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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

Or, use one of my product affiliate links.
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS – SEASON ONE [BLU-RAY+DIGITAL HD]
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS - SEASON ONE [BLU-RAY+DIGITAL HD]

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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.

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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.

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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 48

Review:

Please note: Major episode spoilers below – no attempt to conceal details.

Orphans48

There was a lot of Orga focus in this episode, for good reason. What I particularly liked is that Orga’s screen time didn’t suddenly advance, and other than one flashback (which we’ve seen before from a different perspective) we didn’t dwell on the past. Instead, we looked at how the other characters were viewing Orga and their relationship with him after everything Tekkadan has been through.

And of course, from fairly early on it is inevitable where all this is leading. I did like the set up though for the final blow and I love that Orga went out protecting his family (and thank-you writer who decided not to kill Ride because I was really tense as I expected collateral damage on this one).

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So yes, Orga has been killed and now I just have to wonder, what will Mikazuki do?

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 47

Review:

This is like watching a collision in slow motion. You know the impact is coming and you know it is going to be bad but you’re just kind of inching toward it. This episode saw them finally arrive back on Mars but with no allies and no money, Tekkadan really has no chance. Zack is about the only one with a brain for bailing but even then I think he’s going to have trouble given they seem pretty determined to wipe out Tekkadan.

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And I love how they threw this line in from Kudelia but then backtracked and said they weren’t sure. Though it kind of seems like they are doing everything possible to raise a death flag for Atra.

Anyway, my emotional investment is still gone and this episode didn’t do much to bring it back. Tekkadan willingly threw themselves at this conflict naively believing things would work out because they did before. It kind of just seems like a logical consequence of that and while its tragic and all it isn’t as though they couldn’t have avoided this whole mess with some smarter decision making earlier on.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 42

Review:

And so Tekkadan cuts ties with their allies and avenges the deaths of Naze and friends. Points for acting on emotions and drama but this is hardly a master plan and now things are unraveling fast. The fight was almost anti-climatic given the cowardice  and weakness of the enemy and really this whole situation was just a catalyst to push Tekkadan onto a path of no-return for the remainder of the series. However, even the show seemed to realise it had been awhile since we had some heavy handed reminders of where Tekkadan came from and why they were supposedly fighting, so cue some throw away dialogue about being human and a very brief reminder that human-debris are still a thing in the universe. This show is working but I’m definitely feeling like we’re going through the motions at this point rather than really experiencing the events.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 41

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.