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Saturday, 7 May 2016

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress E4

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Episode 4

So, I got my first negative-y comment in a while on last episode's review - someone wasn't happy about me not liking it apparently - which left me in a bit of pickle. Do I wish for the series to improve so I'm not stuck dredging through eight to twenty more episodes of total dross? Or do I wish for it to get worse so that I can gleefully tear it apart in an eight to twenty week shrine to my capacity for spite?

Well, it turns out, I'm not lucky enough for either of those wishes to come true, because while episode four still isn't brilliant, it is definitely a marked improvement over episodes two and three.

As tensions over the Kabaneri rise to a fever pitch, Ayame is compelled to hand control of the Koutetsujou to somebody else, who immediately decides to lock the Kabaneri up and take a riskier route through the mountains. This rapidly turns out to be a bad idea, as the Koutetsujou encounters an ambush of Kabane, led by a Wazatori - a Kabane who has learned how to fight, and who, in this instance, at least, wields two swords with deadly efficiency. With the train's population under threat of being wiped out, Ikoma and Mumei must find a way to escape and save them.

They're so excited.

This is a difficult episode for me to review, because I can't really put a finger on anything I liked or disliked. For most of the episode, I watched it in a state of enjoyable apathy, engaged but not really mustering any particular emotional response to what was going on.

I will say, though, that this episode put a (hopefully definitive) to end to a subplot that was frustrating as all get out. The 'ooh, people fear the Kabaneri' plotline made sense, in that I think that broadly speaking being afraid of the blood-drinking superhumans whose powers are closely tied to the steampunk zombies that are after you is a pretty natural response, but it was tiresome, and the fact that Mumei seemed intent on making things worse even when there were always easier and better ways to get what she wanted was especially grating.

This episode sees the two Kabaneri very publicly save the Koutetsujou and a small band of people, including Ayame and Kurusu, volunteer to give them their blood, which hopefully will at least lead them to being more or less accepted (if somewhat warily) by the rest of the train.

Is it rushed? Yes, definitely. Do I, as a viewer, care? Not really.

I also liked the addition of the Wazatori, because it raises interesting questions about the Kabane. Are they intelligent? We saw hints of intelligence in the first episode, with them seemingly driving a train, and it was the most interesting part of them, but we'd seen very little more of it since. The explanation of what the Wazatori is is - frankly lacking (Mumei says 'it learned swordfighting through experience' or words to that effect, which is basically how everyone learns anything, but I think that this is partly a case of shoddy translation and it might be meant to be something more like 'it has residual memories of swordfighting' or 'it learned it by mimicking humans'), but, you know, four episodes in, I'll take what I can get.

Your Valvrave is showing.

As far as the rest of the episode went, though, a lot of it fell flat. It managed not to ever be actively irritating, which is a boon at this point, but a lot of its dramatic moments - the kabane throwing themselves down from the bridge,  Ikoma's fight with the Wazatori, him and Mumei fighting their way along the train - just felt kind of lifeless to me. It was difficult to muster any kind of excitement for it, and I think part of that is that I hate Ikoma and Mumei. 

(Well, Ikoma joking around with Takumi at the very end, and Mumei playfully saying she needed people to drive the train did make me warm to the both of them a little bit. But only a little. More humanising moments, please.)

At the moment, Ayame and Kurusu are still the most interesting characters on this show, and especially Ayame - in a way, this episode was all about her proving herself as a leader, bowing to the wishes of the people before choosing to take the lead once again and lead by example, and there's a compelling story there, if the show wants to explore it more in future.

So, we're starting to see the glimmers of potential again, but really only the glimmers. If we're lucky, the fifth episode will see another improvement in quality. At the very least, we know it involves Ikoma putting on a shirt, which is good because his pasty, green-tinged skin really does grate on me for one reason or another.

Also, does the animation look really weirdly shiny and off at times to anyone else? Just me? Okay then.

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