Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress gives us insight into how humanity would react on the brink of extinction, and while this is a topic that has been explored by other series and quite honestly done better by other anime like Attack on Titan, it’s a new take that’s still worth the watch.
With only 12 episodes, it’s not a huge time investment, and all in all, it’s a good series that features great visuals, which comes as no surprise with Wit Studio (Attack on Titan, Vinland Saga, Great Pretender) behind the helm, and gripping scenes. The story sometimes goes off the rails a bit, but like the train in this series, it maintained its course and took me on a journey I won't soon forget.
In the series, humanity lives in fear of zombie-like creatures they call Kabane and have taken shelter in fortresses to protect themselves from the threat. These Kabane are extremely difficult to kill with only one weak point, their heart, which is protected by a coating of iron. Initially, I was a little iffy about the monsters in the series and was afraid that it would be like every other zombie story out there, but they introduce different levels of these creatures along the way that make them more interesting and powerful foes.
However, I will say that I never felt their threat was all that great, aside from when they grouped together in massive hordes. One area at which I felt this series struggled is I never felt like the main characters were truly in harm’s way, even though they were at all times. So I don't spoil anything, I don’t want to mention too much, but I will say that there are some reveals that occur within the series and developments in regards to the infection that make the story even more compelling.
With its premise, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress highlights both the worst and best society has to offer, but where it really excels is the way at which it showcases the overall power that fear can and does have on the actions of people. While this isn’t necessarily new, the way this fear is threaded throughout the storyline and the way in which you are constantly reminded of it is extremely well done. Not only that, but it shows just how much people can be controlled by fear. The fears of the townspeople are displayed and shown here just as much as the fears that the main characters have to overcome.
The story overall is enjoyable with likable characters, like Ikoma and Mumei, and it’s a really entertaining watch all-around with great fight sequences that are even more exciting to witness thanks to the music and sound that accompany them. They somehow managed to make a story that takes place largely on a train or as they call it, the Koutetsujou, interesting with these more dynamic scenes.
While I wish they explored the outside world more, it made sense that they didn’t venture too far from the safety of the Koutetsujou given the nature of the world they live in. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress’s story takes few detours along the way, so it’s a very fast-paced, no filler watch. While some plot points needed more time to develop, I was never put off by its straightforwardness, and actually ended up appreciating this about the series by its end.
My favorite part about Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, however, is the world it exists in, which is very steampunk but is also a very traditional setting at the same time. This makes sense given that it is inspired by the Industrial Revolution of the Samurai age. For me, this is one of the most compelling things about the series, because it sees this world entering a more modern time, but it's also rooted very much in tradition as well. This setting also creates for some interesting designs in terms of weaponry and machinery.
You have those, like Ikoma, who are tinkerers and make new, better improved steam-powered weapons, but at the same time, you have those who are Samurai and fight with swords albeit modified ones. Both the design and function of the mechanical elements of this world from its trains to its weapons are fun to experience and are well-thought-out and executed.
As far as constructive criticisms go, the backstories were somewhat short-lived in this series. Given it only has one season and a movie, this makes sense, but the areas where you would develop strong emotional ties to characters were rushed and quickly shown. You were more so invested in the issues they were working with in the present, which quite honestly, fits the premise of this series given that these characters have to always look to the future in order to survive. Some of the characters also fell into common tropes, but even so, each managed to differentiate themselves in various ways thanks to their unique traits and/or their actions.
Regardless of its faults though, I liked Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress overall and it's one you can hash out quickly during a weekend. Sometimes something can be good just because it was fun and entertaining to watch, and this anime series is one of those cases. It's much better than people give it credit for and it's well worth the watch thanks to its many strong moments, incredible animation and sound, unique world, and dynamic fight scenes.
Following the release of the anime series, a film titled Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: The Battle of Unato came out in 2019. It was split up into three episodes/parts following its debut in Japan, and it is currently available to watch on Netflix and Crunchyroll. You can definitely check this out as well if you enjoy the anime series!
As to where to watch the first season of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, at time time of writing this post, it is available to watch on Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max.