Inescapable Darkness, the fifth episode of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, shows how our heroes encounter a station that has fallen not just to the Kabane, but the mysterious Black Smoke of Kabane. Also, Mumei meets an old friend, then develops a terrible attitude. Ikoma tries really hard to be competent!
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What Happened (Spoiler Free)
The Koutetsujou arrives at Yashiro Station, but they find it overrun with Kabane. They still need to travel through the station, but a tower has collapsed across the rails. The survivors speak of a Black Smoke of Kabane, but they don’t remember the details — they’re too terrified. Mumei meets a man previously in the employ of her brother. He tells her that being close to the people in the train has dulled her edge. Her brother might discard her! This terrifies her to the extent that she distances herself from Ikoma and his plan to fire up the boiler and use the steam crane to remove the crumpled tower from the tracks. During the fight, she acquits herself well, until the second and third waves wear her down. A Wazatori appears as the crane lifts the tower. Will she have the endurance to defeat it?
The rest of this review may have spoilers, so please be careful!
What Happened (Spoilers!)
Ikoma and Takumi demonstrate how they adapted the technology in Ikoma’s steam gun to the bushi’s rifles. The bushi are impressed; now, even they will be able to kill Kabane, not just push them back. Ikoma and Takumi also used the metal from around dead Kabane’s hearts to coat swords to make them more durable.
In another car, Mumei’s playing with one of the kids, and two men fighting over food interrupt them. Mumei helps them see the error of their ways (she seemed to avoid breaking any of their bones). Ayame, rushing to the scene at the sound of the men fighting, praised Mumei for helping keep the peace. The crowd even clap for her!
The Koutetsujou arrives at Yashiro Station. The station seems to have fallen to the Kabane, dashing their hopes that they could resupply there. Worse, a tower has collapsed across the tracks inside the city, blocking the path they had intended to take out of the station.
They see a signal fire that indicates survivors, so they send a rescue party. The survivors speak of a black smoke that poured over the walls three days ago and attacked them — and even pulled the tower down across the tracks!
Among the survivors is a man Mumei recognizes as Enoku, a servant of the “young master” (Mumei’s brother), who now serves by gathering intel. He’s no longer on the front lines of the battle because he lost a leg and an eye and can no longer fight. He warns Mumei that the Shogunate is gathering weapons to kill humans. He wants Mumei to relay the information to her brother. Apparently, Enoku lost favor not only because of his injuries, but because of some other transgression. Mumei warns him that his loyalty and this news won’t be enough to regain favor. Saying he’s no longer her brother’s ear, she turns to leave and immediately has to block his attack. She’s shaken when she sees he only blocked his first attack, and that his pistol is pointed straight at her. He goes on to criticize her for getting too close to the people on the Koutetsujou, even warning her that if she looses her edge, she will no longer be the young master’s “Claw.” In that case, her brother will discard her, just as he discarded Enoku.
Ikoma is meeting with Ayame, Kurusu, Kibito, and others to brief them on his plan to clear the tracks and get through the station. The core of his plan involves clearing the Kabane from the boiler room so they can use the central crane. Mumei arrives late, sullen, and listens as Ikoma explains that they’ll enter the far side of the boiler, which means the Kabane could only attack them single file across a narrow bridge. The bushi think the plan’s great, but Mumei ridicules it, even kicking Ikoma in the face, because it’s too safe and shows he’s scared of the Kabane. She says she’ll attack in her own way and that they should stay clear of her.
As she’s trying to organize her thoughts, Mumei comes across Kajika and some of the other women. A child’s dog just died. In an apparent attempt to sympathize, Mumei said it’s good the dog died; it’s leg had been injured, so it would not now have to know the pain of its master casting it aside. The women are furious at what appears to be Mumei’s callousness, and Mumei has no idea why or how to respond. Kajika wants to be sympathetic, but Mumei suffers an emotional panic attack and runs. Hiding, she tries to catch her breath, red streaks across her face, her heart glowing fiercely orange.
Just before the mission starts, Ikoma meets Mumei as both are gearing up. She still refuses to follow his plan, and he tells her not to charge into the boiler room because it seems to be a nest of Kabane.
The Koutetsujou moved forward so the team could disembark close to the crane. The bushi and Ikoma escort Takumi and another steam-smith, Sukari, who confirm the steam crane is in good working order and just needs the boiler to provide power. Leaving two bushi to guard the crane, Kibito, Ikoma, and two others head for the boiler. As they run, Kibito wonders out loud what force could possible has twisted and mangled the tower that now trapped the Koutetsujou. In response, Ikoma asks about the Black Smoke of Kabane. Before Kibito can answer, they see Mumei doing exactly what Ikoma had warned her not to do. She charges right into the boiler room’s front door. Ikoma reverses direction to intercept her, and the reluctant bushi follow.
Mumei justifies her tactics by telling herself it’s best to destroy the nest, because then they won’t have to worry! She bursts in, sets her timer at 90 seconds (similar to what she did earlier when she led Ayame and the survivors to the Koutetsujou), and launches her attack.
At first, her plans goes well. She’s even able to destroy a Wazatori and stay within her time limit. Then the second wave, fed by a reservoir of Kabane she knew nothing about, strikes. She wavers, then grits her teeth and attacks.
Ikoma, Kibito, and others arrive to find dead Kabane strewn everywhere. They find an exhausted Mumei in the boiler control room. She chides them for taking so long. Ikoma begins to fire up the boiler as one of the bushi look outside and asks why the shadows are moving. Turns out they’re not shadows. There’re an unimaginably huge mass of Kabane, and they’re crawling up the sides of the boiler plant. Clearing the boiler room of Kabane just provoked them. Even Mumei’s shocked.
Ikoma gets the boiler on line. The crew in the crane begin removing the tower. Ikoma tries to fall back with the bushi and discovers Mumei’s gone.
The Kabane attack the crane. The bushi try to hold them back, but one almost gets into the cabin to bite Takumi before Ikoma arrives and kills it. He tells them to retreat with the bushi and that he’ll meet them at the west passage leading out of the station.
Ikoma continues Takumi’s work. The cranes raises the tower upward an inch at a time, away from the tracks. Mumei arrives, saying Ikoma shouldn’t show off, and attacks the swarming Kabane. She’s clearly exhausted and weakened, though, and Ikoma feels torn between completing the mission and fighting beside her. Only when a Wazatori with close-quarter combat skills breaks her pistols and throws her off the platform does Ikoma’s resolve break. He leaps to her aid. The crane’s gear slips, and the tower slips downward, enough to stop the Koutetsujou. It’s now trapped.
Ikoma lands right in front of the Wazatori and blows its heart out with his steam gun. As he picks up Mumei, the boiler plan begins to go critical, its insides filled with swarming Kabane. It explodes. To escape the raining debris, Ikoma carries Mumei into a mine opening, but the explosion collapses it on top of them.
The explosion also threw the Black Smoke of Kabane to the valley, where it regrouped and reformed as a misshapen titanic colossus. It rose several hundred meters away from the train. The Koutetsujou is trapped not only by the partially fallen tower, but by a titan made of Kabane.
What I Liked
Mumei actually asked the two men fighting over food to take their fight somewhere else — she even asked politely! Her character’s growing and adapting to her situation, and that has implications for future scenes in this episode. I thought that this episode’s plotting was particularly tight and inter-connected.
Enoku’s observations about the Shogunate gathering human-killing weapons were interesting. On one hand, it’s almost become cliche to show humans plotting to kill other humans in species-threatening situations. On the other hand, I like the idea that there are political struggles and intrigue happening in the wider world. That could make this show even more interesting.
Who was the girl Mumei remembered being gunned down? A friend? Family? Whoever it was, the memory visibly hurt Mumei.
I think it’s clear that Mumei has been isolated for a long time so she could hone her combat skills. So after her very upsetting meeting with Enoku, I thought her outburst against Ikoma and the others fit perfectly with her character. It seems that she knows she was hurt; she wants to be important to her brother; and she has no idea how to deal with her feelings for Ayame and her crew or how to work as a team. If this is a result of becoming her brother’s Claw, then I think her brother needs to invest in better training techniques. Kabaneri or not, a single individual will eventually be overcome. That being said, the dilemma is interesting to watch.
Mumei’s reaction to the dog’s death felt perfectly in character. She sees herself as her brother’s Claw: she’s a warrior who exists only to kill Kabane. If she would ever be unable to do that, in her mind, she’d be worthless and should be cast aside. So of course that’s how she’d see the dog. She was so locked into that perspective that she couldn’t understand why the women reacted so violently. Nor could she understand why her own feelings seemed to explode within her as the women cursed her insensitivity. Seeing her retreat — Mumei, retreating before unarmed human women! — was dramatic.
The fear on Takumi’s face — his shaking and profuse sweating — was endearing as he tried to look brave when Ikoma asked he leave the safety of the train to work the steam crane. Little character moments can make a huge difference with me.
In spite of the fact that she kicked him twice in the face, Ikoma still tried to warn Mumei not to charge head-first into the boiler room. He seemed to sense that she felt like she needed to prove herself (though he didn’t know why). Given how obstinate she felt, she was obviously going to charge right in anyway, but I think he was honestly trying to help her.
As Ikoma began firing up the boiler, one of the bushi notices that the shadow was really a mass of Kabane. Even Mumei seemed shocked! I liked this because it shows the Kabane aren’t just zombies; they have unique characteristics that make them a more interesting and dangerous enemy. Plus, even someone like Mumei who is the most experienced among them learned something new about Kabane.
Takumi was clearly terrified by even the idea of going outside. So I thought his reluctance to leave Ikoma alone in the crane against the Kabane was a strong sign of friendship. Sukari, too, could have run immediately when Ikoma told them to retreat, but he hesitated. Bravery rocks!
It took a close-quarter Wazatori to nearly defeat Mumei; and even then, she had to be in a weakened state. Still, it did knock her unconscious and throw her from the platform. I hated to she her in that condition, but from a dramatic perspective, it’s good not to have a god-like character who can’t be defeated. Mumei’s strong, and so is Ikoma, but the aren’t divine. They can be defeated and killed. That makes their conflicts more interesting!
So, the Black Smoke of Kabane can form a huge creature that towers over walls? Hmmm. Where have I seen that before… Given this show’s creative pedigree, I guess I should have expected something like this! The Smoke of Kabane is larger than life, lethal, and a lot of fun to watch.
What I Liked Less
Ikoma seems to yell alot. That’s gotta be hard on his voice! He should learn to relax.
After the happy ending last week, I knew something dark and sinister had to be coming. And it was. Who knew the Kabane could join forces to become a huge Kabane titan? Now, I know of course that’s a cheap and arbitrary interpretation. The Smoke of Kabane seems more like a colony being than a single unified intelligence. Still, the image felt familiar.
Putting that aside, I thought this episode really shone a spot-light on Mumei’s background. She’s terrified of her brother casting her aside, as he is apparently wont to do. On the other hand, she seems to have found some unexpected camaraderie with Ikoma in particular and many others in the crew in general. I don’t think she’s had those kind of relationships recently. The emotional tension between being just a weapon and being a part of a supportive team seems to be almost more than she can handle.
Speaking of more than she can handle, this episode also highlighted her limits. She’s as powerful as a Kabane and significantly more intelligent. Yet, even she can’t fight indefinitely. Ikoma understands this instinctively, and he has the added advantage that his family’s not actively trying to turn him into a god of war. I’m very interested to see how she reacts waking up in his arms — if either of them wake up after that cave in.
This series shares on trait with its cousin Attack on Titan: it knows how to make its viewers anxious for the next episode!
Reviews of Other Season 1 Episodes
- Episode 1: Frightened Corpse
- Episode 2: Never-ending Darkness
- Episode 3: Prayer Offer
- Episode 4: Flowing Blood
- 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 11: Burning Life
- Episode 12: Kotetsujyo