Okay, full disclaimer: I've had almost no sleep. I think this review is coherent, but it's entirely possible I'll look at it later and realise that none of it makes any sense. My apologies in advance if this is all just gibberish.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
I have no idea if I enjoyed or hated this episode. I've been staring at this blank document for the past ten minutes trying to figure out what my angle was going to be on this review, and I can't, because I literally have no idea what my overriding opinion of this episode was. It was kind of an episode of extreme highs and lows, usually at the same time, as the show (pretty effectively) attempted to appeal to its audience's emotions while at the same time making absolutely zero sense.
In this week's episode, the crew of the Koutetsujou have been imprisoned by Biba and his Hunters, who are tapping them for blood to feed to the Kabaneri. As Ikoma and Takumi plot to escape and take over the train before it can reach Kongokaku, Biba tests Mumei's loyalty.
A lot of this episode is devoted to showing us how the crew of the Kokujo treat prisoners, with the heavy implication that they've taken over trains before in order to use their passengers as blood donors, and the episode actually does a fairly okay job of creating a pretty shocking contrast: The Hunters as a whole are portrayed as pretty efficient, direct, and workmanlike, and the episode takes pains to show their infirmary and the doctors working there as a clean place with a relatively painless process (even if it is horrendously inhumane to take blood from unwilling donors) - right up until the point where a random extra foolishly remarks that he'll give four times as much blood if they spare his wife, and we're treated to a moment of extreme, needless violence.
|This was actually a surprisingly sweet, well-written moment.|
The contrast works pretty well on an emotional level, luring the viewer into a false sense of security before shattering it, but it does raise some questions about Biba - are we meant to see him as someone running a tight ship who avoids needless cruelty, or as someone who's only barely in control of a pack of barbarians? The show's flipflopped between those two extremes before with Biba, but it's never been quite as stark as in this episode, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out if it's intentional or not.
That really sets the tone for the entire episode: Emotional, but also deeply confusing. For instance, a big part of the episode is Biba attempting to compel Mumei to attack the crew of the Koutetsujou, using the same manipulation tactics he's used on her before - except we already established in the previous episode that Mumei knows he's not been being honest with her now. That doesn't necessarily mean he can't manipulate her anymore, but the fact that Mumei has figured out that he's an inveterate liar is never referenced. Not even once.
In fact, there's a moment where Mumei is shocked that he would take blood from the crew of the Koutetsujou, despite the fact that literally the episode before, what can only have been days ago in-show, she discovered that he'd lied to her, engaged in the premeditated murder of hundreds of people, used and then murdered one of her friends, and then taken the rest of her friends prisoner.
|Apparently Biba is twelve here. Between him and Mumei, I'm not entirely convinced|
anybody on staff has ever met a twelve year old.
So, while I was having an emotional 'oh no, that's terrible' reaction to Mumei being manipulated, part of me was waiting for the point where anyone would acknowledge everything she's learned about Biba. But it's never brought up.
The other big emotional beat is Takumi, Ikoma's best friend, dying. I've seen some people wondering why we should care about that, saying that Takumi wasn't a character we've seen enough of to grow attached to, but I don't really agree: While he's never been all that influential on the plot, he's been a constant presence, and we've learned enough about him, his personality, his history, and his hopes and dreams that I did feel a little sad when he died. I wasn't exactly crying my eyes out, but I don't think there's a single character in the show who I'd actually shed a tear for, so that was hardly a shock.
But again, we hit upon the same problem as all the other big emotional moments of this episode, in that thinking about it for twenty seconds reveals that it doesn't make any sense. For starters, I don't quite buy that Takumi's body can stop a bullet that's meant to pierce through the iron cage surrounding a kabane's heart, but even if I did, it was a pointless gesture, because Ikoma can survive being shot.
|Have I mentioned that I love this show's use of colour? I really do.|
Moreover, Takumi explicitly references in his dying moments a previous time when Ikoma was shot and survived. It's a moment that's meant to tell us that Takumi's been carrying a lot of guilt around with him for not protecting Ikoma. It's meant to be quite a sweet, sad moment, and it probably would have been if not for the fact that it was also a very loud reminder that Ikoma can survive being shot, and that there really wasn't any need for Takumi to toss himself in front of a bullet.
In fact, he does survive being shot a moment later, because just after this whole exchange, Biba shoots him, just to hammer in the utter futility of Takumi's sacrifice. If I thought this was intentional, I'd probably be praising it, but it never comes off as intentional - it comes off as the writers wanting someone to die and not being too fussed about whether it makes any sense.
We also get Mumei stabbing Ikoma, and that's also meant to be a big emotional moment, and it's kind of - not. I don't feel any particular attachment to either of these two characters, let alone their burgeoning sister-brother relationship, so one of them betraying the other doesn't really bother me.
Also, Ikoma falls into a river, and as we all know, people who fall into rivers in fiction always survive. The only thing that would make Ikoma more likely to turn up alive next episode is if Biba had thrown in a remark about how nobody could have survived that.
Next episode, it looks like Biba is murdering everyone in Kongokaku, and also Ikoma's on a beach somewhere, and his - hair is falling out? Or he's cutting it? Something's going on with his hair, but I have no idea what.