Koutetsujou no Kabaneri has taken a decidedly sensible turn over the last couple of episodes, trading in a lot of its bombast and sheer silliness for coherent plot development and character building. Has it lost something in the process? Yeah, it’s probably less fun in some ways – the curb appeal of the show was always that unpretentiously dumb chaos, barely controlled mayhem playing out week after week in breathless fashion. But this is nice too, and doesn’t require nearly as much suspension of disbelief. Shows of this caliber rarely get to have it both ways – they just don’t have the dramatic chops to pull that off, so gains on one front are often losses on another.
In Biba and his Hunters we have a very Shingeki no Kyoujin “the real enemy is us” theme playing out, but they provide a refreshing break from zombie hordes (they’re scary but let’s face it, not a lot of personality there). This is classic stuff here – Ikoma with his “save everybody” ideals and Biba with his “the strong survive, the weak are means to perish” mantra, and Mumei torn between them. I wasn’t sure if Biba was going to end up as an anti-hero or an outright baddie, but it’s beginning to look like the latter. We get confirmation that he did indeed turn Mumei (and not just Mumei) into a Kabaneri on purpose. When Enoku (remember him?) finally catches up, Biba kills him in cold blood. He may sell his goal as saving even the weak to Ikoma, but there’s no reason Ikoma or anyone else should be buying it.
The capper is that Biba has a freight car full of kabane as part of his koutetsujou, which is the means by which he was able to turn humans into kabaneri. Biba has a pretty dark past, clearly – he was disowned by his father the Shogun (though there might have been a betrayal in battle ten years earlier involved there), and he’s the target of a massive assassination plot probably being funded by his father. He’s strong, no doubt about it – he proves that on the battlefield here and so do his men – but I’m not remotely convinced that he’s lending his strength towards worthwhile goals, even setting aside his deplorable methods.
Ayame has been pretty much a 2D cutout up to now, but I will give her credit for sensing that she shouldn’t trust Biba’s offer to accompany and protect her koutetsujou. Not that she refused – I’m not even sure she could have if she’d wanted. Biba ordering Mumei to get the master key to the koutetsujou by any means necessary was interesting. My sense is that he didn’t especially want to do anything with the key itself, but it was a useful way to test both the level of Ayame’s trust and whether or not Mumei’s loyalties had been unsettled by her contact with her new friends. Now that Ikoma knows the truth about the source of Biba’s power I can’t imagine Biba can simply let him walk away, so things are probably about to get very ugly.