Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: The Battle of Unato

3 out of 5

Directed by: Tetsurō Araki

covers 3-episode version

Taking place several months after the events of the series (or its first season, if there are to be more…), “The Battle of Unato” gets to relax in all of the character building and general lore establishment of what’s come before, while keeping the overall momentum of things. This is, on the one hand, what I wanted from the show, which often moved so quickly through its interesting plottings that it made it seem like we were leaving too much behind, and also caused several impressive scuffles to blend together. Here, we’re all in on one conflict – the Iron Fortress is there to support other forces ready to lay siege on the Kabane-swarmed castle of Unato – and having that central focus point gives the movie exactly that: a central focus. Unfortunately, without all the other moving pieces of character introductions, day-in-the-life moments on the fortress, and exploring the ins and outs of kabaneri livin’, “The Battle of Unato” seems to panic and fall back on forced dramatics which we really don’t need.

The whole kabane-verse has a sort of ticking clock of ever-approaching creatures, and yet, writer / director Tetsurō Araki uses the lazy narrative approaches of Ikoma and Mumei – our leads – having faux relationship scuffles due to misunderstandings, and the Federal Forces (the other bigwigs prepping for this battle) being led by a general who’s quick to distrust Ikoma’s warnings of a pending attack – so let’s denigrate and jail Ikoma! – and then said bigwig is also double-quick to rush the Forces’ own attack, because… drama? This is all the kind of hand-waiving blockbuster plotting that makes things happen, it just feels entirely unnecessary in a storyline where you’ve already set things up to happen, and which doesn’t benefit from further we hate each other / we love each other dynamics between Ikoma and Mumei, when we’ve already done that.

But: Wit Studios goddamn knocks the animation out of the park, and the fast pace means we don’t have to roll our eyes over the simplistic story mechanisms for too long before kabane start to swarm and things get entertainingly crazy. There are plenty of battles, supremely designed and fluidly captured, and some great new creature designs to boot. Besides the back-of-napkin storytelling The Battle of Unato shares with big screen fluff, it at least also shares the sense of spectacle, making its 90 minutes fly by.

Netflix divvied this up into three episodes, for no reason I can discern, and it’s really not designed for that – the end credits to each episode are pretty abrupt. Best watched altogether.