Review/discussion about: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Roses are red. Violets are blue. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans makes for a pretty flower, too.
Iron-Blooded Orphans (reduced to this title because it’s cool as all get out) centers on a large group of kids who, for one reason or another, have found themselves ditched by society. As they get mistreated at the hands of the higher-ups, Kudelia, the famous leader of the recent Martian civil-rights movement, arrives at their base, shaking up events on an interplanetary scale.
From the very beginning, the anime follows this ragtag group of children as they deal with two fronts simultaneously: societal investigation and futuristic warfare.
On the societal side, Tekkadan (the new name of their group) highlights the difficulties that people in their position endure. They are treated as worthless when they are abandoned to act as a decoy. They are seen as monsters when others catch a glimpse of the Alaya-Vijnana on their backs. They are given no remorse by the government or those in power.
It’s not just them, either. The everyday people of Mars are on the verge of economic collapse caused by foreign (planet) affairs, and hard-pressed laborers are forced to take drastic measures as their living conditions and wages reach all-time lows.
Granted, the juxtaposition between the elite and the dirt can be a teeny tiny bit heavy-handed at times. Literally having a “Human Debris” designation for some of the cast members makes this statement more than arguable.
Nevertheless, Iron-Blooded Orphans sticks to its (robot) guns, bolstering one of its most prominent themes: the little guy can defeat the big guy. Kudelia’s pleas to the government as well as the people allows each to come to agreements that protect those on Mars and those on Earth. And Tekkadan traverses across the solar system, completing their mission despite the immense troubles that plagued their path.
Simultaneously, the anime incorporates its familial theme. Again, it’s hard to miss in regards to Tekkadan. They live together. They go to “school” together. They fight for each other together. They are orphans, most not bound by blood, but that makes them no less a family. Because family is not defined by something so scientific as genetics. It’s defined by the feelings, the thoughts, the connections held between them.
Once more, it’s not just them that focus on the familial. Naze’s harem, while unconventional, is a family for him and the other women. On a broader scale, the labor union is a family. And, on an even broader scale, the unfortunate people of Mars are a family, too.
The magic is when this and the previous theme are harmonized. I.e., according to Iron-Blooded Orphans, in order for the little guy to defeat the big guy, family is required. Tekkadan sacrifice themselves for their brothers. The labor union reach a peaceful agreement. The people of Earth vote to save the people of Mars.
Again, they aren’t the families people normally think of, and it’s not literally “family wins the day.” Instead, the anime’s mindset that family is what one makes of it, that family makes the impossible possible, ties together its political issues with the themes it touts.
This familial theme is indirectly related to one of the show’s bigger problems. Namely, not letting background information sink in long enough. On two obtuse occasions, the anime, for some reason, decides it well within reason to immediately and conveniently follow-up on previously unknown information: Akihiro’s younger brother and Biscuit’s older brother.
Disregarding the fact that they both deal with a long-lost brother (which is already iffy), the anime drops this information followed immediately with using it. Build-up is traded in favor of at-the-ready drama, leading to said drama falling flat.
To be fair, it can handle such narrative points with grace. Fumitan’s conflicting actions and Mikazuki’s bracelet he received from Atra come to mind. Meaning not every example reeks of poor execution.
This all still leaves the other side of the anime: Mobile Suit battles. This show derives from the Gundam series, after all, so it wouldn’t do to ignore what amounts to about half of the season and one of the main draws of the series.
Surprisingly, despite the blackness of space, the anime does well in differentiating the fights that ensue. One takes place within a cluttered asteroid field, impairing vision and creating obstacles. One involves the group careening their ship into an orbital station. One occurs on two fronts – on a guarded bridge and on a deserted field.
But Iron-Blooded Orphans’ greatest achievement with its battles comes from incorporating the “space-rat” motif. Many of the fights are uncouth. Mikazuki ignores the formal duel offer, choosing to strike first instead. The boys use an extra ship to shield themselves from oncoming fire. And they purposefully narrowly miss crashing into an enemy ship to plant infiltrators. Tekkadan is treated as dirty, so they play dirty in retaliation.
Not all of the fights are peachy, though. Ein always protecting Gaelio, and perhaps one-too-many just-in-the-nick-of-time saves, turns the fights from thrilling experiences into repetitive altercations. Plus, the anime shies away from killing off more of its characters – especially when it appears that will happen (e.g., when “new” Ein takes out Shino’s, Lafter’s, and Azee’s Mobile Suits).
Altogether, the narrative is, much like what its title touts, a mixed offering.
Despite the space setting of Iron-Blooded Orphans, its art and animation remain relatively in strong standing.
Especially when considering the contrasts. Mars is a barren, reddened wasteland where mountains reign and sand occupies. The various spaceships – with their metallic, compartmentalized layout – add a sense of structure and familiarity; a home away from home. Earth’s greens and blues and yellows make it into an ideal, a goal worth fighting for.
Playing devil’s advocate, these separate locations are not awe-inspiring. Mars is just mountains. The spaceships are just hallways. Earth is just trees. But, again, when looked at together, they tell a story all their own.
Actual animation sits somewhere around average. While the various robot battles (and there are quite a few of them) see much in the way of clashing, dodging, and destroying, downtime does not have the same level of movement. Understandably, characters are often found standing around the ship or sitting at cafeteria tables.
The character designs are likewise mixed in their execution. Some of the enemies, such as Kudal and Brooke, while detailed and symbolic in their looks (the former is dressed in green with a snake tongue, and the latter is pudgy with a pig nose), they are a bit too animalistic when compared to the grounded, more realistic designs of the other characters.
Orga’s design is silly, too. His faded-purple hair, with its one blade that slices across his face, is almost cartoonish.
But the other characters’ designs are cared for. Kudelia’s long blonde hair, purple eyes, and red, frilly dress give her an air of both beauty and royalty – perfect for the savior princess. Mikazuki’s short stature and seemingly weak build makes his commanding of the Gundam all the more impressive. And the stark contrast between the regal outfits of the soldiers of Gjallarhorn and the ragtag coats of Tekkadan adds more to the little-guy-versus-big-guy motif.
No matter which design is investigated, the crisp lines, sharp eyes, and various minor details (buttons, necklaces, etc.) add even more flair.
(As a side note, some of the cast members love to close just one of their eyes. Especially Orga. He should really see an eye doctor about that….)
The various robot designs also deserve an inspection. In short, they reflect the disposition of the characters themselves. Fareed’s uses two swords and stands in a classy manner, coinciding with his finesse. Lafter’s is quick and energetic just like her personality. Akihiro’s uses a shield as an homage to the one person he failed to protect.
Perhaps obviously, Mikazuki’s Gundam is particularly intriguing. Barbatos’s mainly white, multicolored frame not only helps to make it stand out among the blackness of space, but also it symbolizes the purity of Tekkadan’s mission and the colorful life in which they wish to lead.
One of the more surprising parts to Iron-Blooded Orphans is its characters.
More specifically, the anime actually does a nice job of cycling through its huge cast. Yes, certain characters do garner more attention than others – Kudelia, Mikazuki, and so on. And rightly so. They are, after all, the main protagonists. But that doesn’t take away from the apparent development of the side characters.
The most surprising comes from Shino. During Tekkadan’s run to save Akihiro’s younger brother and fend off the encroaching pirates, Shino leads a team of men aboard the enemy ship. Unfortunately, many lives are lost. Shino blames himself for their deaths, believing that he “wasn’t good enough” to save them.
As a result, he chooses to pilot one of the extra Mobile Suits. This decision not only gives him the opportunity to “make amends” for “failing” to protect his family, but also it pushes him away from leading others because he feels that he is better suited being responsible for him and him alone.
This small focus on the side characters happens all over.
Fumitan hated Kudelia’s naïveté, going so far as to double-cross her despite the time and relationship they had built together. But she sacrifices herself for the girl whose sincere wish would aid the people of the solar system.
Biscuit regularly objected to Orga’s dangerous decisions. He argued that, given their situation, a more rationale, more safe, solution could potentially be found and pursued. Their feud apexes when Biscuit declares he will be leaving Tekkadan. He later perishes during battle, and, later still, Orga learns that Biscuit decided against his initial decision because he knew that this goal was one they fought for and shared together.
Eugene usually seems hesitant to join in on the action but reluctantly does so anyway. However, he is regularly given second-in-command duty and control of the ship presumably because nobody else can handle the position. Indeed, when he does take the reins, he proves his capabilities as a commander.
The main cast is different. Although not always in a positive nature.
Mikazuki is most notable as a negative. He has two prerogatives: follow Orga’s orders and kill. As such, he is resolute, remorseless in his dealings with others. The anime makes it a point to point out (somewhat heavy-handedly) that he enjoys killing, but that doesn’t seem to affect him much. In fact, the beginning of his character shows him not flinching from murdering another.
In other words, Mikazuki’s only role is to man the Gundam Barbatos. Unfortunately, that also means he’s not much of a character since he simply walks around without expressing emotion and acting generally uninteresting. The total result makes him arguably the worst character in Iron-Blooded Orphans.
Orga is nowhere near as lame as Mikazuki. Orga is the leader, the one that almost everybody (especially Mikazuki) looks up to. So he acts accordingly. He takes the abuse instead of his family. He remains tough in front of the younger children. He shoulders the burden of the harder choices that Tekkadan has to make.
So it makes sense that his character develops, or at least is influenced, by the other characters that surround him. Naze represents the leader he wants to be: calm, determined, and steadfast. Merribit challenges the “child” within him. Biscuit makes him question whether or not the path they have chosen really is the right one.
Now, both Mikazuki and Orga have a history together, a backstory. Yet it goes unexplored. To be fair, a second season awaits, so presumably the show will set aside time to flesh out them and their relationship some more. Meaning, for now, some leniency is acceptable for this close duo.
Two important characters, the best that this first season of Iron-Blooded Orphans has offer, remain: Kudelia and Fareed.
Kudelia is arguably the strongest character in the anime (either her or Fareed). Growing up, she never fully understood the conditions that the majority of people were living in on Mars. Her candy-giving scene demonstrates just how out of touch she was with reality.
Granted, she was just a kid. But her being “just a kid” continues into the present where, despite fighting for and spearheading the Martian revolution, she still has yet to truly experience what the common person goes through.
Her time with Tekkadan opens her eyes. Mikazuki sees her as selfish. She witnesses the brutality of war. The various sacrifices, outcomes, and problems that the kids have to constantly put up with. Her journey from Mars to Earth is something she has never experienced.
All the while, she feels useless. And, to some extent, she is. She cannot man the Mobile suits or help with the supplies or fight on the ground. So she does what she can. From cleaning dishes to delivering the kids their lunches, she tries to make herself useful.
It’s not enough, though. At least, not enough to Kudelia. She understands that she is a symbol of hope. A person capable of solving the issues on Mars and elsewhere.
Thus, she does what only she can do: speak. She uses her voice to instill compassion. Morality. Hope. The speeches she gives and the words she uses do not topple Mobile Suits, but, when all is said and done, it’s clear that her voice is powerful enough to move planets.
Fareed also stands above the other cast members. Grabbing the front of his hair when thinking, he is a tactical, deliberate man. He’s meant to be engaged to Gaelio’s younger (much younger) sister, he is the “son” of Gjallarhorn’s top dog, and he commands a fleet all his own.
Initially, Fareed appears to be just another bad guy. But as the story unfolds, it becomes quite clear that he has greater ambitions in mind. Throughout the season, the audience sees him acting gentlemanly towards both his bride-to-be and the friends he has grown up with. Yet, and more importantly, he detests Gjallarhorn’s corruption.
His allegiance gets called into question when he chooses to support Tekkadan, giving them the means to make it to Earth’s surface. Seemingly, he wants Kudelia to succeed.
And by the end, Fareed’s sinister ploy comes to fruition. He coerced Gaelio to integrate Ein, the subordinate looking to avenge his mentor Crank, not to save the boy but to use him as a means to slander his father-in-power. He married Gaelio’s younger sister to obtain more connections. He abandoned Carta to get her out of the picture. All in an effort to take over Gjallarhorn and change it from within, making him quite the strong main antagonist.
Sadly, and again, the show’s improper backstory handling causes Fareed to be not as strong character-wise as he could have ultimately been. While his childhood is briefly shown, it’s not enough to get a clear grasp on the hatred he holds towards his father as well as the stinging betrayal he commits towards both Gaelio and Carta.
Iron-Blooded Orphans makes the all-too-common mistake of replacing its killer opening and ending tracks in favor of ones that are much less appealing.
The first OP is adrenaline-pumping, catchy, and fun. Shouting “Raise your flag!” and trying to sing along with the Japanese lyrics may seem silly to anyone listening, but it’s difficult to ignore the vocalist’s charge and the charging tune. The second OP, in comparison, does have some strong guitar playing, but the piece doesn’t come together as naturally, as flavorful as its previous iteration.
The ED’s are quite similar. Arguably speaking, the first ED is the strongest track out of the four. The docile singer’s voice, the blues accompaniment, and the grandiose tone it adopts fits both the spacefaring group and the majestic nature of the Gundam and their mission. The second ED is a big step down. While the vocalist certainly has range, the combination of the instruments, beat, and sudden drop-off in the track itself do not hold the same level of intricacy as before.
Listening to the rest of the original soundtrack, it follows (thankfully) in the footsteps of the first OP and ED, consisting of many strong tracks that both fit the anime well and demonstrate care in their arrangements. Some examples follow below.
“Barren Land” feels like the emptiness of space with its repetitive pounding.
“Strengths Focus” combines acoustic guitar and xylophones to create a quick fervor.
“Lady Kudelia” uses piano and violins that are soft, delicate in their delivery – a nice fit for the hope-inspiring princess.
“Military Scheme” sounds sinister and foreign in its plotting.
And “Fallen Flower” goes ultra-somber as it slows everything down.
As for voice acting, while everyone involved does more or less a nice job, no notable shout-outs are to be had. At the minimum, the sound-effects for the colliding Mobile Suits, gunshots, and different weapons gave their battles the weight they deserved.
This iteration of Gundam is my first exposure to this universe, and I can happily declare that I am a fan.
I liked how Mikazuki always wrecked the competition (even if his character was weak). I could always depend on him to use his spear, clamp, and katana to eviscerate the enemy. His friends, from Masahiro to Lafter, brought their own fighting flavor, too. Masahiro with his shield and Lafter’s no-arm speed made the various robot skirmishes a lot of fun to watch.
I also appreciated the miniscule nods to romance. Kudelia’s reaction afterwards to being kissed by Mikazuki, as well as Atra liking the possibility of multiple wives a la Naze and his harem, made me smile. I was also rooting for the possible romantic relationship between Orga and Merribit. Orga is a tough yet kind dude who looks older than he is and Merribit is a tough yet kind woman who looks younger than she is. Opposites attract and what-not.
Can’t forget about Fareed; it’s hard to do so regardless. Betraying both the person who raised him and his best friends, all in a cold, logical, and believable manner? He’s a heartless son, friend, and person in general – and it’s awesome.
Some of the drama, like Akihiro’s brother’s death, could tread into strained territory. And many of the villains, like Todo or Kudal, were a bit too lame in my eyes. But that wasn’t enough to stop me from having a lot of fun with this one.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans raises its flag to victory. While issues such as weird narrative happenings, ignored character backstory, and switching to lesser tracks exist, the story’s connected themes, the large yet focused cast, and the various flourishes in its art and music otherwise create a flower that smells like roses.
Story: Fine, societal and robotic conflicts, alongside themes on the little guy and family, are brought down by slight heavy-handedness, a couple of convenient plot points, and some repetitive, “safe” action
Animation: Good, nice artistic direction, about average actual animation, and nice character designs
Characters: Good, while Mikazuki is weak as a character, the focus on the rest of Tekkadan and Orga, as well as the strength in Kudelia and Fareed’s characters, make for an interesting cast
Sound: Fine, good first OP, okay second OP, good first ED, bad second ED, good OST, okay VA performances, and good sound-effects
Enjoyment: Good, a fun first venture into this popular universe
Final Score: 6/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3