Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans Series Review – Rough Edges Aside, This Is Quite Interesting

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A simple overview of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans would go something like:

Orga and Mikazuki are working for a company on Mars but they and their companions are essentially treated as though they are disposable. Kudelia wants to change life on Mars for the people but needs to get to Earth to make her plea. She hires Orga and co. to get her safely to earth. (There’s a whole bunch of other political stuff going on but you can watch the series to find out all the ins and outs).

So basic plot: Girl A wants to get to Earth and team of adolescent males with various machinery are going to beat up everything between Mars and Earth to get her there.

Let me make it clear before I review, while I have watched many shows featuring Gundams, I am not a fan of the franchise only really enjoying a handful of entries in the franchise, nor do I try to work out the relationships between series and events.

Iron Blooded Orphans definitely has some appeal.

While I’ve previously expressed a general love/hate relationship with anything Gundam, Iron Blooded Orphans actually came as a pleasant surprise. I found it a really engaging watch and I actually would really recommend it to anyone.

Certainly it has some rough edges, and I’ll elaborate on those below, but it is a charming story with a group of characters that you can like, hate, laugh at, cry for, and generally believe they are real people. Sometimes they are clever, and sometimes they are sad, and sometimes they are just kids well out of their depth, but the whole time you can see them as being very human and that makes everything else in this show work.

The Boys from Iron Blooded Orphans

While watching I had to ask myself the question, why did I like this when I usually have issues getting through any Gundam series? (Meaning, I normally love some elements of Gundam anime while other sections of the plot and characterisation just make me want to scream in frustration and whether I love or hate the series usually depends on how I’ve felt during the last few episodes.) I’ve mulled this over for awhile and finally come to a few conclusions.



Firstly, Iron Blooded Orphans doesn’t character jump anywhere near as much as some Gundam stories. Yes there are different military, economic and political factions and we do see some characters from each of these, but the primary and fairly constant focus is on Tekkadan (the company Orga creates).

And, while the usual anti-war themes and conflicting ideas about the use of weapons and violence get thrown around, these seem more integrated into the plot and less in your face political statements throughout this series. Probably because at no point do these characters really get any other choice if the actually want to live and most of the members of Tekkadan aren’t really into musing about the why. They act because they have to.

While there are one or two characters included who seem to only serve the purpose of raising the moral grey areas, they are in the minority which allows themes ideas to be expressed but not detract from the story.

tekkadan

Another reason I really enjoyed Iron Blooded Orphans is Orga’s character. Protagonists in Gundam seem to fall into the categories of extremist, cry-baby, or emotionless warrior and while Mikazuki is certainly the latter of these descriptions, Orga is quite an interesting individual. The play between the two is also quite interesting and allows us to see a whole and well developed persona (even if it is split between two characters).

While some may question Orga’s overall strategy (because at times it is questionable as to whether there is a strategy), and he certainly at times fills the role of extremist, he feels to me like he grows up so much from when he initially seizes the company to the final episodes.

The fight sequences seemed really contained and focussed. Yes they were showcasing yet more robots and machines, but there weren’t three thousand side battles going on in every instance so you could see the conflict, deal with the events and then move the plot onward without tying the story up for whole episodes just showing off every single pilot’s special attack (and I know I am exaggerating the situation but sometimes it feels like battles are more in a story to show off the animation than to serve any particular plot purpose).

The story doesn’t feel needlessly rushed or drawn out at any point. Certainly there are parts where there could be more elaboration, and other parts (particularly the first period of mourning) are slow paced, but it feels right for what is happening and at no point did I just want everything to slow down so I could process events or speed up so that we could get on with things.

Other positives are the absence of bouncing Haru’s (I really find him irritating) and just the fact that I actually liked many of the main cast. Yes, they have flaws, but they aren’t trying to hard to make us see the monster lurking inside humanity that you end up despising each and every character. Lastly, the first theme song ‘Raise Your Flag‘ is brilliant. It totally fits the show and just works. The second opening, not so much, but that’s another story.

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But, we do have to give this a fair review so let’s look at the issues with Iron Blooded Orphans.

Female character treatment would be a big one. Gundam has never been great at creating female characters. They are either tomboyish to the point that they may as well be males (except for their incessant need to fall in love), used entirely as a plot device, used to manipulate the males around them, are the relegated moral voice, or are a sex object. Very few actually get to be real characters.

Kudelia and Futima are no exceptions in Iron Blooded Orphans (with one being the plot device and the other being used to show the moral conundrum faced by people). Atra get’s a little closer to true character status but the entire harem on board the other ship is kind of eye-roll worthy even if they try to make it sound like they all chose to be there. And just allowing girls to fly the giant robots is not allowing them to actually be characters.

Seriously, they’d be better off not including females than including some of these characters. And just so we are clear, I am not anti-harem shows but when there are so few female characters to have the majority of them involved in the harem is a little disappointing.

msg-ibo-naze-and-his-harem

But speaking of character development, Mikazuki does not develop as a character. He is interesting and he is a great pilot but he moves exactly no where in terms of character development from episode 1 to 25. His relationship with Orga stays the same as does his motivation throughout. He never questions what he does or why and simply asks Orga to direct him toward his next target. While this is what Orga needs at times, it does little to help his own character growth.

Then, there is little suspense in battles. You know who is going to win these fights from fairly early on. Other Gundam series actually allow the protagonists to get beaten (and beaten badly) early on and during large scale battles. Iron Blooded Orphans seemed to shy away from really inflicting pain upon their cast. Possibly because of their age, but it isn’t as though child/teen soldiers is a new concept to the franchise. But, then again, season two kind of tipped the scales in totally the other direction. But that also leads us onto the next issue with how character deaths are foreshadowed.

Seriously, the characters who will die in battles may as well wear that sign plastered to their foreheads as cliché last lines and promises are made directly before the fight. You just know they are going to their death so it robs the moment of any real emotional drama that you may have experienced. And all of the deaths seem to simply serve as plot points, like part of the road map to the final destination. Occasionally could a character be killed without warning and let us just deal with the senselessness of that death?

Finally, I have not touched on the villains of the piece at all or any of the schemes and counter schemes going on in the background because there is really no way to explain any of that without some major spoilers so I’ll just leave that to you guys. I did however, really respect the ‘mastermind’ by the end of the series if for no other reason than at least he plans ahead – and again, season two really undermines this impression so clearly the writers weren’t planning ahead.

Despite this, I’m sticking by my recommendation for Iron Blooded Orphans. It’s not too dark and heavy and it isn’t high school students bouncing around and joining clubs. It does deal with human drama but also offers some great action sequences.

However, if anyone who has watched it can figure out what either of those girls (and you know who I mean) sees in Mikazuki as a potential boyfriend, please let me know. I found him interesting as a character but other than the fact that he was handy with a gun there seemed little else to recommend him in that department.

Images from: Iron Blooded Orphans. Dir. T Nagai. Sunrise. 2015.


Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James


Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans Series Review: Raise Your Flag

Review:

While I’ve previously expressed a general love/hate relationship with anything Gundam, Iron Blooded Orphans has come as a pleasant surprise. I neither love nor hate it, but found it a really engaging watch and I actually would really recommend it to anyone.

Certainly it has some rough edges, and I’ll elaborate on those below, but it is a charming story with a group of characters that you can like, hate, laugh at, cry for, and generally believe they are real people. Sometimes they are clever, and sometimes they are sad, and sometimes they are just kids well out of their depth, but the whole time you can see them as being very human and that makes everything else in this show work.

While watching I had to ask myself the question, why did I like this when I usually have issues getting through any Gundam series? (Meaning, I normally love some elements of Gundam anime while other sections of the plot and characterisation just make me want to scream in frustration and whether I love or hate the series usually depends on how I’ve felt during the last few episodes.) I’ve mulled this over for awhile and finally come to a few conclusions.

01. Iron Blooded Orphans doesn’t character jump anywhere near as much as some Gundam stories. Yes there are different military, economic and political factions and we do see some characters from each of these, but the primary and fairly constant focus is on Tekkadan (the company Orga creates).

tekkadan

02.  While the usual anti-war themes and conflicting ideas about the use of weapons and violence get thrown around, these seem more integrated into the plot and less in your face political statements throughout this series. Probably because at no point do these characters really get any other choice if they actually want to live and most of the members of Tekkadan aren’t really into musing about the why. They act because they have to. While there are one or two characters included who seem to only serve the purpose of raising the moral grey areas, they are in the minority which allows themes ideas to be expressed but not detract from the story.

03. Orga’s character. Protagonists in Gundam seem to fall into the categories of extremist, cry-baby, or emotionless warrior and while Mikazuki is certainly the latter of these descriptions, Orga is quite an interesting individual. The play between the two is also quite interesting and allows us to see a whole and well developed persona (even if it is split between two characters). While some may question Orga’s overall strategy (because at times it is questionable as to whether there is a strategy), and he certainly at times fills the role of extremist, he feels to me like he grows up so much from when he initially seizes the company to the final episodes.

04. The fight sequences seemed really contained and focused. Yes they were showcasing yet more robots and machines, but there weren’t three thousand side battles going on in every instance so you could see the conflict, deal with the events and then move the plot onward without tying the story up for whole episodes just showing off every single pilot’s special attack (and I know I am exaggerating the situation but sometimes it feels like battles are more in a story to show off the animation than to serve any particular plot purpose).

untitled-13

05. The story doesn’t feel needlessly rushed or drawn out at any point. Certainly there are parts where there could be more elaboration, and other parts (particularly the first period of mourning) are slow paced, but it feels right for what is happening and at no point did I just want everything to slow down so I could process events or speed up so that we could get on with things.

Other positives are the absence of bouncing Haru’s (I really find him irritating) and just the fact that I actually liked many of the main cast. Yes, they have flaws, but they aren’t trying to hard to make us see the monster lurking inside humanity that you end up despising each and every character. Lastly, the first theme song ‘Raise Your Flag‘ is brilliant. It totally fits the show and just works. The second opening, not so much, but that’s another story.

However, like with any story there are some problems. Just a few, that detract from what might otherwise be a really exceptional ride.

01. Female character treatment. Gundam has never been great at creating female characters. They are either tomboyish to the point that they may as well be males (except for their incessant need to fall in love), used entirely as a plot device, used to manipulate the males around them, are the relegated moral voice, or are a sex object. Very few actually get to be real characters. Kudelia and Futima are no exceptions in Iron Blooded Orphans (with one being the plot device and the other being used to show the moral conundrum faced by people). Atra get’s a little closer to true character status but the entire harem on board the other ship demonstrates beyond a doubt that female characters do not get fair treatment. And just allowing girls to fly the giant robots is not allowing them to actually be characters. Seriously, they’d be better off not including females than including some of these characters. And just so we are clear, I am not anti-harem shows but when there are so few female characters to have the majority of them involved in the harem is a little disappointing.

msg-ibo-naze-and-his-harem

02. Mikazuki does not develop as a character. He is interesting and he is a great pilot but he moves exactly no where in terms of character development from episode 1 to 25. His relationship with Orga stays the same as does his motivation throughout. He never questions what he does or why and simply asks Orga to direct him toward his next target. While this is what Orga needs at times, it does little to help his own character growth.

03. There is little suspense in battles. You know who is going to win these fights from fairly early on. Other Gundam series actually allow the protagonists to get beaten (and beaten badly) early on and during large scale battles. Iron Blooded Orphans seemed to shy away from really inflicting pain upon their cast. Possibly because of their age, but it isn’t as though child/teen soldiers is a new concept to the franchise – though I guess season 2 fixed that.

04. The cheap deaths. Seriously, the characters who will die in battles may as well wear that sign plastered to their foreheads as cliché last lines and promises are made directly before the fight. You just know they are going to their death so it robs the moment of any real emotional drama that you may have experienced. And all of the deaths seem to simply serve as plot points, like part of the road map to the final destination. Occasionally could a character be killed without warning and let us just deal with the senselessness of that death?

Finally, I have not touched on the villains of the piece at all or any of the schemes and counter schemes going on in the background because there is really no way to explain any of that without some major spoilers so I’ll just leave that to you guys. I did however, really respect the ‘mastermind’ by the end of the series if for no other reason than at least he plans ahead. Though again, season two pokes a lot of holes in his plan.

Despite this, I’m sticking by my recommendation for Iron Blooded Orphans. It’s not to dark and heavy and it isn’t high school students bouncing around and joining clubs. It does deal with human drama but also offers some great action sequences.

However, if anyone who has watched it can figure out what either of those girls (and you know who I mean) sees in Mikazuki as a potential boyfriend, please let me know. I found him interesting as a character but other than the fact that he was handy with a gun there seemed little else to recommend him in that department.

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MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS – SEASON ONE [BLU-RAY+DIGITAL HD]
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS - SEASON ONE [BLU-RAY+DIGITAL HD]

Life Movie Review

life

Overview:

The international space station has just received a sample of a life form from Mars and decide to try to wake it up under strict containment protocols. Of course something goes wrong and an angry life form must be contained and prevented from making it to Earth.

Review:

I don’t get to see movies at the cinema very often so I was really happy that this was out during my last trip to a city. I actually saw a few movies over a couple of days including Ghost in the Shell so I’ll have to get around to writing up reviews of the others that I watched while I had the opportunity. That said, of the movies I watched, Life was probably the one that had the greatest impact on me in terms of emotional response while viewing. It doesn’t really do anything that similar movies haven’t done before, but just because it isn’t treading new ground doesn’t mean it isn’t affective at what it attempts.

Life2

The posters would have you believe that this is space horror, close quarters claustrophobic inducing tension. In fairness, there is a little bit of that but the problem is this movie goes through three distinct phases and they don’t quite manage to make an overall cohesive viewing experience. By far the weakest phase is the last one, which is unfortunate given that is what you are left with when the movie ends.

Phase 1 is the discovery phase. We meet the members of the team, suitably international in their representation for an American film and when there is a fairly small cast. Each member has different skills and backgrounds which we learn about through interactions, reports, and communications. The issue with phase 1, is that it is pretty dull. Sure, if you want to know about life living on a space station this is a nice tour (in fact they give a tour on camera to people on Earth) but unless you have watched the trailers and you know how it is going to all go wrong, there’s nothing really interesting going on.

Life3

Fortunately, I had watched the trailer, so literally every time anyone was near the later named Calvin I was tense just wondering if this was when things would get started. This movie really highlights the importance of the audiences’ expectations and how that will affect their viewing. There is nothing sinister about any of the early scenes with the life form and yet you begin looking for it and feeling tension that really isn’t there because of your expectations of where things are going to go. In this case, the trailer showing future scenes actually adds to the viewing experience.

Then we enter Phase 2. Originally there’s an accident that makes the life form seem dormant and when the guy in charge attempts to prompt it back into life, it takes that as an attack (which is fair enough but the reaction is a little extreme). Phase 2 is arguably the best phase of the movie. It is that space horror you were expecting where you are constantly on the edge of your seat and every sound effect and pause makes your heart pound. It works because Calvin is small but deadly. Highly mobile, hard to see, smart, and he can force his way inside a human and tear them apart from the inside (gross and effective given once he got in there wasn’t anything that could be done).

Life5

During this phase they are struggling to track him, reacting without thinking through consequences (which leads to some interesting issues later), and highly emotional. One of the best scenes was when the Captain was outside the space station and Calvin had latched on to the outside of her suit. I really wished she hadn’t just stayed outside but had actively pushed off at that point. Then again, there was always a chance she’d re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and they were never entirely sure if that would kill Calvin or not.

Which actually brings me to an issue I have with a lot of ‘alien’ life forms in science fiction. I get that space and other environments are a little more hostile than Earth, but what is with all these super creatures that can handle hot, cold, poison, lack of atmosphere, etc, etc. I could understand a creature being stronger against one or two of these things, but being practically invulnerable is kind of crazy. Admittedly, I’ve not met any aliens that I’m aware of so maybe these incredible creatures do exist but really Calvin was just a little too unkillable for my liking. It made the ending more or less inevitable from the beginning.

Life4

Phase 3 of the film really begins when we are down to the final two crew members. At this point, the space station is literally falling apart and they make the decision to use the escape pods. One will return to earth, the other will lure Calvin into the pod and then manually override the controls to point themselves into space. Nothing could go wrong with this plan.

For me, phase 3 was the most pointless. During phase 1 I had anticipation of what was coming to keep my emotions running high. Phase 2 genuinely had me hooked with the tension and fear for the crew. By phase 3, Calvin is now large and standard monster size so a lot of the tension had evaporated as we went into more standard monster fare. More importantly, given everything else that had happened, the pitfalls with the plan were pretty obvious so all their fancy cinematography to try to confuse you as to which pod was which was ultimately just making me dizzy rather than tense.

Despite the ending which was okay but not amazing, I really had a lot of fun with Life. While there were a couple of brutal deaths, it didn’t go overboard on the gross out factor and kept the horror to the mostly psychological rather than visual. For me this is more affective because generally speaking gross out horror with buckets of blood just makes me laugh (yes, I am strange). The actors all sell their characters. None of them are startling performances, but they are all solid enough and you can believe them for the duration.

Life1

Mostly, if you tend to like science fiction or creepy horror, this movie will work really well for at least two-thirds and even the ending isn’t too much of a let down.

If you’ve seen Life, let me know what you thought.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 35

gundam35

Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 35 Review:

Iron Blooded Orphans spent a lot of this episode in set-up mode however unlike last week, this week we get a payoff at the end with the potential for some real fun next week. Despite that, this week didn’t feel as dull as it kind of felt like we were seeing more of the changes Kudelia has been working toward since season 1 and given she’s been sidelined a lot of this season it was good  to see an acknowledgement that she is still progressing in her own way even if she didn’t just hook up with Tekkadan and go along for the ride.

I do question why anyone would even bother someone would claim that something is being done in secret when it seems like everyone knows more or less in real time that it is happening and I also wonder about how they all got to Mars that fast given previously travel and the delay has been an issue, but these are minor nit-picks rather than major issues.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James


Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 33

orphans33

Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 33 Review:

Still dealing with the fallout the characters of Iron Blooded Orphans spend a lot of this episode sitting around and talking. We have to spell out everything while still not really revealing what the final play of this series might be though Tekkadan is definitely heading for something given the current proposal in front of them.

This really leaves us with the question of  what Orga’s intentions have been?

If he just wanted a place for the orphans they passed that point ages ago. Mikazuki actually says toward the end of this episode that it’s taken longer than he thought to get to where they are going and it makes you wonder if that is Mikazuki’s not so subtle way of trying to rein Orga in from a major mistake.

So about the only definite thing from this episode is Takaki has left Tekkadan and unless something tragic happens on Earth (which is quite possible) he may end up being the smart one of the group who got out before it all fell to pieces.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James


Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 32

orphans32

Review:

Just letting you know, I am about to name characters and major events from this episode. If you count that as spoiler than please know this was a tragic episode to watch (in the best sense of the word) and I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

For everyone still with me…

It was Aston. It had to be Aston or Takaki and it was clear early in this episode it was going to be Aston and even the manner of his death was pretty heavily foreshadowed with him cautioning Takaki and reminding him that they needed to work the way they always did. So the war is finally done because the guys from Mars finally showed up, but it was all a little bit too late to stop the tragedy we’ve been edging towards for literally weeks. Only, Aston’s death, while tragic, isn’t the real take-home tragedy of the episode. It’s just your normal plot pulling heart strings and taking out a character that they worked hard to make you like after a rough entrance. The real tragedy is what happens after when they are ‘cleaning’ up from this farce of a war. I think even the writers know that there’s no emotion attached anymore when Mikazuki shoots someone in cold blood. We’re kind of used to it. So him passing the gun to Takaki… That was cold, calculated, and utterly devastating.

Orphans32b.JPG

Now, in the context of the show it is difficult to argue that Takaki didn’t have ‘the right’ given his friend had just been killed and the guy with his arms restrained behind him kneeling on the floor played a fair role in getting his friend killed. But Takaki, a character that we couldn’t have identified as anything other than the cheerful guy with the smart sister a few weeks ago, just calmly and coldly executed this guy. And then went home to his sister. Admittedly, given her reaction to his return, he’s probably a little bit broken but then the episode ended so we don’t even get to deal with the fall out.

Okay, there’s a much longer post that I could write about this episode but my 100 words are done and for anything else I’ll need to rewatch the episode and think about what I’d really like to focus on.

For now, Orphans continues to hit the right notes and while it isn’t a thrill a minute it is at least thought and emotion provoking.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.

Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 30

Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 30

Review:

Iron Blooded Orphans had a lot of fun this week setting up death flags for around half the cast. How many of them will actually end up dying remains to be seen but if the sad narration at the end of the episode is anything to go by the issue of too many characters may resolve itself. Mikazuki and Orga didn’t really get up to much this episode but that was a good thing as it gave us a chance to remember some of the other faces from season 1. Actually I started feeling really bad for Takaki this week (a character who I had been aware of previously but not paid much attention to). I’d really like him not to die (or his sister) but of all the characters this week he seems the most likely to either die in the near future or to survive after seeing all of his friends die and both options seem pretty tragic. Still, this episode show cases the flaw in Tekkadan’s entire growth after season 1. They don’t have management experience or an understanding of politics. The alliances they’ve made are ones of convenience for the other parties. And Earth and Mars are a long way apart when something goes wrong… This second season is still a bit less intense than season 1 and a bit less interesting but it is progressing the story and I do want to find out who is still breathing when we get to the end of the road.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.