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Saturday, 4 June 2016

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress E8

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Episode 8

I rapidly weary of this series. In this instance, it's not even that this episode did anything wrong - we had plot, some decent fight scenes, even some character development, the whole package. It's just that as Biba and his conflict with the shogunate becomes more prominent, it increasingly feels like the kabane are just background noise. In a very real sense, you could have replaced 'kabane' in this episode with 'soldiers from a nearby, hostile country' and changed nothing about it.

In this week's episode, Biba meets with Ayame and Kurusu, and works with Ikoma briefly, doing his best to assuage his fears and earn his trust. However, any trust earned is quickly lost when Ikoma sees Biba kill Enoku on a battlefield, and later realises that Biba's train is stuffed full with kabane, putting everyone in danger. Meanwhile, Biba commands Mumei to take Ayame's master key to the Koutetsujou from her. 

In a way, this episode cycles through plot points so quickly that it raises the question of what the point of some of them even are. Biba earns Ikoma's trust, but then he loses it again five minutes later. Ikoma realises there are kabane aboard Biba's train, but then he gets a straight-up explanation from Mumei a couple of minutes afterwards. Biba sends Mumei after Ayame's master key, but when she returns with a fake, we never get to see her make another attempt and, more importantly (because another attempt could easily be coming next episode), we never see Ayame have a particularly human reaction to it.

Oh, there's this random kabaneri woman, too.

By that, I mean that while Ayame shows some refreshing genre-savviness by remarking that she doubts it was Mumei's idea (and god knows I'm grateful for that, because I'd hate for the writers to throw another misunderstanding plot in), she doesn't actually seem to have much of an emotional response to Mumei basically demanding her most important possession from her. If anything, she just seems mildly bemused, which is weird since not only is this her most important possession, which symbolises her command of the Koutetsujou and is necessary to keep her people safe, but Mumei also actively threatens her life.

Really, Ayame? Nothing? Not shaken, not angry, not at all hesitant to go rushing after Mumei to try and have a friendly chat about her blatant 'I will kill you if you don't do what I want' schtick? Okay then! Forget I asked.

But there is a lot to like about this episode. We got some conclusion to Enoku's plotline - and while I grant that Enoku wasn't a major character, it would've been weird if they'd introduced him only to immediately drop him - and specifically, it was a conclusion that both fits perfectly with what we've seen of him, as someone who's both very devoted to Biba and a little bit unhinged, as he begs Biba to take him back only to turn on him when he won't. It also ties in pretty well with Mumei's storyline, as we see that that's being built up to her - obviously - betraying Biba in favour of the crew of the Koutetsujou.

The bikes were a bit jarring.

The battle scene that particular tying-up of a plot thread was couched in was also pretty fun. We got to see how Biba's hunters work (they're basically a kabane-killing motorcycle gang, supported from afar by a train with incendiary bombs - which seems odd when we've seen nothing to suggest that kabane are vulnerable to fire; and we got to see Biba himself in action. There's even a really effective moment where one of the hunters is bitten, and proceeds to very calmly blow his own heart out, in stark contrast to the opening scene of the series, where someone essentially had to be tearfully forced into doing that same thing.

We also get a bit more of a glimpse at Biba's motivations, as we find out that Shogun has disowned him, and see him question a man regarding whose idea it was to abandon him and his men on a battlefield at some point in the past (it was the Shogun's, naturally).

Not to mention, we finally got to see the whole story of how Mumei met Biba (since, she clarifies, they're not really siblings) and to absolutely nobody's surprise, it involves Biba inciting her to kill someone and then taking her away to get injected with what is presumably kabane blood.

Also, Biba really needs to get a haircut, that can't be practical.

And yet, Biba's still not really coming off as a compelling villain to me. He just seems kind of generic, and there's nothing to really make him engaging or interesting. If he vanished next episode, I'd be annoyed for reasons of plot coherence, but I wouldn't really miss his presence.

Anyway, it looks like next episode we have another stop on the road to Kongokaku, because some people apparently don't want Biba to see the Shogun. I'm not surprised, since that seems like a meeting liable to end in murder, especially since Biba's carrying what looks like a Black Smoke on his train.

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