Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is part Train to Busan and part 28 Days Later all laid out with a steampunk style. And it is most definitely all excellent!
The 12, mostly action-packed and thrilling, 20-minute episodes made by Wit Studios, directed by Tetsurō Araki (Death Note, Attack on Titan) and written by Ichirō Ōkouchi (Devilman Crybaby, Code Geass), actually isn’t an adaptation of a Manga property but there was an adaptation commissioned after this property was a hit, winning the 2016 Newtype Anime Awards for Best TV Anime, Best Soundtrack, Best Character Design, Best Screenplay and Best Studio.
This series doesn’t mess around, throwing you right into the action and leaving you to pick up the pieces as you wonder about the world that you have been catapulted into. What does become obvious is that this world has been overrun by the Kabane, an ever growing mass of virus-infected, fast and ruthless style zombie creatures with the added problem of a glowing, reinforced cage that protects their hearts. Because of this, those humans left have been forced to ever more precarious ways of living as we follow our main cast as they live and work aboard the Kōtetsujō, the titular Iron Fortress: a huge, reinforced train (one of many such trains) that travel around in order to provide supplies to the remaining population stationed in, well, stations.
The train people are mostly meek and just happy to survive, apart from a few soldier-style guards and the Kabaneri. Who are they exactly? Well they aren’t human and they aren’t Kabane but a mix between the two. All the good parts of the Kabane (strength, resilience) but retaining the mind of a human (something the Kabane definitely don’t have!). Usefully on the Kōtetsujō there are two such Kabaneri, Ikoma and Mūmei, who themselves have a variety of talents and skills in dealing with the Kabane.
The steampunk themed world works really well in relation to the trains being front and centre to the populations’ way of life but also ties in nicely with the mix of samurai sword fighting and pneumatic gun-play, meaning that the technology on screen is never wildly out of context or place. Speaking of guns and words, the action is frenetic and hugely violent at times as the survivors fight with everything they have as and when the Kabane (regularly) threaten their precarious existence. As the series progresses, we do get more story and backstory to the goings on, but not everything is handed to you, leaving some big questions hanging.
Stylistically, the Kabane are impressively done and pose a huge threat whenever they appear and along with this, their threat level is varied as we progress, providing a different challenge. Underpinning this is the sense that these are the last few humans left and their mission is of the utmost importance and every trial that they come across is imbued with heavy pressure to succeed and survive as intact as possible.
Thankfully I was alerted to this series by the follow-up series currently on Netflix (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: The Battle of Unato) and I shall be delving into (and devouring) it shortly after completing this review. It seems that I have become a bit of an anime/Manga fan of late (my Goodreads 2020 challenge has been taken over by Manga!) but I can’t really complain too much as the variety of themes and styles in huge and, if you manage to pick the right property that chimes with you it is easy to get lost in that world. There is sometimes a lot to wade through to find one that does work for you but it is worth the effort I promise you.