Welcome to issue #8 of Jade Woodruff’s “Life on Anime” column here at Nerd Nation that’s dedicated to reviewing all of the great (and at times, not-so-great) anime titles out there — of which there are many, as most of you reading this already know! — from the perspective of a life-long anime fan.
For this installment, we will be tackling Rail Wars – a 12-episode anime series that aired in the summer of 2014 and is currently available on Crunchyroll.
Here’s the premise:
Naoto Takayama, a high school student in Tokyo, is aspiring to be a Conductor at the Japanese National Railways (JNR) in an alternate reality where the nationalized railway system in Japan was never privatized. Naoto and several other students are accepted as trainees for the railway’s security force. Naoto and his colleagues must defend the JNR as well as the trains, passengers, and valuable cargo from malfunctions, severe weather, and sometimes terrorists.
Rail Wars is a simple, straightforward watch. It’s about a train otaku, Naoto, who wants to make his love a career. The series follows his early days on the security force as he builds relationships with his colleagues, learns a lot about the JNR, and becomes a few steps closer to fulfilling his dream.
Naoto works with several well endowed women and a charismatic bro. There’s lots of fan service in the form of half naked women, accidental boob grabs, and plenty of panties and bras. There’s an exposition about the train-of-the-week each episode that was short and sweet, but informative. I came to enjoy learning about the trains. It was something that set Rail Wars apart from other harem/ecchi titles.
Most episodes follow the same progression: there’s a problem and trainees resolve it within the episode. Usually, the problems are resolved by Aoi, a gun ace, and Shou, the bro, beating the lights out of someone. Naoto, however, relies on his ability to coordinate resources and Haruka, with her eidetic memory, comes in handy one or two times.
The highlight of the series, for me, was around episode 6, when they are transporting a heart to a hospital in inclement weather using a really old train car on tracks that had not been maintained since the Meiji era. It was gripping, funny, and unique. The series felt like it had found its stride. The following episodes, however, fell back into the same redundant pattern.
The last episode was the most boring episode of the show. After another easily managed problem, Naoto reflects on how busy his life has become and how strange it is to be alone for a few days off. The series ends a few moments later when he returns home to all of his colleagues in his room. By this time, all of the girls are in love with him and are clearly vying for his attention while he remains oblivious (as usual).
The biggest disappointment, for me, was that Rail Wars had something more than gimmick to make it a unique slice-of-life anime with a flare of action. By using the trains to vary the setting, each episode felt fresh. There was always something different that could happen and, visually, it was more exciting than watching people working in the same office each episode. Sadly, outside of one or two episodes, it was a fairly standard show. It used generic plot points like kidnapping a prince (who’s actually a girl) or planting a bomb to create tension. These are devices that have been used in countless anime and in a variety of settings. I wish there had been more episodes like the heart transport arc instead of the same regurgitated scenarios we’ve seen time and time again.
There’s just nothing exceptional about Rail Wars. In the end, it would have been nice to have more character development or more unique content. It is worth watching for the well animated trains, fan service, and sparse action. It has its redeeming moments, but they are far and few between. It’s a great example of a series that had something really unique but let it take a backseat to generic content.