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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 38

Review:

The battle is over though at a high cost to Mikazuki which then raises a lot of character questions about Mikazuki. Mostly because even though up until now he’s been relatively indifferent to most of anything and willing to do whatever Orga says, deep down I kept thinking there was more to his character and that he was keenly observing what was going on. After seeing this episode I’m now wondering if he really is just an empty vessel. Mikazuki aside, the other characters are maneuvering for position and doing damage control though while the cost of repairs to machines will be high, I somewhat suspect the damage to Orga’s calm is going to have longer lasting consequences (and in sticking with the usual pattern instead of just seeing that Orga is unsettled we have three separate characters make observations about his choices and actions – this show does not do subtle). Anyway, it feels like we’ve been on a long journey with these characters but now we’re starting to see the end point though it doesn’t look like they are going to get their happily ever after and even if some characters do it will be at a high price. Then again, it is a Gundam show so what did we expect.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.

Autumn 2016 Week 13

This is my last overview for Autumn. Though I don’t think many of the Winter shows are starting straight up so not sure what next week will bring yet. Anyway, this is my final list and tomorrow I’ve got my reflection post with the best and worst for the year as well as the result of the reader poll coming out.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this season in the comments below.
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I Must Keep Watching

  • Yuri on Ice (Ep 12 – Finished)
  • Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Ep 11 – Finished)
  • March Comes in Like a Lion (Ep 11)

March Comes in Like a Lion is odd. Not that the show itself is odd but it is more the enjoyment I get from watching it is odd. When  I step back I have to wonder why it has taken me in the way it has and while I am loving it, it is a show I will really have to think about and probably rewtach before I can really explain what’s actually good or not about it. Still wondering how it is going to stretch content for another 12 episodes but looking forward to what it does.

 

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Still On My Radar

  • Lostorage Incited WIXOSS (Ep 12 – Finished)
  • Days (Ep 24 – Finished)
  • Iron Blooded Orphans (Ep 37)
  • Bungo Stray Dogs (Ep 24 – Finished)
  • Flip Flappers (Ep 13 – Finished)
  • Izetta: the Last Witch (Ep 12 – Finished)

Lostorage Incited WIXOSS was never really brilliant but it has been consistent in its narrative and after 12 episodes I can honestly say I’m glad I watched it. Certainly there are better shows and this isn’t one I’d say was  must watch, but it was certainly worth the time this season.

This far in to Iron Blooded Orphans I’m unlikely to drop it but the last two episodes have definitely been less fun to watch and I’m currently really disengaging from the viewing experience. I’m hoping it picks back up soon.

Flip Flappers left off without really ever giving me much satisfaction. It is kind of fun to watch and visually it is gorgeous but the characters and story just never quite accomplish anything so while I liked this more than Izetta in the end it is still a series that I wish could have been better.

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Not Dropped But Not Sold On These

  • Kiss Him, Not Me (Ep 12 – Finished)
  • Trickster (Ep 12 – No episode this week)
  • Bloodivores (Ep 12 – Finished)
  • Nazotokine (Ep 12 – Finished)

Another one I am glad to see finished. Kiss Him, Not Me is probably not a terrible anime but I was never the right audience for it and watching it was more of an endurance test than anything else. Well, done now and just have to review.

 

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Dropped

  • Cheating Craft (Ep 4 – Dropped)
  • Girlish Number (Ep 1 – Dropped)
  • Nanbaka (Ep 2 – Dropped)
  • Magical Girl Raising Project (Ep 2 – Dropped)
  • Matoi the Sacred Slayer (Ep 2 – Dropped)
  • Touken Ranbu – Hanmaru (Ep 1 – Dropped)
  • To Be Hero (Ep 1 – Dropped)
  • Occult;Nine (Ep 1 – Dropped)
  • Dream Festival (Ep 1 – Dropped)

Autumn 2016 finished!

Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 36

Review:

Seriously, Iok is getting my vote for dumbest character ever and there are some really stupid characters in the Gundam universe. Other than that, this episode picks up exactly where we left off last episode, races through different dialogues with various groups of characters before going straight for a disaster bordering on tragedy. I thought they were going for a full tragedy but they didn’t knock off the Tekkadan member yet so maybe they are waiting for next episode or maybe they feel we’ve wiped out enough Orphans until we get closer to the end. The real issue is that this enemy is a wild card. It doesn’t really fit with any of the pre-existing factions and while the mobile armour falling into any of their hands might be bad, essentially its a man-made force of nature acting on instinct rather than any plan. That makes it difficult to really be all that concerned about and it doesn’t feel like it really fits with everything else Orphans has presented up until now.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Season 1 Series Review

Overview:

Mobile Suit Gundam 00: The world has been divided into three large blocs; The Human Reform League, The Union and the AEU. Each group is in control of on the orbital elevators that goes to space and is responsible for providing solar energy to the earth.  In an effort to end war, a group named Celestial Being begin carrying out armed interventions using the mobile suits known as Gundam.

Review:

I will eventually get around to rewatching the second season of this and finalise my thoughts. Like most Gundam shows when you only watch the first part it is kind of incomplete and wholly depressing. Rather than the only half-kind of depressed you end up when you watch the entire thing. That said, Gundam 00 is among my favourite of the Gundam shows out there.

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If you’ve never watched one of the Gundam shows they all more or less come down to war is inevitable but no one really wants war and war has terrible consequences that trigger yet more violence. The morals and themes are contradictory as are the actions of many of the characters but if you ever want to look at the human condition and how we seem doomed to continue our cycle of violence, Gundam has you covered. It also has giant robots and fairly cool fight sequences so will keep you entertained while it destroys your faith in humanities ability to ever overcome their basic nature.

Gundam 00 focusses on a terrorist group that were set up by a scientist 200 years ago and have been given technology that at the beginning of the series is far superior to anything the major military powers have. Essentially that means they decide who is causing conflict and then wipe them out to make the point that people shouldn’t be fighting. The fact that the 4 chosen pilots are all opposed to war even while they carry out armed interventions, and they are all aware that they are walking contradictions, makes some of the dialogue intriguing but lacks any kind of subtlety.

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What makes this particular Gundam work for me, where others don’t, is Setsuna. Taken by himself he is a fairly bland individual but in the context of the show, his history, and the relationships he creates with the other characters, he becomes fairly interesting to watch and to see the small changes that occur in him throughout the first season. Part of this is to do with meeting Marina but a lot of it has to do with his choices to find a real purpose behind his being chosen to pilot a Gundam. For a character that outwardly seems fairly passive, he is probably one of the more self-aware characters I’ve come across. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and he second guesses his actions but keeps driving forward. His existence amongst the other Gundam pilots brings out the best, and worst, in them.

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Lockon is a really fun character to get to know, but that’s about as far as it goes, until we get to the final third of this first season when Setsuna’s past is revealed. This triggers a change in Lockon that has a profound flow on effect and forces the viewer to reconsider these characters yet again.

Tieria on the other hand, just hates Setsuna from the get go but even he manages to find common ground when the thrones show up and the two learn (briefly) how to work together. Admittedly, this is a short lived truce as both Setsuna and Tieria have some more growing up to do before they’ll actually find common ground.

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The pilot who has the least to do with Setsuna is probably my second favourite character(s). Allelujah (or Hallelujah depending on which personality is in charge) gives us some of the more entertaining moments and is strangely the most human of the four gundam pilots (despite being a modified super-soldier reject harbouring an inner psycho). That said, Allelujah is the first to deviate from the carefully laid out plan when he goes out of his way to rescue civillians and is also regularly the voice of reason amongst the group. He also provides one of my favourite moments of character progress during the final battle sequence in season 1 but I’ll leave you to watch that for yourself.

In honesty though, there are too many characters. We have representative pilots from all the major blocs as well as independent movements, the leaders of the different countries and organisations, and almost everyone has an aide or a friend following them around so they have someone to talk to rather than monologueing all of their inner thoughts. The vast majority of these characters fall into the trap of becoming caught up in an endless cycle of vengeance and having no personality outside of ‘I’ll get him for…’. After awhile it becomes easier not to remember who they are or to care too much about their stories and the series allows you to not care about them.

Even those characters not actively involved in the fighting are all setting up their own agendas and while it kind of feels believable in that all of these people are out for their own ends, it doesn’t make for compelling watching.

And if you haven’t watched it, stop reading now because I’m about to spoil the end of season 1 without any kind of filter.

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Why do we not care? Because the vast majority of characters that we have met will either be dead or irrelevant by the end of the first season. Yep, we go for an all out space battle and knock off so many of the minor bit players it makes you wonder why they even let them get that far. We also take out a few major players in an attempt to elicit some real emotion from what is otherwise a cold spectacle that serves no purpose other than to reinforce the overall message that violence doesn’t stop war.

Then of course we skip 4 years and get to see where some of the survivors have ended up and that’s where the season ends and we’ll pick it up next time, but don’t worry, we already know who the new main antagonists are going to be because they did knock off the last one.

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Before I give my final thoughts though, I also want to point out that Saji and Louise get my vote for most annoying ‘civilian’ representatives in a military anime. I get that they are trying to show how innocents get caught up in events and how lives are ruined and I also get that a lot of why these two are annoying is because they are trying to show us a happy and uncomplicated life prior to war ripping it apart, but if I could go back and remove every scene involving these two I would. Saji is a pathetic doormat of a character and Louise does not allow you to feel any sympathy for her when tragedy strikes because she’s been such an overbearing drama queen prior to that moment. I really disliked this pair and felt they added little to the viewing experience.

As I said in the beginning, I will rewatch the second season and then finalise my review but if you like mecha anime or if you are wanting to try one that has some interesting characters, the core cast of this are entertaining enough and the story works even if it does try to be too complicated for its own good some times.

What are your thoughts on Gundam  00?