Sometimes what matters most isn’t the story. Sometimes you just need a healthy dose of caboose.
Rail Wars! is an anime adaptation of the light novels written by Toyoda Takumi. The story is set in an alternate universe where the Japanese government never privatized the national railroads, but is otherwise completely realistic (for an anime).
The story follows Takayama Naoto, a high schooler with an irrational love of trains. In pursuit of his life goal – becoming a train driver – he joins the Japanese National Railways Central Academy, which he believes will set him on the career track towards his dream. Also enrolled in the academy are Sakurai Aoi, Koumi Haruka, and Iwaizumi Shou, and the four of them join the Japanese National Railways Security Force as trainees, where they work together to combat acts of terrorism and keep the company’s customers safe.
The show doesn’t have much of an over-arching story, instead focusing on small incidents one at a time. These typically deal with the group working against some type of terrorist threat or trying to overcome some other challenge together.
There are plenty of laughable situations in the series, whether ridiculous train antics or Takayama conveniently tripping and falling on one of the heroines. There is also a bit too much focus on fanservice, but at least it doesn’t distract from a worthwhile story.
On the other hand, many of the situations are very tense, both for the characters and viewers, as the outcome seems unpredictable. While they generally opt for the best possibility with these situations, the lead-up can at least hold the viewer’s attention and pique their curiosity in the conclusion.
At its core, Rail Wars is just another harem anime with a generic male protagonist. Besides his love of trains, nothing really sets Takayama apart from similar protagonists in countless other shows.
The only character who significantly develops over the course of the series is Sakurai. While she is initially a cliched violent tsundere, by the end of the show she was far more reasonable in her disposition towards Takayama – the transition is most noticeable around episode 5, one of the highlights of the show. As a strong female character, she is the most interesting person to watch and one of the most interesting parts of the entire series.
Koumi and the rest of the recurring female characters are mostly present as harem members, never adding much to the story. While Sakurai’s personality slowly changed through the show, Koumi and the others remain the same from the beginning, attracted to Takayama for no explicable reason, and their presence is simply exploited to advance the plot or provide fanservice.
Iwaizumi, the secondary male protagonist, only exists to provide the brawn of the group. In scenes where he is not needed, he is not present, and he is an extremely one-dimensional character, always thinking with his muscles and stomach more than his brain.
Unfortunately, the animation is very inconsistent. There are many animation errors, characters that aren’t in the foreground commonly look awful, and bodily proportions seem to change at random – this is most evident with Sakurai’s chest, which seems to balloon during some scenes.
As one example of an animation error, in the second episode there is a scene where Sakurai is pinning up a poster. In the TV airing, the poster was blank half of the time, so the poster would alternate between a blank white and properly filled in. Fortunately, this was at least fixed for the ongoing blu-ray/DVD release. Besides this, there are a few scenes where characters speak without their mouths moving and other minor errors.
Background art for the show is adequate, but generally a bit bland. Many times, especially when the cast is on a train, the background will have one consistent color, resulting in a washed out appearance that isn’t helped by the constant out-of-focus blur effect. f/15plz
Character design for Rail Wars is pretty standard fare, as most of the characters look neither outlandish nor generic. Takayama looks the same as countless other protagonists, but each of the other characters have something to set them apart from visually similar counterparts. Most of this is in the characters’ hair design, which is different enough from the standard to both look good and normal enough.
While this is an ecchi series, it isn’t as exaggerated as many more popular ones. While the camera frequently focuses on or pans up from the chest, especially for Koumi and Iida, there isn’t any full frontal nudity or borderline hentai situations. Besides that and the typical protagonist-trips-and-lands-on-female trope, the majority of the visual emphasis is on the girls’ rear-ends, hence all the “caboose” jokes surrounding the show. This isn’t a problem, but it’s at least worth noting.
The anime’s opening theme, Mukai Kaze ni Utarenagara, is the clear musical highlight, setting up a high-octane atmosphere for the show. The ending theme is below average, being some weird rap/dubstep/electronic J-pop hybrid that fails to deliver anything worthwhile in any genre.
For the most part, the soundtrack is effective enough. The music generally fits with the situation, but never really carries it – as a whole, it’s above average, but certainly nothing special. It lacks memorability and emotion, merely assisting the situation adequately. There are some tracks that are a bit over-dramatic and cheesy, but they aren’t too common.
The voice-acting is nothing noteworthy. Most characters had fitting voices that were acted well enough, with no standouts on either side of the spectrum.
And… uh… the trains sound authentic. I guess.
Honestly, while the anime generally consists of average components, the whole is very enjoyable. Rather than falling into the “so bad it’s good” category, it has enough to hold it above average before being sunk by a sometimes laughable story. While most of the characters are rather bland, Sakurai carries the anime, both visually and from a character standpoint. The other characters injected into a few episodes also help to add some dynamism to the show, such as Noa in episode 4.
Despite its many flaws, Rail Wars is plenty of fun, but it will quickly turn away those who aren’t prepared for an anime with greater emphasis on the behinds than the story.
+ Sakurai as the focal point of the cast
+ Very enjoyable despite its issues
+ Decent soundtrack, good OP
± Episodic format that sometimes delivers
− Generally uninteresting cast
− Inconsistent animation
Overall – 6/10
Recommendation – For the best harem on rails you’ll ever see, watch it. Or if you like cabooses (on trains or females). Either way, you should probably wait for the full BD/DVD release so that the animation errors are corrected.
I don’t know if this reviews reads as if it’s too objective or too subjective, but I apologize either way. I think I failed at overcompensating for bias.
There’s going to be a Rail Wars visual novel released for the Vita in about two months, so I’ll probably be getting that. There’s about a .0000000001% chance of it getting an English release, so I’ll probably just post something about my poor understanding of the story and the cabooses.