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Saturday, 14 May 2016

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress E5

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Episode 5

You know, I hadn't realised until somebody pointed it out just how little plot progression there's actually been in this series so far. We don't know how many episodes are going to be in this series, but it's safe to say we're either halfway or a quarter of the way through, and very little has actually happened, at least up until this week's episode. This episode is a bit of a boon in that respect, since we do genuinely have a significant amount of plot movement.

Arriving at an outpost and unable to move any further due to rubble on the line, the crew of the Koutetsujou discover survivors babbling about a 'Black Smoke' of Kabane. As Ikoma hatches a plan to switch on the outpost's furnace to power a crane and move the rubble, Mumei - upset and on edge after a former spy of her brother's appears, warning her that she might soon be discarded - deviates from the plan and throws Ikoma and the Bushi into a battle with a horde of Kabane. There is something worse waiting for them, though, as from the depths beneath the outpost, the Black Smoke - a vast, shadowy monster made up of hundreds of Kabane - arises.

Okay, so usually I'm pretty eager to rag on Mumei for making stupid choices, and she makes a lot of stupid choices in this episode, but this time, unlike in the four episodes previous, we're actually given a good reason why she's constantly doing the wrong thing. It's not being played off as just a thing she does, we're given a genuine reason for her to be in emotional distress and have compromised judgement - that is to say, she's come face to face with the fact that her brother (the mysterious leader of an anti-Shogunate faction - the Emperor, maybe?) will almost certainly abandon her when she's no longer useful to him, along with just a hint of foreshadowing that Mumei might actually slowly be turning into a Kabane. 

Hi, Enoku, nice to meet you.

Her emotional turmoil is set up pretty well, too, because it's not just Enoku, one of her brother's former spies, telling her that her brother will abandon her - his entire, sad existence is an object lesson in how it's an inevitability for her.

That goes a considerable way to making her actions a lot less frustrating, especially when you consider that some of her actions - like charging in head on against the Kabane - only turn out to be poor ideas in hindsight, when she and the rest of the gang are faced with further information that she couldn't have known at the time.

(It is, however, frustrating to see the people on the Koutetsujou flip back and forth between 'Yay Kabaneri' and 'Pah, what do you expect from a Kabane.' Especially since the latter really doesn't make sense as a response to a social faux-pas. It's not like the Kabane are an underclass in society, 'not having manners' isn't a symptom of being a Kabane, they're monsters who eat people.)

It's also nice to see Ikoma's scientific discoveries being broadly applied, with the Bushi now all being armed with Kabane-armour-piercing guns, bar Kurusu, who gets a neat sword encased in Kabane iron. We don't actually see him use it in this episode, I'll grant you, but he'll apparently be using it next episode, when he dramatically throws off his sling because apparently being stabbed is No Big Thing.

The Black Smoke, meanwhile, is interesting and foreshadowed well - we hear about it in the early parts of the episode, and get brief glimpses of it throughout, before it eventually makes its grand entrance at the end of the episode - but I'm not sure what it is, or what it means for the Kabane as a whole. I've got to say, despite Ikoma's mantra being 'it's a disease, not magic' in regards to the Kabane, it sure as hell feels like magic, because no disease I can think of can conjure an iron cage around one's heart or allow thousands of patients to fuse together into a massive, smokey shadow monster. Even in fiction, there are limits to how far my suspension of disbelief will go when we're talking about scientific, un-magical diseases.

One thing that makes it a little difficult to review this episode is that it's very clearly the first part of a two-parter, and those are always a little slow. In this case, it's set-up for a big, blowout battle against the Black Smoke next week. You know what I'd really like, though? Exposition. Just - exposition on what the Kabane are. Please. Give it to me. Give it to me now

Still, this is a better episode than last week's, which was in turn an improvement on the two previous. We haven't quite reached the heights that the first episode yet, but if we're lucky, episode six will. In the meantime, who's everyone's favourite character? Mine is probably still Kurusu, although he seems to be weirdly hated in fandom.

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