The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans

Title: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans aka Kidou Sensei Gundam Tekketsu no Orphans aka G Tekketsu
Genre: Action/Drama
Companies: Sunrise/Mainichi Broadcasting
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 4 Oct 2015 – 27 Mar 2016

Synopsis: Though the last great war passed 300 years ago, the peace that had followed rang hollow. Law and order is maintained among Earth’s three dominant economic blocks and their colonies in space by an external organization called Gjallarhorn. For the people of space, it is obvious that Gjallahorn’s purpose is to silence dissent and maintain a skewed balance of power. With idealistic dreams of promoting change, revolutionary Kudelia Aina Bernstein travels to Earth on behalf of the people of Mars, aided by the Private Military Corporation Tekkadan. Although Gjallahorn has vested interest in never seeing this mission come to fruition, Tekkadan has an ace up its sleeve to see Kudelia to safety: a super weapon from a centuries old war called the Gundam Barbatos, and its pilot, a boy altered for war by the name of Mikazuki Augus.

The Highlights
Direction: Bold, if half-hearted at times.
World building: Explores relevant issues, though often only in a cursory sense.
Music: Builds atmosphere with two contrasting and overlapping styles.
Character development: Refreshingly unapologetic if somewhat wanting for growth.
Action: Mobile Suit fights have never been more of a bloodsport.

If one were to have asked me eight years ago what direction Gundam needed to take in the 21st century, I would have said something along the line of Iron Blooded Orphans. This is not the first Gundam series to delve into topics pertinent to the new millennium. But it is the first one to discuss them without the ball and chain of being a commentary on war. That it’s the most intense Gundam TV series in the longest time makes this one a more than welcomed entry.

In Iron Blooded Orphans, war is a relic of a previous generation with the real shadow cast upon humanity being a fake peace maintained by the leviathan of economic hegemony. This switch from traditional colonialism to neocolonialism gives the series more flexibility to look beyond violence and petty power plays, and better look into the results of those from mass poverty to the exploitation of weaker countries. Propping this up is a cast with just the right amount of intelligence and coldness to be unpredictable and unbelievable.

At a glance, heroine Kudelia Aina Bernstein resembles the typical, out of touch utopian princess of the franchise, implausibly magnetic personality and all. Yet behind that is somebody who is not just willing to be practical about Martian liberation, but understands the real gravity of the situation and how damaged the people she wishes to help are. Kudelia accepts that her protectors in Tekkadan are not knights in shining armor, but rather a gang of thugs—Gundam pilots included—who will casually commit execution if necessary. In light of previous cold protagonists, Mikazuki Augus is Gundam’s first true antihero. Despite the injustices around him and heinous acts committed to his comrades, he is less motivated by justice than he is by his death pact with his closest friend. And the tragic part of this, as exemplified by his skewed grasp of love and companionship, is that the show accepts this fact, veering away from a stilted, though somewhat desired, redemption arc. 

Iron Blooded Orphans may be a step in the right direction, but it often feels like a half step. Because the series is so willing to delve into uncomfortable and relevant topics, it is all the more disappointing that this series is ultimately a shallow dive. Mentions of the Calamity War do their part to justify the existence of Gundams and Gjallarhorn. However, discussions are so vague and distant that there is little sense of continuity between those events and the present tale. Also, for every opportunity taken to portray the injustices and brutality of the universe, the show can seem rather toothless at other times, overly relying on exposition. The series resolution also falls into old franchise-plaguing traps. Despite Kudelia’s nuances, her ploy to set change in motion feels below this series in terms of sophistication, falling back on the princess of peace trope. It’s rather frustrating in the face of the plot being carried out by obligatory Char clone McGillis Fareed. Though his motivations remain vague, his devious long game shows promise for the upcoming second season.

Iron Blooded Orphans is the first Gundam series not to feature a beam saber. This may seem like a superficial observation, and it is, until one realizes how fundamentally different fight scenes play out here. No time is wasted pretending that mobile suits are meant to sortie in stylish and artfully choreographed duels. Rather, combat is barbaric and downright violent. When a mobile suit is damaged, it’s easy to forget that they are not humans but machines. Action sequences, though relatively scant, are ultimately more satisfying through the buildup around them. The anime’s atmosphere is defined by its slow escalation of music. Its battle theme is a piece in two parts, opening with a melancholic classical guitar melody. Once tension is set, it is overtaken by a sweeping violin chorus that cries the taking of no prisoners.

Director Nagai Tatsuyuki and writer Okada Mari have done the unexpected and proven that Gundam can remain relevant on the small screen in an anime landscape where mecha is somewhat of a dead genre. To an extent, the direction taken is an obvious one, but not one that has been explored as well within the franchise or recent anime. It is unfortunate that the series ends feeling like there was leaps and bounds more to do with the concept and world. But with the story being only half over, Iron Blooded Orphans is looking to be the most well-realized Alternate Universe Gundam to date.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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