In Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress’s 8th episode, The Silent Hunter, we get to know more about Biba Amatori, the one who Mumei called “brother,” and as we might expect, there’s more to him than he lets on. He’s not even Mumei’s blood brother! Plus, Enoku meets his fate. And shockingly, Ikoma speaks disrespectfully to authority!
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What Happened (Spoiler Free)
Amid the roar of the crowd adoring Biba and his Hunters, Mumei tells him that she’s been traveling with a self-made Kabaneri. Biba’s intrigued. Ayame Yomogawa introduces herself as the heir to her family. Biba’s polite, but he seems unimpressed. When Ikoma arrives, he immediately confronts Biba for inflicting his philosophy of “the weak must die” on Mumei. Dismissing Mumei to get an examination, Biba asks Ayame, her body guard Kurusu, and Ikoma to go someplace more quiet so they could talk. On the way, they encounter a broken steam engine. Biba says he’s going to stay to help fix it and asks Horobi, an underling, to continue with Ayame and company. Ikoma, as a steam smith, offers to stay and help. Biba tries to convince Ikoma that Mumei misrepresented his philosophy, and Ikoma seems hesitant.
A steam whistle interrupts their conversation. Kabane are scaling the walls of the city — and it appears that someone lured them! Nearby, the representative from the shogunate (we met him in the last episode) says it’s time to unleash their plan, and they’re counting on Biba leading the attack against the Kabane. He does. His team softens the Kabane with incendiary shells before unleashing warriors on motorcycle-like machines. A huge Wazatori appears, and Mumei and Horobi move to intercept it. We learning something surprising about Horobi during the attack.
As the assault draws to a close, Enoku confronts Biba. He tells his former lord about an assassination plot the shogunate’s representative planned and begs to be reinstated. What happens when Biba refuses has dire consequences not only for Enoku, but for Ikoma as well.
As if we didn’t have enough dramatic developments in this episode, Biba asks Mumei to obtain the Koutetsujou’s master key from Ayame — in any way possible. Mumei reveals just how young and socially inexperienced she is as she grows more and more frustrated with Ayame’s questions. What will Mumei do if Ayame refuses to hand over the key?
Finally, Biba’s people bring him the city’s lord for questioning about an event ten years ago that set Biba on the path he’s on now. What will the city’s lord say? Why do both Mumei and Ikoma suddenly sense dozens of Kabane — within Biba’s train, the Kokujou?
The rest of this review may have spoilers, so please be careful!
What Happened (Spoilers!)
The crowds give Biba and his Kabane Hunters a worshipful welcome. Mumei, too, is really happy to see him, and she surprises him by saying there’s a self-made Kabaneri traveling with her on the Koutetsujou. Ayame Yomogawa, Kurusu at her side, introduces herself as the Yomogawa family heir. After some family talk, she tells Biba that his sister helped them a lot. Biba says that she’s not really his sister; he only lets her call him that. Ikoma arrives, and Mumei introduces him as her shield. Ikoma wastes no time in taking Biba to task for teaching Mumei that the weak deserve to die. Biba immediately tells Mumei to go to the Tsutsugamidokoro (as a viewer, we don’t know what that means yet) to have her body inspected. She doesn’t seem pleased at the prospect. Biba invites the rest to visit with him on board the Kokujou, his train.
Meanwhile, the representative of the shogunate and the lord of the city wait to trigger their plan.
Ayame says she’s honored for the shogun’s son himself to lead them through the Kokujou. Biba, though, says that he’s been disowned. They pass a steam engine, and the technician says it’s leaking. Biba begins helping with the repairs and asks Horobi, a trusted lieutenant, to take them the rest of the way. A steam smith himself, Ikoma offers to help. As they work, Biba tries to convince Ikoma that Mumei misunderstood the nuances of his philosophy. The strong survive and the weak die, he says; can Ikoma debate that? Biba goes on to say that Mumei saved herself by deciding to fight. Ikoma hesitates, unable to refute that argument. Then a steam whistle sounds, announcing a Kabane attack.
The bushi on the city’s walls are dismayed at the number of Kabane. What they didn’t see was that someone has dragged human bodies around the city to attract the Kabane — this attack was staged! The city’s lord recognizes the setup, and the representative of the shogunate tells him to relax: the Karikatashu (the Hunters) will kill the Kabane. In fact, the representative is convinced Biba himself will join the fight, which is part of the plan.
Ikoma tells Biba that he’ll fight, too. Biba prepares his troops. The drawbridge lowers and the Kokujou lumbers beyond the walls. As the train comes broadside along the Kabane horde, doors spring open along some train cars, and troops with mortars fire incendiary shells. Biba, leaping from the train onto his horse, leads his people into battle. Many ride devices that look like a cross between a snowmobile and a motorcycle (front wheel, back skid plate). Apparently, the Hunters already have the kind of bullet Ikoma and Takumi invented; they kill many Kabane with one shot. As the fight progresses, Biba gets to see Ikoma in action, and he smiles at what he sees. The bushi from the city look on in amazement.
A huge Wazatori appears, or maybe even a kind of Kabane we’ve not seen before. It throws a Kabane at one of the motorcycle riders and destroys the bike. Mumei asks her brother to let her handle it, and he orders Horobi to assist. Horobi reveals that she, too, is a Kabaneri, and she and Mumei make quick work of the goliath.
The battle nearly over, Biba rides back to the train. There, Enoku reveals himself and tells Biba of the shogunate’s plot against him. He asks his former leader to let him rejoin the Hunters. Biba says he has no use for the man. In an apparent fit of despair, Enoku lunges at Biba, who easily disarms him and knocks him to the ground. Saying that Enoku had already planned to betray him, Biba plunges his sword through Enoku’s heart.
Ikoma, seeing Biba smile as he thrust his sword, objected to Biba killing a man who was asking for help. As Biba’s men aimed their rifles at Ikoma, Takumi arrives and promises to talk some sense into his friend. Ayame also apologizes.
Biba’s men attack the conspirators, killing the shogunate’s representative and arresting the city’s lord and an aide.
On the battlefield, Biba accepts Ayame’s apology for Ikoma’s behavior and uses it as an excuse to say that the Koutetsujou was apparently still in danger, so he would be happy to accompany them to Kongoukaku. She’s taken aback, but she apparently agrees, because the Kokujou hitches to the Koutetsujou and pulls it from the station. The passengers are all happy to be under Biba’s protection. Sukari’s not convinced.
Ayame, too, is uncertain, though none of their misgivings come close to what Ikoma’s feeling. He’s figured out that since a Kabane never bit Mumei, someone had to make her into a Kabaneri — and he’s convinced that someone is Biba.
Unbeknownst to Ikoma, Mumei, unconscious, is reliving a memory that confirms his hypothesis. We saw in another episode how Biba how shot an arrow to interrupt the attacker who killed Mumei’s mom. We didn’t see what came next: Biba telling Mumei she must fight to live and encouraging her to kill the gunner; Mumei picking up a knife and piercing the heart of the murderer; Biba telling her she should never trust anyone and stand on her own; Biba overseeing the injections that turned her into a Kabaneri.
She awakens, naked, on a table surrounded by several doctors and Biba. He asks her to do something for him: he asks her to get the Koutetsujou’s master key from Ayame. When Mumei hesitates, Biba asks her if Ayame is stronger than her, as if that were the only consideration. Conflicted, Mumei heads for the back of the Kokujou where she can enter Ayame’s train.
In a room filled with caged Kabane who seem to be feeding a silver, pulsating heart, Biba questions the two survivors of the conspiracy against him. He asks the city’s lord who left Biba on the battlefield 10 years ago. Fearing for his life, the man says the shogun gave the order. The Kabane begin to howl.
Mumei, on her way to Ayame, feels the Kabanes’ presence and quickens her pace. Ikoma feels them, too, and wonders why the Kokujou is transporting Kabane.
As Mumei asks Ayame for the master key, Yukina happens to walk by. Ayame asks Mumei about why she wants the key, and Yukina senses Mumei’s growing frustration. In fact, Mumei goes so far as so threaten Ayame with a knife. Yukina gives Mumei another key, saying she had the master key for some coupling work. Mumei, happy and smiling, thanks them and leaves. Yukina tells Ayame the key was actually to the boiler room when Takumi bursts in and says there’s trouble with Ikoma.
Biba tells Mumei that she was lied to and that it’s apparent the crew of the Koutetsujou doesn’t trust them yet. As he’s talking to her, Ikoma begins pounding on the freight car’s door. He demands to know why they are hauling Kabane. Biba tells Mumei that if Ikoma enters the car, they’ll have to kill him. Mumei says she’ll stop him.
She meets Ikoma and tells him that she, too, felt the Kabane — and that they made up part of the Tsutsugamidokoro, which was designed to help them understand the enemy. She’s dismayed when he asks her if that’s the technology they used to turn her into a Kabaneri, but she confirms his conclusion. Desperate, Ikoma asks why Biba uses his power to kill people, saying that was a coward’s way. She countered by saying protecting oneself is not cowardly. Mumei tells Ikoma that a liar like himself would never understand and leaves.
After listening to the argument, Ayame and Takumi join Ikoma outside the freight car. He tells them that Biba’s no hero; he saw Biba smiling as he struck Enoku down.
Biba, standing amid the caged and howling Kabane and beside the dead city’s lord, looks upward in a moment of bliss.
What I Liked
The political intrigue and interpersonal fencing got interesting this week. The disowned son of the shogun, known for his ruthless philosophy of life, immediately sets to work building a wedge between Mumei and the crew of the Koutetsujou. Given his rapid success, it looks like he’s had a lot of experience with this kind of thing! His attacks are subtle and expertly executed; the show’s characterization of a charismatic demagogue is chillingly accurate.
As he’s leading the group through the Koutetsujou, they come across a steam engine that’s damaged. Coincidence? Or Biba’s plan to get Ikoma alone so the disowned son could get a read on Ikoma’s capabilities? Ikoma is, after all, a Kabaneri.
One of the Hunters asks to borrow Kurusu’s sword as he and Ayame waited for Biba to finish repairs. Understandably wary, Kurusu refuses, the Hunter uses his own knife to kill a bug. Kurusu didn’t know what the man was up to; he pushed Ayame out of the way and demanded an explanation. Was the Hunter trying to provoke Kurusu? If Kurusu has responded, the Hunters could have attacked the crew of the Koutetsujou as traitors? Did Kurusu’s honor and restraint actually save Ayame more than his physical speed? There’s a lot going on just beneath the surface in this episode, and I have to say that I loved it. The complexity reminds me a lot of Frank Herbert’s Dune and the power struggles between the company that controlled spice production, the Spacing Guild, and the imperial houses.
I thought the Hunter’s tactics were interesting. The first wave used mortars to soften up the Kabane. The second wave, on motorcycles no less!, either shot and killed the Kabane, or they shot the Kabane in the ankles and legs so they weren’t mobile. Then the infantry came along and used swords or close-in shots to kill the Kabane. It’s clear to me that the folks who wrote this show gave a lot of thought to establishing the basic tactics. For me, that’s a real added layer of realism.
Speaking of added realism, one of the foot soldiers got bitten. This showed that the Hunters weren’t infallible, and that even the best tactics can be overcome, whether by accident or chance. The soldier in question didn’t hesitate. He asked his comrade to look after everyone before using a suicide pouch to blow his heart out.
Mumei’s inner conflict over getting the Koutetsujou’s master key from Ayame was sorrowful to watch — but it was well done. Biba, like any demagogue, knows how to manipulate the emotions of his followers. Mumei’s been so reliable in battle and so self-assured that I almost forgot she’s twelve. She’s still a child. So her emotions and social sophistication is no match for Biba’s. She’s also no match for Yukina’s quick thinking. While I have to hate seeing Biba so callously manipulate Mumei (who adores him), I have to say I like how the show dramatizes this scene.
What I Liked Less
About the only negative thing I can say about this episode is that I detest the weakness in us that allows demagogues to exist. I suspect it’s an ancient evolution of tribal politics that inclines us to believe the loud ones, or the ones who know how to manipulate us. But isn’t it time that we grow beyond that? Isn’t it time we put the cave behind us and reach for the stars?
Oh, wait. That’s something I don’t like about us as a race. I suppose it’s not fair for me to blame Kabaneri for giving us such a clear example of a demagoguery! If you want to read more about what I’m taking about, check out the book Bradbury Speaks where he says that as a race, we’re too close to the cave and too far from the stars. That book has forever deepened how I see the world. It gave me cause for both hope and despair. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t recommend something like that so nonchalantly…
A lot of series would be content with simply having a character like Mumei: insanely capable, a little immature, and pretty. Whether the last two points should be presented together as often as they are in anime is a topic for another day. In the context of Kabaneri, those traits were only the starting point. In this episode, we saw Biba use Mumei’s character against her. He preyed on her immaturity to trick her into threatening Ayame, one of the people who had been her strongest proponent on the Koutetsujou. Mumei didn’t have the political or social maturity to see what he was doing. She can sense something’s not right; she becomes frustrated that Ayame won’t give her the key; she looks momentarily terrified when Ikoma questions her. But she trusts Biba, her demagogue, even when her heart’s telling her something’s not right.
Then there’s Ikoma. He’s an outsider even among his own people. A Kabaneri, he has physical strength at least equal to Mumei and Horobi. Against Biba and the Hunters, what can he do? He’s just one man. When he pounded on the door to the Kokujou, he didn’t realize that many of Biba’s people were watching him, ready to attack if need be. That was a perfect metaphor for Ikoma in society: a single man fighting against the social order that Biba has built; what chance does he have? Like any idealist, he doesn’t care. He’s more concerned with charging headlong into anything that threatens his idealism. But if he doesn’t want to end up like the poor young man who stood before the tanks in Tiananmen Square, he’s got to give more thought to strategy and tactics.
I suspect that’s where Ayame can shine. She senses something’s amiss, and she’s gaining enough confidence to at least ask her advisors about it. I’m sure Kurusu has seen enough to know that Biba and his people constitute a threat to Ayame, and that’s enough to trigger him to act. If Ayame or someone else can coordinate their response, and if Ikoma can temper his idealism enough to listen to her direction, they have a chance.
Or so I’d like to say. After seeing Biba’s people in action against the Kabane, I’m pretty sure they would put down any frontal assault quickly — and ruthlessly. The only path forward that I can see will be political and idealogical. Ikoma’s too idealistic to fight on that level. Kurusu’s a soldier and is ill-suited for that kind of campaign. Can Ayame pull it off? She’s awfully young and inexperienced. Yet, she might be the key.
Kabaneri is not just about zombies and politics. It’s about waring ideologies. I have to say, the show’s far exceeded my expectations. I got the action I expected, based on the show’s pedigree. What I didn’t expect — and am delighted to find — is a robust world that artistically reflects out own. It generates relevant and potentially insightful conversations about how we live and why. Isn’t that what art’s supposed to do?
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 9: The Fang of Ruin
- Episode 10: The Attacking Weak
- Episode 11: Burning Life
- Episode 12: Kotetsujyo