Worldbuilding: Kabaneri background thoughts

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.  🙂

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20 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Kabaneri background thoughts

  1. Not just learning but evolving.
    [SPOILERS]
    Episode one, we see the kababe have managed to keep one of the trains running long and fast enoug to get into the city/station. We also see them deliberately and strategically give up their “lives” to tear a hole into another train’s coolant tank. Give individuals enough time and they can become quite proficient at using weapons and martial arts. And thwre are the colonies. That transformation (which actually reminded me of slime molds combining into a psuedo-organism to seek food) was rather precise dropping that tower over the tracks and waited for prey to break cover and come to them.
    [END SPOILERS]
    Whatever the kabane are right now, all evidence points to them not staying that way.

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    1. I thought of slime molds with that, too.

      And yes. I think we can say hivemind is a definite possibility.

      …Which, er, leads me to a few interesting thoughts on what that might mean for the Kabaneri. Especially since it’s quite clear that Kabane see them as prey.

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      1. Since the defining difference between Kabane and Kabaneri is whether or not the virus has made it to the brain, I don’t think a hive mind would actually effect the Kabaneri that much (unless they were in the later stages, since it’s hinted that the in between state degenerates). I think it has more interesting implications for the Kabane. Do they recognize the Kabaneri as different from themselves and that is why they are okay to eat? Do they not recognize them as different but are okay with cannibalism? Does this tie into the hive mind idea in any way, like how a body will start to consume itself if not provided with enough nutrients? Is this supported by the existence of the fused colonies?

        I am inclined to think that it is not so much that they recognize that the Kabaneri are different, but that they don’t recognize that they are similar. The Kabane don’t seem to have the level of intellect necessary for the whole ‘like me but not’ concept. They seem to operate on a more ‘us vs. not us’ level.

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      2. That’s not the only difference, though others can be subtle to pick up. (Or not. No fangs, for one….)

        Hmm. I have to admit Mumei’s stunt with the severed head, the Kabane reaction to it, and Ikoma’s encounters with seriously outclassed Kabane in ep 12, all make me think the Kabane as a group are smart enough to recognize Kabaneri as an outsider and Enemy. Toss a dead bee at a hive, you don’t get much reaction. The Kabane show rage and howling pursuit; that’s closer to at least mammal-level intelligence.

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  2. You might also like Stand Still, Stay Silent. It’s a webcomic about a post-zpoc culture sending an expedition into unsafe territory to try and figure out what went wrong- generations after the initial event. Also includes The Magic Comes Back and an interesting scandinavian(? Not entirely sure that’s the right region.) aesthetic throughout.

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  3. So I’ve watched Kabaneri and I noticed that one of the earlier episodes made mention of a front line or something similar, which is confusing, because there are Kabane everywhere but then I remembered that Japan is an island, and that by this point irl history they’d probably had contact with Europe, as well as China, and I wondered if the Kabane had come in on a ship, or left on one.

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    1. It’s not mentioned directly in the show, but canon background apparently states that the Kabane showed up first in Europe. Also, in this variant of history, it seems Japan had more contact with the West than IRL – hence the more Tokugawa-style class divisions along with steampunk tech.

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  4. I blitzed through Kabaneri and have a few thoughts.

    1. Awesome anime. Definitely going to watch it again.

    2.The amount of metal in general used for the fortifications, Hayajiro and so on is literally insane. It’s makes the resources needed to construct the Yamato-class battleships look like a drop in the bucket.

    3. My mind boggles at the manpower and time needed to build all the rail infrastructure etc that we see between and within the cities. I can only assume most of it was built before the zpoc.

    4. And related to 3, every destroyed/overrun station is a massive loss of resources and manpower that would be absolute murder to replace. I mean you could in theory build new trackways with a specialist Hayajiro but building a new station? A tremendous undertaking.

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    1. On 2 – a lot of the fortifications have more concrete involved than it looks like at first glance. Screenshots are awesome. 🙂

      On 4 – and now you see one reason Ayame wants to reopen Aragane. It’d still be a hell of a lot of work and resources to fix the place, but it’d have to be easier than building a new station.

      Putting 2, 3, and 4 together with the way Hayajiro are built (high clearance and tough, a bit like a WWII Jeep) and some of the shogun’s power plays… my thought is that Hi-no-moto was actually involved in at least low-grade Warring States style city-to-city warfare before the Kabane ever hit. So these fortifications existed before the zpoc.

      Which leads to the eep-worthy thought that Hi-no-moto may actually be a best case scenario. Anywhere else hit by the Kabane is probably much, much worse.

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  5. Though speaking of the Kabane, something came to mind.

    Namely the fused colony/black smoke and it’s core. Because the coloration/appearance of the Kabane is normally pretty much uniform (dark grey skin, glowing eyes, red-gold veins etc).

    Now I’m not sure if the one we see in eps 5-7 is ‘natural’ or the result of Bibi’s pet scientists but the heart’s appearance looked a heck of a lot more like a human/Kabaneri then another Kabane.

    Now we know that Kabaneri can be artificial (Mumei) or ‘natural’ (Ikoma) though I bet Bibi’s crew tend to prefer generating them by the former method. But it’s entirely possible that there are some individuals here and there like Ikoma (or either gender). They just are very rare and don’t tend to last long.

    So my wild guess in regards to the Fused colonies and their extreme rarity (seriously, nobody had ever seen one and only Mumei had ever heard about them) is that they need a female Kabaneri to act as the core in the first place.

    That’s why they go berserk when Mumei shows up. They want to form a colony but need to damage/weaken/infect her sufficiently in order for the process to start. The black blood simply bypasses this step causing the Kabaneri to spontaneously form a colony.

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      1. Whatever works, you’re the author here.

        Still there has to be an in-universe reason why the Fused Colonies are basically non-existent. Because we’ve seen the Kabane use various tricks/tactics to gain access to Hayajiro and/or stations and that monster can shatter human defenses easily.

        So there has to be a reason why more fused colonies aren’t running around.

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      2. I know, and I agree there has to be a good reason there aren’t more. Though we do get a hint in ep 8 – when they estimate the numbers of Kabane are “seven hordes, no risk of a fused colony”.

        That tends to imply it’s in part a numbers game. Which would fit with slime molds, too – they need both exhaustion of local resources and a minimum number of individuals to gather together into the “slug” form. In the case of the Kabane, they also seem to need a particular individual to cluster around as a heart – the one Mumei kills seems to be partly through transforming into the kind of colony heart we see in Biba’s lair.

        All three of those factors would tend to both make Fused Colonies rare… but getting much more common as the remaining stations stubbornly hold out.

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  6. On a different background topic, the funeral fire reminded me of a major aspect of Japanese society (at least during the time period the series is set in) that is barely touched on: religion.

    Although there was probably a massive shakeup when the populace was confined to the protected stations due to the zpoc.

    Though the is probably a new element showing up: the Hayajiros. I mean the importance the great machines play in the new society, the way it could only be activated by a master key held by the station’s governing family and so on. They don’t treat it as a mere replacable tool like the steam guns etc.

    While I’m far from an expert on Shinto, I can honestly see a small shrine dedicated to the kami(s) of the Koutetsujou tucked away somewhere on the train.

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