OP: 「KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRES」 by EGOIST
Shingeki no Kyojin 2.0?:
One question many had when Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was announced was: “Is this Shingeki no Kyojin 2.0?”. Well, yes and no. The premise is certainly similar – evil monsters who want to eradicate humanity, causing people to live behind walled cities to try and stay alive – but once you get past the broader story being clearly inspired by Shingeki no Kyojin (after all, it is produced by the same studio and directed by the same director), it becomes evident that the finer details are different here, and, based off this premiere, are much more interesting and handled better overall.
Yeah, I’ll say it: comparing the first episode of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to the first episode of Shingeki no Kyojin, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is better. Part of that is because this is an original anime where each episode has likely been perfectly composed to hit key notes of a bigger performance, whereas every manga adaptation faces some degree of difficulty in translating the source to the screen; sometimes certain episodes will be rushed, or too slow, or padded with filler, or skipped altogether. Here, the original creators know what they’re doing, and that is evident with the premiere. The world, its characters, and the trauma they are facing feels much more refined than Shingeki no Kyojin did in the very beginning. But will it be a better series overall? Time will tell.
Action Done Right – A Strong Opener:
Let me just say that I loved this episode. While Boku no Hero Academia had a stellar premiere, this is, so far, my favourite of the spring 2016 season. There are many reasons for that, but perhaps the most noteworthy is that this is a specific genre done right. It’s been so long since an action anime had me hooked from the first minute to the last. The violence was gripping and visceral in a way you don’t see too often (thanks to censoring). Grimgar is an example that managed to add the weight of death into its fight scenes, and that is even more prominent here. Is it subtle in any way? No. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s very likely that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri could end up a mess, but so long as its entertaining, that’s fine by me. But I have confidence that given this is a 1-cour (Noitamina) original clearly inspired by those who worked on Shingeki no Kyojin, there’s a fair chance all the things they wished they’d done with that series could end up here instead.
As for the actual plot, it’s fairly standard, but executed strongly enough that it feels like it knows how to make the most of the premise. Ikoma (Hatanaka Tasuku) is already a more interesting and badass character than Eren, yet I’ve seen some people compare the two and say they’re not that different. But I can’t see that. They both shout a lot, I’ll grant you that (but that’s more to do with Araki Tetsurou directing, as he likes his characters to get angry and SCREAM THEIR PASSIONS – which I’m a fan of). This single episode makes Ikoma out to be confident, smart, inventive, and driven, overshadowing early impressions I had of Eren. The asphyxiation scene in particular was astonishing – for a moment I thought he was going to hang himself there and then, but what happened was even cooler. That moment alone is enough to have me interested in Ikoma’s quest to kill the Kabane, and find out why he was able to reject their infection.
Speaking of Kabane, they’re also more intimidating than many of the titans were in early episodes. There was a certain amusement in their foolish designs that I appreciated, but if you’re looking for something that feels genuinely threatening, then the Kabane are a better option. They are basically zombies; infected humans who seemingly exist only to infect others. They’re brutal and unforgiving and not slow like your typical zombies, so there’s some real tension whenever one appears on screen. However, Mumei (Senbongi Sayaka) seems to have them covered. It was obvious she would be a secret badass, but her heel being her blade was more epic than I could have imagined, and a striking moment to end the episode on. Like Ikoma, she’s a badass and I can’t wait to see more of her in action in future episodes.
Production Quality Through the Roof – Can It Keep Up?:
Finally, I’d like to touch on how gorgeous this episode was. The PV gave that away, but the whole episode was stunning, from the intense action sequences, to the subtle movements and expressions of the characters, to how distinctive the art style is – though many will likely think of this as the SnK clone, I’m sure its aesthetic will remain identifiable in season/years to come. Yet for as good as the visuals were, the sound was just as brilliant. The OST had my blood pumping in the scenes that mattered, and the OP is simply epic (though the recycled animation throughout is not – hopefully there will be an actual OP released in the coming weeks).
The one major concern people seem to have is that Wit Studio likely won’t be able to keep up this level of quality. That’s probably true; very few anime do maintain the same level of production quality from start to end, though Hunter x Hunter (2011) would be a massive exception. All you need to do is look back at Wit’s previous titles to see that pretty much all of them had slumps in later episodes. Each of their series have their own individual looks, but I sure do hope the output remains at least consistent with Koutetsujou no Kabaneri. It’s easily their most visually impressive anime to date, so I pray the Amazon Prime partnership is giving them some good money in return.
Since I mentioned it, I might as well point out that it felt good to be able to watch this on Amazon Prime, which I am subscribed to but doesn’t quite have the catalog of other major streaming services. The fact that this and every other Noitamina anime will be streamed worldwide a few hours after they air in Japan is an exciting development in how we view our anime. So long as you’ve got an Amazon Prime account, of course. If not, you’ll just have to rely on the internet.
Overview – First Impressions:
As I stated, this has been my favourite premiere so far this season. It’s not especially deep, but it does its action right, the characters are badasses, the steampunk world is pretty damn cool, and there wasn’t a massive exposition dump to explain the situation or the way people live – instead we got what any good series should do: it showed us the world through the characters, their actions, their rankings, their manner of speech, the way they dress, act, and present themselves. This episode is not the shoddy rehash of an earlier success like some suspected – this is some very talented people making the story they want to tell after being held back by the limits of another’s source material.