With the summer 2014 season of anime coming to a swift end, I do have to admit it has been a significantly pleasant one for nearly all of the titles that I watched – more than I can say for the previous two seasons. Even though many of those series ended on a rather insipid note just as they began and not exactly noteworthy, whether good or bad, all of them do bring back fond reminders of why I like and still watch anime to this day. Rail Wars, my first review of the summer season is a perfect example: it’s a show about buxom beauties in uniform and trains apparently… amongst other things.
Title: Rail Wars!
Genre: Action, Drama, Comedy, Ecchi
The “dream railway paradise entertainment” story is set in a parallel world where Japan did not privatize its national railways. Naohito Takayama is an ordinary high school boy who dreams of a comfortable future working for the top-rated Japanese National Railways. He is assigned as a trainee in the Railways Security Force full of odd characters such as Sakurai, a troublemaker who hates men. On top of that, an extremist group called “RJ” plots to privatize the Japanese National Railways.
Highly reminiscent to You’re Under Arrest! (so aptly put by Medieval Otaku), Rail Wars is a fairly episodic adaption of its light novel counterpart that follows Takayama, his teammates, and their harrowing misadventures as members of the Railways Security Force. Unlike You’re Under Arrest that is rendered more in a slice-of-life angle with comedy-drama elements, Rail Wars is purely action-driven; while including the same aforementioned elements and then some. It certainly isn’t a position for the faint of heart dealing with everything from petty extortionist to hair-raising train malfunctions (especially for a guy wanting to be the driver of one), but these aspects are what brings up some of the series greatest strengths as well as weakness – as far as enjoyment goes anyway.
However, before getting to any specifics, it is worth bringing up Takayama’s motley crew – or the “Guard 4“ as they are called. Admittedly, they are the saddest bunch of trope imbued character archetypes: Shō Iwaizumi is the strong and simple-minded supporting male protagonist, Aoi Sakurai is the main tsundere/misandrous/headstrong female lead, Haruka Kōmi is the other that is more on the gentler (and full-bosomed) spectrum, and finally Nana Iida, the leader (whose is also quite shapely) gives Takayama the reigns of “temporarily leader” – much to Sakurai’s chagrin. Technically, that is 5 members, but that is not the point. The crux is even though the characters are facsimiles of almost any series, they do ultimately work together reasonably well and make most of the situations they are locked in entertaining. Even with a begrudging title thrust upon his fragile protagonist shoulders, Takayama does prove himself to be a competent de facto leader over the course of the series, keeping his team in line, and his romantic life in check. All the guy needs now is a right arm called “Imagine Breaker” and he can become a true protagonist. Although, in a relationship of love or wills, Sakurai might as well be the one with arm, as her first few curiosities are nothing along the lines of kind. The eventually understanding does develop, yet with a thong of competition coming from the minimal supporting roles and Komi, Sakurai advances needs some pep.
Although, no matter how moderately flavored the characters are, the scenarios really do make or break the series as whole and bring out those aforementioned unidentified strengths and weakness. One of those double-edged swords is undoubtedly the drama that exist in a miniscule amount, yet enough for it to be recognized. Coupled with the action, episodes like 8-9 that features the gang making a dangerous delivery (and one that actual puts the character dynamics and personalities to good use, even if scripted that way) does showcase it at its best as well 10-11 that has the team protecting a certain passenger from armed political rebels. Of course, some of it comes off awkward like episode 7 that has some romance nestled in near the end between Takayama (dense as always), Komi and Sakurai. The classic love triangle – that becomes a harem love polygon of sorts later on. The earlier episodes do seem to suffer from a case of lack of excitement, direction, and purpose, but does improve greatly – even if it is just for roughly 5 episode. Just enough to provide something worth sticking around. Finally, if you haven’t noticed or about partake in series, Rail Wars does have its share of fan-service on the lecherous side. It isn’t as excessive as Maken-ki or blatant like Momo Kyun, but you can expect to see a lot of the camera focusing and panning on the ladies finest “assets” – emphasis on “ass”ets. See what I did there? It does get downright ridiculous at times, but I didn’t mind it for the most part – when it was not going overboard. For the record: it always goes overboard! Director Yoshifumi Sueda mixes just about everything into the show (randomly assorted train trivia included) and results do vary based on personal standards, yet I think it can be found to be somewhat pleasant by most.
While I do like the presentation of Rail Wars from a design standpoint – whether that entails background, foreground, or even character (yes, even after the slight fan-service chastising. I’m a guy) the animation does seem be inconsistent and shoddy to a noticeable degree. For example: in Episode 8 Takayama is holding a conversation with Sasshō and then Kashima, with Sasshō still in the frame – but three frames later, she is “magically” near Komi and Iwaizumi chatting with them across the room. Another recurring one is Sakurai’s disappearing gloves (see ep: 3,5), to less frequent ones like the reversed stuffed penguin (ep: 11), and the weird voice-over to lip synchronization between Nana and Takayama that happens near the end of the finale episode. Obviously, these are issues that will fixed in the home release and had no impact on my viewing experience, but still weird to see in such frequency. Passione is a fairly new studio (one I haven’t heard of until now), so hopefully this will be a learning experience. The musical score is nice, yet nothing special worth noting compared to other works like: Akuma no riddle and Uchoten Kazoku that Yoshiaki Fujisawa has done. If anything, the opening and ending themes are more apparent since it marks the first time I heard Minori Chihara both sing and voice-over in the same work, since Kyōkai no Kanata.
To conclude, Rail Wars was delightful treat that the summer season left behind, but most likely won’t appeal to everyone. I also can not call it the best the offering the season had prepared (especially in face of titles like Aldnoah.Zero or Barakamon), yet if your just looking for something straightforward and full of zest, it is difficult to call Rail Wars anything short of satisfactory. With the light novel still continuing onward, I highly doubt we will see a second coming of the Guard 4 and as far as I am concerned, they have completed their tasked.
Pros: later story arcs are very good, affable characters, action sequences and scenes handled well.
Cons: earlier story arcs are uninteresting, minor animation gaffs, lackluster soundtrack, fan-service might be offputting (depending on who you are).