I’m sure he’d like to drive his train into her tunnel.
I’m sorry. I had to say it.
The concept and general story of Rail Wars! is quite intriguing, though the characters and plot still leave much to be desired. It’s set in an alternate world where Japan’s railway system is all operated by a single, state-owned corporation, contrary to the real world in which Japan’s railway system has multiple private corporations competing with each other. The majority of the episode follows our protagonist Takayama and his three school buddies attending a one-month course at a training academy to become part of the railroad security force, before becoming full-fledged members of the force by the end.
Considering that the academy looks suspiciously like a highschool, and that the uniforms of the trainees look an awful lot like highschool uniforms, at first I was worried this would become like The Pilot’s Love Song and try to shoehorn generic highschool shenanigans into an otherwise original setting about trains. Thankfully that’s where the similarities to highschool ended, as the training involved just about what you would expect in real life, including security force procedure and how trains work, physical fitness training, firearm training, and so on.
What you would expect, except for when the trainees have to endure a test where they shovel coal onto a steam locomotive. According to the teacher its so the kids better understand the root of trains and how to operate them, but what’s the point? Operating modern, electric trains are nothing like throwing coal into a boiler—I know at least that much—so what exactly are the kids learning by shoveling coal? Perhaps its a problem-solving test to see if they can figure out how to most effectively shovel coal under pressure, but still, that just seems like a waste of time and coal.
So far each of the characters are awfully archetypal, and although their not too cliche, there’s not much to say about any of them yet. Takayama is just another generic male protagonist, a nice guy who loves trains. Iwaizumi is the more atheletic and brawny part of the group but apparently the least smartest too, and acts awfully typical of how you would expect that kind of character to act.
I guess it’s nice how Sakurai is a total badass in the show, which the show makes a point of several times. She’s a perfect shot with a gun one-handed, she can jump into a tree to grab a boy’s balloon and do a double flip down, and she can even knock out a dude by kneeing him in the face. It’s a little groan-worthy though how a major aspect of her character is that she hates all men, and several times she accuses Takayama of being some suave-talking pervert just for being friendly to Koumi. Now, I don’t mean to say that men are some sort of oppressed majority or that misandry is a big issue in real life, but she’s still being prejudiced against someone for their gender. And it’s just being played for humor anyways, so it also feels like they’re just making a joke of the often misunderstood “why are men so bad” discussions among women and feminists. Maybe Rail Wars will explore this side of her character in a more meaningful way later on, but that’s always doubtful.
I also guess it’s nice to have a super smart girl character like Koumi, but she’s also used for a bunch of fanservice too. Anyone who’s read this blog knows I have nothing against fanservice, but given the setting and premise of the show I think it could do without the parts where it sexualizes Koumi. Such as the one scene where Koumi can barely run because of the massive size of her breasts, or where Takayama accidentally gropes her as they search for a dog on a train. What’s worse is that we’re probably supposed to find the latter scene romantic, given the romantic music that plays during it. It’s even worse knowing that it started because she went up a ladder above Takayama even though she was wearing a skirt. Plus she fell backwards onto him, yet somehow we ended up with him on top with them on the bed. Just a really forced and bad scene in general, really.
I also wonder just how old our cast of characters are. I would hope that this training academy is post-secondary education, but the cast does seem awfully teenager-like. It’s also weird how later in the episode during their final test where they work at a train station for a day, they’re still wearing they’re school uniforms. You figure it would make more sense for them to wear some actual railroad uniforms so customers don’t think they’re just some highschoolers.
All in all a decent first episode despite a few groan worthy moments. The characters and their shenanigans so far don’t leave me too hopeful that this’ll be anything great, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what this show will be like. I don’t know too much about how privatization has affected Japan since the collapse of JNR, though it’d certainly be interesting if this tries to give commentary on the modern railroad industry in Japan. Or perhaps this alternate world is just an excuse for the writers to mold the setting into whatever they need to do what they want to do, which would be fine too. We’ll see what they do here.