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

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in June 2016 and can be found here.

If I’m honest, I’m not so much editing the review on this one as reformatting it. This was one of my experiments with lists that just ended up looking hideous. Let’s see if I can fix it.

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 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.

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).

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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.

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.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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March Podcast for Patrons – Mecha Anime

This month I turned my attention to Mecha anime in my podcast for patrons (patrons, if you are wanting the password for the podcast post, it is available on my patreon site for you). If you are interested the following anime are discussed:

  • Evangelion
  • Gundam
  • Full Metal Panic
  • Star Driver
  •  Knights of Sidonia
  •  Heavy Object
  • Code Geass
  • Darling in the Franxx

If you are interested in becoming a patron and accessing the monthly podcast or patron only episode reviews, please visit my patreon site. I am going to continue to work towards creating better content and a greater variety of content and I really appreciate your support.

Goals - March 2018

Once I reach $50 a month I plan to hopefully release a video post for patrons (and once I get better at making videos doing this with some frequency).

At $100 a month I plan to remove WordAds from my site which means patron only posts will not have any advertising attached to them.

At $300 a month, in addition to patron videos that will hopefully be more regular by then, I will produce 1 video post a month for the blog which patrons will have early access to. Increasing that to 2 video posts a month at $500. Though these are goals at this point in time and will need to be reviewed as I get closer to these targets.

However, I would love to know what you would like to see on the blog and if you become a patron what you would like to see as a reward. Be sure to let me know in the comments of visit my patreon site and give me some feedback.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to see Patreon2more great content on this blog, consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month.

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Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

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Iron Blooded Orphans Season 2 Series Review

Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 46

Overview:

Previously I reviewed season 1 of Iron Blooded Orphans so you can check that out here.

Season 2 pretty much picks up with Tekkadan trying to make it as a legitimate business but through various business and political maneuvers as well as some poor decision making we see our orphans going back into battle.

I reviewed this week to week so if you want to know my thoughts on individual episodes click here.

Review:

I’ve made no secret in the past that Gundam and I have a love/hate relationship. The first season of Iron Blooded Orphans was great. I really got into the characters because the orphans had some great chemistry (individual characters didn’t fare so well but as a group they were charming to watch face off against everything that stood in their way). So season 2 should have been fine.

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For the most part it is actually fine. The problem is that it doesn’t ever do anything more than fine. This is actually going to be a short review because if you’ve watched any Gundam show you know the basics of how they go anyway. And if you haven’t the Orphans is hardly the starting place even if it is fairly stand-alone.

Tekkadan is now established as a force to be reckoned with and realistically Orga should have been able to run the company legitimately with no further fuss. Yet this is Gundam and we have 25 episodes to fill, so let’s over-complicate things horribly with conspiracies within various organisations and hidden motives everywhere.

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I guess the question really comes down to what did season 2 really accomplish?

Season 1 had a clear purpose. The orphans overthrew the company that had pretty much enslaved them and then used their skills to get Kudelia to earth so that she could help Mars not be totally exploited. It had drive all the way through. The villains were clear and their purpose was simple. Stop Kudelia. Some of them were trying to do that to keep the status quo, while others had personal profits on the line, but it was all very clear.

But season 2 loses this sharp focus as motives and goals fragment across multiple organisations. Even the orphans spend a lot of the first half flitting between possible goals before they throw in behind McGillis (which is a really stupid move) and we finally move toward the, at that point, inevitable tragic end.

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However, you don’t care about this conflict. Season 1 made you care because you wanted the orphans to find a place and you wanted Kudelia to succeed. In season 2, the orphans have a place but they end up over-reaching and lose it. You can’t even see Rustal Elion as an actual villain because basically he’s doing his job (using somewhat underhanded and unethical methods at times). But we don’t get a motive from him and he doesn’t seem overly personally invested in the conflict.

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So there’s no clear purpose, the conflict is pretty much pointless, and there’s no villain to really speak of (though plenty of despicable human beings if that’s enough for you). There’s also very little in the way of character development for our main cast. They learn a little but mostly are fixed where they were during season 1.

Orphans45

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any thing going for this season. There are some spectacular space battles and lots of giant robots smashing each other into bits. Those who watch Gundam for the bang, crash, zwing sound effects will be really pleased. Plus, there’s a nice character death count by the end, though more of the orphans survived than I initially suspected would.

Orphans50c

Basically, I found season 2 watchable, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. It didn’t grab me the way season 1 did and while the end is satisfying enough, I’m still wondering exactly what the overall point of season 2 was supposed to be.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 50

Review:

This ends exactly as you would expect though I will give them points for one or two surprises (such as Ride’s future which I didn’t see coming). Still, any potential character growth for Mikazuki ends rather abruptly mid-episode much as it should given what they were up against.

Orphans50b

However, the general tone of the episode is reflective. More importantly, after all is said and done and all the battles and fighting, things resume pretty much the status quo. There’s some changes in how the different organisations are run and Mars does gain a bit more freedom, but these are changes that could have come about just through negotiations if people had been willing to talk. And overall, the people in charge are still the people in charge. Given the massive cost and number of deaths Gundam remains true to its general message that war really doesn’t get us very far.

Orphans50c

While you can mostly pick where the characters will be in the future, the second half of this episode progresses through them one by one and we see where they have ended up. For the most part this is satisfying, though very little is as satisfying as seeing Iok finally get his on the battle field.

All and all, I didn’t love this second season but it holds it together well enough. I’ll do a full review soonish.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 49

Review:

Orga’s death hits Tekkadan hard but Mikazuki actually takes some initiative, even if he is just using Orga’s words to rally the others followed by the blunt threat of violence. I’m not sure if this counts as development or not but it is more proactive than we have seen Mikazuki before.

Orphans49b

Spoilers below.

Someone finally killed McGillis. Seriously, that needed to happen episodes ago. He was a pathetic character and once his grand plan was revealed to be pretty much nothing his existence had become pretty superfluous. His death was fortunately not particularly grandiose nor did it have much impact on any of the events still in motion which is kind of the inconsequential death he deserved at that point.

Anyway, pretty much the guys from Tekkadan that we still actually know the names of are out buying time while everyone else hopefully escapes. Given Hush has already died and the others are well out-numbered I’m wondering what the final count will be next episode and whether or not the others will actually escape or if all of this is all for nothing.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Karandi James.

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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 45

Review:

This episode is essentially the battle that we’ve been heading towards for quite awhile. Though with so little reason to care given Tekkadan threw themselves willingly into the hopeless conflict, McGillis’ plan was pretty much nothing, and given none of the other players have mattered in the slightest, essentially this is just watching bits of metal beat and shoot each other into space debris. Even the known character who died at the end of the episode couldn’t really create an emotional response given again, his death was so obvious and he willingly threw himself at it. While I genuinely had a great time watching season 1, season 2 of this show has been mostly tedious and to be honest I really don’t care who wins this battle or who survives. Still don’t want Atra to die but I’m struggling to see how she’s going to survive at this point.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Karandi James.

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Friday’s Feature: We’ve Got a Problem Here – Man vs Man

For the month of March I’ve decided I’m going to focus on the negative. Quite literally. I’m going to focus my features this month on exploring types of conflict in stories using examples from anime. To start off with I decided to go with the most straight forward: Man vs Man.

Or Human vs Human.

Or Alien Robot Thing vs Interstellar Goop.

Whatever works for you. What’s improtant about this type of conflict is that there are at least two sides each represented by a character or group of characters. Pretty much every Gundam series ever nails this type of conflict by setting up different factions with conflicting agendas and then the story sits back and waits for the inevitible chaos.

gundam35

This type of conflict works for a few simple reasons.

01. Generally the goals fo the opposing forces are known and clear. This guy wants to save the girl that the other guy kidnapped. That army wants to overrun that land and the army over there wants to stop them. This girl is going to hunt down the guy who killed her father and return the favour, meanwhile the guy doesn’t want to die. Whether the audience sees all perspectives or not is irrelevant. We pretty much know who is who and what they want.

02. Because the characters have opposing goals, they are moving toward each other and the story pushes them into conflict adding excitement and tension to the story. Basically, because they all want things, they are actively seeking them out and this gives plenty of opportunities for interactions, skirmishes, surprise ambushes, negotiations, or any of dozens of other things that could make the story interesting.

03. People get it. They face conflict with other people every single day so when they see a character getting blocked from achieving their goal they can relate. They also get really happy when the ‘bad’ guy gets taken down because it gives them some vicarious satisfaction that somehow their obstacles will eventually get mowed down.

How does this work in anime?

Like most medium for story telling anime has done pretty much everything imaginable with this particular theme however where we see it most obviously is in action anime.

Case 1: Bleach (Not yet reviewed)

While there are other types of conflict driving the events of Bleach from time to time (with over 300 episodes you would hope it was more complex than he stole my chewing gum), the story continues to come back to the idea of man vs man.

ichigo

In the early seasons, Ichigo literally works his way up through increasingly stronger opponents to reach his goal of saving Rukia. It’s why the first seasons of Bleach are incredibly satisfying. After a season of learning how to kind of be a shinigami, Ichigo has a simple goal placed in front of him. Save Rukia from execution in Soul Society. The audience gets this, they respect that goal, and most of the viewers want to see Ichigo succeed.

However, the various shinigami of Soul Society don’t want Ichigo to succeed (and yes we do cross a little into Man vs Society but for the most part Ichigo isn’t focussed on bringing the society down, just the next opponent standing in front of him). The shinigami he faces have a variety of motivations, which ultimately keep the story interesting, but their goal is simple. Stop the intruder. Once again, the audience gets this goal. Ichigo has barged into a world he doesn’t belong in and is disrupting things. It makes sense that those who live there are choosing to defend it.

ichigo-v-ikkaku

Ichigo vs Ikkaku is a great example of this. While Ikkaku isn’t exactly the hard working drone of society, he does love a good fight and Ichigo more or less falls into his lap (which results in the lucky dance, and please let us never remember that). I like this battle for a few reasons. Ichigo isn’t yet ridiculously overpowered and it really is just grit and determination that keep him from being seriously killed (that and Ikkaku isn’t really being too serious which costs him). I also like Ichigo’s logic as to why he chooses to fight rather than run, as a certain other character did. His decision to stand and fight wasn’t totally pig-headed for once but rather a simple understanding that if Ikkaku was stronger than him, running was not going to help. Ichigo essentially has to cut Ikkaku down in order to continue his quest to save Rukia because Ikkaku is not going to back away from this fight.

Ichigo v Kuchiki.png

However, it is Ichigo vs Byakuya that most clearly expresses this idea of opposing goals. Byakuya is 100% convinced that he must follow the law and so has personally made it his absolute duty to ensure Rukia’s execution is carried out in accordance to the law, even though she’s his adopted sister. This fight is one of the best in Bleach and comes as Ichigo’s power is really coming into its own. What really works about this conflict is that we’ve seen these two characters coming toward each other for quite some time and we knew by this time that neither character could or would back down. While the outcome is kind of obvious, it is definitely a fight worth watching, although you are advised to watch out for cheesy shonen dialogue being shouted mid-battle.

Case 2: Death Note (Not yet reviewed)

Alright, let’s take the swords, bows, and other pointy weapons away and look at this type of conflict in a more modern setting. Modern but with a note book that can kill you. Arguably, Light and L absolutely define the man vs man conflict. From the contrasting blue and red colours they are painted in during the opening to their declaration that they both represent justice (and cannot both be right) everything about Death Note pits these two against each other. There are other characters hunting Kira down but we all know that this story revolves around these two characters and the mind games they play with one another.

death_note

What works particularly well about this story is that both characters have strengths and weaknesses. L has the power of the police and large information networks for much of the story meanwhile he is missing the crucial bit of information he needs. That is, he doesn’t know about the existence of the Death Note and even once that is revealed he is given false information as to how it works which throws him off. Light on the other hand has access to police information, knowledge of the notebook and death gods, but has a massive ego and tends to act rashly when provoked.

Watching these two maneuvre around each other and manipulate situations to try to get more information is truly fantastic and one of the best man vs man conflicts I’ve watched. What is really fascinating is that you honestly don’t know which side you want to see win. Yes, Kira is a mass-murderer and Light progressively becomes more unhinged as the story goes on (or was always unhinged and finally revealed it). But, he is taking out criminals and the world is changing. More importantly, we spend time with Light early on and he’s a charming character. While you probably wouldn’t want to meet him in real life, as a character you are sympathetic to his cause and as he is arguable the protagonist of the duo he is kind of the one you are positioned to stand behind. L on the otherhand is introduced later and it takes a fair while before he becomes anything more than an intriguing idea in the story. By the time you warm up to him, it is hard to really want his victory even though technically you know Light should be stopped.

I won’t spoil how this ends for those who haven’t seen it but it is definitely a story to check out.

Conclusion

While man vs man might seem like an overused plot line, when used well it can be highly effective and entertaining. That doesn’t stop lazy writing from causing some big problems. Like what happens when there is no opposition worth noting or the opposition exists but you don’t really know why they care about stopping the protagonist. We see this a lot in romantic storylines where a girl will declare herself a rival but other than being painful they serve no point in the story and mostly we all just wish they would go away so we could focus on the actual relationship and its genuine drama rather than plot contrived ones (not looking at Orange).

So let’s open this up. I’d love to hear what your favourite man vs man conflict in an anime is and why.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 43

Review:

After so many episodes of talking and set-up we finally know what this has been heading towards. The problem is, that it isn’t such an awesome reveal. In point of fact it’s pretty lame. One three hundred year old machine and Fareed thinks he can take on the world.

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I guess the only question left is with Tekkadan stick with this guy until the end or will they also fall out with him once they really his plan is bonkers? Or worse, will he actually succeed? That would be depressing.

That said, we do get a lovely and dramatic return including a line that makes no logical sense but is great for an over the top stage quote, complete with pose.

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There were a few of these moments in this episode. Mikazuki letting the wrapper fly out of his hands just as Orga says they had something in their grasp was another incredibly subtle Gundam irony. For all that the first season of Orphans did a few things we haven’t really seen in Gundam before, the latter half of that season and all of season 2 has pretty much fallen back into the traditional patterns and I’ve become increasingly less engaged with the story as we’ve gone because everything that made the characters interesting has gradually been removed.

It isn’t terrible its just increasingly not really my thing.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 40

Review:

For anyone who has ever asked me what any Gundam story is about, episode 40 of Iron Blooded Orphans kind of defines it. Multiple factions seeking their own goals (mostly selfish ones) taking questionable actions in defence of either pride, honour, life, or some other motivator that makes backing away impossible, and the end result is usually a fairly cool space battle ending in deaths which will first be mourned and then will later give rise to yet more violence.

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It’s taken Orphans a longer time to get to this point in season 2 than a lot of other Gundam stories but ultimately this is where we are and while Naze’s death is tragic it was most definitely inevitable at this point. What annoys is how incredibly pointless it was (even though most actions in Gundam end up being pointless given even if you manage to save a life it will most likely still be ended before the final episode).

orphans40

Orga is the one I am really concerned about. I loved the positioning in this scene though with the symbol for Tekkadan prominently behind him showing us exactly why he couldn’t just act on his desire to help the Turbines. Though, maybe this inner turmoil and angst is pointless when you consider what Iok used against the Turbines. Would Tekkadan have actually made a difference to the outcome?

All and all, this episode really moves things forward from the political manoeuvering that has dominated a lot of this season and it kind of looks like events are getting firmly locked in place. The only question that remains is who will be left standing once all the moves are played?

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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