When I wrote “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” last week, it turned out to be a masterpiece of understatement. He’s a baddie all right – the big baddie, unless something altogether surprising happens in the final three episodes of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri. And like most big bads in this sort of series, Biba is absolutely convinced that he’s doing the right thing.
It must be said that while it’s still not exactly Tolstoy, Koutetsujou has definitely improved over the past month as it’s found a firmer footing in sanity and coherence. It’s managed to do so without losing the runaway train energy that makes it a good watch, which is no mean trick and must, I think, be chalked up to the directorial prowess of Araki Tetsurou. Araki has a way with this sort of bombastic live ammo, no question about it, but he’s not totally inept at telling a decent story if he has one to tell. And it’s beginning to look as if he just might with this show.
While Biba’s full-throated embrace of the dark side was no surprise, the degree to which he gave vent to it at breakneck speed was a bit of a shock. This whole setup has been in the planning stages for a very long time – seemingly the better part of the decade that he’s been in exile – and the goal is no less the complete destruction of the shogunate system and all of its trappings. Those trappings include all of the koutetsujou and the walled stations, of course, and that means turning the people lose among the kabane in a kind of Darwinian free-for-all orgy of natural selection. Biba calls it democratic, and in the most callous sense of the word I suppose it is.
Biba certainly executes his plan with ruthless – and heartless – efficiency. He uses Mumei to open the gates to Iwata – the last stop before the Shogun’s station, which has refused his koutetsujou entry. He then turns his caged kabane loose on the townsfolk, has his soldiers gun down the local guardsmen and takes out the local lord and his retainers himself. He also injects Horobi with blue Gatorade and turns her into a black cloud to finish off the outer defenses before ending her with his own blade. Biba is the very definition of a terrorist – committing atrocities against innocents in the name of an extremist political agenda – but give him his due, he’s certainly good at it. And it’s certainly a jaw-dropping spectacle the way Araki brings it to life.
It seems as if Koutetsujou is going to be a pretty big hit, which makes it very unlikely that this will be the only season. I don’t know whether Araki and Okouchi had that in mind all along – I suppose we’ll find out if the sequel is announced immediately after the season ends – but there should be plenty of material to cover. I’d expect a second season to focus on the back-story of the Kabane – how the hell all this happened in the first place, and perhaps the long-term quest to end the threat. For now the remaining eps will likely focus on trying to stop Biba from taking over what’s left of the world, and if they’re as entertaining as the last couple have been, I’ll be looking forward to the second season with a certain amount of anticipation.