Zombieland Saga – 02 – Headless Hip-Hop

A show in which Sakura was solely responsible for babysitting six brainless zombies while a manic Miyano Mamoru yelled at her would probably get old fast (though one should never underestimate Miyano’s ability to entertain with his flexible voice). So it’s good to see all of the young women, save Yamada Tae, “awaken”, since it means they now have personalities. And not all of them are fine simply going along with Tatsumi’s plan for them.

In fact, the two famous idols Konno Junko and Mizuno Ai head for the exit almost immediately, wanting not part of the Saga revitalizaiton plan (also, Tae bites and the zombie dog is scary). But like Sakura, they learn that as soon as a living human sees them, they freak out.

In the case of the local policeman, he shoots wildly at the girls, while the three rappers who were cruising for chicks wig out when they see them in the light. Tatsumi is right: if they’re going to live something like normal lives, they have to hide what they truly are. There’s no place in the world for zombies.

While the idols tried to passively avoid their duties, and Yuugiri and Lily are mostly neutral, biker boss Nikaidou Saki is more actively against the whole enterprise, and doesn’t like how readily Sakura takes Tatsumi’s commands while practicing.

Saki thinks that as zombies they should try to take over the country (even though there are a lot of ways to kill them humans are very familiar with). She, like most of the others, think it’s ludicrous to believe they’ll be able to function as an idol group, and don’t much care about the fate of Saga.

That attitude changes somewhat when Tatsumi works his Hollywood makeup magic, returning all of the young women to their “living” looks, much to their surprise and delight. For the next gig he’s also changed the name of their group to “Green Face.” Once again, they take the stage with very little in the way of a plan.

Sakura starts out, but Tae derails things and ends up losing her head, which the crowd takes to be some kind of magic trick. When Sakura and Saki start fighting over whether Tae’s head should be put back on her shoulders, they erupt into a lively rap battle, with Tatsumi providing the beatboxing, Yuugiri strumming her shamisen, and Lily getting the crowd involved.

It’s another instance of making something fun and entertaining out of nothing, and yet again legitimizes Tatsumi’s grand plans as less cockamamie as originally believed. But the two idols still seem awfully hesitant to involve themselves, while Yae and her biting pose a constant threat to their audience. On the plus side, they seem to have gained a couple of groupies!

Zombieland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – A Little Biting Never Hurt Anybody

Minamoto Sakura is your typical upbeat girl (and aspiring idol) starting her first day of high school. She’s so excited, in fact, she doesn’t look both ways before running into the street, and gets absolutely pulverized by a passing Hijet in a shocking needle scratch.

Just when I was thinking to myself this girl…is a bit much, the show immediately flips the script. Her flight through the sky in slo-mo as the bloodstained, death metal opening credits run definitely hint at a show with some Attitude, as well as one with surprises and a black sense of humor to boot.

Sakura wakes up in, a haunted-ass mansion in the middle of a rainstorm, and almost immediately comes afoul of not one but many zombies. Just as the show proved deft at setting a bubbly optimistic atmosphere that it then tore to shreds inside its first ninety seconds, it proves just as deft at setting a classic horror mood.

Dark and tingly and tense, it slowly reveals the monsters that dwell in that mansion and totally freak Sakura the fuck out. There’s no explanation as to what’s going on; we’re just along for the hell-ride, as she is.

Deciding the best plan is to run away as fast as she can, she encounters a partroling policeman, who pulls a gun on her when he gets a good look at her face. Turns out the rain washed off makeup that only made her look alive.

Her “benefactor”, the effortlessly eccentric Tatsumi Koutarou, saves her from the trigger-happy cop and brings her back to the mansion, where all is explained: Sakura died ten years ago, and he brought her and five other young women back in order to make the ultimate idol group, in hopes of saving Saga, the culturally declined city in which he resides.

His undead dream team consists of a former biker boss, Showa idol, courtesan, child actress prodigy, Heisei idol, Sakura…and Yamada Tae, who he calls “legendary” like the others, but does not explain why she’s legendary. But since Sakura is also far from legendary herself, she doesn’t have much room to complain, now does she?

The others haven’t “awakened” yet as Sakura has, so he decides to put them on stage as quickly as possible in order to “stimulate” them into doing so. He uses makeup methods he learned in Hollywood to make them look alive and ushers them into a packed death metal venue.

He gives Sakura your typical heartfelt pep talk…but Sakura still doesn’t think she can do it, because she has no idea what she’s supposed to do on stage with five zombies and no other direction, besides “trust her instincts.”

And at first, it is indeed extremely rough on that stage, as the impatient crowd awaits the music. Finally, it comes over the loudspeakers, and one by one the zombies start to scream and headbang in a way you only could if your neck was broken.

The assembled metalheads like this very much, especially the fact that the girls initially looked like an idol group ready to insult their beloved genre. It all goes swimmingly until the zombies start to bite the crowds, and the show is presumably shut down. But they certainly made an impression, which is what Tatsumi was surely after. You know, the impression of teeth into flesh!

The next day, more of the zombies have awakened, though Yamada Tae is still a mindless biter. It’s no longer only Sakura’s show, as there will be other lucid zombie characters in the second ep. But this was a great and wonderfully irreverent introduction to what looks to be a very bizarre—and funny—new Fall title.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 24 (Fin)

I’m not going to lie and say I was all that enamored by this finale. In fact, it was a bit of a chore to get through, ironically as soon as the titular Bahamut showed up. Now, all of a sudden, Charioce is a good guy like everyone else, and all is forgiven, at least until the more immediate threat of Bahamut is dealt with (and, as it happens, all is forgiven even after that).

Favaro is dead, and Bacchus’ wagon has crashed. Nina decides the only way to fight a dragon is with another dragon (hers truly) while the gods and demons get together and form a barrier to minimize damage to the capital—though Bahamut’s random breath blasts still causes plenty of apocalyptic destruction. I just wish it was more interesting a boss.

Dragon-Nina doesn’t go up against Bahamut head-to-head; that would be suicide. Instead, she flies to Dromos and lands (naked) on Charioce’s back, much to his chagrin. But that’s just tough: if he’s going to put his life on the line to destroy Bahamut, she will too. They interface with Dromos together and it takes the form of a dragon covered with magical circuitry.

Nina and Charioce’s dragon shoots a beam; Bahamut shoots a beam; the beams meet, the first beam pushes Bahamut’s back and eventually blasts his head off, and badda-bing-badda-bang, the capital—and the world—is saved.

Just before Bahamut is blasted away, Nina (but not Charioce) finds herself in “the light of Bahamut”, where Amira is still hanging out. She gives Nina a big ol’ hug (both are naked, so Nina’s a bit bashful) and whispers something. When the day returns, the Dromos dragon has turned to stone and Charioce and Nina are passed out on the deck.

Fast-forward to the epilogue: Nina is still in the capital, helping with rebuilding; still living with Bacchus, Rita and Hamsa; Favaro announces he’s leaving again to resume his wandering life; Nina tells him about Amira, and he’s heartened; Rita has apparently resurrected Kaisar as a zombie.

Nina can apparently visit the palace whenever she wants to dance with Charioce, who is blind now but still king. As I said, all the horrible things he did are forgiven now because Bahamut was defeated…only Bahamut isn’t really dead, and he’ll be back, because he’s the name of the franchise.

But…I guess Nina’s willing to let bygones be bygones in terms of the atrocities Charioce committed against demons, gods, and whatever humans opposed him. She’s also lost her voice, apparently the price she had to pay (along with Char’s other eye) to use Dromos.

I do loathe running out of enthusiasm right before the finish line, but Bahamut really undermined much of this season with its inexplicable insistence that the audience go along with the notion that Charioce was a fellow who deserved redemption.

Nina’s love always felt as blind as the king ended up. She gave and gave and never got anything back for her love, except for the occasional decently-animated dance.

This season was at times fun, often gorgeous, occasionally sweet or funny or even moving. But in the end I just wasn’t buying what Virgin Soul was trying so hard to sell, and as a result I doubt I’d have any use for a third round.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 23

War explodes in, over, and around Anatae, as Lucifer joins the battle in his flagship, and the Onyx Soldiers and Charioce loyalists battle the alliance of demons, gods, and men. While these zoom-outs to the wider fighting certainly make for nice eye candy, what truly interested me was when they zoomed back in on the smaller, more intimate moments between various pairs of characters, be it Jeanne and Azazel, or Dias finding Alessand.

Alessand cries, begs for his life, and then stabs Dias when his guard is down, betraying him again. At that point, Dias is done with Al, except to drive a sword into him, but a little demon boy, who can see through Al’s forced smile, doesn’t fall for it, and kills him with a dagger.

After making the wrong choice to murder El in sight of a grander station, Al ended up slain by a small, frail, hungry child and died bleeding out in a dark alley. No songs will be sung of Alessand. But hey, he did get Nina into the palace, right?

Nina doesn’t understand Charioce one bit…but she sure wants to, and that means going to him once more, even if previous instances of doing so didn’t really turn out so well for her or anyone near her. Charioce waits on the top deck of aboard his flagship, surrounded by the Onyx Soldiers…who aren’t doing too hot.

Their bodies reach their absolute limit at just the wrong time: when their king needs them the most to protect him. But the combined force of Jeanne and Azazel proves too much for them, although not by much…if the Commander had had just a few more moments of life, he might’ve managed to stab Jeanne in the throat with a hidden blade.

Lucifer’s flagship, Bacchus’ wagon, and yes, an elevating bridge made out of zombies amassed by Rita bearing her and Kaisar, all descend on the same spot, where Charioce is about to be charged by Jeanne and Azazel. It’s Kaisar who makes it just in time to protect his king, and gets stabbed and impaled by their snakes and spear. Rita is beside herself, while Jeanne and Azazel are sheepish.

Charioce is shocked, but he shouldn’t be: Kaisar Lidfort is, and always has been, a true knight. If the world survives this latest attack from Bahamut, it will need more Kaisars, not more Charioces. A few Favaros wouldn’t hurt though…

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 12 (Fin)

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Now that he’s killed the Daddy who never loved him, and is well on the way to destroying the capital with the sister he turned into a monster, there’s not much for Biba to do but sit on the throne and…wait. Wait to be defeated by Ikoma, that is.

There wasn’t really much doubt of that, as this show has typically stuck to tried-and-true plot developments. That being said, Ikoma and Kurusu storming the city, going to town, and leaving piles of bodies in their wake is a sight to behold, as is the latter’s understanding that he’s to waste no time ending the former should he go Full Kabane. (Never go Full Kabane; the audience can’t connect.)

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While on the outside Mumei is at the core of a grotesque yet also oddly beautiful fused colony, in her mind she’s fighting memories of being weak and stamping them out. It’s as much a prison for her mind as her body.

As for Ayame, she’s able to break some locals out of a prison of fear and rigid lashing-out simply by getting in their face. Not sure that wouldn’t have resulted in someone accidentally pulling a trigger on her, but she’s always had relatively good luck.

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With Kurusu by his side, Ikoma continues to carve his way to Mumei, leading to a minor boss fight with one of Biba’s lieutenants, who tries to run a train into Ikoma but is thwarted when Ikoma’s super-Kabaneri power allows him to blast the train straight off the rails and into mid air. He then kills the guy himself with his arm-gun, justifying the killing by saying the guy kill too many. No arguments here.

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There’s just one last obstacle before he can save Mumei: Biba himself, who takes the stage excited to “hunt” a rare, fearless foe such as Ikoma. In her fever dream prison, Mumei sees Ikoma as the one blue butterfly in a cloud of red ones, because butterflies have never been used in this way in anime before.

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In all seriousness, as we’ve seen, Biba is highly skilled at combat, but when you don’t seem to be fighting for much anymore, but when up against a singularly motivated and nigh unkillable Kabaneri, it was only a matter of time before he took a hard lick that took him down.

Biba doesn’t stay down, however, even after Ikoma downs him and gives Mumei the magical white blood, reviving her and bringing her back to normal. It isn’t Ikoma who delivers the killing blow to Biba; he’s unconscious. It’s Mumei, who repeatedly implored Biba to stop hurting Ikoma, and stabbed him through the heart when he didn’t.

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With Biba dead and Mumei back to normal, she and Kurusu (with Ikoma on his back) race back to the Kotetsujou, which seems like a rather manufactured final hurdle, even though I did like how happy she looked when she saw the whole gang ready to catch her with a big fabric net.

The only real problem is that Ikoma won’t wake up…until he does, on Mumei’s insistence. When he does, she embraces him closely, her shield returned to her by white blood Biba must have injected before being killed, a last act of selflessness and compassion in a life full of violence and hatred.

With Mumei and Ikoma both alive and relatively unhurt (amazingly), the Kotetsujou steams off into the sunset, ending a very dark show on a very bright—if awfully tidy—parting note.

Kabaneri initially grabbed my attention with superior visuals (and audio) and thrilling action. But once the novelty of that quality wore off, the shows shortcomings grew more conspicuous, keeping this show rather far from greatness. Still, it was a hell of a rousing watch…most of the time.

If a second season comes one day, I will definitely give it a look—I’d like to see Mumei’s humanity restored, for one thing—but if it’s all the same to Wit Studio, I’d prefer a second season of Attack on Titan first.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 11

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Both Kuromukuro and Kabaneri managed to reignite my passion for watching them in their eleventh episodes. I didn’t really know what to expect after last week cliffhanger would have had us believe Ikoma had been stabbed through the heart and tossed into the sea for dead by a Mumei now lost to him. This week quickly debunks the first assumption and paves the way to debunk the second, even though shit is still hitting the fan, as it were.

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First, Kongokaku: it’s a grand, peaceful, and impressive place when the Kotetsujou arrives at its gate, but we see from the shogun eliminating a messenger with knowledge hat could sow public panic, theirs is clearly an uneasy peace, especially with Kabane lurking right outside those “impregnable” walls.

Biba doesn’t need to besiege his father’s seat, however; he comes in through the front door; a “captive” of Ayame; a role she’s forced to play because he’s holding her people hostage. Of course, going by his script only proves to Biba that’s he’s weak, and it’s become painfully apparent that the weak don’t live long once they meet him.

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To his credit, the shogun immediately knows Biba is up to something; he just doesn’t know what until it’s too late. Biba uses the same fear his father used as an excuse for stabbing him in the dark as a child to destroy his father. The dagger he gave him contains a hidden needle that infects the shogun with the virus, and his own men gun him down in a panic.

Biba need only deal the killing blow with his sword, and just like that Kongokaku is his. The Kabane in his hold are released onto the city to stoke up fear, paranoia, and people killing people, but he simply sits on the throne, not smirking an evil smirk, but remembering a day when he rode a horse with his father. Do I detect a hint of…weakness, AKA love? No matter; there’s no one around to punish Biba for it.

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While all that excitement is going on, Ikoma, having washed up on a shore not in the greatest shape but very much alive, is temporarily incapacitated by the immense weight of the guilt and regret over what went down, including Takumi’s death. He didn’t run, he was tossed out, and he’s right that at the time there was nothing he could do.

Kurusu, who has one of Biba’s scientists captive, finds Ikoma, and is actually patient with him as he goes through various stages of grief. In the end, Kurusu makes Ikoma set aside all the reasons he should simply die, and asks him why he’s still alive in the first place: his chest wound is so precise, Mumei must have intended to miss his heart, meaning she is not totally lost.

Granted, as we cut back to the capital, we see that Mumei is considerably more lost than the time she spared Ikoma. And she’s just as helpless here as Ayame, or as Ikoma was back on the train. Biba controls every aspect of her life, and despite all he’s done she still harbors loyalty to him, because she’d have died long ago (and been “beckoned by the butterflies”) were it not for him.

That combination of coercion-by-obligation, as well as the reality that Biba has kept Mumei weak and unable to oppose him even if she wanted to (and she did try), have led to her simply giving up. She will let the butterflies come, with the small consolation that at least she was able to free Ikoma a similar fate.

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Only thing is, Ikoma hasn’t given up, thanks largely to Kurusu and the captive he has for some reason (I forgot why; sue me). That scientist just happens to have on hand two serums: one is white, and could save Mumei; but to get to her Ikoma knows he needs to be stronger (and apparently, less scruffy) than he is.

So he injects the black serum, an accelerant that indeed causes him to undergo yet another transformation. When we leave him, he seems that much less human, and particularly stable, but fueled by his resolve to stop Biba and save Mumei, odds are he’ll be able to endure. I certainly hope so, because Mumei deserves better than the same fate as Horobi—who also didn’t deserve it.

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(Almost a 9 based solely on the new Aimer ED, “Through My Blood”, which brought it)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 10

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Thinks are bad for the good guys: Ikoma is in prison, and Biba’s goons are harvesting blood from the Kotetsujou to feed the Kabane, and they’re not exactly being nice about it. Like Mumei, these are people who weren’t taught to think of the weak as people worthy of compassion, but in this case they’re more like livestock. It ain’t pretty.

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When I saw Biba alone in a car with Ayame, my skin crawled, because I knew he wouldn’t be honoring whatever deal he was striking with her. He only needs her until she can arrange an audience between him and his father the Shogun; after that all bets are off; that’s just how villains operate, and Biba is a pretty conventional villain.

He certainly has the look down, as well as the way he creepily wipes blood off Mumei’s cheek, after appeasing her with another promise he won’t keep: that the passengers of the Kotetsujou will not be harmed.

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That’s because a group of passengers are doing the one thing that will make Biba come down on them even harder: planning a revolt. Ikoma is the ringleader, taking note of the comings and goings of the key man. When the moment is right, he breaks out and the group strikes.

Sukari was portrayed early as someone who apparently betrayed his friends because he knew resistance was futile, but I had him pegged as a double agent pretty quickly, and that’s what it turns out he is, having helped slip intel to Ikoma, thus earning a measure of Takumi and Yukina’s forgiveness.

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When Biba gets word of the revolt, of course he makes Mumei choose to either take care of the disturbance—killing Ikoma and her friends in the process—or stop receiving the medication that’s keeping her virus from spreading and turning her into a full Kabane.

At the end of the day, this is Mumei’s most damning weakness: her utter dependence on her brother’s good side, which never really existed in the first place. He even lowered her dosage, anticipating her possible betrayal, so that she doesn’t have the strength to get away when she does bolt.

As for Ikoma, for some reason he thought the key man had all the keys, but he doesn’t; why would Biba make it so easy for Ikoma to get to the most important part of the train? Instead, Ikoma and his men block Ikoma, and when Ikoma refuses to join his fight (an offer most conventional villains usually give the protagonist), his guys open fire. Only Ikoma doesn’t get shot, because Takumi took the bullet.

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So yeah, RIP Takumi, who at least managed to repay Ikoma for his getting show earlier in the run. Naturally, Ikoma isn’t all that pleased his best mate has been murdered in front of him. Unfortunately, that’s not all he has to deal with on this particularly shitty day.

That’s because Biba brings in Mumei, only she’s not really his friend anymore; likely she’s been “re-programmed” with drugs from the mad scientist car. Without hesitation, she drives her dagger into Ikoma’s chest and lets him fall out of the train, off a cliff, and into the sea.

Now, don’t think Ikoma’s dead, and neither do you—he’s the frikkin’ main character, for crying out loud. So the question then becomes, how will he manage to survive, and how will he get back to where Ayame and Mumei are? Talk about a stacked deck…

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 09

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This week, any illusions about Biba having a shred of good (or nuance) are wiped away for good: this is vendetta, against all who wronged him, and wronging him includes acts of cowardice perpetrated by the Shogunate. Ikoma and Ayame are in agreement that Mumei has to be taken away from this guy, but doing so is no mean feat, at least initially.

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Horobi, who we only just met, is given greater focus this week as Biba’s sacrificial subject. What’s so brutal is that she knows this, and is resigned to it, vowing her loyalty even while betraying a glimmer of regret and fear of death. For Biba has gotten it into Horobi’s head that he’s stronger than her, which means she’s expendable.

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No doubt Biba feels the same way about Mumei, and her time to lay down her life so he can walk over it will surely come soon; that is, if Mumei doesn’t get her mind right and escape. She and Ikoma actually get into quite close proximity this week, but Mumei is still following her brother, opening the gate to Iwato against Iwato’s wishes.

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Once Mumei has opened that gate, all hell breaks loose. Biba unleashes his army of captive Kabane on Iwato’s guards, and his meeting with Lord Maeda quickly turns to bloodshed. Ayame takes up a spear, but Yukina has to take a dart to the chest from Horobi. There’s a palpable feeling that the two are very very unsafe in this room with Biba and his true believer followers.

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Mumei quickly comes to regret opening the gates, since the Kabane proceeded to tear through the station, killing and turning hundreds of townsfolk. Of course, she blames herself, which is what Biba wants, as if perhaps she lacked something that would have resulted in a better outcome. That something is, of course, the awareness that her “brother” is an horrendously deluded evil dick.

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That dickishness is confirmed once and for all when, after Horobi goes berserk—first as the core of a fused colony, then a monstrous super-kabaneri killbot—her blade stops an inch from Biba’s throat. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek just before he runs her through with his sword, taking advantage of her honor and loyalty to the end. RIP Horobi. We hardly knew ye.

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With Ikoma thoroughly “liberated”, as Biba rather unconvincingly claims, Ikoma, Ayame, and all her people are held at gunpoint and warned not to resist or interfere. Even Mumei has guns pointed at her, on order from her bro. Ikoma can’t really do much, and is beaten by one of Biba’s lieutenants, but if one good thing came out of this episode, is that it caused Mumei to wake up to the truth about Biba, meaning she and Ikoma are back on the same side.

The pace of Kabaneri, and Biba’s treachery in particular, has been breathless in its alacrity, almost to the point of not allowing anything to sink in deep enough, because there’s always more stuff to deal with. That being said, if this is only an 12-episode series, I’m not wholly unappreciative of the show picking up the pace for a showdown in the capital.

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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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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 06

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We had another badass, satisfying resolution to another crisis, but when it’s all over it does feel like Kabaneri bit off a bit more than it could chew. If you’re going to bring out a foe as powerful and initially terrifying as a “fused colony”, as it did last week, you’d better not hold back in using it.

Last week’s cliffhanger was essentially Game Over…unless the Koutetsujou was able to seek shelter (and stop on a dime), complete with a blast door that managed to hold the colony monster back. Then the colony kinda takes a break, dicking around “gathering more Kabane”, giving everyone ample time to regroup. Too much time to maintain last week’s sense of immense peril.

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This is also an episode torn between two different paces: that of the immediate threat of the colony (which spends a long time not attacking), and that of Mumei’s descents into the past, when a mysterious warrior, always kept out of focus and accompanied by a glowing butterfly, saves her from sharing the fate of her family and fellow townsfolk.

Mumei and Ikoma also have a nice leisurely chat about weakness and strength. Mumei doesn’t want Ikoma to save her, but he keeps trying anyway, even though the train could leave the station without him. He even gives her some blood when she starts going into withdrawal.

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Mumei loses consciousness again when Ikoma turns to fight a horde of approaching Kabane, but when she comes to again, she’s surrounded by crewmembers there to get her out, and she finds Ikoma bitten in the stomach, but alive. Her lesson is, even though they were weak, they still survived. Being weak doesn’t mean turning over and accepting death.

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The experience has an immediate effect on Mumei, who was about as despondent as one could be while trapped under the rubble, but now that she’s been given a chance, in spite of having a weak moment or two (by her reckoning), she’s a lot more chipper, and decides to mend fences with the family of the dead dog, and assures the other women she’ll take care of the fused colony.

The crew can say they didn’t go back just for Mumei and Ikoma, because they also picked up a huge Type 48 Cannon that they can use to dissipate the colony. But to do so the colony has to get close…too close. This is when things pick up and the episode starts redeeming itself…though I was a little skeptical that the rescue team, and the seriously-injured Ikoma and Mumei, could get back to the train as quickly as they could while the colony barely moved by comparison.

Never mind, it’s time for a patented Kabaneri action sequence, with Yukina showing off her muscles when releasing the train’s pressure limits, Sukari providing a crucial assist by un-blocking the works in a very hazardous part of the train, and Takumi firing the bullet at just the right time…on his second try.

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The core of the colony is exposed for Mumei, who flies up and pierces it, but not before seeing…someone? Is it someone from the “team” she mentioned, of which she is the last remaining member who isn’t a Kabane? Whatever the case, the woman in the core merely screeches at Mumei, Mumei collects herself and takes her out.

The resulting explosion sends Mumei flying, but Ikoma is there to catch her. When the train threatens to derail, everyone moves to one side to right it, and they escape Yashiro…though without, if I’m not mistaken, re-supplying.

The episode ends without any aftermath—a bit of a disappointment—but the taste of victory may soon be replaced by train-wide hunger and increasing frustration and unrest. But maybe that’s why the episode just ended without addressing that: just enjoy the win for now; we’ll tackle the next crisis next week.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 05

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Last week ended on a triumphant note, but a return to the dark wasn’t unexpected, and we ease right back into that as two low-lifes fight over scraps of food. Mumei plays reluctant referee, and for that she receives applause from the passengers just trying to go about their lives, but the scuffle seemed too easily resolved by what amounted to beating the crap out of the guys. Mumei isn’t the diplomatic type.

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Indeed, when they reach Yashiro station to find it ravaged by Kabane, Enoku, a man who knows Mumei well, is among the survivors. He considers her the “claw” of their master (his former, her current?) and is likely of the mind that her settling spats on the train—indeed, mixing with the normal humans at all—will make her a slow, dull claw if she’s not careful. He proves his point by catching Mumei off-guard with a pistol.

Things snowball for Mumei from there, as she starts to immediately separate herself from Ikoma and the other softies as they devise the safest plan for getting to a crane in order to move a collapsed tower off the tracks, rather than punching through and destroying every Kabane there. She then demonstrates how inexperienced she is talking with distraught kids whose dead dog is still warm when she makes things worse with all the wrong words.

It’s a huge (and welcome) reversal of her first scene; there, she was celebrated as not only the “bodyguard” of Kotetsujou, but a generally amiable peacekeeper. Enoku makes plain that peace is not her purpose. She’s a weapon of war. Unfortunately, she’s a flawed, fragile, almost dangerously proud weapon, far too reckless for someone with a time limit.

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Ikoma notices Mumei has changed, and not for the better, but he’s so busy preparing for the big crane operation he can only spare so much time in getting to what’s eating her (plus, Mumei isn’t one to talk about her problems overmuch).

He lets Mumei do things her way, but implores her to stay away from the boiler room, suspected to be the Kabane nest. Of course, she runs straight for the boiler room, and Ikoma doesn’t stick to his plan. He deviates in order to meet up with her. It’s a good thing he did, too.

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Mumei wastes a ton of fighting power, time, and energy (plus some blood) fighting the Kabane dwelling in the boiler room. It looks like an impressive accomplishment, right until it’s revealed the “black smoke” that attacked Yashiro and brought the massive tower down on the tracks is really a gigantic, horrifying amalgamation of Kabane. Mumei’s kill count was less than a drop in the bucket, and she’s already winded.

When a Wazatori attacks her, she’s no match and gets tossed off a ledge. Ikoma is able to kill the guy and rescue her, but she seems well and truly out of commission for the time being. Worse, he had to stop controlling the crane, leaving the crumpled tower still blocking the train, with a huge, spooky, Ghilbi-esque black smoke monster poised to strike.

There’s scarcely a dull—or non-life-threatening—moment on Kabaneri, and a clear pattern has emerged of the heroes having to fend off one baddie after another in sequence (which makes sense, as they’re on a train) while proving to the people they want to protect that they’re not the enemy.

Ikoma got pretty short shrift this week, but since he’s better at interacting with people and has friends from before his transformation present, his climb isn’t as steep, hence the emphasis on Mumei. Mumei’s physical and emotional vulnerabilities are laid bare once again, and it’s proven without doubt that if she’s going to survive, she going to need Ikoma as much as he’ll need her in the battles to come.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 04

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Obviously, things go a lot less bad than they seemed to be going. Mumei is able to sorta argue that the unborn baby she killed along with the mother was tainted, and no fight ensues where she’s forced to fight back and murder non-Kabanes. Back in the rear car, Ikoma doesn’t bite Ayame, but not of his own volition; Kurusu is there in the nick of time to stop him, and in ringing his bell, snaps him out of his, shal we say, hunger trance.

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But things still go bad, as this is Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, and never has there been that long a lull between crises. The first crisis becomes one of faith, as Ayame, shaken by Ikoma’s attack, isn’t so sure she’s still the best person to run the train, even if she inherited the job. Quite surprisingly, she hands the master key to one of the ICs (Ingrate Cowards), who immediately changes course for the more dangerous mountain shortcut.

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Ikoma and Mumei are locked in their rear car, along with Ikoma’s friends, but the ICs’ attempts to separate the car from the train and leave them behind fails when it virtually starts to rain Kabane, putting the train on high combat alert. It isn’t long until the zombies are in the train. I’ll say one thing for this show, it loves hiking the stakes up to ludicrous levels, and it loves to make the ICs their own worst enemies, as Ikoma and Mumei have to climb outside the train in order to participate in the battle.

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The bushi and other fighters within the train actually handle themselves well for far longer than I expected them to, but inevitably, and especially with the combat-savvy, battle-hardened wazatori aboard, things start to go pear-shaped. Kurusu learns he can kill more efficiently with his sword than a gun, but that same sword lets him down when he tries to pierce the waza’s chest and the blade shatters, giving the super-kabane an opening to stab Kurusu right through the chest.

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Once they no longer have to worry about being decapitated by tunnels, Ikoma and Mumei bust out, and aided by a brief de-railing, engage in a fantastic acrobatic aerial battle, building up a formidable Kabane body count. Mumei’s confidence when flying and twirling through the air, like a baton of death, inspired many a hearty fist pump.

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It’s only natural then, that when the first stage of their counterattack is complete, her fuel tank hits “E” and she goes down for the day. I loved how she and Ikoma were ready to go with the gear needed to keep her from being thrown from the train while unconscious, as well as how cool Mumei seems with leaving things up to Ikoma. Not that she has a choice, but, well, he’s no Mumei…and he’s starving too.

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It isn’t long before he can barely move himself, and beseeches someone – anyone – for a bit of blood, promising to waste the wazatori in exchange. The one who answers his call is Ayame, who hesitates not as she climbs to the top of the car and slashes her arm for Ikoma to drink from in one of the episode’s handful of dynamic “muralesque” shots. She also wastes quite a bit of her blood by not waiting for Ikoma to get close enough, but she seems to be okay.

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The blood re-energizes Ikoma, who polishes off the wazatori, who caused Kurusu (who somehow survives that wound) and the others so much trouble, as if he was swatting a big, lumbering fly with a steam-powered rolled-up newspaper. With that, the latest crisis is resolved, and the episode ends (thankfully) without immediately starting a new one. Instead, it ends on another still shot, with Ikoma’s circle of supporters, all of whom pledged to give him their blood so he can keep fighting for them.

It’s a triumphant shot, ending what could be considered a four-part movie with no shortage of badass action, heart-pounding thrills, and shocking levels of near-self-destruction on the part of Team IC. Hopefully, Ayame’s latest acts of courage and faith will inspire the rest of the schlubs on board to at least consider the fact the Kabaneri aren’t just Kabane by another name.

They’re the good guys, and all they ask is a little voluntarily-offered blood now and again for their indispensable services.

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