One of the things I find most interesting about the setting of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is, their zpoc has been going on for twenty years. Most zombie apocalypse fiction I’ve run into prior to this anime, the characters are either caught right in the middle of the outbreak or shortly after it. The object is just to survive long enough; after all, dead bodies, however reanimated, should eventually decay and leave what remaining humans there may be victorious, right?
In Kabaneri, that strategy obviously isn’t going to work.
There are two intertwined reasons why my bunnies find this fascinating. The first is the glimpses of Kabane biology we get through the series, and the second is the effects of a twenty-year-zpoc on the culture and psychology of the main characters.
First, the biology. From the pieces we put together, Kabane aren’t actually dead. Oh, the original human being seems pretty much kaput. But the body below the brain? It bleeds, it breathes, it has a heartbeat. And we learn later on that when they can’t find prey, they’ll hibernate. (Technically, aestivate, but who’s counting….) It’s not just a virus that transforms a body, it’s a virus that parasitizes a body. And keeps it alive. Just not human.
So unlike other zpocs, waiting until dead flesh falls apart from its own weight is a losing strategy. Which leads directly into the cultural effects.
Most of the surviving main characters are younger than the zpoc. They’ve never known a world where Kabane didn’t exist. Sure, some of them have heard about it; but for most of them, it can’t possibly matter, the Kabane are out there and all you can do is try to survive. The characters that are older than the zpoc….
Well. Put bluntly, some of them have cracked.
Oh, not all of them. You get the impression that people born pre-Kabane outbreak who really couldn’t handle the new world got eaten. (Well, most of ’em. There’s a few glaring exceptions, and that leads to serious ouch later.) There are older, cooler heads, trying to get by just like everyone else. Suzuki is flat-out awesome.
But the psychological effect of that massive change to the world, from “ordinary” to “nightmare” – you can’t ignore that. A lot of the older characters seem set in their ways, and realistically speaking of course they are: they’re the ones who survived, so by definition what they’re doing must be the Right Thing!
Until it isn’t. Because Kabane aren’t just zombies. They can learn.
Which means humanity’s chances are going to hinge on a few crazy teenagers desperate enough to try something new. Hold onto your hats….
By changing how their zombies worked, the creators of Kabaneri gained a much wider range of flexibility in how they tell their story. They have the depth of time needed to change the culture of their characters. They have terrified refugees, but also characters who just cannot be shocked further, because they grew up with monsters outside the walls. They have story-plausible reasons why the Kabane are bleeping everywhere.
Now that’s awesome worldbuilding. 🙂