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).

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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 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.

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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.

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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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.

Orphans47b

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 Orpahns Episode 46

Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 46

Review:

Shino’s death hits hard (you know, unlike the other half the cast that already died, we actually cared about Shino) and after the dust of the battle settles (or, rather Tekkadan and co scurry away to potential safety) we get the regret, the lamentation and the half-hearted I’m glad you didn’t die speeches. Yamagi offers the only purely positive moment when he esssentially tells Orga to get over himself and find some way to salvage the situation (or at least pretend it can be salvaged).

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The thing is, its all kind of meaningless at this juncture. Emotional investment in the boys from Tekkadan faded after season 1 when random new recruits and kids who hadn’t been through the same experiences joined (essentially, the group got too big to see as individuals anymore). And so far in this battle, Shino is the only significant casualty and it was so heavily foreshadowed and locked into place so early in the battle it was hardly stunning or in anyway surprising. The only surprise is the lack of core characters being dead.

By the way, if the comment about Atra looking different means she’s pregnant I’m truly terrified by her chances of survival. She’s about the only character at this point that I do care significantly about in terms of whether they make it to the end of this battle and I’m more or less ready to assume this show is going for pure tragedy given the position we find the characters in.

Iron Blooded Orpahns is available on AnimeLab.


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Karandi James.

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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 44

Review:

There was a line early in this episode that just made me laugh.

orphans44

“You all must obey me now.” Really? Because you dug up some ancient mecha. And if they don’t?

Well, clearly nobody thought that far ahead because it turns out they can choose to not obey and all he can do is clench his teeth. At least they don’t choose to oppose him (not that I care about McGillis in the slightest but if anyone from Tekkadan is going to survive that was kind of important). Still, this final fight is not looking good for anyone.

Please don’t kill Atra. It would be like swatting a really cute puppy.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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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 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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Karandi James.

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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 39

Review:

After missing this show for a few weeks it took a little bit to get back into it but fortunately this episode helped by pretty much running past all the major players and having them more or less narrate their current objective. This has been an issue for this show the whole run-time. Character motives are never clear so the characters spend a great deal of time simply stating what they are doing and why, and yet conveniently they don’t do this for information that might help the audience gain some insight into them beyond the obvious. Not a lot actually happened but since we got a nice long flashback sequence of the Turbines growing their organisation I kind of feel like the threat against them is pretty serious and maybe we’re about to lose some of the few characters we’ve kind of gotten to know and like. Anyway, I’ll have to wait until the next episode to find out because this episode ends with them running away and reminding Orga that he really shouldn’t stick his nose in to anymore trouble given he’s already got more than enough.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.


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Karandi James.

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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.

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.