Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) 2017

Action-packed and grisly at times (perhaps gratuitously so, and I understand that descriptor won’t match everyone’s opinion of course) this series is pretty fast-paced, building quickly to a finish that maybe could have been ‘bigger’ but was by no means a let-down, either.

In a way, the tagline writes itself and I can’t remember whether I’ve seen it used officially – but basically, if you can imagine zombies on a train then you’ve got it to some extent.

Obviously there’s a more to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress than that, but not as much as I’d like in terms of world-building and any wider context appearing in the story. To a small extent the film that followed mitigates that feeling but overall, I think this could have easily been 24 episodes with a lot more exploration of how the world came to be the dystopia it is shown to be in the series.

The settings usually had lots of detail.

Still, I’m always willing to give a chance to a story that isn’t an adaptation and knowing that Wit Studio would produce something that (at a minimum) looked impressive led me to give the show a shot after stumbling across the film on Netflix last year.

Okay, time to jump in to some dot points:

  • Yukina and also Kurusu were underused in the story, I reckon.
  • The villain was the ‘handsome evil’ type and he really was a piece of work – clearly pretty much everything about him was a lie used to manipulate others, some good characterisation there.
  • I enjoyed the conflicting idea of being trapped – but trapped in moving thing, so whenever a train was attacked by the kabane, there was a sense that flight was both happening but also kinda useless. Having said that, maybe too many zombies were ‘shamblers’ so not always very threatening.
  • I didn’t buy the viewer resentment toward Ikoma I think I remember reading. If you’ve seen this series you’ll know he’s a classic underdog so I was on board with him pretty quickly. Most of all, he was almost always right about pretty much everything, and had to suffer fools almost constantly.

On a related note, one great thing about being so far behind everyone else with new shows, is that I often miss both the hype and the naysayers. It seems that at least to some extent, Attack on Titan fanatics piled on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress a bit, considering it too similar or just a money-grab, somehow?

For me, the two shows are plenty different even with some clear similarities, and I think I’ve argued before a little on the important role of the cash-cow – without said cow, the more ‘risky’ or original shows just don’t get made. (And here I mean ‘original’ as compared to a show that is an adaptation of an existing manga etc).

Yep, he’s a villain.

Overall, I enjoyed Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress without being over the moon. If you’re a horror or dark fantasy fan (even a steampunk fan perhaps) you’ll probably find at least something to enjoy here, beyond the beautifully coloured art.

3.5 Stars

Hero shot 😀

At times, the show paused for what seem almost like glamour-shots, switching to a little extra detail while also adding an almost soft focus, as if they were setting up future stills for trading cards or other merch? There’s more than I’ve noted here of course, but I tried to snap a couple. (First is a better example).


The storyline is continued in a follow-up film that I actually abandoned last year, at the time knowing that I should probably watch the series first.

I definitely enjoyed the movie; it continued the main themes and struggles, advancing some character development too. I do wonder whether the relationship hindrances thrown up between Ikoma and Mumei were always natural?

Still, if you enjoyed the series you’ll like the film, I reckon.

Empire of Corpses (Shisha no Teikoku)

Empire of Corpses (Shisha no Teikoku) 2015

I was only vaguely aware of this film up until last year – but the cover art of the DVD caught my eye and then upon doing a little reading I found out that the writer ‘Project Itoh’ had certainly been a significant voice in Japanese speculative fiction before his death at a young age, ten years ago now.

Empire… along with Harmony and Genocidal Organ are adaptations of his work collected under the moniker Project Itoh. Differing studios and teams worked on each film but you’ll no doubt recognise Wit Studio from Attack on Titan here.

So, finally to the film itself!

On one hand it’s definitely an exploration of personhood and life, of love and obsession, and while those aspects definitely worked for me, there’s just as much of Empire of Corpses that works as a fun mash-up instead.

There’s horror, action and (alternate) historical fiction all butting up against the philosophical elements in the movie, as the somewhat disparate historical figures of Holmes, Charles Babbage, Ulysses S Grant, Edison and Yamazawa Seigo (to name a few) are brought together in a world where a new breed of semi-autonomous zombies have been created – zombies who quickly became government fodder for war and labouring jobs.

While the colour scheme is mostly dark and somewhat muted, there’s still some spectacular high-contrast explosions and such that go hand in hand with action sequences and equally – a memorable opium-like haze of yellows, greens and pinks in a certain disturbing scene, and generally enough variety that it’s never dull.

The same can be said for the pacing, it’s got a good balance of ‘concept’ stuff spread between character development and action and of course the animation itself looks great, as most modern work does, so no gripes there from me. Bonus points for me with what is also essentially a quest storyline, as our main character Watson strives to save his friend Friday from living death.

Take a look if you’re a fan of zombies or mash-ups, I reckon.

4 Stars