Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
I'm actually a little bit torn on this episode. Taken on its own merits, I'd say it's easily the best episode of the series, managing to balance emotional moments with scares with some pretty good action scenes pretty well. Taken in the context of the wider series, it rankles that this episode gives us pretty much no plot development, apart from learning that Mumei was rescued by the 'young master' when she was a small child.
(He seems to be an adult in those flashbacks, so he clearly can't be all that young, but never mind.)
In this week's episode, faced with the rampaging Black Smoke, identified by Mumei as a fused colony of kabane in which a single one serves as its heart, the crew of the Koutetsujou hatches a daring plan to use a powerful cannon salvaged from the outpost to strip away the Smoke's outer layer of kabane - allowing Mumei to attack its heart.
|It has too many arms, and that's not okay.|
I said there was no real plot development, and that's true, but we did get shedloads of character development - mostly for Mumei, but we get a little bit for Kurusu as well. For Mumei, this mostly takes the form of a conversation with Ikoma as he digs her out from underneath some wreckage, in which she learns the magical wonders of teamwork and how it doesn't matter if she's weak because the Koutesujou's crew aren't just going to throw her away (and, I mean, literally as they're having this discussion, several people on the Koutetsujou are advocating for just that, but since none of them are main characters it doesn't matter).
It's pretty hackneyed stuff, but it's kind of touching regardless, and that's largely down to a fairly solid performance by Sayaka Senbogi, although it certainly doesn't hurt that the writers avoid having Mumei monologue, instead mostly showing her change in heart through short interactions with members of the crew.
Also, in a nice turn, we actually get to see the results of that, with Mumei following a plan and working with a team in the latter parts of the episode, sharing her knowledge with the others and guiding them through defeating the Black Smoke.
|I still really like all the oranges and reds in this show.|
Kurusu's character development is more in the vein of showing some begrudging camaraderie with Ikoma, and it feels a lot less earned than Mumei's development. It pains me to say that, since I like Kurusu a lot more than Mumei, but with Mumei, we've actually seen her struggling with working as a team, and with her own ideas of weakness and usefulness, and we've got a chance to see how that clashes with Ikoma's ideas of teamwork, so when she has a change of heart, we've actually seen everything building up to that. Kurusu, meanwhile, has barely interacted with Ikoma, so the two of them starting to develop a grudging bash brothers dynamic doesn't feel earned at all - in fact, it feels like it came out of the left field.
(Still, I'm always glad to see more of Kurusu. He is easily my favourite character at this point, probably because he, Ayame, and the engineers are the only ones who consistently act like reasonable human beings.)
But the main plot of the episode is about dealing with the Black Smoke, and it's actually a pretty intimidating monster, being essentially a person-spider made out of people. The plan to defeat it being executed was one of the funnest parts of the series so far, and managed to work pretty much every member of the cast into it in a crucial role, as well as given us a decent variety of action. We got chase scene elements with the Black Smoke flinging itself after the train while they try to speed up, we got Ikoma and Kurusu cutting their way through stray kabane, and we got Mumei flinging herself into the Black Smoke to deliver the killing blow to its heart, which in an odd turn appears to be one of her former comrades.
|D'aww. I ship them. I mean, I don't, but I could.|
(Is there something you're not telling us about Black Smokes? Are they made from former kabaneri?)
It's a very slick, well done action scene, and that seems to be something this show is very good at - even in its worst episodes, the action scenes, at least, have tended to be pretty good. Of course, it certainly helps that we get some excellent musical work from Hiroyuki Sawano in this particular fight scene.
It looks like next episode the Koutetsujou is going to reach another station - possibly Kongokaku, but I expect Mumei would seem a lot less cheerful if that were the case. I can only presume that this is going to go horribly wrong for everybody, so we'll see how that pans out, I guess.
Anyway, halfway through the series! Or through this cour, at least. I actually have no idea how many episodes this series is going to be in total.