Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress Can Be Scary, But It Could Be Scarier [Spoilers]

Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress Can Be Scary, But It Could Be Scarier [Spoilers]
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One thing that fascinates us about zombies is the absence of humanity — from both the dead and the living. This begets moral ambiguity and upheaval of societal norms. For some, zombies may be overused but for me? I’m terrified of them. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress sometimes feeds into my obsessions with the undead. And sometimes, not so much. SPOILER ALERT for episodes one through six of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. There will be no explicit spoilers for Episode 7 which aired recently.

I’ve seen my fair share of zombie apocalypse stories, and the one thing I look for in all zombies (and undead/zombie-like creatures) is their behaviour. As far as ‘zombies’ go, the movie 28 Days Later has some of the scariest.

The undead in that 2002 version of the zombie apocalypse truly frightened me for being inexplicably fast, and vicious. The transformation from human to Infected takes mere seconds to complete, and the quick loss of human sensibilities to nothing more than apparent blind rage and bloodlust was particularly anxiety inducing for me.

Kabanericurrently airing as part of the Spring 2016 anime season — follows survivors in an ongoing zombie (known as the Kabane) apocalypse, set in a steampunk re-imagining of feudal Japan.

The survivors live at fortified stations, connected to each other via a railway system. And among them are Kabaneri — beings who exist as neither human nor Kabane, but something in between. They have bodies of the Kabane but with fully functioning human minds.

It’s this last thing that twists the zombie apocalypse genre some, which the anime cleverly focuses on, and rightly so. But what I found really intriguing were the Kabane themselves. They are as insanely fast as the infected in 28 Days Later. That was enough to get me hooked when I started the series.

The show is now over halfway through its season, and in that time, has pulled a few instances that have been frightful, especially in the first couple of episodes. The close up shots of the undead running wild remind me a lot of 28 Days Later, actually. The unwavering barrage of attacks are heart thumping.

But I noticed something else which had me excited when watching those first few episodes — the Kabane seemed to have a relatively high level of intelligence. Enough to make what looked like conscious decisions, mock fearful villagers and heed extraneous factors, which is not something typical to zombie portrayals. Initially, that was what made Kabaneri so damned scary.

The prospect of a show exploring a version of the undead with so much of their mental capacities in tact was exciting. My hope was that Kabaneri could weave a really great narrative around this. Like 28 Days Later, I hoped it could encompass all the things zombie apocalypse stories excel at — acute commentary on what makes us human, how rapidly society and morality break down, how those without a strong moral compass become worse when there’s no social structure to keep them in check, and how humans can be even scarier than the undead.

What the first six aired episodes of Kabaneri have predominantly shown, however, is that the series is somewhat campy. Learned behaviour explains the sword wielding abilities of a Kabane in episode four, “Flowing Blood”. A giant “Smoke Monster” of a Kabane fused colony takes centre stage in episode six, “Gathering Light”. This was an interesting display of organizational behaviour to create something extreme.

Is it thrilling? Yes. Scary? Insofar as giant monsters chasing anyone for a “WTF” moment can be, sure. Legitimately bone-chilling, however? No. Not particularly. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this campy flavour to the show, and it’s unsurprising given how it presented itself from the beginning, with its propensity for bad-arse characters, over-the-top action and gravity defying acrobatics.

My issue with Kabaneri is that it tries to balance its outrageous action by exploring themes common in serious portrayals of zombie apocalypse narratives, but it doesn’t quite manage to do the latter effectively.

While it’s true horrible things happen to various people in Kabaneri, and humans are quick to turn violent out of fear, so many of the scenes feel rushed and are touched on ever so lightly, without truly questioning consequences of certain sequences and actions. It’s the lite version of all those heavy themes, when I think I’m supposed to be taking the characters’ plight seriously. So far, I just haven’t been able to do so.

I know, the series is only just over its halfway point. Something can change drastically, particularly as the Kabaneri are the wild cards of the series. It may yet still turn out to be a brilliant twist on the zombie apocalypse genre, and I suspect that’s likely what will happen.

The show already has a great setting in its steampunk aesthetics leading to limitations on how the characters fight. It also has a hell of a lot of fun behind it. Even if the series remains heavily action-based, it’s quite entertaining with some cool ideas.

But humans are truly terrifying when they cannot be distinguished from the undead. With Kabaneri, this line has the utmost potential to be blurred for its two central Kabaneri characters. The show’s already hinting at this, but I can only be hopeful the rest of the series follows through. If it does, it’d be one hell of a scare.


  • It started off quite interesting but it very swiftly felt like a poor man’s Attack on Titan. Attack on titan had that teeth grinding tension in almost every episode while this show loses that very quickly as the main characters just feel ‘overpowered’. In the latest episode, they show the main character is able to learn how to fight like a trained samurai just by watching sword strokes… this takes the tension away entirely. I immediately stopped considering this to be an apocalyptic anime and now feel that its pretty much your run of the mill adolescent power fantasy anime which is thankfully outside of a school setting for once. Hero will get the mysterious cute girl in semi-inappropriate clothing at the end after he defeats some kind of evil power meeting ‘badass’ characters along the way. I’m still watching it because it’s one of the better animes this season but can’t help be pretty disappointed with how it’s turning out.

    The parallels with AoT are pretty big.
    Humanity languishing in high walled shelters with no ambition. Main character trying to shake up the social system while also fighting the monsters outside. Somewhat mysterious female lead that’s a deadly fighter. Some kind of potential conspiracy between people in charge and what’s going on. Latest episode unveils the kabaneri version of the scouting legion…

    I wish it was better than it was because I really went into the show expecting my mind to be blown. Super disappointed with it :/

    • The show has an amazing start and the 2 first episodes grabbed me in, but the last few episodes have become somewhat boring and less interesting. I dont know if i will finish watching at this rate.

    • *insert applause* its a poor mans AoT but more generic and with easily predictable episode layout. First 3 eps were mind blowing and was instantly sucked in. The series flattened out hard and fast.

    • I don’t know if you’re right. Attack on Titan had some absolutely dire pacing issues. Whole episodes where nothing much happened. Drawn out a lot. If you weren’t watching it weekly it was less noticeable though.

      It’s pretty clear that Kabaneri is aping the same style (it’s the same director, animation studio etc. after all, so it’d be strange not to have parallels) but I think it’s still way too early to write it off because of that. To me, it feels strongly like a throwback to the anime of the late 90s, except with astoundingly high animation quality & detail.

    • according to fansubdb, it’s on Amazon Prime Video. I don’t know if we have access to said service. it’s definitely not on crunchyroll and I don’t know of any other legal serivces

      • ye I have crunchyroll and animelab and its on neither of them. I’m pretty sure we’re geoblocked from amazon prime.

    • No.

      Amazon got exclusive streaming rights and cut everyone else out as a result. It’s pretty bullshit honestly. But at least it’s available in English in some places, unlike the stuff that Netflix has been snapping up (eg Kuromukuro) where they won’t make it available until the entire run is over. 🙁

  • The same, I seemed attractive at the beginning but now it looks like an economy rate Attack on Titan. Last episode 07… The wings of freedom made in KOTIF. ???

  • Despite being campy I am enjoying it. Also enjoying Re:Zero. It is a good time for Anime.

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