First Look: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

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Alternative titles: Attack on Titan with Trains, Kotetsujou no Kabaneri, Iron Habanero
Anime Original by Wit Studio
Streaming on Amazon Prime

Premise

Attack on Titan Iron Habanero is set in a world where the remnants of human civilization lives in cities surrounded by gigantic walls to protect them from the Titans Kabane, a race of giants zombies who feed on humans for seemingly no cause or reason. Eren Jaeger Ikoma and his adopted sister Mikasa Ackerman friends are two inhabitants whose lives are dramatically changed when the colossal walls, which have stood unbroken for 100 years, are suddenly brought down by a titan train larger than any seen before. Eren Ikoma swears to destroy the monsters who have forced humanity to live in cage of their own creation.

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Iro’s verdict: Ain’t No Gettin’ Offa This Train We On

Ah, the newest show following Attack on Titan‘s lead… by the director, composer, and studio of Attack on Titan. I guess Wit Studio is sticking with what they know, since this is almost exactly the same as their first big hit, complete with hilariously overblown gore and NO INDOOR VOICES. The zombies are small now, but that just means they can further lean on tired zombie tropes like shooting-the-infected to inject even more dramaaaaa into the already melodramatic story. Dishonorable mention goes to scene where a woman’s throat is torn out by a zombie, causing her bountiful bosom to jiggle all over the screen. I had to laugh because the only other reaction would have been to close the video.

It’s a pity, because other parts of Habanero are quite enjoyable. The show looks great – despite Wit Studio’s track record promising it won’t last another month – with Haruhiko Mikimoto’s Macross-esque character designs and Wit’s dramatic shading giving everything a sort of classical feel. It’s also nice to see a non-Victorian steampunk setting, although my less charitable side just chalks that up to the usual GLORIOUS NIPPON trend in anime. I also much prefer the concept of our ragtag survivor crew having a mobile HQ (bringing to mind the original Mobile Suit Gundam‘s White Base) traveling between bastions rather than one big walled city. Unfortunately, none of it is currently enough to overcome the sheer chuunibyo permeating the Titan premise and execution; wake me up when we’ve moved past dark for the sake of dark.

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Zigg’s verdict: Blood on the Tracks

Iron Habanero is adorable. It’s like if your barely teenage sibling sat down and decided he was going to try and write the next great novel, but by page ten he was filling it full of swearing and boobs and violence. Likewise, Habanero has a bunch of great ideas and so many good intentions, and then throws them away for cheap nasty pulp schlock and more angst than you can shake a (black, studded with spikes) stick at. Gore! Suicide! Man’s inhumanity to man! It’s a veritable checklist of the edgiest, most adolescent ideas you can pepper a production with, and the relentless grimness makes watching this thing a surprisingly unpleasant experience, despite the off-the-charts production values. It’s also important to note that, while we’re having a good laugh about the whole thing, the structural similarity to Attack On Titan is more than skin deep and is definitely to the show’s detriment, especially since Attack On Titan itself was a rather shallow story powered by a novel concept. As it is, Habanero is the very definition of style over substance, except the style really isn’t that appealing either.

(Also, in what universe do you lower the bridge before you can actually see the train. Isn’t this meant to be a fortress?)

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Aqua’s verdict: Train Wreck

Lemme let you in on a little secret: I hate Attack on Titan. Not because it’s popular, I hate Attack on Titan because it’s everything I don’t want out of my entertainment. Dour, melodramatic, pointlessly violent, misanthropic, and most of all, far less clever and awesome than it thinks it is. It’s almost pathetic in its desperate attempts to rile up crowds of grim ‘n’ gritty wannabe badasses who can’t be emotionally invested in anything unless it involves people screaming and being eaten alive. Unfortunately, Attack on Titan is also really, really popular, for some inexplicable reason, so it was only a matter of time before rip-offs would start rearing their ugly heads. And who better fitted to rip off Attack on Titan than the very same people who made it?

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Tetsuro Araki, the Zack Snyder of anime, is once again in the director’s chair, and you can take that comparison at face value. Like Snyder, Araki’s style is inversely proportional to his substance, consistently delivering shows with top-notch art design, cinematic quality, stunning action and absolutely zero redeeming value whatsoever. Kabaneri is a laughably grimdark affair, riddled with more senseless suffering and poor decision-making than the average episode of Game of Thrones, with some deus ex machina thrown in for good measure alongside anime’s very favourite trope, people explaining things to each other that they all already know. Its characters mask their frankly ridiculous incompetence and plot-mandated thickness with incessant screaming, warbling, crying and death rattling. It’s such an utterly ghastly affair that the token quirky girl character – usually about as welcome in these kinds of anime as a drunk racist uncle on a children’s party – actually becomes the most entertaining thing in the entire show, simply because she seems to be the only person in the entire universe familiar with the concept of fun.

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Does that mean that Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress isn’t fun? Hell no. It’s a riot. I don’t think I’ve laughed at anything as much as at the train only barely missing the bridge being drawn back, resulting in it somehow flipping hundreds of feet into the air, over the wall and exploding like it had a dozen nukes on board. Or at Ikoma somehow managing to cure himself from a zombie bite through steampunk auto-erotic asphyxiation – try and top that, Batman! Or at Mumei staring at an innocent man being put down like a rabid animal while inexplicably tooting a party horn. Yet it’s oddly telling that one of the sole entertaining things in this operatic, frenzied, grandiloquent orgy of everything everyone has ever found cool is a humble party horn. A knickknack worth less than a single dollar that somehow manages to be more endearing than this bland bluster will ever be, just by going “toot”.

Toot.

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