“Maybe you’d like to see some excessive force!” ―Arnold Flass, Batman Begins
The rail networks in Japan are privately owned, which stands in stark contrast to Via Rail, a Crown corporation owned by the Queen. Such Crown corporations are run and managed by the federal government, and typically deal with enterprises which would otherwise be difficult for private groups to start up. Crown corporations have gradually undergone privitisation since the 1980s (such as the Canadian National Railway), although Via Rail remains such a corporation, and at present, operates passenger service trains across Canada. Because of decisions by the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, my city does not have any passenger rail service, which doesn’t even make sense, considering we’re more populous than the provincial capital. Having access to the trans-continental rail line would make it easier to get around Canada, although given the political scene, one imagines that such a wish would remain a fantasy for the present; rather than continuing to bore readers further, we shall begin talking about Rail Wars!, which presents a hypothetical world where the Japanese National Railways (JNR) was never privatised. In reality, JNR was privatised in 1987 as the organisation fell further and further into debt, but in Rail Wars!, the JNR retains a somewhat similar status as Via Rail, hence its comparison. Of course, Rail Wars! is not about the corporate scene in rail transport, or the social implications of privatisation, but rather, Naoto Takayama’s entrance into JNR’s security team, and the subsequent adventures he experiences with them as the team works to foil a pro-privitisation extremist group.
- There aren’t very many instructive talks on Rail Wars!, so I’ll step up to the plate and provide a talk on the series three episodes in. Typically, if an anime is worth watching, by the third episode, my interest will have been captured, and I will begin to watch it. If I were to summarise this post in one line, it is that Rail Wars! is worth watching for its over-the-top, absurd situations the security team find themselves entangled in.
- Thanks to superior knowledge about how coal-fired locomotives work, Naoto, Shou, Aoi and Haruka are able to push their locomotive beyond 100 km/h by optimising their coal-stoking methods. These moments remind me of an episode from The Raccoons, where Bert and Cedric must prevent the Evergreen 504 from tumbling into the river. In the end, Cyril is forced to burn the cash hidden away on the train to provide the boiler with enough fire to save the train.
- Rail Wars! probably sets the record for the anime to have the earliest graduation shown, with Naoto, Aoi, Haruka and Shou being the only team to have passed their test. This is their last moment in a classroom, and from here on out, it’s off to Tokyo station, where real work begins. To Naoto’s disappointment, they’re assigned as security staff; he had aspired to be a train operator.
- While the animation in Rail Wars! (as mentioned later) can be a little questionable at times, the landscapes are quite nice, as are the trains. Rail Wars! is animated by Passione Studios, who had also produced Wake Up, Girls! and even From Up On Poppy Hill: the former is known for its shortcomings in animation, but the latter, as a Studio Ghibli animation, is downright gorgeous. Given that they’ve been around since 2011 and have had such a title under their belt, I admit that it is somewhat surprising that they still succumb to poor animation.
- This is the first image where all of the characters are together as the image’s focus, so I will take the time to introduce them here. From left to right, Aoi Sakurai, Naoto Takayama, Haruka Koumi and Shou Iwaizumi. The first day on the job, the four are assigned to investigate sounds from a puppy in one of the trains.
- Rail Wars! may be about fanatics trying to frag the JNR to terrorise them into privatisation, but the free anatomy lessons are quite prevalent, as well: during the search for the previously mentioned puppy, Haruka seems quite okay with ascending the ladder to peer into the ceiling to ascertain the puppy’s location. In the process, her movements lead to this moment, and much comedy ensues.
- From a statistical perspective, it is quite rare for someone to fall and wind up in this position by accident, although in anime, the laws of probability go out the window. This is perfectly okay, and one might be inclined to take a few moments to savour the moment. Haruka is my favourite character for her kind temperament; of the security team, she’s the weakest but has an unparalleled memory and is extremely well-versed on the technical details behind train operations.
- Naoto holds Aoi back after the latter is unsuccessful at apprehending two purse-snatchers, but Aoi takes to this none too kindly and elbows Naoto. Ever-ready for combat, Aoi excels at unarmed combat and firearm usage, preferring to kill/maim/disable first and ask questions later.
- After some quick thinking from Haruka and Naoto, the purse-snatchers are apprehended and taken down: during the confusion, Haruka manages to repel one of the suspects with an automated external defibrillator. While unrelated to Rail Wars!, I have now seen enough episodes of Sword Art Online II and Aldnoah.Zero to make proper assessments about them, but those will come out after an announcement I will be making in a few days’ time.
- The security team is led by Nana Iida, and convenes in a small unused room that somehow evokes memories of every high school club room that has ever existed before Rail Wars!. Nana is quite open to allowing the security team proceed however they feel to be necessary in order to keep the trains safe for their passengers.
Three episodes in, Rail Wars! is slowly taking on a feeling not dissimilar to that of Upotte!, which was similar in the sense that while the show’s central theme (trains and guns, respectively) are present and presented with a sufficient amount of detail, both Rail Wars! and Upotte! are more focussed on the dynamics between the characters, as well as the adventures that prove to be more amusing than instructive about the rail system in Japan. Thus, the question becomes “how worthwhile is it to actually watch said interactions play out?”, and the corresponding answer to that is that Rail Wars! relishes sending out Naoto and company into a variety of unusual , outlandish security assignments that this fictional JNR experiences. While how these assignments actually play out steps outside the bounds of what one might consider to be plausible, the unusual situations turn out to be quite entertaining to watch for how over-the-top they are. Insofar, we’ve seen the security team stop some purse-snatchers, disarm a bomb and solve a kidnapping mystery, all of which were rectified via unconventional means.While Rail Wars! has a curious progression, there have also inconsistencies in the animation and aberrations in the human form, but dropping the anime because the animation is less-than-stellar is quite jejune.
- Haruka serves as the yin to Aoi’s yang; the former excels at solving problems via social means, while the latter prefers beating things into pieces with her fists. Here, Haruka helps a lost child
- Back during the Canadian Pacific Railway’s heyday, grand hotels were build along the line, including the Banff Springs Hotel, Palliser Hotel in Calgary, the Empress Hotel in Victoria and the Château Frontenac in Quebec City, amongst others. These hotels served as accommodations to those riding the rails, and even though the CPR no longer transports passengers, the hotels remain as stately, luxurious places to stay. The restuarant that Nana takes Aoi and Haruka to brings to mind these accommodations, serving cakes cooled by liquid nitrogen that Aoi finds quite delicious.
- After a small explosive device goes off and a bomb threat is called in by an unknown perpetrator demanding one hundred million yen (roughly 1.06 million Canadian dollars). With only an hour to the deadline, the security team decides to do what they can in locating the bomb. This moment led to much complaining from some viewers, who felt that there was a bit of contradiction with ordering an evacuation, and that a bomb squad might have been better suited for the task.
- Granted, deploying professionals to handle business makes the most sense in real life, but for a fictional environment such as Rail Wars!, allowing the main characters to take their shot at disarming the explosive device confers an excellent opportunity to appreciate the camera angles.
- Most improvised explosive devices that rouge factions used are crudely wrought and are depicted in the media to make extensive use of colour-coded wires. Apparently, this is so that the wielder can identify the different wires and does not accidentally trigger the device themselves. However, for those disarming the device, the colouration of the wiring, though identifiable to the weapon’s builder, may not be universal, so Aoi’s reasoning falls short here. However, this moment does have Aoi draw Naoto close to for stablisation, so I will set aside any inconsistencies here and enjoy the moment.
- While it’s probably a little early to be mentioning this, documentation notes that Naoto and Aoi have feelings for one another, and here, enjoy a more intimate moment after the bomb is successfully disarmed using liquid nitrogen to freeze the electronic timer and prevent detonation.
- For proficient English-speakers, this scene will prove to be amusing, and although there is some degree of truth in such instances (recently, a colleague who had gone to Japan for a conference noted that Japanese citizens who were proficient in English were uncommon), I’ve been around anime long enough to feel the joke losing its magic. While Naoto, Aoi and Shou lack pro English skills, Haruka steps up to the plate and provides assistance to the foreign visitor.
- Episode three sees Mari Sasshou’s introduction: after her friend is kidnapped by drug dealers, the security team sets out to find her. Speaking freely, Rail Wars! has its security team experience the most colourful of events, whereas in the real world, security is ideally a dull position.
- Naoto’s team successfully manage to rescue Mari’s friend and defeat the drug dealers who had kidnapped her. The next day, everyone returns to work as if nothing had happened, suggesting that they overcame the dealers without much difficulty (think “Adam Jensen’s takedowns”). By this point in time, it’s apparent that Naoto’s team gets by on the virtue of luck, and while it’s improbable, it could be quite fun to see how their team works with foreign special forces on counterterrorism operations, although realistically, this would be equivalent to asking a bike to keep up with a jet.
- Mari Sasshou is one of Naoto’s juniors, and has an affinity for identifying trains and stations based on sound alone. The two have known each other for a long time, and this post has taken a long time to write. I will close it off here, and mention once more that I have a special announcement for Wednesday. Regular programming will resume in August once my schedule settles down a little.
I see no reason not to continue watching Rail Wars!: even though the series is rapidly following the route that Upotte! took, favouring intemperate and frequent anatomy lessons over any content about trains. As such, despite being said to be designed to promote interest in the Japanese train system, the comedy-driven approach in Rail Wars! means that likely won’t captivate viewers and rouse their excitement towards trains and mass transit via rails the same way Girls und Panzer managed to enthrall viewers and get them interested in armoured warfare. While details surrounding the industry are mentioned, they appear to be secondary to the character interactions, rather similar to Upotte!, where characters and comedy take center stage. This results in an anime with an unusual setup, and paired with the absurd situations the fictional JNR faces, Rail Wars! is able to hold my interest, adding yet another anime I will follow to an already-packed season.