Understanding Fiction Standards: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri Was Never a FMAB

So anime Youtuber Digibro just put out a video about how Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was always dumb but cool.  In it he added an additional bit to the argument, which I think is very important and needs addressing, namely the idea that some people are walking in with too high of expectations, expecting Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to be the next FMAB and match the imagined standard FMAB set as an epic adventure anime, and lashing out at the show for failing to meet that standard.  I don’t spend anywhere near enough time on anime forums or doing research so I can’t say for sure if this is true, but I do think it’s pretty accurate, after all my biggest complaint with FMAB is that it’s so perfect by conventional standards that it is inherently less interesting to me.  Obviously there will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

For starters let’s not beat around the bush, the idea any show which is not FMBA should be like FMAB is ridiculous.  Not to say that you can’t take inspiration from FMAB or borrow elements that you feel are cool and incorporate them into another show, but if you take it much further than that you have fucked up.  Trying to be a big success by copying someone else’s success is pretty much a formula for failure, at least from an artistic standpoint, in any creative medium.  In video games Battlefield tried to beat Call of Duty in sales for years even though the games were very similar, and it’s not until now, when the new Battlefield has decided to break away from Call of Duty and became a totally different game that it has enjoyed acclaim beyond Call of Duty.  Likewise the closest copy to Tolkien in fantasy novels I’m aware of is Terry Brooks, whose very first book was almost a one-for-one copy of Lord of the Rings.  And that book is by far his worst book, Terry Brooks got much better when he had his own original ideas and wrote his own story.  Similarly I don’t think it’s coincidence that the Game of Thrones books are super successful and very different from Tolkien’s work as well.  In order to be a big success in a creative medium, you must be CREATIVE.  You can copy other people’s work but that will only get you so far, I mean look at how negative the term AoT/SnK clone is in the anime community.  If you want to be a FMAB level success, you can’t do it by being FMAB.

Moreover standards are constantly changing because we make them up.  A standard only appears when enough people agree that something is good, so as more techniques or storytelling elements are recognized as good, standards shift and change.  This is why the idea that something is bad because it’s not like FMAB is ludicrous, just because a show doesn’t meet previous standards doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just has yet to be recognized as good.  Not that there aren’t bad shows of course, but shows which are legitimately bad fall into consensus standards for what makes something bad, and believe me as a species we are way better are figuring out and agreeing upon what sucks than what’s good.  Look ,if you want to hold Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to the FMAB standard, go right ahead, you can do that.  I just think you’re an idiot for doing so, for quite a few reasons, but I’ll get into the specifics of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri vs FMAB later.  For now I think it’s more important to understand why the general approach of comparing shows like this is dumb.

Look it’s fun to compare shows, to argue about which shows you like more and why, and how something new might measure up to something you know and love.  I get the appeal, and as a fun thought exercise that’s fine to do.  But when you start seriously basing your criticism of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, or indeed any show you think could be the next FMAB, on the fact it’s not enough like FMAB I think you’re doing criticism wrong.  If you have problems with a show and those problems stop from enjoying it that’s fair game, but attacking a show on the basis that you think it should be more like a different show is just dumb.  I’ve talked about wasted potential before, which is about as close as I’ve ever gotten to saying a show should be like something else, but in those cases I’m not criticizing the shows for not being something else so much as I’m criticizing the shows’ writing for being boring or bland or predictable or stupid.  Yes I’m saying the show could have been better when I talk about wasted potential, but my root complaint is was that what we got actually sucked, because if it was good I wouldn’t talk about the show’s wasted potential.  For example in my review of UBW I talked about how badly the Gilgamesh vs Hercules fight/ Illya deaths scene episode was handled and how a different show handled a similar situation better, but I didn’t want that scene of UBW to become more like the other show, I just wanted it to not suck and gave a relevant example.  In my review of Koutetsujo no Kabaneri I acknowledge the problems I have with the show and said it could’ve been better if it had more time to flesh itself out in more detail, but I’m not saying the show is bad because it’s fucking not.  If I really wanted Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to have been FMAB, I would have dropped it because it was never going to be FMAB.  And why the fuck are looking for anything else to be FMAB?  If we had a bunch of shows just like FMAB then wouldn’t FMAB lose some of it’s appeal?  That said if you do want more shows that look like FMAB I would suggest the new Arslan Senki, it’s quite good.

But here’s the thing about Arslan Senki, it isn’t good because it’s being worked on by some of the people who did FMAB, it’s not  good because it has some of the same traits as FMAB.  Arslan Senki is good because it’s telling its own goddamn story, and it’s an interesting story.  It just so happens that it does share some similar features as FMAB, like an ever expanding cast, a big involved storyline, multiple countries and factions and so on.  But again, those aren’t what make Arslan Senki good, it’s the original parts of Arslan Senki that make it interesting, the design features it shares with FMAB are only really appealing if you like want more of those things specifically, and if you do then fair enough.  But dog-piling on Koutetsujou no Kabaneri for not having those features is asinine.  No work of art should have to be tailored to your wants, and just to make it clear if you don’t like Koutestujou no Kabaneri for not having some of the same traits as FMAb that’s fine, but it makes no sense to call the show bad for that.  You can say, “Koutetsujou no Kabaneri doesn’t appeal to me because it’s missing an ever expanding cast and deep, involving narrative” but that’s not the same thing as it being a bad show and attacking the show as  bad just for not appealing to you is pretty misguided and juvenile.  Now’s let get onto the specifics of why Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was never going to be like FMAB.

When you look at all the basic differences between Koutetsujou no Kabaneri and FMAB, it should be obvious that these two shows were never going to be alike.  Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is 12 episodes long, FMAB is 64 episodes long.  That right there is enough to damn any chance that these shows would be alike.  Because one of the main reasons FMAB has a such huge cast that we get to know so well, such a large scale and such an involved plot is because it had the time to flesh all of those things and more out.  Koutetsujou no Kabaneri didn’t have anywhere near the same amount of time to tell it’s story, so it stands to reason that it was always going to get less done.  The only way it could have reached a similar scale was if it had either started at a larger scale to begin, like if Ikoma or Ayame controlled a sizable portion of Japan’s entire army to begin with, or if it had been more over the top and ridiculous and Ikoma had a way to slaughter Kabane hordes wholesale without any effort.  Both of those scenarios, I feel, are weaker than what we got, given the tone and setting of the series.  Additionally FMAB was adapted from a completed manga while Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was an original work, meaning the studio did everything from scratch.  It would still take plenty of work for the staff making FMAB to nail the characters of the show and master the chemistry and for the animation to look good and match the tone of the manga and so on, but compared to a totally original show a lot of the leg work for FMAB was already done for the animation studio.  So not only did Koutetsujou no Kabaneri have way less episodes to work with, it also started at a disadvantage, if you will, compared to FMAB, which already had the groundwork done from the start.  Again when you look at the most basic differences between the two shows it’s mindboggling that anyone thought Koutetsujou no Kabaneri could have been like FMAB in the first place.

Now I’m going to say something that’s really going to piss some people off, well it would if more people read these anyway: I like Koutetsujou no Kabaneri more than FMAB.  Now look, FMAB is a blast to watch, I have tons of fun with it and I respect it greatly for being what many people envision as the perfect adventure anime.  However because I’m a weird asshole who gleefully delights in not conforming to the same standards as the consensus there is something a little boring about FMAB to me.  It doesn’t bother me when I watch the show, but something about how FMAB is so perfect by conventional standards, or I suppose you could say set conventional standards, just makes it boring and sterile to me and my critical little mind whenever I’m not actively watching it.  Rather than something which raises the bar on conventional standards I find shows which shy away from convention, which forge their own look, their own style to be the shows I really want to talk about.  I love Katanagatari so much in part because the art style is weird and unique and that adds to the show for me.  Alternatively because FMAB is such a perfect whole I struggle to find something interesting to separate from the whole package to analyze and praise on it’s own.  For an opposing example I love everything about Utawarerumono, but what makes it so impressive to me is just how unbelievably well paced it is, no other anime I know of is paced as well as Utawaerumono, no other show packs as much story, character development, action scenes and world building into a 26 episode space as Utawarerumono.  I don’t have anything like that for FMAB, there is no one element I can praise as being stunningly good in comparison to the other parts of the show because they’re all “perfect.”

By comparison Koutetsujou no Kabaneri has flaws, it has things that makes me ask questions, it stimulates my little critical mind.  But even with the flaws there, occasionally distracting me for a second here and there, everything else was good enough to make me love this show.  You know I watched the first episode and the first time I saw it, I wondered if I could put up another high tension Araki anime, especially since I’m not as into his biggest stuff as the majority of the community.  But after watching episode one and two back to back, I instantly had a ton of fun with the show and I continued to have fun with it even after it “got bad” or “got dumb.”  First off, Digibro correctly argues that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was always dumb and if you didn’t get that you weren’t paying attention.  Second, to me it never got bad.  I had fun the whole time, most episodes pumped me up like nuts, for instance I remember how furious I was at Biba and his men at the end of episode 10, how it made me want to enter the story and be a badass fighting them, and then when Ikoma hulks up at the end episode 11 I felt so vindicated, it was awesome.   And as I talked about in my review of the show, I appreciate how much of an improvement this show is over Araki’s other work and that alone makes the experience better for me, because I know how much worse it could have been.

Now most people aren’t me, in fact I pride myself on how many people aren’t me and don’t think like me.  So I understand why most people will not agree with me or may not understand where I’m coming from and that’s ok.  What’s not ok though is acting like Koutetsujou no Kabaneri let you down for not being FMAB.  It was never going to be FMAB, and if you thought it could have been FMAB I sincerely cannot understand how you think that.  Incidentally if anyone reading this does feel that way or feels something similar please comment, I would like to try and understand where you’re coming from, just as I’m trying to get you to understand where I come from.  In any event I enjoyed the festival of gore, zombies and steampunk tech that is Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, and at this point I think I’ve made me feelings and thoughts clear on the matter.  I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

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2 thoughts on “Understanding Fiction Standards: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri Was Never a FMAB

  1. People really thought this was going to be FMAB quality? I thought the whole AoT “influence” was a pretty big hint towards what type of anime this is. Something as smart as FMAB, or Death Note, or “Insert Anime I’m Obviously Forgetting” only comes once in a while.

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    • The argument presented in Digibro’s video is that some people walked into this expecting it to hit some higher standard in their head, he just used FMAB as an example of what that standard would look like. My guess is that people saw the big, awesome first couple episodes and sort of assumed the show could only get better, which is sort of dumb because there are plenty of anime with big hype starts that fall apart as they go, and the idea most people had in their head for better was FMAB or something like that because that’s one of the most well crafted popular shows in existence. I’m also willing to bet a lot of super casual anime fans, who have only really seen popular stuff and maybe aren’t as aware of how things work or how often shows that start good end up getting worse, thought because this a big, popular anime it was going to be like other popular anime like FMAB. It makes more sense to me for negative criticism to come mostly from super casual fans because maybe they had no idea how stupid this always was and when the show included more blatantly stupid stuff they thought it got bad, these are after all the same people who generally have no concept of why SAO is bad.

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