First Impressions – Koutetsujou no Kabaneri

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On that day, humanity received a grim reminder…

We are the trains and you are the zombies not-zombies kabane” Hey everyone, welcome to Not-Attack on Not-Titan Not-Season Two, keep ya’ hands & feet inside the ride at all times…these things don’t give no sweet pecks…
The cool kids are calling this Attack on Trains because it’s basically Attack on Titan with trains. And after watching, boy, the similarities just don’t end. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.
One of the most anticipated anime series of the year is here! With the director of Code Geass and Attack on Titan, and the writer of Guilty Crown and Valvrave at the helm, one can expect an excess of hype and popular interest in this original work, as well as a generous helping of righteous yelling and unexpected twists and turns. So, the question is–does Kabaneri deliver?


Steam-Punk Isn’t Dead!

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Welp, there goes another one

skylion//First of all the thing that really whacks with me is the look of this show. I mean, I’ve seen the preview material, seen the YouTube vids, and I should have known. But none of that prepared me for the Eighties flashbacks. Good times…get’s me right in my old man feels. However. this production has modern composition and color grading go for it, so it almost, but not quite, spoils that the oldie vibe most of the time. Still it makes me feel just a touch haunted by ghosts of anime past…I get glimpses of Robotech, a bit of Maison Ikkoku, defiantly some Appleseed. This is a great aesthetic to borrow from, as I do recall a monumental amount of gore from that time period. So, color me anachronismized!!!

So it suffices to say that this show looks stupendously beautiful. Which is not surprising for WiT Studio. They’ve worked on some incredibly sumptuous shows these past few years. Which is, by and large, one of my problems with it. Too much in the looks, not enough under the hood. While I love the Edo-style period the show moves and groove in, and the steampunk gadgets that the character clearly love to rock ’em sock ’em with, I don’t get a clear rhyme or reason why they use them other than, “Not been used before? Quick grab it and run before someone catches us!” It’s a first episode, granted, and I’ll allow the time they need to set up the grand scheme. But I hope they they can provide a lot more foundation going forward. I can guess how a bunch of the tech came about, and how people adapted to the situation at and and survived, But I really want to be shown it sooner rather than later; that is part of the appeal of good steampunk, when the designer lovingly explains all the riveted bits and copper bobs, and again, not this episode, but soon….

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So for now, yeah, this is big dumb fun, and I don’t mistake that; but this doesn’t excuse it from being sloppy. The question I ask is “Why should I care?”. While I feel the period of highly stratified classes and the presence of crazy monsters are doing very well to underscore the paranoia that the citizens of the station have, there’s no break in that. We blaze a trail from one scene to the next with wild abandon filling out every box on the tension scorecard. What I’m wanting to see hasn’t been shown much yet. There isn’t much humanity, in this fight for humanity. While I feel that may be the point the show is trying to get across, with the esoteric monk and his crazy cutey-girl chargee bringing an ill defined mystery element to the show, that’s not enough, and I get this vague “we were the monster all along” vibe coming from that quarter. Going further, the attitude of the boshi is ill communicated, adding more to confusion than plot element. Some of the shows internal explanations (the inspection points) feel like after thoughts in the general scheme of things. I fear the show is trying to be to smart for it’s own good and it’s over stuffing on WOW, look at this, and skimping on the most basic of storytelling elements. The result, for me, is that after a brief time, none of these people matter to me, especially when nearly all of them wind up being little more than a collection of exploding blood bags. When the big derailment set-piece happened, and took this station of the map, I wasn’t feeling all that bad for any of them, cause there wasn’t any “them” to them. This is a bad way to begin a zombie show in my opinion…

Kabane 101

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They’re just mad the train didn’t drop them off at the right stop

Overcooled// This show isn’t just a clever mix of steampunk and Edo-esque Japan, complete with samurai-style warriors wearing colourful garb amongst the grubby bronze machines. There are zombies thrown in for good measure too! The result is a wild mish-mash of ideas that seem to be working together surprisingly well thus far. Of those three themes, I’m most focused on the zombies though. I’m sure you’re all familiar with zombies, but they tend to take on different characteristics based on what you’re watching. Here, the walking dead are given the name “Kabane”. Once their blood or bodily fluids enter your bloodstream, it’s only a manner of time before you become infected too. While the solution to this problem is usually fighting them with swift gunshots to the head, it appears that the weaponry in this era isn’t the most efficient. That is sounds like an absolutely terrifying combination to me. Not only are these zombies fast, strong, tenacious, and smart enough to use crude weapons of their own, but they’re physically tough enough to resist weak gunfire. Thankfully, Mumei’s sharp shoes seem like they get the job done as well as Ikoma’s new invention, but it’s still frightening how difficult it is to kill these monsters.

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Totally Under Control

So far, knowledge of the Kabane is sparse. No one except Ikoma seems willing to research them, and no one has said anything about the origin of this pandemic. All they did really was invent suicide bags for infected individuals to off themselves with, which isn’t much of a good countermeasure. Usually, the cure would be to lop off the infected limb immediately so it wouldn’t spread, but no one seems to be doing that. Ikoma manages to cure himself using a complex system of tourniquets, which was initially baffling. My best guess is that the Kabane thing is either a virus or a parasite, and it travels via the bloodstream. We see through the speed of the infection in Ikoma that this thing must have a very high metabolic rate. If we assume the brain is the food source of this virus/parasite, then it’s plausible it could die from starvation due to its own metabolism if it doesn’t reach the brain within a certain period of time. Ikoma cut off his circulation to his brain for that exact reason…although once again, by that reasoning, just chopping off a limb should also work. I guess the benefit of this method is that he gets to keep his arm.

All in all, Kabane are a fearsome threat, and I love the visuals of them as well. I expected the whole show to be dark and gritty, but the glow of the Kabane’s heart and arteries is oddly alluring. It makes it very easy to see huge crowds of them in dark environments, so you can really see just how royally fucked you are. How nice of them to come attached with a night light. These guys are successful at being complete horrors, so I can’t wait to learn more about them. Someone else has gotta be crazy enough to research these things!

Putting the Cogs Together

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Irenesharda//Koutetsujou no Kabaneri aka Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress starts us off in very interesting twist in setting. Most series will start either in the modern world, or in a past period of time. This series actually is deciding to make a merger of the two by having Japan have an Edo period style, and yet also have a major steampunk element that suggest the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. Now, historically, these two events do sort of converge during the mid to late 19th century, However, the setting to Kabaneri seems to have diverged, and rather than transitioning into the Meiji period, Japan (and the world) got hit by a zombie kabane outbreak, and thus we have some sort of merger of ancient and modern with the people of the Edo timeline making use of what modern science and tech that they were able to adapt. And what we end up with a new setting for our story that is both something we’ve all seen before, and yet something uniquely new as well.

Everyone has already compared this ad nauseum to Wit Studio’s big claim to fame, Attack on Titan, and there are definitely quite a few similarities. And yet, Kabanari does indeed find a way to distinguish itself from its predecessor. And thankfully, there is not any original material source to draw from, thus allowing us to be free from spoiler-ish comments. But as an original concept, how does it hold up?

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Well, it’s actually a pretty simple setup, and yet it is it’s simplicity that makes it so accessible. We have our main character of Ikoma, who is a misunderstood Renaissance man, and is persecuted for being ahead of his time. We see who Ikoma is as a character in a nutshell in this one episode. He’s determined and stubborn, and he’s not afraid to go against the grain. He will stand up for what he thinks is right, even if he doesn’t possess the best tact or wisdom while doing so. He’s a genius engineer and scientist in a land that doesn’t respect such things, and he’s determined to not allow his fear to dictate his actions. Before anyone can ask, he’s basically mature-Eren. I’m one of those, who actually like Eren Jaeger as a character, but even I have to say that I do like Ikoma just a little bit more, but we’ll see how long that will last.

The society of this series also a bit more interesting than that of AoT. Rather than a society that has been living with a threat for so long that they have become complacent, the threat in Kabaneri is a lot more “fresh”, and thus people are instead ruled by their fear and their dread. Now, that’s not to say that the danger is indeed very real, and there is no shying away from the gruesome effects of this kabane outbreak. Yet, it has made a society that is already against progress, to become even more stagnant.

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It’s interesting to see the feudal system still in such large effect here, with the bushi (samurai-by-any-other-name) still serving as both the protectors of the people and servants under their lord. Superstition still has a large hold on society, and corruption abounds in this world but no one (except our hero of course) is willing to challenge or speak out against it. But of course, that night, mankind once again receives a reminder (not like these guys actually needed one), and this time, our hero actually has a plan. The nature and aftermath of his plan to test out his new gun prototype bent–and broke–my boundaries for suspension of disbelief, and as OC has pretty much gone over much of what was wrong with that end scene, I’m not going to reiterate. I’ll just wait for whatever the explanation is, and hope that it satisfies my “overly-analytical-when-it-comes-to-biologically-based-science” mind. I’ll be interested in what kind of “virus” this is, and their explanation of how it works. Of course this is fiction and so it doesn’t need to be real-life accurate, but at the same time, if you’re going to make the mechanics of its pathogenesis such a major plot point, then you better think of a pretty darn good explanation to go along with it and not just a hand-waved way of giving the MC superpowers.

Speaking of superpowers, just a little blurb about our main heroine, Mumei, before I wrap this up. At first glance, the girl looks like your average mysterious female eye candy that we all know will introduce our hero into a whole new world where he can belong. Yet, I’m interested in seeing how this character is going to be fleshed out. Who is she? What is she? Who is this mysterious onii-sama that she cares so much about? The name “Mumei” literally means “nameless”, and I would be as dubious as Ikoma, if some girl told me that their brother gave their beloved little sister a name simply meaning “nameless”. I’d have to question just how much that sister actually meant to the elder sibling, if anything.

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But as of right now, both our hero and heroine have a lot more on their minds to think about right now. Ikoma, suffering from a bleeding lacerated wrist, major burns from a cauterized wound, metal bolts literally stabbed into his shoulder, and almost dying from asphyxiation by nearly having his windpipe crushed and strangling himself, should be passing out right about now from pain, shock, loss of blood, lack of blood and oxygen going to the brain, or any combination of the three. (But who are we kidding. He’s going to be perfectly fine.) And Mumei has to make her way to her destination now without the help of her caretaker. And of course there is still the overall threat of the kabane…

This was just not a good day all around. But at least our hero was able to perfect his gun! (Honestly if they were using real firearms rather than steam-powered ones, he wouldn’t be having this problem.) Now he just has to find a way of mass producing them, but first, he has to get them the people to accept his new design, but before that, he had to get them to accept that he was able to survive being bitten….yeah, as you can see, the hard work is just beginning.



Final Thoughts

In all honestly, this is a great deal like Attack on Titan, Owari no Seraph, and a greater deal of the director’s past work (Guilty Crown, etc.). Big, dumb, and epic; with a wafer thin layer of smarts that should just get out of the bloody way and let big and dumb have it’s fun. A zombie story should be about the survivors, and I really think this episode focuses way to much on the not-zombie’s and how different they are from other not-zombies in other stories, just so that The Guy can show how clever he is with his Steam Thing and his thinking outside the box when the box isn’t all that defined yet. Focus on the people, first and foremost. Whatever esoteric reason the monsters exist, it can wait, and best revealed with tantalization, not the weird brute force we got here. It can be hard hitting, but slugged around willy nilly like in this production, it’s already starting to feel over used. Now when they do focus on people they pretty much showed us that most of them are complete and nearly thoughtless dicks. Which isn’t surprising for a post-not-zombie apocalypse, people are probably going to get pretty gruff, little bit cranky, that understandable that they’re harder people than you or I. But, as I said, my first reaction, when a grand sweep of danger threatens the entire station, shouldn’t be “good, f*ck those people”. This one will need some rests in the composition to make all the sturm and drang count.  All in all this is a good one to watch, lots of fun. I only hope it can do something about it’s smarts problem…I’m willing to be surprised….

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri had a bold and exciting first episode, but it felt like it tried a liiiiittle too hard to stir things up. Just as we got to know this quaint little town, it gets immediately torn down by hordes of Kabane. Ikoma also finishes the weapon he’s been working on for ages at the same, conveniently-timed moment that the Kabane attack. There could have been more time spent exploring this city’s infrastructure with its blend of steampunk and historical Japanese themes. However, this episode achieves what I think it set out to do: to get your heart pounding. There is not a second of screentime that isn’t packed with action, tension, or someone screaming at the top of their lungs. Everything is so full of energy that you can’t help but get swept away in the pace of things. Backstory? We’ll get that later. This show may not be ideal for those that prefer more logic and worldbuilding to back things up, but it’s wonderful if you can give way to the thrill of the moment. Full of action and impact, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri looks like it’s going to be quite the marvel this season.

I can’t wait to see more of this world and this culture, see where this train (both the titular Koutetsujou and the plot at hand) go. I’ve enjoyed the majority of things that this team has put out and so I’m interesting in seeing what twists and turns this one will deliver. While we got a good handle on Ikoma, I want to see more of who and what Mumei is, and much more of our supporting cast, many of which have yet to be introduced. And where is the end game of this plot heading? I guess we’ll all just have to find out together.


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26 Responses to “First Impressions – Koutetsujou no Kabaneri”

  1. BlackBriar says:

    Yes! The heavy hitter is finally here and from start to finish, it did not disappoint one bit! Oh, WIT Studio, you never fail to deliver, do you? Easily becoming a personal favorite. Keep going strong! Hiroyuki Sawano’s music and EGOIST’s songs are icing on the epic cake.

    “Attack on Trains” is the nickname given to this show? Rather “Attack on Zombies” if you ask me. Not that I really give a rat’s ass about the comparisons between Kabaneri and its spiritual predecessor Attack on Titan/Shingeki no Kyojin. The trains are a means to an end, if nothing else. Also, there’s the curiosity of seeing whether or not IreneSharda will be sticking around, given her confessed dislike of these undead, mindless flesh eaters.

    What a coincidence steampunk plays a major part in the story. I’m certainly getting double dosses of it. From both this and currently playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PS4) where the setting is in Victorian era London. Quite the retro feel. However, time’s going to be needed to readjust to this choice of animation since I haven’t seen it since AoT. It’s like watching a Ghibli film and Kabaneri, minus the trains and zombies, is giving strong nostalgia vibes of Princess Mononoke.

    Call me sadistic if so wished but a part of me likes these kinds of stories because they make for a particularly interesting spectacle. Mainly due to wondering how humans react when pushed into a corner. There are a multitude of reactions, though the predictable ones are always front and center. But no less intriguing.

    Ikoma is the hero they need but not the one they deserve and in light of the treatment he was given, the word “ungrateful” doesn’t cut it. After he tried to stow away some dismembered material and has knowledge that led to combat his infection, it’s hard to assume he ventures out behind people’s backs. I’ve already taken a liking to Mumei for her strong, silent and playfully sadistic personality. It builds anticipation to see how these two will further interact.

    My best bet on the Kabane’s essence is from a virus, possibly something that mutated in an unfavorable environment. I rule out human involvement of any kind because if it was man-made, its creator must have been demented. But speculating their origin doesn’t mean we might get it. Personally, it’s not the end of world if it doesn’t come and we just deal with idea they’re just there. I mean, Kiseijuu/Parasyte: the Maxim never explained the origins of its creatures and that series went along well enough. The benefit of dealing with them is that they should be easy to spot at night.

    • skylion says:

      Steampunk can be a visual aesthetic (no current cosplay costumer will argue against that), but it reaches true depth when it’s fairly well integrated into the background. The current film, Empire of Corpses really brings it out, as does Mark Hodder’s very creative Burton & Swinburne novels.

      • BlackBriar says:

        I’ve recently downloaded Empire of Corpses. Just haven’t made time to watch it. Yet another of WIT Studio’s works and some time ago, Funimation was advertising its dub on ANN by announcing the voice cast.

        The coincidence is the movie also has steampunk and reanimated bodies.

        • skylion says:

          I used to run RPGs with those sorts of tropes, it’s pretty good for when you want to introduce some out of place technology. It’s good in a fantasy background and the other time periods you see it in…

    • IreneSharda says:

      Also, there’s the curiosity of seeing whether or not IreneSharda will be sticking around, given her confessed dislike of these undead, mindless flesh eaters.

      Hmm, you’ll have to just wait and see won’t you? 😉 Honestly, while I can’t take zombies in general in movies, I’m perfectly fine with them in animated form. They’re not falling apart corpse with blood and guts hanging out, they’re basically just grey glowing monsters. And again, it’s animated, so it’s not too bad.

      Ikoma is the hero they need but not the one they deserve and in light of the treatment he was given, the word “ungrateful” doesn’t cut it. After he tried to stow away some dismembered material and has knowledge that led to combat his infection, it’s hard to assume he ventures out behind people’s backs.

      He’s a cool guy, but like I said in my review, he’s a guy who is ahead of his time, and many who are not appreciated at the time in which they actually make their discoveries. He seems to be one of the few that are progressive, which is frowned upon in this time zone. And if my theory about this having been a diverged timeline from at the end of the Edo period, then you can understand why the rest of the culture is the way it is. Ikoma is the strange one for this setting, everyone else is just thinking what they have been for years.
      I also think that Ikoma is indeed probably collecting body parts behind people’s backs. It is frowned upon and his friend said it’s against the rules. Even in the more advanced Europe, collection of body parts gained you an investigation by authorities.
      Ikoma wants to understand, but he’s stuck in a very restricted society that happen to be under a life-threatening crisis.

      My best bet on the Kabane’s essence is from a virus, possibly something that mutated in an unfavorable environment. I rule out human involvement of any kind because if it was man-made, its creator must have been demented. But speculating their origin doesn’t mean we might get it.

      They already kind of told us the Kabane’s origin in the synopsis:

      As the world is in the middle of an industrial revolution, a monster appears that cannot be defeated unless its heart, which is protected by a layer of iron, is pierced. By infecting humans with its bite, the monster can create aggressive and undead creatures known as Kabane.

      So, it’s some kind of monster that is alike to the Kabane and it is the origin for the all these zombie creatures. Considering the technology of the kind, they seem to barely have a handle on basic science, so I totally doubt there is anyone with the knowhow or technology to even theorize the creation of such a monster, much less actually make one. And thus, I have to think that this is either because of some freak natural disaster accident, or it’s aliens. 😛

      • BlackBriar says:

        Honestly, while I can’t take zombies in general in movies, I’m perfectly fine with them in animated form.

        Is that so? 😉 Funny… You steered clear of Tokyo Ghoul after the first episode after admitting you lacked the constitution to see people being torn apart and eaten alive. Despite some scenes getting censored, it was still easy to tell what was going on. Even if the Ghouls weren’t decaying and mindless, they pretty much walked the same path as zombies where sustenance is concerned.

        And thus, I have to think that this is either because of some freak natural disaster accident, or it’s aliens.

        Agreed on the former. Looks like some natural mutation gone awry. Always different changes over the generations. But let’s leave the latter out. Let’s stay down to Earth. Things are screwed up as they are without their involvement.

        • IreneSharda says:

          Tokyo Ghoul basically has torture porn, that’s what I can’t deal with. Intense looks at purposed pain, guts, torture, etc.

          Here, it’s mostly battle/massacre violence, which is bloody but fast. They don’t dwell on it, or the idea of it. Tokyo Ghoul just made me nauseous from the get go.

  2. BlackBriar says:

    Thankfully, Mumei’s sharp shoes seem like they get the job done as well as Ikoma’s new invention, but it’s still frightening how difficult it is to kill these monsters.

    We can’t have things too easy now, can we?

    • IreneSharda says:

      Honestly, considering how keen those things would have to be, and can’t see how she could walk on them. lol

      • skylion says:

        The sandals are partially made of creative license, that’s right there on the diagram next to the blades…

  3. ProtoSovereign says:

    I’m more worried about Mumei getting to the koutetsujou at all. I mean how’s she going to run to the train with only 1 killer sandal on her feet (the other one seems to be firmly wedged into the wooden pole). As for Ikoma… he’s beyond screwed at this point ay? No one is letting a crazy looking dude with a huge arse pressurised nail gun, ripped up clothes, and a weird white patch on his hair on board. In fact even if they recognise him through all those metal bolts he shot into his shoulder… he’s a ‘criminal’ serving jail time XD. btw this is my 5th show of the season, although there are a few other shows I plan to watch when this season is over such as Kuma miko, kiznaiver, sakamoto desu ga etc.

  4. skylion says:

    Just in case anyone wondered what happened…(mildy NSFW, pantsu warning)

    Show ▼

  5. ProtoSovereign says:

    XD lol oh skylion you just did that, you couldn’t help it.

  6. akagami says:

    It’s a good thing I waited for blog reviews before actually watching for once. It looks just as visually grotesque as AoT looked like. I think I might have ended up on the floor if I had actually watched it.

    A shame though, Mumei looks pretty cool.

    And hahaha skylion. That was amusing~

    • skylion says:

      I would have to say that shots of the hot bloody messes are rather short. They didn’t tend to linger overlong, and there is a sense of restraint. Not much a sense, now! To me it’s only so much “artistic violence”, like The Bride vs. The Crazy 88 in Kill Bill.

      Yeah, some things you can’t help but share..

      • akagami says:

        Hmm, but the zombies look disturbing? The conversion looks kinda shiver-worthy from the pics.

        The reason why I could never watch AoT was that I was absolutely disgusted with the look of the titans. And them eating humans is rather disturbing to me.

        • IreneSharda says:

          Attack on Titan’s titans are a bit disturbing to be too, but I was able to take it. Though even then, some of the scenes of them eating humans were a bit queasy.

          With the kabane, because they are human size, their chaos isn’t so large scale. When they bite humans, so far we’ve never really seen them consume one. They tend to do one bite and that’s it. In that effect, they really appear more like violent, messy vampires. Bloody bite to the neck or some other part of the body, but that’s it. Lots of destruction and collateral damage, but not much else.
          The wounds they cause are a little gross, but because the part they bite immediately turns purple and glowy, it’s not nearly as disturbing as it could be. I thing the grossest part was actually only two scenes: A girl getting some of her hair ripped out (no blood) and a man who got a chunk bitten out of his hand off screen)

          If you can take that, then you should be fine.

          • akagami says:

            Hmm, that doesn’t sound too bad. Maybe I’ll try it out. Thanks for that IreneSharda!

          • akagami says:

            Thanks for the advice, it wasn’t as disturbing as I thought it would be. They’re just like more aggressive zombies, and I can handle it as long as it doesn’t get too gory. Based on the first episode, I think it’ll fit right under my threshold.

            Although I do have to say that it’s weird the virus can disappear as quickly as it appears.

  7. BlackBriar says:


    On that day, humanity received a grim reminder…

    Doesn’t that remind you of anything similarly funny? Musaigen no Phantom World‘s 7th episode. As students were turning into cat demi-humans, a frame showed up saying “Ever since that day, the world underwent a drastic change”.

    • skylion says:

      It was our OC that picked the images and captions for this post. But I’m pretty sure she’s riffing on Kabaneri‘s spiritual cousin Attack on Titan

      …but, as the saying goes, a cat is fine, too…

  8. BlackBriar says:

    To all who are concerned:

    Here’s some unfortunate news for all anticipating Kabaneri’s second episode:

    Article: Kabaneri, Assassination Classroom, Shōnen Maid, Sakamoto Delayed This Week Due to Quake News Coverage

  9. anaaga says:

    Wait, Kankan is an original material? Witz sure loves their apocalypse world eh.

    OK episode, didn’t really stand out for me with the exception of the art and whole choking thing and people running out of trains with their pantsu only. The art is a shout out for my old but-not-as-old-as-sky heart. Thank god for OC’s explanation, I’m too dumb for that kind of stuff.

    The society was intriguing though. It’s interesting seeing people acting in real fear and refusing to try things out of the box (such as feudal system and shooting people who have bitten marks) because of their fear. I wonder if things would be different if Japan welcome technologies from other countries?

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