You know after writing two decently sized posts about Koutetsujou no Kabaneri almost back to back, I figured I was finally done talking about the show. Then I saw anime Youtuber Gigguk’s review of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri and found myself needing to speak out again. But rather just than go on and on about Koutetsujou no Kabaneri for another post, I think I need to address why it is I’m fighting for the show so much and why I butt heads with popular consensus opinions on a very frequent basis. There will be scattered spoilers throughout, you’ve been warned.
Let’s start with me, because even though I’m not important, getting into my head is sort of necessary to keep this from looking arrogant, which is not my intent. I’m a pretty smart guy, I mean I did make through the UC system without ever using tutors or other helpful resources and I still did fine. More importantly though I have a very specific intellectual skill set, mostly centered around critical thinking, because that’s what a liberal arts major is supposed to take away from their expensive education that didn’t give them any career-specific knowledge like programming. I’m also a long time student of history and to a lesser extent politics, which means I have to know a lot about a lot if I want to make informed decisions or papers about anything. Because history and politics are a. complicated and b. cover a wide range of additional subjects. Part of the reason most people don’t keep up with politics is because you need so much additional knowledge of whatever issue is being discussed to contribute anything useful to a political discussion, and thousands of issues covering every subject imaginable come up regularly in politics. I work at a political research firm full time and I still don’t have a fraction of the knowledge needed to keep up with the vast majority of politics, and I have way more knowledge about and insight into politics and specific issues than the average Joe. Likewise I know way more about history than the average Joe because history education before college is history for babies, it’s so oversimplified and generalized that I consider it almost functionally useless if you want to make any kind of serious argument trying to use history as an example. And history is about everything, language, religion, social institutions, technology, agriculture, entertainment and and so on because human civilization has never been anything short of complex as fuck.
Anyway to make a long self-aggrandizing narrative short I know a lot of random shit and I’m trained to analyze everything, to observe things and look for patterns and tie those observations into something more coherent. I also write a lot at my job and as a hobby so at the very least I’ve been given the tools and experience to write well (you may disagree but I like to think I’m at least a competent writer). Incidentally this is why I have a hard time reading and writing anime blogs that are nothing but short paragraphs broken up by pictures and gifs, they give me a headache and look like the visualization of someone doing a high school presentation while also having a seizure, regardless of how good the actual content is. So I generally put a lot of thought into whatever media I consume, because that’s what I’ve been trained to do. This comes between me and many people. A lot of people don’t look at things critically, which causes them to either miss problems, like how many SAO fans genuinely have no idea of how poorly it’s written, or see a problem where one doesn’t necessarily exist, like people complaining that Kotetsujou no Kabaneri gets dumb later into the series even though it was always dumb. This brings me to what might be the first barrier between me and most people, observation.
One of the common complaints against Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was that Biba’s actions didn’t make any sense and he was just a psychopath. I strongly disagree, because while he is a psychopath I see a root cause and clear chain of logic behind his actions, namely that his own father threw him into a suicide mission, which he somehow started succeeding at, before his dad cut off the supplies and left him and his men to die. I understand what drove him insane and why he acts the way he does. I understand why he and his men might be bitter and vengeful because of that, I understand why he would never share knowledge with outsiders even if it gave humanity at large a better chance of fighting, I understand why he thinks only the strong survive. What I can’t understand is how the fuck anyone else missed this, how it was unclear to anyone where Biba was coming from. Like in some cold, logical place far removed from the passionate core of my being, I academically understand that someone who wasn’t as observant as me might not have caught all the information or didn’t put it all together and thus was left confused. But I still don’t really get it, because I don’t feel that way, to me Biba’s motivations were obvious by the time he destroyed Iwato and made even clearer during the speech he made after the destroying the city. This is where I get most confused by other people, because I have a hard time trying to reconcile the idea that something which I found so obvious was apparently missed by a large percentage of people.
The next major barrier between me an community consensus opinions is that I’m a hardcore anime fan, an otaku. A lot of people are not as into anime as I am, especially here in America. Even the other nerdiest people I know in my area know less about anime than me because they watch anime less than they play video games. This of course creates what I like to call the experience divide, the gap between a noob’s ability to perceive skilled craftsmanship or lackthereof in a thing and an experienced person’s ability to do the same. The experience divide can be applied to anything, for example I don’t know shit about cars so when my friends talk about cars and get into detail about he specs of different cars or car parts I have no idea what they are talking about beyond x car is faster or y part is more efficient. In anime I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum, and that makes it harder for people who aren’t as into it to relate to me. For example, I was at a nerds only party a few weeks ago, it was fantastic, and one of the people there started talking about anime , so I joined in. At some point in the conversation this person said the best anime ever was Mirai Nikki… and that’s where the conversation died for me, because I didn’t want to talk about how Mirai Nikki is pleb tier anime and ruin the mood, and I recognized a gap in experience between this person and myself. And I feel the experience gap had an especially large role to play in the consensus that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was bad.
One of the biggest problems with popular anime, regardless of how good or bad you find any given popular show to be, is that it attracts a lot of newcomers or at least more casual fans. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but casual fans and hardcore fans tend to view shows very differently thanks to the experience gap. It sounds like a lot of people saw how good the first few episodes of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri were and assumed it could only get better. Which I find weird, because as someone with more experience, I’ve seen plenty of shows that started strong and fell flat on their asses later. I’m also more familiar with Araki’s style and was expecting problems with the pacing. So while others saw how good Koutetsujou was early on and, as Gigguk put it, expected it to end up with well rounded characters and a well rounded story, I saw a show that I was worried would get bad the entire time. I also think being overly positive, as many people are, compounds the problem further. When I go into a show and worry constantly that it’ll start sucking and then it never does, I’m pretty fucking impressed and I’m having a good time. By comparison anyone expecting Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to be some kind masterpiece, which as I’ve previously discussed was a stupid thing to do, was let down because it doesn’t live up to their inflated expectations. Onto the next barrier, criticism.
A lot of people on the internet confuse criticism of something with hatred of something. This is the case sometimes, I hate SAO and I criticized SAO, but most of the time this idea is totally wrong, I thought UBW was good and I criticized UBW. The vast majority of my criticisms of anything come from a place of love, because I want them or anything following in their footsteps to be better. I bitched about how badly UBW mishandles the Berserker vs Gilgamesh fight because the show was good but the scene was terrible and I didn’t want to see a similar scene happen again in a similarly good show. To make matters worse people identify with the things we like, we’re all guilty of this. I know for a fact I would instinctively be more defensive when someone criticized Katanagatari, my favorite show, than I would be when someone criticized say Kono Subarashi ni Shukufuku wo, a show I really like. So naturally when you criticize a lot of stuff, like me, you get a lot of backlash from people who don’t aren’t thinking critically and want you to shut up and/or love the show and hate seeing you bash it. This is further compounded by positivity. A lot of people just want to be positive, to be agreed with, to be optimistic, and that’s fine. But some of us like to be cynical and negative too, and many positive people don’t want to see our negativity. I addressed this in more detail in my D Gray Man Hallow rant, but when people are really looking forward to something they can be pretty aggressive about crushing dissenting, negative opinions. So critics are guaranteed a certain level of backlash, and some of us, myself included, fight like mad against the backlash, often amplifying it in the process, because I refuse to let anyone I can reach not understand why I think they’re wrong. This finally brings me to Gigguk and his review of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.
For the record I’ve never found Gigguk to be a particularly good reviewer. He’s a funny guy and when he does thought experiments videos like the Golden Age of Anime or Hype: Is it Good or Bad?, I think he does a fine job. But his reviews are kind of boring and I’ve never found them to be helpful. This stems from two main factors, one, Gigguk’s opinions are much closer to the consensus opinions than mine, and two, he doesn’t make long analytical points explaining why he feels a certain way, he just says what he’s feeling. Anyway his Koutetsujou no Kabaneri review was particularly frustrating because I think he went about it all wrong, as well as making points I just didn’t agree with. The biggest issue is that Gigguk, at least in the video, is invested in the idea of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as an AoT/SnK clone, which I feel is misguided. In his review he said Koutetsujou no Kabaneri couldn’t step out of the shadow of it’s predecessor (Shingeki no Kyojin); but I have to ask why he thinks Koutetsujou no Kabaneri had a predecessor at all? Sure Koutetsujo no Kabaneri shares many similar elements with Shingeki no Kyojin and it’s made by most of the same people, but it has plenty of original elements as well and it’s missing one very important creator from Shingeki no Kyojin, the fucking manga author. This is the crucial bit for me, because the only way I think you could only reasonably describe Shingeki no Kyojin as Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s predecessor would be if they were made with the same intent, as they aren’t prequel and sequel, and I don’t think they are.
The most crucial difference between the two shows is that one is an adaptation and the other is original. This means Shingeki no Kyojin will reflect the author’s intent even if Araki can add his own spin on the work. By contrast Koutetsujou no Kabaneri reflects the intent of Araki and his team. This is important because while I can’t say what the author of Shingeki no Kyojin’s intent is, I’m guessing it’s not “lets just make something super cool and hype and wow the audience with big dramatic moments and flashy animation.” Shingeki no Kyojin has a more concrete narrative, and if that’s what you want then it makes sense that you might like it more than Koutetsujou no Kabaneri. But Araki has, based on my observations of his work, always been about shows that were fun, full of big dramatic moments, had a huge impact and, mostly importantly, would stand out to the audience forever. I consider him to a have a very different intent than the writer of Shingeki no Kyojin, so this whole narrative of Koutetsujou no Kanaberi as an AoT/SnK clone is null and void so far as I’m concerned.
Moreover all of the things Gigguk points to as to why the two shows are the same are tangible details, like humanity cowering behind walls from monsters or hot-blooded protagonists. This approach is useless, it’s the infantile stage of analysis, and worse it’s deceptive to anyone not thinking critically. Stories from all over the world since the dawn of civilization to the present day share tangible fucking details. If we considered every story the same because it had similar tangible elements then reviews and analysis would be pointless because you could categorize things by archetype and call it a day. This is not how analysis works though. Consider if you will Log Horizon versus SAO. They share many tangible details, people getting sent to a video game world, a dark haired protagonist whose skill at the game makes the most important dude around, multiple girls all falling for the same guy, swords and fantasy monsters, etc. Looking at the tangible details alone they look like almost the same show, but as anyone whose seen both will tell you, they aren’t the same show at all. What makes a story unique is rarely any tangible detail, just about everything you can think of has been done before, instead it’s how someone uses the tangible details to weave together the narrative or experience they want to make. SAO is shit because it’s a juvenile power fantasy show catering to 15 year old boys by telling the tale of strongest teenage boy in video game history, Log Horizon is great because it’s a thought provoking and complex look at how individuals and large groups react and adapt in a video game world. How a storyteller uses the tangible details is infinitely more important than the tangible details themselves, which is why calling Koutetsujou no Kabaneri an AoT/SnK clone is absurd.
In fact an even better example of how useless tangible details are for analyzing a set of shows would be the Asterisk War’s relation to SAO versus it’s relation to Rakudai Kishi no Calvary. Rakudai and Asterisk War share a ton of tangible details, way more than Asterisk War does with SAO, to the point where they even have almost the same story arcs and people made fun of them at first for literally being the same show. However, ironically enough Asterisk War is more like SAO than it is like Rakudai and the main reason why is their spirit and intent. SAO and Asterisk War are all about fulfilling that juvenile power fantasy, and they both do it by having OP as fuck protagonists who have harems. Now you might be wondering how this proves my point since these are tangible details they share, but the point is that both shows are using the tangible details in almost the exact same way to reach the same audience. By comparison Rakudai is a story about struggle with a dedicated romance despite having multiple girls who want the main guy, who is overpowered. Rakudai takes the same tangible details and tells a totally different kind of story by taking a different approach as to how to use the details, for example Ikki is OP as fuck but not because he just wills himself to win or pulls more power out of his ass, it’s because he’s worked super hard, has mad skills and can go superhuman for one minute a day. Ikki is OP because he makes the most of what he’s got, Ayato and Kirito are OP because they just have more power than anyone else. The point is, all three shows feature an OP sword wielding teenage boy who is the center of female attention and they all fight a lot, yet despite these shared tangible details, Rakudai turned out very different and much better because of how it uses the details to tell a different kind of story from SAO and Asterisk War.
Getting back to Koutetsujou no Kabaneri being incorrectly construed as an AoT/SnK clone, even if you ignore the fact both shows are made with different intents and just look at the narratives they present, there are a number of important differences. For starters the main characters are actually very different. Sure both dudes want to kill the monsters and they both lash out others for being afraid to fight, but there are key nuances separating Eren Jaeger and Ikoma. Eren wants humanity to be free but he never tries to improve things for humanity, his main goal is that HE wants to kill as many titans as he can. By contrast Ikoma wants to kill a bunch of Kabane and free humanity but he was making better weapons so that everyone could kill Kabane well before the story even takes place, as he finally completes his weapon in episode 1. Moreover Eren just lashes out at people for being cowards and charges into battle, while Ikoma tries to battle everyone’s fear by shaming cowards, charging into battle and giving others the weapons they need to win the fight, thus giving them the confidence they need to continue fighting. You can see the results of these different approaches in the body count of noteworthy allies. In Shingeki no Kyojin almost anyone Eren teams up with in human form is killed, like the people in episode five and Levi’s team. By comparison the only major character working with Ikoma that dies is Takumi the fat guy, and he wasn’t even killed by the Kabane, which brings me to my next point.
If you wanted to make the case that Shingeki no Kyojin and Koutetsujou no Kabaneri were indeed the same show, then episode one is probably the best example. In episode one the focus is mostly on the monsters, humanity’s fear of the monsters, and the main guy not being ok with status quo, also walls are breached and tons of people die. There are still noteworthy differences, for example the walls being breached in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was a human fuck-up not the result of the largest titan ever seen before, but more importantly the focus of both shifts going forward and the differences in these shifts is telling. One of the things Gigguk mentioned in his review as a mark against Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was, that while the Kabane always seemed terrifying, most of the deaths resulted from stupid human actions, while humanity seemed hopelessly outclassed by the titans in Shingeki no Kyojin. In addition he said that because it seemed like stupid humans were the real danger it took a lot of tension out the show because he know it was going to move the plot along by people being stupid. I question that assertion because the titans may have been terrifying at first but soon just became huge retards that weren’t scary at all, they also lost a lot of their power when we saw the Levi and Survey Corps cutting plenty of titans down. In addition human stupidity as the driver of a story’s plot is not just realistic, but far more interesting than Gigguk gives it credit for.
Despite noticing that stupid people pose a bigger danger in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri than the Kabane, Gigguk’s point somehow misses the point, which was that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was always focused on human actions and agency. Even in episode one, humans fucking up was what Ikoma was mostly fighting against and what caused the disastrous fall of the city. This is built on constantly in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as human politics and actions create the psychopath that is Biba, and Biba and his human followers wreak more havoc on humanity in a week than the Kabane would have in years or even decades. Human fear, human stupidity, and human rage are the most destructive forces in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s world, not the Kabane plaguing it. By contrast in Shingeki no Kyojin, the focus is always on the monsters, even if the monsters in focus swap between the titans and humans who can become titans. Very few humans in the show, even the strong ones like Levi and Mikasa, can do anything that radically changes the course of the conflict. Even Erwin who seems to have the leadership, brains and mindset to bring about radical changes is reliant on Eren’s powers and the implication of hostile forces with Eren’s power hiding inside the walls to see his dreams of change realized. If you aren’t literally capable of becoming larger than human, you don’t matter too much in Shingeki no Kyojin. That’s a subtle but important difference and it speaks to why the shows ended up so different, they take almost polar opposite views on human agency in the face of monsters. And Gigguk seems to have missed all of that in his review, mainly because he was invested in the idea that the monsters should drive the plot forward because that’s how Shingeki no Kyojin works and since Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is just an AoT/SnK clone it should work the same way as Shingeki no Kyojin.
Even setting aside the fact that Gigguk’s review is fundamentally misguided on three levels, which is more than enough for me to bash his review as a terrible one as is, I disagree with the statements he had regarding Koutetsujou no Kabaneri. For example when talking about how stupid people forced the Koutetsujou into the dangerous mountain pass, he wrote it off as people being stupid. Now he isn’t wrong but he has not told the whole story. The reason they took the train into the dangerous mountain pass was so the stupid people (some of the conservative officials and people who hated the Kabaneri) could detach the Kabaneri’s car from the train and leave them to die. It’s stupid and it predictably results in disaster, but it’s also rational and there’s clearly a chain of logic supporting the actions. Likewise Gigguk talks about how Mumei running off on her own to kill Kabane instead of working with the group and sticking to Ikoma’s plan is stupid. It is, but again there’s a lot more to it. The reason Mumei runs off like that is because she’s been spooked that she is weaker than she thought when the former Ear of Biba gets the drop on her and could’ve killed her while calmly telling her Biba will discard her if she’s too weak. This is reinforced in later episodes as we understand how Mumei’s mother died, how Biba instilled his beliefs in Mumei and so on. But even if we just go by the information we had when she runs out like an idiot in episode 5 or 6, there’s still a clear chain of logic behind her actions. Granted, her logic looks insane and irrational to us calm third party observers, but it’s still a logical process and fear happens to be great at making people behave irrationally. So what the fuck is the problem? To be honest I could probably nitpick the review for another few paragraphs but the main thrust of each response remains the same, Gigguk’s points never go into any depth, they’re incomplete and because of this they are wrong.
Now despite having ranted against Gigguk for some time I don’t want to paint him in a bad light, because the man himself has done some good and interesting stuff. But his review of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is basically the perfect storm of all the things that could go wrong and piss me off in a review.
1. He traps himself into thinking of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as an AoT/SnK clone.
2. He looks at all the tangible details which confirm his pre-established opinion and refuses to consider Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as it’s own thing.
3. Because he has trapped himself into this way of thinking, he see thematic differences between the two shows as a weakness on Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s part rather than trying to determine their value in a standalone work.
4. Because he seems to be looking only at the similarities and differences between the two shows, he appears to be missing a ton of information specific to Koutetsujou no Kabaneri which is dragging the show down even further in his opinion.
5. None of his points have any depth, and are just opinions with no reasoning backing them up.
What well and truly bothers me though is not Gigguk’s review itself, it’s the fact that his review reflects the common consensus opinions about Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, because that fucking terrifies me. The idea that so many people could be so locked into a similar way of thinking, of classifying anything that looks like Shingeki no Kyojin as an AoT/SnK clone and writing them all off as just lesser versions of Shingeki no Kyojin scares me. It scares me because I used to do it, so this time I well and truly understand how it happens, but with my now broader experience I understand why it’s a horrible idea. I mean I did write a post about the appeal of some AoT/SnK clones, about in what ways they are different and possibly better than Shingeki no Kyojin. Moreover it scares me because it’s so mindlessly uncritical, so thoughtless and shallow. And the idea that so many people can be so unthinking and unobservant blows my fucking mind. I want more anime fans to think like me, I want more people to see the value in the things I value, and above all I want more good anime to be appreciated by more people. That’s a big part of why I’m fighting for the show, because where many people see disappointment and failure, I see quality and improvement.
I think Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is better than Shingeki no Kyojin. The pacing is much tighter, where Shingeki no Kyojin wallows in slow, boring episodes laden with loads of exposition, stupid Levi cleaning scenes and petty political shows in between major battles, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri constantly builds on what it has. With each new episode we see more details about the world and it’s inhabitants, more information about the characters or the Kabane, more information about a political plot that has actual relevance to the plot. In Koutetsujou no Kabaneri even the “slow” episodes are packed with valuable information and none of them feel slow to watch at all. This is a huge bonus for me coming from an Araki show because my biggest beef with Araki is that his shows always seem off on the pacing, except for HOTD. If anything Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s greatest weakness is that it’s incredibly predictable and some people probably find that boring. I don’t because not everything needs a clever twist and I’d rather have a simple story told with greater skill and clarity than a more complex story told without those things. Most of what kept Shingeki no Kyojin interesting to me, beyond the fight scenes, was the mystery of where the titans came from and what they are exactly. But the show took it’s fucking time answering those questions and what happens in between major events and battles is fucking boring. By contrast Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is constantly introducing new ideas, new tech, new Kabane, new factions to be wary of, new ideologies, new characters and it’s all relevant.
That Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is regarded as a worse version of Shingeki no Kyojin makes me want to scream and damn humanity to die. Because anyone who thinks that is wrong. It’s one thing to say you liked Koutetsujou no Kabaneri less than Shingeki no Kyojin. Or to say that, to you Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is a worse show than Shingeki no Kyojin. Both of those statements are valid. What’s not ok is for you to call Koutetsujou no Kabaeri an inferior AoT/SnK clone, because that means you’ve totally skewed your views on the show based on a misunderstanding you have about the show that you came to by being shallow and stupid, and are therefore FUCKING WRONG. I mean I clearly think you’re wrong by thinking Shingeki no Kyojin is the better show anyway, but so long as you have decent reasons why and don’t stick to the idea that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri should have been an AoT/SnK clone, I can respect your opinion. The thing with opinions is that everyone is entitled to their own but that doesn’t mean all opinions are equally valid or interesting. If you just tell me a show made you feel a certain way with no proper justification I’m not all that impressed, explain why it made you feel that way and you have my attention and respect even if I disagree. And if you think Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is an AoT/SnK clone then you don’t even get my respect and henceforth I will ridicule you for being stupid and infantile and wrong.
That wraps this one up. If you made it this far thank you for reading and I do hope you enjoyed it. My intent here was not so much to bash Gigguk or be a negative bastard, what I really hope I communicated was how and why the approach Gigguk took is stupid, bad and wrong so that you fine readers never fall victim to the same thing. Also Koutetsuju no Kabaneri is really worth defending to me. It was an absolute blast to watch, it mostly makes sense where people claim it didn’t, it has good details despite being conceptually dumb in the most awesome kind of way, and I think it’s Araki’s best work so far. And it should celebrated for being all of these things, as opposed to being ragged on for not being something it never was nor was ever going to be. Thanks again for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.