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Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress [Season One]

In an alternate feudal Japan where steam-powered technology has been developed, the country has been overrun by Kabane. Kabane are steel-hearted zombie-like creatures that feed on humans and spread their virus. Humanity takes refuge in fortified stations, using armoured stream trains to travel and transport goods between them.

Our protagonist is Ikoma, an enterprising young engineer who has developed a steam-powered weapon he believes could be used to defeat the Kabane. When his station is overrun by Kabane he finds his invention does work- but gets bitten in the process. However, by preventing the infection from spreading, he is able to resist turning into a mindless zombie and instead becomes a Kabaneri, a kind of human-kabane hybrid.  With the help of Mumei, a young girl who is also a Kabaneri, Ikoma and a rag-tag band of other survivors are able to board a train and escape.

Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress originally aired in Japan on Fuji TV's Noitamina block between April and June of 2016. Outside of Japan, it became the first major anime series to premiere on Amazon's Prime Video service. The series comes from Attack on Titan's producers Wit Studio and is directed by Tetsuro Araki.

When footage of the series first arrived it raised eyebrows as it did look very much as if Wit and Araki were trying to reverse engineer the success of Titan. And it's definitely the case that the two series have a lot of similarities. Swap a medieval European setting for a Shogun-era Japan and swap the titans for a human-sized threat and you can see where the comparisons come from. They even both have lead characters who are (without giving any Titans spoilers) closely connected to the things they are fighting in an unexpected way.

The similarities aren't entirely superficial either. Kabaneri has a similarly claustrophobic atmosphere and intense set-pieces. Its twists and turns are pretty standard for zombie fiction, so if you're a fan of the subgenre you'll have seen most of it before- and it's not too big a surprise to find that zombies aren't the only threat in this world. However, it's all so well executed and thrilling that you're unlikely to care too much.

None of which is to say that Kabeneri is nothing more than Attack On Titan meets Thomas The Tank Engine, as the series has much to recommend it on its own merits. The world-building is top notch, with a brilliantly well-realised setting. It combines familiar elements like a feudal setting and steampunk to create something that feels fresh and entirely compelling.

The characters may be largely archetypes, but they are likeable and rounded enough to be engaging. Ikoma fills the role of 'typical anime protagonist' well enough, but Mumei is arguably the show's true star. The pint-sized powerhouse is again, not far off from 'generic kick-ass anime girl' but she frequently steals the show.

The series also delivers on its horror elements. The Kabane are sufficiently creepy and are a convincing threat. When they attack, it results in blood-pumping  (and bloody) sequences that are up there with the best live-action zombie movies and shows. In some sequences, they also recall the zombie waves in the movie adaptation of World War Z, but are much more effective here.

Studio Wit's involvement should be an indicator that this is a good looking show- and this is very much the case. The series has extremely high-quality animation, with CGI that is for the most part, very well integrated with the 2D art.

Special mention must be given to the gorgeous character designs which come from the legendary Haruhiko Mikimoto (Gunbuster, Macross Zero). Character's faces are brought to life using an exquisite look that gives them a real hand-painted style that recalls the anime of a bygone era.

The series builds up to a suitably intense climax and ends in a way that is definitely left open for more. That is due to come in a movie sequel next year, and I for one am thoroughly on board for seeing that.

Kabeneri Of The Iron Fortress may be eternally doomed to be dismissed by some as a pale imitation of Titan but it deserves much more than that. This is a thoroughly entertaining show in its own right.


IN A NUTSHELL: Exciting, intense and gorgeously animated, Kabaneri is a thrilling ride you won't want to end.

*review discs supplied by Manga Entertainment*