposed to be under house arrest for the events of last week, but no one is actually home. What does that say about the level of discipline at JNR? I didn’t even think what they did last week was that bad. Was it punishment, or forced leave due to trauma?

2. Never mind, because no one is home anyway. Naoto receives a letter in the mail that he does not read or inspect completely, and decides to break the rules of the organization he claims to love so dear to meet up with Haruka and talk about this letter. Why didn’t he just meet at her house, or vice versa? At least then one of them would still be home.

3. Anyway, Aoi, who is also not home, just happens to spot Haruka, who is meeting up with Naoto. Alright, fine; coincidences happen. But then it happens again. And Aoi, for some reason, decides to take out her loaded and ready-to-fire sidearm and point it at Naoto and Haruka across the street. Aoi should be in jail.

4. Some giant mascot thingy that bumped into Naoto and Haruka also bumps into Aoi, causing her to discharge her firearm. Aoi should really be in jail! Naoto and Haruka think it’s a sniper, and bolt from place to place, hand-in-hand. Yet despite spending the entire episode together, Haruka is unable to fully express her feelings to Naoto. Not the most irritating shortcoming of this ep, but just putting it out there.

5. “What’s going on?! Why are there cats?!” Why Indeed, Naoto…Why Indeed.

6. As the cute couple runs around the city like lunatics for no reason, Haruka sheds clothing article after clothing article, until, by the climax of the episode, she’s completely naked. No bra or panties; apparently they were “torn off” by random guys in masks. Sorry, but that’s just dumb. And WTF is with the guys in masks?

7. Shou is barely in the episode, only appearing for a few moments on an LCD screen, having won a curry-eating contest. Again with the defying of JNR regs. I don’t watch the show because of Shou, but…after this episode, now I’m questioning why I’m watching this show at all.

8. Where does one go when being ruthlessly pursued by clowder of assassin cats? (Hits top of head with palm) the Transportation Museum…of course! What the hell, let’s add breaking and entering to the myriad crimes of D4 this week. They can’t be stopped.

9. The museum is the same place where Naoto “rescued” Haruka from a dark room full of boxes eight years ago, and he “rescues” her again this time, too, though Iida, Hitomi and Aoi handle those masked guys who exist for some reason, so he actually ends up relying on several people after pledging not to rely on people so much.

10. Turns out all the paranoid darting around town was for no reason, because had Naoto merely opened the seemingly threatening letter, he’d have seen it was just an overly provocative life insurance pamphlet. Also something that happened for no reason? This episode. Go Home, Rail Wars!…You’re Drunk.

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Rail Wars! – 05

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If you want a single image of Rail Wars!, imagine Aoi’s boob stopping a model train—forever.

If you made a drinking game out of all the times Naoto and Aoi end up in extremely close contact, or all of the times something embarrassing happened involving a part of Aoi’s body, well…you’d be extremely drunk before the halfway point. And if you happen to be an Naoto+Aoi supporter, this ep was right up your alley, as it’s roughly 90% them. I happen to be one, so I was a happy camper.

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Whether it’s Aoi storming into Naoto’s bedroom and derailing a model train with her boob (a portent of the situation to come), or Naoto is getting a lucky paintball shot between her legs; or Aoi is going bare-legged with her miniskirt, the romantic tension comes as hot and heavy as an economic boom-era dual-engine locomotive on a mountain line.

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As has been well established by now, Aoi is a tough-ass chick, but her girly side seems to come out with greater regularity the more she hangs out with Naoto. He represents everything she should hate: pacifism, poor marksmanship, general non-physicality. But even when she wanders off on her own and gets into tight spots, he always tracks her down. He’s always there for her, even as a gun mount, of all things.

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But a gun mount couldn’t anchor her as well, or hold her when the danger has passed and she’s short of breath and wiped out from the stress. Aoi is not only learning that being a JNR public safety officer isn’t the same as being a cop, but also that Naoto isn’t the cowardly weenie she first thought him to be. There’s grit and guts behind his easy smile and slender frame, with a patience and prudence that nicely balances her wildness.

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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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Rail Wars! – 03

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The literal cold open with two unidentified young girls crouch in the snow and record the sounds of an oncoming train, an obvious hobby, is an enticing way to start the episode. Turns out of those girls is Sasshou Mari, a former classmate of Takayama’s who’s joining the OJT.

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It looks like a relatively quiet week for Defense 4, with Koumi bailing out Takayama with her decent English skills and Sakurai having to hand-write and apology for using excessive force on an alleged perp (glad that last part, and Sakurai’s general ruthlessness, is still in force here). But Sasshou provides them their latest “mission” when she reports her friend Kaori is missing.

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With that…it’s time to hit the binders of incident reports, illustrating just how diligent and detail-oriented the operation is; but there’s nothing in them on Kaori. When Kaori’s phone shows up at the lost-and-found, Sasshou’s super-sensitive ears are able to pore over the last sound recording on the phone’s memory and identify the quayside station where she was abducted.

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From there, Defense 4 conduct a thorough search of the station’s environs, finding a bound and gagged Kaori in a dark warehouse. When the drug dealing gangsters who captured her return, The Railway Public Safety Crew is ready for them with extended batons. Unfortunately the battle isn’t shown, but Takayama apparently doesn’t embarrass himself in it, as Sasshou proclaims he was “cool back there” when it’s all over.

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And when this episode is all over what we had was, again, a scenario in which the unique skill sets of certain characters prove decisive in winning the day, from Koumi’s English to Sasshou’s ears. I also enjoyed the pleasant chemistry and subtle flirting between Takayama and Sasshou that overshadowed whatever lingering passion Takayama and Sakurai still bore from last week’s crisis.

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Rail Wars! – 02

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“The higher-ups were a good judge of my character, seeing how they assigned me to Public Safety”, says Sakurai, while kissing her enormous handgun; the handgun Iida Nana ultimately takes away in order to try to cool her jets; Public Safety at the national railway isn’t just about run-and-gun action, day in, day out. The passengers’ safety comes first—not Sakurai’s desire to beat up and/or shoot people.

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When the Special Assault Team is called away from Tokyo station to deal with the threat of explosives planted in Yokohama, Sakurai and Defense Four are basically put on standby, walking the station beat and helping passengers with whatever they need. The individual strengths of the team members shine here; from Takayama’s practiced people skills to Koumi’s way with kids. Meanwhile, Sakurai does a lot of pouting.

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Then, while she and Koumi are at lunch break with Iida, Iwaizumi saves Takayama from an exploding locker bomb. Turns out it was just a taste of a larger bomb a perp has planted in Tokyo station, having called in a false report to Yokohama to lure the NRSAT away. It’s up to Defense Four to deal with this threat, though the people in charge are prepared to answer the perp’s demands for one third of the station’s daily takings.

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That would be a hit, and Sakurai bristles at the idea of basically “surrendering” to terror, but again, it’s not about money or pride, but the safety of the passengers. Still, D4 is authorized to search for the bomb; a formidable task in a huge station with over 3,000 lockers. When Koumi is told the lost dog from last week started barking after its owner called lost-and-found, Iwaizumi’s “wild intuition” tells him the bomb’s in the unnecessarily-large dog carrier, and he’s right.

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It’s here where the very tight-skirted Sakurai, after gloomily going about her duties, finally gets a chance to shine, albeit by bypassing her supervisors and making an on-site judgement call to attempt to disarm the bomb, something her father taught her but she’s never done for real. To her surprise, Takayama stays right by her side, even if the wrong wire cut could mean both their deaths. Things get really intimate under there too, but there’s no time for embarrassment; if Takayama has to lodge his arm between her boobs to pin two wires down, so be it.

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With less than two minutes left on the bomb timer, Sakurai suddenly bolts out of the room, asking Takayama to trust her, which he does. Her solution is a brilliant use of the tools at hand: a mini liquid nitrogen gun, used for desserts back at the ladies’ lunch, which seemed like a throwaway novelty at the time but proves pivotal here. She freezes the circuitry, stopping the timer, and finishes defusing the bomb. When it’s all over, she’s so physically and emotionally spent she collapses into Takayama, a touching moment of vulnerability and closeness she tells him he can forget about later…but which he probably doesn’t want to.

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Sure, she bent protocol, but ultimately, the fiery Sakurai was the hero here, along with Takayama. Both of them, along with Koumi and Iwaizumi, put their lives on the line for the passengers, which is their job. Sakurai didn’t need her precious gun or her martial arts to be effective at her job, and Takayama isn’t as weak and spineless as she initially thought. For his valor, Takayama is made substitute leader of D4, a promotion even she can’t deny he deserves. This was a satisfying outing full of unconventional action, a surprisingly thrilling ticking time bomb, and some rather nice character beats.

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Rail Wars! – 01

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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?”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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