In “Burning Life,” the eleventh episode of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, things somehow get even darker. Biba Amatori unleashes his plot on the shogun’s city Kongoukaku; Ayame has no good choice but to help him. We find out what happened to Kurusu, and it entails rope. Kajika, Kibito, and others from the Koutetsujou deal with the aftermath of Takumi’s decision at the end of the last episode. Finally, we find out if Mumei’s knife struck true last week.
Brace yourself: This is another dark episode.
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What Happened (Spoiler Free)
Biba’s train steams towards the shogun’s city, Kongoukaku. Kibito kneels with Takumi’s body while Kajika sobs. Biba’s people try to clear them out, but Kajika, lost in her rage and pain, dares them to kill her. Sukari and Yukina move to defend her, and Sahari, Biba’s blonde mustached strategist/lieutenant is about to strike. Uryuu, one of the Hunters who showed disgust at prisoner mistreatment in the last episode, calls him off and says to leave the car’s cleanup to them. The Hunters leave. Takumi’s friends carry his body from the car.
Standing in the room with the blue-white pulsating heart, Biba tries to justify his actions against his father to the drugged Mumei. She doesn’t react to his words, even when he mocks her kindness as weakness. He then injects her with the same thing he injected into Horobi. He’s turning Mumei into a fused colony.
Kurusu, his prisoner the Hunter scientist in tow, finds Ikoma. His spirit broken and his emotions shattered, Ikoma is hiding in the hull of a wrecked ship. Kurusu tries to find out what happened from him, but Ikoma’s too far gone to give a clear story. Disgusted, Kurusu turns his attention to preparations to chase after the Koutetsujou and Ayame.
The Koutetsujou is allowed into Kongoukaku. Ayame, saying her crew worked together to capture Biba, convinces her uncle to arrange for a meeting with the shogun. Soon, a shackled Biba’s kneeling in front of the shogun. Why is Biba so confident? He has none of his men with him; how does he plan to strike the emperor? Will Mumei turn into a fused colony and loose her mind and soul? Will Ikoma remain a blubbering, broken man? Will any of our heroes survive the episode?
The rest of this review may have spoilers, so please be careful!
What Happened (Spoilers!)
Biba’s Hayajiro, the Kokujou, steams towards Kongoukaku. Kibito holds Takumi as Kajika sobs. One of Biba’s nameless lackeys tells them to get out of the way, and Kajika screams at him not to touch Takumi. Sahari, Biba’s blonde mustached strategist/lieutenant, unfolds his baton, saying they’ll end up like Takumi if they refuse. Showing just how much despair has claimed her heart, Kajika dares him to do it. Sukari and Yukina immediately position themselves between Sahari and Kajika. The scene teetered on the edge of bloody violence until Uryuu, one of the Hunters who showed disgust at prisoner mistreatment in the last episode, suggests the Hunters leave the scene to let the captives clean it up. Biba’s Hunters depart. Takumi’s friends carry his body from the car.
On a stony beach, Ikoma rolls over, coughing.
Looking at the knife his father had given him, Biba stands in the room with the pulsating blue heart. He tells a drugged Mumei that his father had slashed him with a knife when Biba was young. The shogun had said he didn’t strike Biba; the “fear” did. Biba mocks Mumei, saying her kindness at wanting to help him mend his relationship with his father was her weakness. He then injects the same liquid into her heart that he injected into Horobi. Mumei will become a fused colony to destroy the shogun’s city.
Kongoukaku is huge. Rails run all through it; its people are prosperous and happy. In his great hall, using a city-wide public address system, the shogun warns the people Iwato has fallen, not only to Kabane, but to Biba and his Hunters. But they shouldn’t lose heart; he will protect them.
After his speech, a communications worker who knew of the black smoke’s role in Iwato’s fall urged the shogun to tell the people so they would be prepared. After confirming the man was the only one who knew about the black smoke, the shogun killed in right in front of everyone. He didn’t want anyone to panic.
Ikoma awoke from a dream where his sister morphed into Mumei and tried to stab him to death. He’s moved from the rocks to a sandy beach; maybe he crawled there. A scarred shipwreck is to his left. The events of the last few hours, especially Takumi’s death, flood his memory. He blames himself for Takumi’s death. He wishes he had never gotten involved. He tells himself that he can’t keep his promise to Mumei to turn her human again. He doesn’t even think she remembers the promise anymore.
Hearing a Kabane approach, he panics and hides in the remains of ship’s hull.
The Koutetsujou, Biba’s Kokujou nowhere in sight, arrives at Kongoukaku and petitions for entry. Ayame presents Biba to her uncle. Her story is that she and her whole crew captured Biba to bring him to judgement for what happened at Iwato. Skeptical, her uncle nonetheless offers to escort her and Biba to the shogun.
Back at the shipwreck, Ikoma sees a figure enter the hull with him. But it’s not the Kabane! It’s Kurusu, and he’s leading Biba’s scientist by a rope tied around the scientist’s neck. Kurusu is astonished to find Ikoma, but his surprise turns to disgust as he sees that Ikoma’s spirit is broken and he no longer has the will to go on. Ikoma goes on about how he failed to protect his friends and that even Mumei betrayed him by stabbing him. Kurusu leaves him in the hull and begins working on something outside.
Biba kneels, shackled, before the shogun in the great hall. The ruler plainly says he knows Biba’s up to something. The shogun has a bushi bring him a knife he found in Biba’s stash. It was a small knife in a sheath, and the shogun had given it to his son as a present years ago. Biba says that it’s the only thing his father ever gave him, and he wants to return it. He asks only that the shogun personally kill him.
As soon as the shogun grasps the hilt to draw the blade, he feels a pinprick. The shogun pauses. Biba tells the crowd that Kabane can hide among people, and that he’s survived as long as he has because he can see them before they turn. In fact, he tells everyone, the Kabane are increasing in numbers even now. One of the shogun’s men says finding Kabane by identifying bite marks is why they perform inspections, but Biba says that it’s impossible for others to tell them apart, and that there are Kabane among them even now! The crowd grows uneasy as they look at one another. At that moment, the Kabane virus that Biba had hidden in the knife hilt’s needle turns the shogun’s arm purple and works its way up his neck. A bushi panics and raises his gun as the virus turns the shogun’s face purple. Biba egging him on, the bushi opens fire and knocks the emperor to the ground. The other bushi open fire in response to Biba saying the shogun’s heart cage is still intact.
There’s a pause in the firing. Biba, using the confusion to free himself, retrieves his Kabane Katana-like sword. The shogun rises, now almost fully a Kabane, and reaches for Biba. Biba stabs him through the heart cage.
Using the shogun’s public address system, Biba tells everyone it’s not over yet. The shogun himself was a Kabane; who else might be? His hunters have infiltrated the city and have begun injecting random people with the Kabane virus. Panic erupts as people begin exhibiting the symptoms. Ayame, still in the great hall, tires to restore order, but her uncle ushers her out.
The bushi around the city try to keep the people calm. Uryuu and other hunters sneak in, kill the guards at the main gate, and let the Kokujou into the city. When it reaches the city’s heart, it opens side doors on several of the cars and rains Kabane onto the population.
Biba begins shooting anyone who’s left around him. Sitting on the shogun’s throne, he remembers taking horse-back rides with his father.
Kurusu is trying to repair one of the Hunter’s motorcycles. The scientist is anxious to get to Kongoukaku to see Mumei’s transformation into a fused colony; apparently, he’s in on Biba’s plans. Kurusu’s not sure what the transformation is all about, but he’s almost ready to leave. He approaches Ikoma in one last attempt to motivate him. Asking why Ikoma’s still alive, Kurusu points out that Mumei’s blade could easily have pieced Ikoma’s heart cage, but it didn’t. Kurusu says he thinks it’s because Mumei spared him on purpose.
The hope that Mumei was still in there, fighting as best she could, was enough to motivate Ikoma. He demanded the scientist tell him everything about the black smoke/fused colony transformation.
Most of Kongoukaku has fallen. Mumei descends a flight of steps, her heart glowing bright blue-white. Her eyes are dead, but her soul still clings to memories. She recalls her mother telling her that butterflies come for people’s souls when they die. She sees butterflies everywhere now. She thinks the butterflies have come for her. Giving into the demands of the black smoke, ethereal wings springing to life on her back, Mumei tells her deceased mom she’s coming to meet her. The ethereal wings begin gathering up Kabane and human corpses, just like Horobi’s spider-like arms did when she turned into the black smoke.
The scientist tells Ikoma that injecting the white plasma is the only way to save Mumei; otherwise, the black smoke will consume her. Ikoma rivets his steam gun to the stump of his right arm. Then, much to the scientist’s and Kurusu’s surprise, he asks for the accelerant — the black blood, not the white plasma — to inject into his own heart. The scientist warns that Ikoma will just burn out. He says he doesn’t care. He needs the extra power to reach Mumei in time. His only goals right now are to kill Biba and save Mumei. He’s willing to kill himself to do it.
Plunging the injector into his heart, Ikoma convulses with power. The scientist urges him to release his neck limiter to realize his full potential. His failures to save his sister and Mumei flashing before his eyes, Ikoma rips the restraint from his neck. His eyes and heart glow blue-white.
In Kongoukaku, Mumei has taken the form of a four legged beast with ethereal wings. Biba urges her to destroy everything, good and evil alike.
What I Liked
In Ikoma’s dream as he lay on the beach, his lower right arm was always in shadow, almost like his subconscious didn’t want to deal with the uncomfortable fact of its removal. I thought that was a nice touch.
As the Koutetsujou entered the city, I could see the huge turret they salvaged from Yashiro Station. It makes the Koutetsujou look seriously badass. I hope they can get free of Biba soon; I want to see them off on their own adventures, humans against Kabane. Though I’m not sure where they’d go after this episode…
Speaking of the Koutetsujou, its animation is so smooth and consistent that I look forward to seeing it on screen. As befits one of the title characters (the Iron Fortress), Kabaneri appears to have taken great pains to make the train as realistic as possible.
Ikoma’s spirit had been crushed, and I didn’t like Kurusu treating the steam smith so harshly. But it was entirely within character. Kurusu’s a warrior. I think he’s trained all his life. In that moment, he was worried about Ayame, and all he saw was Ikoma, injured but alive, not trying to catch up with Ayame and the others. Of course he’d judge Ikoma — a steam smith but a Kabaneri — by a warrior’s standards.
I hate to admit it, but Biba’s plan is diabolically simple and effective. He began sowing seeds of psychological doubt to weaken his enemy’s resolve. He and his agents infected the shogun and other random people to get the crowd into a full panic. Finally, he rained full Kabane onto them to finish the job. The city and its bushi were utterly unprepared for that attack. Yuck — I feel dirty praising that demagogue. I wonder where I can find karmic bleach?
The shot of the Kokujou opening its doors looks evil and spidery. Another very effective and deadly tactic, I thought.
Well, Uryuu may not approve of mistreating prisoners, and he may have saved Kajika’s life (seriously, he gets a lot of points for that in my book!), but he’s not squeamish at destroying cities. I wonder what his story is?
As he was unleashing the Kabane on the city, I wonder what Sahari meant when he said, “Fight, my Kongoukaku brothers.” I enjoy hints like this of a broader backstory. I hope the series has time to flesh out this character. He doesn’t seem as humane as Uryuu does at times, but he doesn’t seem utterly evil. He just seems completely under Biba’s spell. I have to again muse on what make — or lets — people follow demagogues.
The animation of the Kabane raining down on the people was gut-wrenchingly efficient.
When Biba’s idiot scientist worried that they would miss Mumei’s transformation, Kurusu couldn’t help but look at Ikoma. The scientist said to ignore the Kabaneri who was now no better than a Kabane. Kurusu punched the scientist and used the rope to pull him back. First, kudos to Kurusu for sticking up for Ikoma. Second, I wonder if he could have played paddle ball with the scientist? It might not have been terribly humane, but I’m starting to feel a real hankering for payback about now, and if the evil scientist is handy…
The soundtrack of piano music that played as Mumei transformed was beautiful. Its beauty was a perfect counterpoint to the horror of what she was becoming.
What I Liked Less
Biba lived through the episode again. Sigh.
So, the shogun killed the communications operator to keep everyone from panicking. “Excessive information creates needless fear.” I wonder what the shogun thought people would do seeing him skewer a defenseless man? Of was the point of that scene that this sort of thing happens all the time in Kongoukaku?
They allowed Biba to see the shogun. Really? Knowing who he was, knowing what he’d done, and they let him even near the shogun? See, I work in the field of computer security, and even I know to keep the enemy as far away from the leadership as possible. In my world, if Biba wants to talk to the shogun, fine! He can — by letter! Or carrier pigeon. Or smoke signals. But not in person! Good Lord…
Okay, you’re a shogun. You’ve presumably survived countless assassination attempts. Your enemy is kneeling before you. Would you touch anything that had been in his possession? Anything? Especially a weapon? From Biba? No no no and no. I would take a page from the Evil Overlord’s List (item number 4) and would have had one of my bushi shoot Biba. Better yet, have multiple bushi shoot him from different angles! Not only would I not have touched anything that had been in Biba’s possession, I would not have gotten close enough to stab him. Really, shogun? Are ye daft?
No. He’s not daft. He’s dead. There’s a difference.
I hope the show gives us more information about why a character like Uryuu would follow Biba. Does he owe Biba his life? Did he make an ill-timed promise? Uryuu has shown on several occasions that he’s not totally evil; I am having a hard time with him not batting an eye at helping destroy a city full of non-combatants.
Why did Ikoma take the time to shave the sides of his head? Sure, it looked cool and battle-ly, but wouldn’t the time have been better spent in transit to the city? For Mumei, every second counts! Priorities, Ikoma! Priorities!
So, the shogun is an evil man, but a “normal” sort of evil man who wants to amass and keep power. He kills an occasional underling, but all around him, his city prospers. That’s quite a contrast to the evil blob of insanity that is Biba, the plague on humanity!
I love the drama when the plot pushes a character past their limits. Anyone can be kind, or loving, or generous, if their life’s not on the line. Or if their friends are safe and sound. Destroy a person’s friends, their home, everything they hold dear — how will they act then? What decisions will they make? That’s one of the reasons I watch anime. This show certainly has a knack for pushing its characters.
Biba’s father’s paranoia almost killed Biba. His father also betrayed Biba and the men under his command. So, Biba wants to destroy everything in retribution. He not only wants to watch the world burn. He wants to light the match. He acts like a prototypical narcissist. I wonder which came first: the narcissism or the demagoguery? From the perspective of Ikoma and friends, I suppose it doesn’t matter.
Ikoma’s lost his best friend, his home, his sister, parts of his body, and even his humanity. So, what’s he do? I’d argue he has more reason that Biba to go on a killing rampage. But no. Despair consumes him, and that’s only natural, I think. Even in his nihilistic psychological miasma, though, he feels bound by his promise to Mumei to make her human again, or at least to keep her alive. And he feels bound by the duty to protect his remaining friends from Biba. He sets his course: spend his life saving the avatar of his little sister and destroying the monster that is Biba.
I just gotta respect that.
Reviews of Other Season 1 Episodes
- Episode 1: Frightened Corpse
- Episode 2: Never-ending Darkness
- Episode 3: Prayer Offer
- Episode 4: Flowing Blood
- Episode 5: Inescapable Darkness
- Episode 6: Gathering Light
- Episode 7: Begging the Heavens
- Episode 8: The Silent Hunter
- Episode 9: The Fang of Ruin
- Episode 10: The Attacking Weak
- Episode 12: Kotetsujyo