Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 50 (Fin)

Once the tunnel digging is complete, everyone falls back except for Akihiro and Mika, who stand their ground and continue to buy time for their family. And while Tekkadan’s two toughest pilots put up a hell of a fight, even initially surviving a direct Dainsleif attack from orbit, they’re sufficiently softened up to allow Julieta and Iok to go in for the kill.

Akihiro gets Iok in his giant binders and crushes him, but he in turn is killed by Iok’s subordinates. Julieta, who has vowed to remain human while being as ruthless as Rustal needs her to be, beheads the bestial Barbatos Lupus Rex and raises it in triumph before her elated comrades. It is over. Mika, Akihiro are dead, and so is Tekkadan.

But life goes on, and those who survived thanks to their fallen brothers continue to follow Orga’s final order to keep moving forward. And what to you know, things end up working out both for Gjallarhorn (which reforms from within to a more democratic system under Rustal) and Mars (which gains nominal independence from Earth, as a new union under the chairmanship of Kudelia).

Kudelia and Rustal work together to end the practice of turning destitute orphans into human debris once and for all. Even without the main actors who set the stage alive to see it, and very few people remember who they even were, a measure of their ideals were realized anyway. Atra’s powerful monologue about how one doesn’t notice a flower blooming by the side of the road really drove that point home.

It helps that the “bad guys” who “won” are interesting and likable enough that years after they brutally took Orga, Mika, Macky and Tekkadan down, it’s still satisfying to see Gaelio returning to his old “frivolous” self, only now far more wiser, while Julieta has steady-competenced herself to being the likely successor to Rustal for leadership of Gjallarhorn.

Meanwhile, some survivors, among them Ride, can’t move forward without taking revenge, as he does when he assassinates Nobliss Gordon while he’s sitting on the toilet.

As for Kudelia? She’s overjoyed to learn Merribit and Yukinojou are expecting their second child soon, but can’t go out drinking with Chad and the guys. She heads home to the Sakura Farm, where an older, taller, and very badass Atra is waiting with their kid, with the unmistakable blue eyes and vacant expression of Mikazuki. The kid’s name is, naturally, Mikazuki, and unlike his father, he’ll have a childhood full of love and kindness, not desperation, and violence.

While chatting with Gaelio, Julieta admits the fighters of Tekkadan weren’t devils; she knew that the moment she saw an unconscious Mika when his cockpit cover sheared off. They were, in fact, the most human of us all, belonging on the battlefield for no other reason than to keep living and fighting. So it’s fortunate that there’s civilization to filter out some of our raw, instinctual humanity.

Thanks to the sacrifices of Tekkadan, McGillis and their allies, that civilization has been improved and made available to the next generation of youth, so maybe there won’t be a need for another Tekkadan ever again.

And that’ll do it. Whether you just checked in this week or have been following them since the very beginning, thanks as always for reading my reviews of what I believe to be one of, if not the best Gundam yet. It was a fantastic ride, and the franchise will be hard-pressed to surpass the greatness it achieved in these fifty episodes. But if they make a (non-SD) attempt down the road, I’ll be there to review it.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 49

Orga is dead, but he succeeded in giving Tekkadan one last chance to survive. Eugene and Mika agree (without saying anything) that Orga’s orders to not stop and keep moving forward stand. The way Mika works, he doesn’t need Orga around to tell him what to do; his final words were broad enough to last Mika the rest of his days—which hopefully aren’t too few.

While some Tekkadan members are thirsty for blood and revenge (unaware it was Gordon’s men, not Gjallarhorn, who gunned him down), but in a rare instance of Mika gathering everyone ’round, he stands atop Barbatos and informs/warns everyone of the consequences of getting in the way of Orga’s orders. Eugene flashes a downward gaze, realizing he could never hold a candle to Mika’s charisma any more than Orga’s. But everyone’s roles are clear. All that’s left is to execute Orga’s orders.

When Rustal is informed of Orga’s death in a convo with Gordon, a healed Julieta is present to hear it. She laments that Tekkadan must fight in such a desperate fight after being used by so many “shady adults.” Rustal reminds her that he’s one of those adults; she understands, but perhaps she’s just as trapped as Tekkadan. Meanwhile we see two of the best adults in the series, Yukinojou and Merribit, saying a tearful goodbye.

Cut to the shadiest but also one of the toughest and wiliest adults of the series, Todo, who we learn arranged a shuttle for McGillis so he could rejoin his flagship, which he quickly evacuates. The final stage of his battle will be fought alone, for he believes it will give him the most freedom.

Contrast that with his wife Almiria, who towers over her towering father in proclaiming she will stand with her husband, and that they’ll bear their sins together…just so long as he returns home safe. She wears the mantle—or, if you will, shackles—that bind her with Macky with pride and nobility. All I can say is…Poor Almiria.

Meanwhile, true to McGillis’ style, he puts on a hell of a show, ramming his flagship into one of Rustal’s ship (unfortunately, not the ship Rustal is on), bursts out of the wreckage with Bael, and starts menacingly hacking away at the fleet, one ship and suit and pilot at a time. He’s slowed down by Gaelio, whom he warns he’ll truly kill this time if he impedes him. But Gaelio is intent on showing his former friend and comrade that being alone isn’t freedom, it’s a death trap.

Gaelio has what’s left of Ein by his side, and Carta in his heart. When he delivers a coup-de-grace to Bael, McGillis bails out and boards Rustal’s flagship, bleeding out from a shrapnel wound. He’s met in a corridor by the masked Gaelio, but he removes his mask and insists McGillis really look at him. McGillis demurs almost to the last, telling him that as wonderful as it was having him and Carta in his life, being with them clouded his resolve.

That might be Macky’s fatal flaw: his inability to trust even those closest to him (or as close as he ever let anyone get to him). Just think if he had confided in his friends, and instead of tattling, they joined him? McGillis’ plan to reform Gjallarhorn would have been bolstered by his friends’ family fleets. Instead, he treated them like parts of the system he had to destroy, but only led to him isolating himself into a checkmate.

What’s worst of all is that it’s plain he never entirely gave up his friendships. Gaelio can see this in Macky’s face and words, and killing him gives him no joy. Gaelio says Farewell, but as is the case with so many supposed death scenes (including…Gaelio’s), it’s not 100% certain Macky will succumb to his wounds.

One thing is for certain: McGillis Fareed has lost. His crusade to wrest control of and reform Gjallarhorn has failed spectacularly. In his wake he leaves hundreds of his loyal officers and men, as well as the orphans of Tekkadan, whose only slim hope now is to scurry under ancient tunnels and trade their identities for their lives.

Even that is not so easily done. Mika, Eugene, Akihiro, Dante, and Hush buy the tunnel-diggers time, but Hush seems to buy it, fighting hard until the end, and it seems like the best the rest can manage is be “ground to dust” as slowly as possible by the seemingly endless Gjallarhorn onslaught.

We can only hope Mika’s words of reaching the place Orga was headed is a place of the living; a place where they belong and won’t have to fight; and that his words won’t end up ringing as hollow as Macky’s.

Kuromukuro – 21

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Kuromukuro continues to blast through barriers it once held back from, building the diligent, detailed preparation of its first half. The care it took building its world, its technology, its characters and their roles relationships is all paying off.

There’s something irresistibly striking and engrossing about having witnessed the building of such a beautiful, intricate work, and then, in its 21st episode, it pins its ears back and smashes it all to bits without mercy.

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Ken saved Yukina, sure, but he was only able to thanks to Muetta. But that doesn’t change the fact that she’s The Enemy, and when they land, she’s treated as such despite Ken’s protestations. Then the “Ogre” Zell shows up, and Ken rushes at him reflexively, just as a fiery samurai who’s come face to face with his nemesis would be expected to.

But Zell does something wonderfully subversive: he presupposes that Ken is simply mistaken about him being the enemy, dismissing over four centuries of hatred and mistrust in a matter of words. In reality, Zell is also the reason Ken was able to save Yukina…not to mention the primary reason all his organs are still internal.

Zell isn’t done dispensing wisdom. He finally presents himself to the UN forces, and also solves the mystery of Muetta: she isn’t the original Yukihime, but a clone based on her genetic code, implanted with false memories a different personality…and the voice of Toyosaki Aki. This revelation seems to do a number of Muetta, and Yukina can’t help but feel for the “poor woman.”

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Unfortunately, these truths are the least of everyone’s problems. The most would be floating high above them, descending fast. The Lab and the surrounding town do their best to prepare and make a stand, but there can be no preparation, or victory, for what is coming, and arrives earlier than expected.

Efidolg mechas rain down from the heavens while the mothership looms menacingly. The three GAUS piloted by Tom, Shenmei, and Sebastian take a few foes out, but once the elite pilots show up in their fancier suits, the window on how long they can hold out significantly narrows.

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Ken, Yukina, Zell, and the Kuromukuro are occupied with Yorba, and Muetta is in custody, so her glongur stands by uselessly until knocked into the ocean by a raging Mirasa.

Then the mothership lands, dwarfing, then destroying the massive yet elegant arched bridge across the river, then literally driving stakes taller than mountains into the earth to form a perimeter shield that traps most if not all the evacuees in.

In every way, all hell is breaking loose, and it’s all the earthlings can do to keep from getting killed by the rubble of their own destroyed structures, to say nothing of surviving wave after wave of enemy mechas. The chaos and mounting hopelessness is palpable, and pulls you in.

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When Shenmei’s GAUS-3’s arm is ripped off, it lands on the Humvee that was transporting Muetta, flipping it upside down and trapping her in. Sophie, who witnessed the collision, rushes to free Muetta, and the gang composed of Yukina’s uncle, sister, and classmates stops to assist her.

Hopefully the altruism of these earthlings is not lost on her, for if there’s going to be any kind of counterattack or rather resistance to what’s shaping up to be a very successful Efidolg invasion, they’re going to need Muetta.

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That’s doubly true considering once the cactus-like personnel-sized mechas are sent in, firing tiny implants that go in the ears of earthlings and causes instant brainwashing and submission to the Efidolg. They are literally poaching all the talent.

Poor Rita saves her console-mate Beth from getting nabbed by a mecha, but she falls under their spell, as do countless other UN staff, soldiers, and townsfolk. Talk about complete and total domination.

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Shenmei’s GAUS is destroyed, forcing her to bail out with a super-cool inflatable escape pod, but such a feature doesn’t seem to be equipped on Sebastian’s GAUS. Either that, or he simply didn’t have time to eject when tackling Mirasa to the ground and blowing the two of them up when she tried to go after the bus carrying Muetta, Sophie and the other civvies.

Seb dies an Apparent Honorable Heroic Death, sacrificing himself to save them, but Sophie is crushed (emotionally, not literally). Ken, Yukina, and Zell grab Tom and retreat, completing an utter defeat I knew was coming but simply wasn’t prepared for how far it would go, so fast. So many of Kuromukuro’s safety nets are gone now.

The lab is toast, most of its staff dead or “turned”, the remaining heroes scattered with little more than their wits, and the Efidolg are now in possession of the final pivot stones. Assuming this is fairly close to Rock Bottom for our heroes’ fortunes, I simply thank goodness there’s five episodes left; this is a hole out of which it’s going to take some time to dig. And I can’t wait to see if, when, and how they pull it off.

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Shuumatsu no Izetta – 03

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Eylstadt’s antiquated, outmatched defenses are brought to the brink against the mighty modern Germanian war machine, and Izetta places us right in the trenches to experience how dire the situation is. A young private is tense before the action even starts; and then all of a sudden his commander is dead, the landscape has changed, and the air is full of cries of pain and despair.

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Fine’s forces are receiving a drubbing, and a rout is all but certain. Her frustration with the ineffectiveness of their defense is compounded by her heartbreak that so many must give their lives, simply to buy time. Yet she has the presence of mind and the discipline not to send the forces she still has out to die in a blaze of glory. She may not like how she has to pay for it, but she needs time for the civilians to evacuate and for new lines to be established.

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It falls to Izetta to do something about this horrible, hopeless situation. Against Fine’s wishes, Izetta enters the battle, and quickly turns the tables, using old jousting lances from the medieval castle as projectiles to take out the Germanian Stuka dive bombers one by one. She manages to take out the last plane with the lance she’s riding, timing it just right so she lands on the stump of it rather than fall to her death.

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She’s stunned by the landing, but quickly springs back into action, right around the area where the private we met is fighting. He, along with the other surviving soldiers, bear witness as Izetta moves her assault on the Germanians to the ground, fighting with a desperate intensity that buoys their spirits.

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This is the best battle of Izetta yet, showing the witch using her powers in creative ways, employing ancient weapons to bring down marvels of modern warfare. The Elystadt armed forces simply can’t compete by playing by the same rules as the Germans. So it’s good their patron saint has arrived to flip the game board over and shred the rulebook.

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Thoughout the Germainian advance, stall, and eventual defeat, we cut to their headquarters, where army and air force generals keep a bottle of champagne on ice for the eventual announcement of their certain victory. But Izetta has thrown their entire prosecution of the war into chaos. A who squadron of Stukas and a company of tanks are simply gone. They popped the cork too early; one general’s glass falls to the ground and shatters.

Meanwhile, after enduring so much death, destruction, and despair, the troops rally around Fine and the second coming of their White Witch, their morale and hope for the future suddenly restored. The nervous private who watched it all leads the men in singing a powerful anthem of victory. Fine didn’t like how Izetta risked herself and defied her wishes, but she can’t deny the results were tremendous.

I imagine relatively “easy” victories such as this will be few and far between; the Germanian leader and those scientists are unlikely to let the military be caught off guard again. And as powerful as she is, Izetta is not invincible; it only takes one well-place bullet to kill her, just like any other girl. But for now, let the men sing.

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Sword Art Online II – 21

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Much to my relief, this doesn’t turn into The Kirito Show just because he showed up at the end of last week’s episode. Heck, he’s not even the only guy who shows up; Klein does too. They’re only there to let Asuna and the Sleeping Knights focus on defeating the twenty people blocking the boss room. And that’s it.

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Kirito estimates he can give them three minutes; the Knights only need two ( I counted). After those two minutes of awesome, blistering battle, punctuated by a powerful charge by the Berserk Healer herself, the way is open for the boss, and Kirito stays behind, giving Asuna the victory sign.

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Facing the montrous two-headed boss for the second time, Asuna notices a special guard stance he takes whenever a gem between his two necks is hit. Asuna focuses on that gem and tells Yuuki to target it, which she does by using one of her male comrades as a step stool. In the heat of the battle, Yuuki slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’. That’s no surprise to me, but Asuna finds it odd.

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She shrugs it off when the boss is defeated and the Knights revel in their victory, rubbing it in the faces of the dastardly rival guild. Kirito is nowhere to be found, I guess he split after those three minutes. But as has been the case with him this entire arc, we’re just fine with him being a cameo.

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Kirito doesn’t even crash the Sleeping Knight’s party, which Asuna hosts, even though it’s held in his house. Classy move on his part, as the party is for the Knights, after all. During the party, Asuna asks if she can join them, but Yuuki seems oddly put off by the request. Sinue seems to want to say something, but never manages to. Changing the subject, Asuna suggests they check out their names on the Soldier’s Memorial.

There, Yuuki again slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’, but this time realizes it, and promptly and tearfully logs out. Throughout the boss battle and celebrations that followed, the idea that Asuna’s mom would pull the plug on her again was always in the corner of my mind, lending an extra layer of tension to the whole episode.

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Yet, in the end, it’s Yuuki, who has been sold as Asuna’s secret sister (or half-sister), who disappears from the game, without so much as an explanation. Why doesn’t she want Asuna learn the truth? How did Asuna play so long without getting yanked? Will they ever meet in the real world? All questions I’m hoping will be further explored in the next episode, forebodingly called “Journey’s End.”

Until then, I continue to revel in this Asuna-centric, and really Women-centric arc, really turning around what had been a lackluster SAO II Fall cour simply by treating its female characters as more than just Kirito’s suitors.

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