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And now for something entirely different: an Anime Review! For long-time followers of my content, you’ll understand what I mean when I say this is a special segment of The Critic Corner! Since I expect mostly people not familiar with my page to be reading this, I’ll spare you a lengthy introduction and simply qualify myself by mentioning I was a film and TV blogger in my earlier years.

I am still but not so much in the written form.

Now, I am no stranger to Anime. I love the medium and often preach American programing can learn a lot from the art form. Well, except for the negative traits of Anime that is. That’s a can of worms I don’t want to open on this article. That said, as a business owner/operator, author, content creator, husband and father, my time is very limited. As such, I am very selective with which films and television series I make time for. I’m a sucker for the zombie genre so I had to give Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress a chance.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about humans versus zombies!


Much has been said about Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress as the series frequently tops the Anime lists of Attack On Titan clones. I mean, one look at the premise and you’ll believe it was trying to ride the coattails of Attack On Titan. (See Plot) It doesn’t help with the optics with the show debuting in between Attack On Titan seasons 1 and 2. It also happens to be made by WIT Studios, the same one that produced Attack On Titan Seasons 1-3. There are also similar voice actors in the lineup. Oh, and Hiroyuki Sawano composed the music for both franchises in similar, bombastic fashion. To top it all off, both shows share the same director: Tetsuro Araki. So yeah, you can’t blame blogs and Anime news sites for labeling Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress an Attack On Titan clone.

As someone that came across this series recently by accident via Instagram’s algorithm, I decided to take a chance at it especially since it was just a single season and end-capped by a follow-up movie. At first, I cringed at some seemingly Attack On Titan moments, but then the show started taking shape as it built its own world. At the conclusion of my viewing, this steampunk series had me wishing for more!

Most articles and reviews of Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress are years old and read like carbon copies of one another. I will be reviewing this series on it’s merits alone. Anime aficionados will no doubt argue this from 17 different ways. This review is my contribution to those takes. Hopefully, this provides some nuance and perspective years removed from it’s initial 2016 release.

This is a spoiler-free review. That is, spoiler-free until the section explicitly titled SPOILER SECTION. So, until then, I’ll be extremely vague on details.

I close out this article with my recommendation on how to view the series to get the most out of the limited source material. It will be labeled if you wish to skip the spoiler segment.

Now, let’s get to talking about the series that can best be described as Mad Max meets Snowpiercer. With zombies.


Humanity is confined to living behind walled fortresses from flesh-eating monsters called Kabane, aka undead corpses. Unlike traditional walkers like The Walking Dead, these zombies are fast like the ones from 28 Days Later fortified with a metallic-like cage around their hearts making them harder to kill. The walled cities are all for naught as the kabane do break through. Shocker. It’s such a common occurrence, it’s a wonder why more cities aren’t overrun.

At any rate, survivors travel aboard iron-clad steam engines. These heavy fortresses on rails are built to mow through kabane and sustain heavy damage while being repairable along transit.

Early on we are introduced to our two main protagonists. Ikoma, the brash, bold, impatient steam worker determined to kill all the kabane. Mumei, a girl who is more than she appears to be. As per anime tropes, there’s a whole cast of characters I won’t take the time to list out as they are more one-note characters with limited screen time.

Our heroes are forced to flee the city after the wall is destroyed and the kabane rampage through eating and killing everything within reach. Our protagonists set off to one of the most advanced and protected cities in the land where the uncle of the surviving Yomagawa Clan lives. Along the way, they must barter supplies, make repairs, and carefully traverse dangerous, kabane-controlled territory.


Here are my spoiler-free takes on the series starting off with the pros. The show itself is quite entertaining. Visually, it’s stunning. The action choreography is excellent. The world building and details are natural. The soundtrack is epic. I didn’t notice anything distracting about the CGI.

The plot’s pacing is kind of everywhere though. There are slow moments that are then ratcheted up to 11 with blaring music to tell you it’s go-time! There are some really stupid character decisions that are seemingly present only to setup the next action piece. Then again, this is a zombie horror series. A common horror trope is stupid character decisions, so I’ll be forgiving of this.

There are frustrating moments such as the obligatory prejudice against our protagonists when some of their mysterious abilities are discovered. While one of the characters is trusting of the protagonist, the fact that she’s a weak leader drags the plot. This leads to some redundant storytelling and those aforementioned stupid character decisions. And there are character jumps to conclusions that are so quick, blink and you’ll miss them.

Other than that, an industrial era Japan overrun by zombies is an interesting one to explore. The world the showrunners crafted is cruel and unforgiving but never hopeless. The structures and railway system are believable. The kabane themselves are terrifying killing anything that moves at random. The action is intense, bloody good fun never crossing into gratuitous overkill. Warning, this series does earn it’s mature rating.

I’ll expand on some of these points in the spoiler section.

So, if you find yourself watching the show and coming away wondering why such a good show didn’t get a second season, it’s probably because you were not influenced by the biased, negative reviews that greeted it at launch.

And because you probably saw the film versions of these instead of the show.

Which brings me to…

Review of Recap Films 1 & 2

Fans of the genre are aware of the common practice to produce film cuts of anime that serve as summaries or recaps of the series seasons. Well, that’s not entirely the case with the Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress films Part 1: The Gathering Light & Part 2: Burning Life. The best way I can describe them are as The Director’s Cut of the show putting the spotlight more on Ikoma and Mumei.

There are several plot threads, redundant character interactions, and filler scenes left out to tighten the story and pacing. There’s new footage added serving as prologue and epilogue that address some of the plot holes and character motivations that were either lacking or unclear in the series. So the complaints I have about the television series are not present in the films. Well, maybe except that the prologue to the first film is a bit of a spoiler for Mumei’s original introduction…

We don’t get much of any character development for the rest of the cast. No doubt the writers could have fleshed out the characters some more in a future season it never got. Which brings us to the next best thing: the sequel film The Battle Of Unato.

Review of The Battle Of Unato

This direct sequel picks up 6 months after the events of the series, wastes no time throwing us into the middle of the action, and sets up the namesake long battle to take back a mountain fortress overrun by kabane. Like the show it follows, the animation, the soundtrack, visuals and action scenes are all on point.

And like the show, there’s little to no development of the cast of characters including the new characters we’re apparently supposed to remember later.

Just like in the series, the new characters have trust issues with our protagonists which sets up redundant plot points. At least these aren’t dragged out like in the show. I mean, the film’s run time is just over an hour so there wasn’t much time to dwell on it.

And while I enjoyed the film, it was a wasted opportunity to explore the world of the show. The plot could also have been spent wrapping up a storyline from the series: finding a cure. More on this on the spoiler section.

The plot point introduced in the prologues and epilogues from the recap films Gathering Light and Burning Life, is concluded in The Battle of Unato. So, no character depth for the rest of the cast, but a lot more screen time for Ikoma and Mumei.

While no new ground is explored in this film, for a truncated show, The Battle Of Unato is the best we can hope for. And it’s probably all we’re ever going to get.

SPOILERS! Be Ye Warned!

I have few main points of the overall series to spoil and criticize so let’s get to it!

1)    Vague Superpowers
Our two main protagonists Ikoma and Mumei are revealed to be “kabaneri,” the show’s namesake. It’s to mean that they are a human/super zombie (or kabane) hybrid. So, like Blade, they have all the strengths of a kabane and none of their weaknesses – except the need to consume blood to quell their hunger. That sounds more vampire than zombie, honestly. How Ikoma and Mumei came to obtain the powers are different. Ikoma was bit by a kabane. Mumei was made one through a procedure infecting her with the virus. Ikoma can sustain heavy damage from kabane and has great stamina. Mumei relies on her fighting ability, nimbleness, and super-human strength to battle. She can unlock her full powers but lacks Ikoma’s stamina making her effective for brief periods of time leaving her vulnerable in a prolonged battle. Both of them have the ability to recover from battle damage but not regenerate. At least that’s how it’s presented. We’re never truly given a clear explanation. Ikoma constantly sustains gory injuries but manages to recover and seemingly regenerate organs except when losing an appendage. The epilogue of Burning Life shows Ikoma wearing what seems to be a prosthetic arm.

2)    Repetitive Plot Points
The most annoyingly repeated story beat is the distrust of our protagonist. The cast of characters, including newer ones later, express the same prejudice constantly segregating or imprisoning Ikoma. It’s a tiresome trope even after Ikoma and Mumei save everyone over and over again. Ikoma literally spends what feels like 1/3rd of the series runtime imprisoned. The Battle Of Unato seriously imprisons Ikoma yet again! At no point does Ayame, leader of the Yomogawa Clan, vouch for Ikoma to the leaders of other clans/tribes/whatever. It’s always “we don’t want Ikoma to attack us from behind in battle” discussions. It’s exhausting. The film summaries cut a lot of this out easily making this less insufferable.

3)    Lack Of Character Development
This is the weakest part of the series. We don’t get the emotional connection to most of the characters. This is disappointing as a particular tragedy is meant to be an emotional one but fails to land. Character interactions tend to be overdramatized and shouted at one another as if that’s supposed to make us understand the motivation or importance of the topics. We do get glimpses of certain character arcs such as Ayame becoming the reluctant leader after losing her father, Kuruzu learning to trust Ikoma, and Ikoma’s motivation to finding a cure. That’s pretty much it though. Oh, and Mumei is, well, Mumei. She kicks butt and counts on Ikoma as her shield, but other than that, she’s just built to fight.

4)    Kabane Variants
The series tried to setup that there are many different types of super zombies. 1) The typical, mindless, rabid horde. 2) The types showing some intelligence and weapons proficiency. 3) Battle-hardened kabane using other kabane as weapons and shields. 4) Finally, a hybrid colony made up of numerous kabane fused by a female kabane – something only female kabane are able to do, apparently. How any of this is possible isn’t explained. By the way, anyone else get Resident Evil vibes?

5)    Official Character Ages
Holy smokes! This is the biggest point of contention and a common issue with Anime in general. None of these ages match up with the character design and level of maturity. Here are the official character ages per this tumblr post citing Haruhiko Mikimoto’s Book of Paintings along with my proposed revised age list:

  1. Mumei 12 – WTH?! At least 14, but that doesn’t make it any better!
  2. Ikoma 17 – Probably but more likely 18. His immaturity keeps him out of the 20s.
  3. Kurusu 17 – Heck no! 21-23 for a young samurai this experienced!
  4. Ayame 17 – No. 19-20 is more believable.
  5. Takumi 17 – Likely 18 in keeping with Ikoma.
  6. Kajika 15 – Agreed.
  7. Yukina 16 – Maybe but 17 is more likely based on her maturity and experience.
  8. Sukari 15 – 16. Younger than Yukina but by months so he’s almost 17.
  9. Kibita 19 – Absolutely not! He’s at least 25. Mature. Oldest looking of the main cast. An experienced warrior.

6)    Truncated Search For A Cure
With respects to The Battle of Unato, I wish the showrunners had used this opportunity on the plot to search for a cure. At the end of the series, there is a scientist from Biba’s group that carries a briefcase containing two vials: black blood and white blood. The black blood gives a kabaneri vague super saiyan powers while a female kabaneri also gains the ability to become a fused colony known as black smoke. The white blood is to undo the effects of the black blood before it takes hold of the mind. So, what happens if you give white blood to a kabaneri after they’ve been cleared from the black blood? Does it turn them back into human? These scientists have the ability to harness the kabane virus to make kabaneri but not undo it?

Those questions are not even remotely explored in The Battle of Unato. Worse yet, despite the fact that the survivors of Biba’s tribe joined the Kotetsujyo at the end of the series, those characters are left out of the film’s plot entirely. No mention of them being dropped off somewhere. Yet, Mumei still makes a passing reference to Biba.

In the end, we got just another excuse at showcasing humans fighting super zombies.

7)    The Crush
The Battle of Unato includes what some have called an out-character crush Mumei has on Ikoma. If you only watched the series and The Battle Of Unato, then yes, it’s seemingly out-of-character. If you watch the film cuts and The Battle Of Unato, you’ll see it was a direction the creators intended.

Towards the end of the series, we learn Mumei refuses to be seen as weak for fear of being cast out or left behind. Biba, her “older brother,” ingrained in her mind that if she is weak, she’s as good as dead. Ikoma tells Mumei its wrong to assume because one is weak that they won’t matter or can’t struggle to survive. Furthermore, Ikoma expresses to her that she doesn’t have to keep fighting to prove her worth, but Mumei doesn’t accept this because of Biba. The new footage in the film cuts of the series build upon Ikoma’s and Mumei’s relationship. Meanwhile, in The Battle of Unato, Mumei’s loneliness is triggered when she goes for the enemy alone – something she has done numerous times – except she counted on Ikoma to be with her but couldn’t.

“But Ikoma said Mumei reminds him of his sister!”
No, he didn’t. In a particular scene where Takumi asks Ikoma if Mumei reminds him of his sister Hatsumi, Ikoma brushes it off almost embarrassed of such a comparison. For some reason, Ikoma’s English subtitles quote him as saying they look alike, however, the Japanese dialogue is clearly talking about the girls’ heights.

So, while there are flashes of Ikoma remembering his sister, he makes a point to Mumei that he’s lost the people that meant the most to him. Ikoma adds he does not want to lose Mumei to which she makes him promise her to never die.

How To Watch The Anime

I recommend watching the film summaries and then The Battle of Unato. All three films together tell a cohesive story with proper plot arcs for our main leads. After that, watch the series for more world building and filler material. Think of this like watching The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy theatrical version before checking out the extended versions. Oh, and remember to watch the end credit scenes for all three films!

The Manga

For the life of me, I cannot find the manga that published on the Comic Garden magazine weekly for a short period. Four volumes apparently do exist.

It was reported to be a sequel to the series, but from the looks of it, it’s more like the show in manga form. Still, I doubt a short run of chapters would add more to the story than the sequel film did.


People will always conjure up Attack On Titan comparisons because Anime, but a more fair assessment of Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress is that it tried to capitalize on the zombie craze of the 2010s. We had everything from television shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and the Korean epic series The Kingdom, to major motion pictures like Zombieland, Warm Bodies, and World War Z. That’s not mentioning all the other zombie-themed anime. In the midst of a saturated market, Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress is a fresh spin on the worn-out zombie genre telling a compelling story fans like me wish could have been explored some more.

I highly recommend giving Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress series and films a chance. It’s entertaining. And unlike the series its accused of cloning, this one has a happy ending.

By the way, if you can get your hands on the manga, awesome! Share below if you find it in English!

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