Vampires, Not Zombies:
I had Koutetsujou no Kabaneri pinned as a zombie thriller, but perhaps vampire thriller would have been more accurate? I think we can still say both – clearly the kabane are the zombies, and the kabaneri are the vampires. After ending on Mumei’s reveal last episode, I was pretty sure what direction they were going with this; the broad strokes were easy enough to predict. You’ve got a train full of paranoid civilians with two passengers with kabane powers/tendencies. They may have saved them, and already proved their worth, but that wasn’t going to be enough to quell the backlash. It’s interesting to compare the different reactions from each of the principal characters: Mumei is confident in herself and her abilities and doesn’t fear the judgement, likely because she’s used to it; Ikoma partially blames himself, thinking back to his sister, and doesn’t mind being locked away from the others; Kurusu continues to represent the common people with his passion for justice; while Ayame has to take a stand, coming between the two sides to maintain peace. Funnily enough, it was Ayame who impressed me the most this week. As great as her design is, I wasn’t in love with her scenes in the previous two episodes, but here she took a stand, stabbing Ikoma for the naysayers to see, proving that he isn’t the monster they think he is. It was a bold move, showing she’s more hardened than we were led to believe, likely because of the recent passing of her father.
Sadly, it seems the kabaneri do have monster-like tendencies. They’re not full-on man-eating zombies; instead, they feed on blood. It’s not clear yet if them biting someone turns them into a kabaneri, but the final minutes of the episode show that they’re not as innocent as they may appear. It seems Mumei has experienced this antagonism a fair bit, because she doesn’t seem offended when people think ill of her or react to her asking for their blood. I do think she could make her a life a whole lot easier by not trying to be the monster that they think she is, but that seems to be part of her character. As for Ikoma, he goes full vampire and attacks Ayame in the closing scene, which I imagine will be interrupted next episode. Unless she too becomes a kabaneri?
I enjoyed this episode just about as much as the previous two, but I would be lying if I said it had the same visceral impact. As many predicted, the production quality simply can’t stay at that level (and what a level it is – when Kabaneri is at its finest, it looks stunning). Thankfully, the directing is still strong, and the more important moments retain their polish. I especially liked the flashback sequences between Ikoma and his sister, that gave the impression they were drawn in coloured pencils. And there was also the standout moment with Mumei announcing her hunger for blood. So while we’re only three episodes in, I’m not too worried about the future of Kabaneri’s art and direction. It may not return to the same quality as the first two episodes, but you never know, we could be in for a shock. But even if it doesn’t, it’s still one of the best looking shows this season. I think you’d have to be blind to ignore that.
Overview – What’s Next?:
Watching characters travelling for half the episode and then standing around for the second half shouldn’t make for the most exciting watch, but Kabaneri’s strengths still make it an enjoyable thrill ride. I like the pace we’ve established, and that exposition is delivered naturally – through conversation rather than narration or obvious monologuing. It may be pegged as a silly action-fest, but even in a season as good as this, it still understands the core principles of successful storytelling better than most other shows. It’s good at what it’s doing, and that’s why it’s the early favourite for many this spring. It’s still at the top of my list.