In Fang of Ruin, the ninth episode of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Mumei learns a terrible lesson about trust and despair. Ayame reveals the steel in her spine. Yukina demonstrates her unflinching loyalty. After many trials, Ikoma learns the limits of his strength. And finally, Biba demonstrates an almost unrivaled level of depravity.
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What Happened (Spoiler Free)
This episode gets moving quickly, so there are only a few points I can make without spoiling anything:
- Iwato Station does not trust Biba, so they don’t allow Kokujou to enter.
- Ayame doesn’t trust Biba, and she asks Ikoma to talk Mumei into leaving Biba and rejoining the crew of the Koutetsujou.
- The station’s lord, Maeda, wants to give Biba a chance, so he agrees to meet with him, assuming he only brings women or children with him; he brings Horobi and Mumei, which isn’t exactly in keeping with the spirit of the rules
- Mumei leaves the meeting to use the restroom.
The rest of this review may have spoilers, so please be careful!
What Happened (Spoilers!)
By order of Iwato Station’s bushi, the crew of the Koutetsujou disembarked to enter the station, leaving their train still connected to Biba’s Kokujou outside the station gates. Biba’s train and his people are now allowed to enter the city. His people are agitated. Mumei, in particular, seems outraged. He tries to calm them by saying this is exactly what they expected; they’re prepared.
Ayame’s relieved that she’ll be free of him. The whole situation still troubles her heart, and she seems certain something is seriously amiss.
Ikoma astonishes Ayame, Kurusu, Kibito, Takumi, and Sukari when he tells them that Biba’s transporting over a hundred Kabane in the Kokujou. Sukari’s glad to be rid of Biba and his crew; Ikoma’s still worried about Mumei, who’s with Biba. Ayame asks Ikoma to bring Mumei back to them, and he agrees. Ayame and Yukina leave to meet the station’s lord.
Biba and Horobi have just shared part of their plan with Mumei, who’s excited that everyone will be happy when Biba’s plan succeeds. Lord Maeda, the ruler of Iwato Station, has agreed to meet with Biba, but Biba may only bring women and children with him. Of course, Biba has anticipated this, and he tells Mumei to go get ready. Horobi expresses sympathy for Mumei and the role she’s about to play; she even asks Biba if today’s the day she herself dies.
Ayame opens her meeting with Lord Maeda by thanking him for agreeing to help them get to Kongoukaku. He waves off her praise and says it’s only natural to help the people. He even apologized for stipulating that only women and children be allowed to accompany the leaders he met; otherwise, he would not have been able to welcome Biba. Ayame and Yukina are both dismayed; they’d thought they had gotten away from him. One of Lord Maeda’s bushi, Itagaki, tells Ayame that Maeda isn’t fully aware of the feud between Biba and the shogun; Maeda argues that surely Biba’s forgotten all of that, since the incident’s a decade old and Biba’s now a liberator of the people.
As he’s working to gather supplies, Takumi sees Mumei riding with Horobi and Biba towards Maeda’s palace. He warns Ikoma, who rushes after her.
Biba is introduced to Maeda, who warmly welcomes the “Liberator.” Horobi and Mumei are with him. Ayame and Yukina move aside, but it’s clear they are anxious. Mumei, too, doesn’t seem to know what to think about Ayame being there.Itagaki points his rifle at Biba, just to be safe.
Mumei kicks off her part in the plot by saying she needs to use the restroom. Maeda, seeing only a little girl who needs to go potty, asks a guard to escort her.
Ikoma and Takumi approach the palace. They see Mumei rushing towards the gate, unconscious bushi in her wake.
The Kokujou opens the side doors to a train car that contains their motorcycles.
Mumei opens the stations’ gates, confident that she’s helping Biba by letting the Kokujou, unjustly ordered to stay outside, enter the station. Ikoma and Takumi arrive and ask what she’s doing. As she defends Biba, she pauses to look at the tracks — and sees the Kokujou’s motorcycles using bags of blood to lead hundreds of Kabane into the city. Her mind can’t accept what she’s seeing. As she’s grappling with her shock, Ikoma and Takumi dash off to help the defense.
Ikoma tries to raise the draw bridge, but it’s too late. Biba’s men cut the cables. The Kabane enter the station.
The sound of warning bells interrupts the meeting in the palace. Itagaki’s distracted just long enough for Biba to slash his throat. He disables Maeda and dispatches the other guards as Ayame pulls a spear from the wall. She orders him to stop. As Horobi hurls a dart at her, Yukina throws herself in front of it, saving Ayame. Biba then murders Maeda.
Mumei, still unable to believe what she sees, dashes off. Takumi convinces Ikoma that they have to get back to protect the people of the Koutetsujou. Ikoma reluctantly follows; he’d rather follow Mumei.
The Kabane ravage the city. The Kokujou enters the burning station.
Ikoma arrives just as Kibito locks the people in a shelter. The Koutetsujou’s bushi have formed a defensive line outside. Kibito confirms that Ayame has not yet returned. At that news, Kurusu tells the rest to protect the people as he goes to rescue Ayame.
Mumei rushes through the streets. She sees the dead everywhere. She can’t process that she’s responsible. She tries to save a mother and her child, but it’s too late. Though Mumei destroyed the Kabane, it has already bitten the child. Mumei, standing there in her pretty dress, could only watch as the mother used a suicide pouch to kill herself and her child.
Iwato Station’s bushi are panicked. When they see the Kokujou on the tracks above them, they think they’re saved, and they swarm the ladders. The troops on the Kokujou destroy the ladders and open fire on the bushi below. They are slaughtered.
In the Tsutsugamidokoro, Biba injects a willing Horobi with an extract from the glowing Kabane heart. The injection produced filaments, some of which wrapped themselves around her neck to prevent the Kabane virus from entering her brain. The others became strange appendages. These appendages gathered the dead and the Kabane to her as she became the heart for a fused colony.
Biba says he will liberate everything with her help. He tells Horobi to destroy the station’s gate. The hybrid fused colony lunges at the station’s main gate and obliterates it, along with the bushi who were trying to defend it.
Ayame, treating Yukina’s wound, overhears Biba’s chief scientist Soue lauding Horobi’s performance, saying it will help them when they go against the shogunate.
Mumei finally finds Biba. He praises her work, but she’s still inconsolable. She thought she was lowering the draw bridge to let the Kokujou enter the city. He tells her to look at the destruction, to look at the world of fairness and equality that they’d brought into being.
The appendage around Horobi’s neck shatters, and the virus enters her brain. The hybrid colony collapses, leaving only a proto-Kabane form of Horobi in its place. Soue is disgusted; he thought she’d last longer than this. They have an antidote (the “white blood”), but he says it’s too late to give it to her. That’s when Kurusu arrives and systematically disables all of the bushi surrounding Soue and Ayame. Soue, prepared as one might expect a scientist to be, pulls out a mini-gun and begins firing.
Ayame disables the scientist holding the white blood and dangles it overs the edge. She says she’ll drop it if Soue doesn’t desist. Soue turns to fire at Ayame, and Kurusu grapples with him. They tumble into the smokey abyss.
Horobi is not done with the world. The troops from the Kokujou see her in her near-Kabane state; she still has the wickedly sharp appendages from before. But their hesitation only betrays them as she slashes them to death. Horobi’s rampage stops just short of Biba. Her blade is centimeters from his face; a bead of sweat traces a path to his jawline. Despite her near-Kabane state, Horobi still recognizes the leader she loves. He uses her hesitation to shove his Kabane Katana through her heart.
Mumei could only stand and watch.
Iwato Station is overrun. Its leadership and people were dead. The Kokujou troops now turned on the bushi and others defending the Koutetsujou’s shelter. Biba’s right-hand man personally clubbed Ikoma to the ground, saying that while they were interested in his blood, if he resisted, they would kill him. The troops even turned on Mumei.
On the train tracks above the survivors, Biba gave a speech about how he had just liberated all of them from their cages. As Biba’s speech went on, Ikoma tried to free himself; only to be clubbed into unconsciousness. Biba says that he will destroy mankind’s ultimate symbol of cowardice — the shogun’s castle — to liberate all of them.
His troops take up the change, “Liberation. Liberation. Liberation.”
Mumei, watching the troops drag an unconscious Ikoma away, finally realizes that everything Biba told her was a lie.
What I Liked
This episode has forced me to clarify what I mean by “What I Liked.”
If I list something here, I don’t mean I “liked that it happened” or “liked what it represents.” It means I found its dramatic impact to be successful; or I thought the scene evoked (or hammered home!) its target emotion.
I’ve seen a lot of anime and I’ve seen a lot of stories told through other media, and this episode made me take a step back and say, “Whoa.”
That being said…
Early in the episode, when Mumei said that if the plan succeeded, everyone could be happy — that was heart wrenching. I still didn’t know the extent to which Biba was planning to take his retribution, but just hearing the happy tone in her voice — in the voice of a character we’ve seen go through so much in eight previous episodes — cast a dark cloud over my heart.
Lord Maeda seems like such a reasonable man — he treated Ayame respectfully, and he even extended his hospitality to Biba. I hated to see how Biba hacked him to death.
A servant humbly introduced Biba, Horobi, and Mumei to Maeda. She bowed and touched both hands to the floor. It was such a civilized moment; I wonder what happened to her in the aftermath of Biba’s plan? Did she escape? Become a Kabane? Is someone like Biba capable of caring for a question like that?
Maeda warmly greets Biba, to the extent of saying it’s an honor to meet him. Yet all along, Biba’s planning treachery against his host. I found that chilling, and after contemplation, I’m not surprised those who commit political treachery are consigned to the ninth circle of hell (at least in Dante’s Inferno).
When the bushi pointed his rifle at Biba, Horobi immediately leapt between them. What is it about humans that we sometimes subjugate ourselves to demagogues? Why would Horobi give her support to someone like Biba? Why do we pledge our loyalty and our lives to people who are not acting in our — or humanity’s — best interests? What is it in the human psyche that allows this? Is it the same thing that says “the tree of liberty must refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants?” In other words, is there something so basic in human nature that some percentage of individuals will follow a demagogue or a tyrant regardless of good sense of even a sense of self preservation — necessitating an extreme response from the rest of humanity to get rid of that evil? Seems Kabaneri is tapping into some serious universal themes here…
When Biba started his rampage, Ayame tried to stop him. She’s come a long way from the cringing noble in the first couple of episodes.
As Mumei disables the bushi guarding the gates of Iwato Station, she says she’d better not kill anyone, or Ikoma will be angry with her. How tragic is that? She’s convinced she’s doing something positive, and she wants the people she respects and cares for to tell her she’s doing a good job. Despite all of her power as a Kabaneri, she’s still a little girl, and Biba’s taking advantage of her. Yeah, the ninth circle of hell seems about right. For a start.
Before he injects her with the Kabane heart extract, Horobi tells Biba that he’s always afraid. I suspect that observation, and the damage it might do to Biba if it were to get out, only helped him shove the needle in her heart. I wonder what put her on this path? I wonder what opened her heart to helping Biba exterminate humans, even welcoming hosts and trusting royalty?
Soue has a mini-gun? Against Kurusu’s sword? And he still can’t defeat Kurusu? I guess that shows the limitations of high-powered weaponry at close quarters! In all seriousness, I thought it was completely realistic — a weapon with high spin-up time and long-range capabilities is a poor match against a Kabane Katana at close range.
Mumei, the powerful Kabaneri who prides herself on her strength, could only weep at the realization that Bib, her “brother,” had lied to her all along.
What I Liked Less
I know it’s popular in anime (I’m looking at you, Sword Art Online!), but I found the “butt-cam” angle around 4:08 to be excessive. Horobi was talking about betrayal and her own impending death, but the camera angle was, let’s say, very low. If this scene was an example from the sometimes obligatory beach or hot springs episode, that angle might have worked. But it was more like the Sword Art Online episode called “A Crime Within the Walls.” At the 10:59 mark, Yolko is crying here eyes out over the apparent loss of her friend. The camera drops so low that I’m pretty sure she’d feel embarrassed if she knew. That shot completely destroyed the drama of the scene. Granted, Horobi’s scene wasn’t as egregious, but it was still distracting. I thought that was a shame, because she’s a tragic character whose emotions don’t need trivialized by such a shot.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate good fan service. One of my favorite series is Monster Musume. Another is both seasons of Sekirei. I think we can all agree those series are jam-packed with fan service. But in those cases, the women are using their sexuality to accomplish their own goals. The shows don’t try to make a dramatic point while showing cleavage, for example. When Miia does show cleavage, it’s because she wants to use her sexuality to attract Kimihito Kurusu (hey! another Kurusu!), a.k.a. Darling-kun. In other words, I don’t object to fan service if the character’s in charge; I object when the character or the scene’s drama is undermined by distracting shots. If that makes sense, which I think it does, but who knows?
This episode demonstrated an unfortunate truth; something that I don’t like to accept, and in my experience, other people don’t like to even think about. The truth is this: if your enemy has superior strategy, tactics, and operations; if they have superior organization and materiel; nothing else matters. Not rightness; not morality; not hopes; not feelings; not dreams. Sometimes, might not only makes right. It obliterates the concept of right completely and becomes the dominate force of history. This is a lesson we must understand.
Otherwise, we can’t come up with effective counter measures.
Biba’s concept of liberation reminds me strongly of a story by G.K. Chesterton called “The Yellow Bird” (second story in the collection The Poet and the Lunatics). If you’ve never ready his writings, or if you’ve never read “The Yellow Bird,” I can’t recommend it enough. Though I also recommend you read “The Fantastic Friends,” the opening story in the collection, first. It’ll give you some welcome context. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I won’t come out and say how. I’ll just say that Biba and the stranger from “The Yellow Bird” have the same philosophy — with the same results.
I know that some sources, like Anime News Network, think this episode was a misstep. I get what they’re saying, but I can’t agree. I think Kabaneri is trying to paint on a wide thematic canvas. I could be wrong. Guess I’ll just have to wait for the next couple of episodes to see how they wrap this up!
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 10: The Attacking Weak
- Episode 11: Burning Life
- Episode 12: Kotetsujyo