“The world is in the midst of the industrial revolution when horrific creatures emerge from a mysterious virus, ripping through the flesh of humans to sate their never-ending appetite. The only way to kill these beings, known as “Kabane,” is by destroying their steel-coated hearts. However, if bitten by one of these monsters, the victim is doomed to a fate worse than death, as the fallen rise once more to join the ranks of their fellow undead.
Only the most fortified of civilizations have survived this turmoil, as is the case with the island of Hinomoto, where mankind has created a massive wall to protect themselves from the endless hordes of Kabane. The only way into these giant fortresses is via heavily-armored trains, which are serviced and built by young men such as Ikoma. Having created a deadly weapon that he believes will easily pierce through the hearts of Kabane, Ikoma eagerly awaits the day when he will be able to fight using his new invention. Little does he know, however, that his chance will come much sooner than he expected…” – MAL Synopsis
The title of this review is the nicest way I can summarize this show. As much as I wanted to like this show, I just couldn’t shake this feeling out of my head. This feeling that I’ve seen this show. But…but a lot better. Actually, a lot better is an understatement. I’ve seen this show but infinitely better. That show’s name is Attack on Titan. Now I do think if a person somehow stumbled upon this show, and that person hasn’t already seen the masterpiece that is Attack on Titan. That person could get way more enjoyment out of this show and might come out at the end liking it. Unfortunately, that person is not me. So while I could potentially give a spoiler-free review from that perspective. This show is so derivative of its peers and does so many things that they do great so much worse. I couldn’t in good faith give a review without bringing it up. Funnily enough, while I’m writing this I found out this anime was created by Wit Studios, so it kind of makes sense.
This anime shows its influence right away. The story is about a civilization being terrorized by Kabane (this shows titans). They live in confined areas (the walls) that they can transport between using trains. So already it’s pretty heavy on the influence. The first two episodes are the beginning of Attack on Titan but worse. The main town we start in is attacked by the Kabane, and they have to flee on the train and go towards the capital, yadda yadda. Just like the beginning of AoT where the Colossal Titan destroys the wall. Oh but instead of our Eren Jager wanna be discovering his powers, later on, he gets them pretty early and also gets a power-up nine episodes later (it’s like he’s speedrunning Eren’s life). That’s it though. The story up until the last five-ish episodes is just them trying to get to the capital and dealing with the situations that arise from the threat of the Kabane. But the biggest threat in this whole show is the character’s stupidity. The last act of the show, I can give props to. The story became interesting and also the best character in this show and his crew are introduced. Another point I can give to this show is the setting. It’s very rare to see any media nowadays that has a steampunk setting or aesthetic and this show pulls through with that setting and nails the vibe. But sadly, the aesthetic alone isn’t enough to save this show.
The characters in this show are so cookie-cutter and generic it hurts. From the naïve Princess that is forced into a leading role and her loyal to the death protector that has feelings for her. Coupled with random NPC-Esque one-note people that act unreasonably given the circumstances of their situation and what they know/have seen. All of these characters are just dumb and make stupid decisions (with the exception of one sort of, which I’ll talk about later). Now, with all that being said. None of those characters are really that blatantly offensive. The character that I take the most gripe with and my main complaint about the show is the main character.
Side note, I’m writing this section about eight days after I’ve finished this anime and I really can’t remember his name. Even when I was watching the show I had a hard time remembering it, but I digress. Ikoma, the main character. The Eren Jager wanna be with “I wanna be a hero syndrome” on steroids. I’ve watched a lot of shounen, so I’ve seen my fair share of characters who have hero syndrome and want to do good no matter what. That often leads to them making a lot of irrational and brash decisions. I don’t mind it usually. But Ikoma makes the most brain-dead, downright stupid decisions constantly. It hurts to watch. In almost every episode I physically cringed at his actions. I found myself just constantly asking why? Why would he say that? Why would he do that? And the answer? Well simply, it’s because he’s not a good character, he’s written, and that adds up to make him the most unlikeable character in this show. And no matter how many times the show tries to tell us that Ikoma is smart, his actions time and time again prove otherwise. Ikoma almost singlehandedly brings this showdown from just being mediocre, to it being downright bad.
Quickly touching on the other main character MuMei. She constantly makes horrible decisions too, but contrary to Ikoma, her character backstory is fleshed out as it becomes crucial to the main plot in the second half of the show. Also, she’s just pretty badass and has the best fighting scenes. The most interesting character in this show by a country mile is Biba (MuMei’s brother). His backstory is super interesting and we kind of get answers about why some of the events in his past happened, but nothing was concrete. Honestly, if the show was centered around him it would be infinitely better. His cool, calm demeanor, his sword with a pistol built-in, his fighting skills, he’s just cool. Which makes him just stand out above the rest of the cast. The crew he commands and his train are also great. Now with that being said, he still falls victim to the horrible writing in the show that he features in. He does make stupid decisions but since he doesn’t have that much screen time, it’s pretty easy to gloss over and somewhat forgiving. All in all the characters range from horrible to mediocre with Biba and his crew being the only real saving grace.
Quick note also. The Kabane are complete rip-offs of titans down to them having a weak point that’s very exposed and multiple variants. With that being said, the variants of the Kabane just feel completely nonsensical and without knowing even a hint about their origin it just feels really out of nowhere. Like there’s the normal variant, then the ones who were formally samurai and are somehow still master swordsmen, amongst a few others. Their completely random powers and abilities hinder the understanding of what the two main characters can and can’t do since their hybrids between humans and the Kabane (hm kinda like this one popular anime…). Another case of bad writing bogging the story down.
Uh, the music wasn’t that memorable. The intro was cool but nothing crazy. It reminded me of better intros in other shows (at least the show is consistent with that). The only thing that caught my ear was the corny dialogue at the beginning of it. I don’t think I ever kept watching long enough to even hear the ending. The faster I got done with each episode the better. On the animation front. As I said before, it’s pretty great. Fights are well animated, character designs are cool and they fit the steampunk aesthetic (which I love).
So Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, in as few words as possible, is ass. I only finished it so I could write this review and even then it took me over a week (almost two) to watch this 12 episode disaster. Then it took me over another week to even finish writing this review cause I’m fighting with my brain trying to constantly scrub this show out of my mind. Its only saving grace is its animation and one character and his crew. The writing is bad, the characters are insufferable. I love WIT Studios and I’ve seen a lot of their anime. This is the worst output from the period. I’ve never seen a studio try to make a clone of one of their other anime and it fails so bad. It’s like if I tried to clone a delicious slice of pizza from Gionino’s (if you’re ever in Ohio you gotta try it, best pizza place) and instead of a 1:1 clone, it came out as one of those Lunchable pizzas. The writers of this show seem to just not understand what makes Attack on Titan and its peers so great. They took only surface-level inspiration and ended up with an inferior story in every way. It’s disappointing. Bargain bin Attack on Titan is not worth the watch at all.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 3/10