Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Author: braverade

Hannah Brave is a staff writer for RABUJOI.

6 thoughts on “Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)”

  1. One factor that could make or break the series is, ironically (pun not intended), Mari Okada. Her track record at doing scifi dark dramas is not all that good. Her last two shots at this (Wixoss and M3), were really disappointing. However, if she is able to inject those same beautiful characterizations that she did with her best works (HanaIro, NagiAsu, ToraDora) and manages to, as you have pointed out, humanize what is essentially a 30-minute toy commercial, then we are definitely in a good path. And luckily it seems to be that way for this episode.

    As for the characters, seeing that Mika bears a striking visual resemblance to Reco’s protag Bellri, I can’t help but note that they are essentially polar opposites. Bellri being a member of the privileged elite family (and a bit of a Gary Stu), while Mika is pretty much treated as an outcast (kinda like those Kuntala people Reco mentioned but not expounded upon). As for Kudelia, here’s hoping that she doesn’t go down the same route as Aida. Also, Takahiro Sakurai seems to be channeling Shogo Makishima for his performance of McGillis. And I am guessing that Atra (that store girl who obviously has a crush on Mika) is going to be the obligatory tragicGundam love interest here.

    Finally, for some Gundam geekiness, this seems to be the first series that uses Mars as a major setting. Also, they confirmed that there is going to be 72 “Gundams” (following the theme naming for the 72 demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon). Probably the most in a series, but yay! more mecha goodies for me.

  2. The shoveling scene, it almost made me though I was watching Heavy Object.

    A heavy melee-type Gundam. Now that’s a first, for me at least.

  3. Anyone know why Mika was bleeding at the end? Is that a side effect of using Gundam? I don’t recall him being hit.

    Also, is it just me or does Orga have some sort of dark aura that may lead him to the customary Gundam villain mask? Honestly, I am just not comfortable with him pushing his kid “brother” to the front line (not to mention kill someone when they were young),

    1. I’m not sure. He may have just nicked himself at some point during the battle, or in this particular version, using the Gundam puts immediate physical strain on you (note he’s not wearing any kind of protective suit, but is just shirtless).

      There definitely seems to be a degree of guilt/regret in Orga thinking back to that day in the past when Mika killed for him, perhaps for the first time. In that way he’s kind of Mika’s dark mentor. Brother/father figure, like Kamina in Gurren Lagann, but less…pure?

    2. I really hope Orga doesn’t turn evil. One of the things I am immediately interested in with this series is the level of brutality and just sort of dirt to it.

      The setting is grungy, the kids are rough around the edges, the gundam is half-broken down looking. I’m intrigued by the idea of these two guys just sort of dragging themselves through the dirt trying to make better lives for themselves and, while hopefully succeeding in the end, having to wade through a lot of blood and potentially dark decisions to get there.

      I don’t really want Orga to turn evil and Mika to go off and join princess-girl’s nice “orb union” style hero faction. I want the setting to stay grungy as these kids try to find a place to belong.

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