Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 19

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Due to the Dort excursion, it’s been a while since the last big space battle. I was hungry for a new one, and this show delivered a feast with its usual excelent timing. Before the battle commences, however, Kudelia gets her long overdue handshake with Mika.

In her first such attempt (in the very first episode), Mika demurred because his hand was dirty, but she never cared about dirt, and now her hands are dirty too, and whatever their personal inadequacies tell them, they’re on more equal terms than ever, with a united cause.

Kudelia also warmly thanks Orga and Tekkadan for getting her this far (and she’s sure they’ll take her further still), promising to make them all happy. As she glances at Fumitan’s empty chair, it’s also clear she doesn’t want her maid’s sacrifice be in vain, any more than all the other people whose blood is on – and dreams are in – her hands.

We also get a nice symmetry between Commander Carta Issue, who choreographs her men as part of their preparations for battle, and Eugene getting all fired up on Isaribi. Both strive to meet their personal ideal of cool to all around them. Eugene wants to be like Orga. Carta, as it happens, wants to show how far she’s come to McGillis and Gaelio.

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I always knew McGillis and Gaelio went way back, but now we see there was a third member of their childhood clique, the lovely (but also tomboyish in the day) Carta, who is spellbound the moment she first lays eyes on the newly adopted/arrived McGillis.

In the present, she’s pissed McGillis chose Gaelio’s little sister instead of her, and in order to further his career, no less. But Carta herself was only given Ariadne fleet command because of her silver (as opposed to iron) blood. Gaelio sees her as a figurehead, but she takes her role seriously.

As he watches the confrontation unfold between Tekkadan and Carta, McGillis (AKA “Montag”) monologues the importance of “unveiling the past” of those one wishes to predict and control. At the same time, living in the murky past “wastes” the bright future. He’s hoping Tekkadan is taking steps forward, and wants to see that he’s right.

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Speaking of a waste, just imagine if Tekkadan had the manpower and firepower at Carta’s disposal. Carta is rusty, if her blade was ever sharp to begin with. Earth’s orbit may be “her sky” to her and her loyal men, but that title had probably never been challenged in any way until now.

Some may decry how poorly she performs here as making it too easy for Tekkadan to succeed, but I take a different tack: there are good and bad, experienced and inexperienced commanders in Gjallarhorn. Her ability simply doesn’t match (or frankly justify) her arrogance or theatricality.

Faced with an unpredictable and fully committed opponent, Carta is outmaneuvered by “old school” tactics such as the Isaribi using the Brewers’ ship as a physical shield from long-range bombardment, which when destroyed releases a huge cloud of nano-mirror chaff that blinds the fleet, giving Tekkadan time to get the landing party into position.

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To pull off these tactics, Eugene had to control both ships with his A-V system, which takes him to the extent he looks like he’s just seen up someone’s skirt by the time he’s finished. Hopefully, he’ll be okay. The landing party, guarded by Shino, Akihiro, and Mika, is then ambushed by Gaelio and Ein, who in hindsight doesn’t seem so much obsessed with revenge here and now as he is eager to prove to Gaelio that he’s worthy of the trust and opportunities bestowed on him.

In the cold open Eugene and Shiro threw what you might call death flags, but since this is IBO not all death flags are genuine. Nevertheless, with so many people in play, I figured someone else we care about was going to die in this battle, especially when the transport carrying Orga, Kudelia, Atra, Biscuit, and Merribit is targeted. Enter the cavalry: Laffter and Azee, piloting suits modified so as not to tip off Teiwaz involvement.

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Ein has always been an intriguing if one-note character, but he faces another serious setback here as his suit and his body are pierced by Mika when he jumps in front of Gaelio to protect him. Like Carta, Ein simply can’t back up his rage and enthusiasm with actual ability. I doubt he’s dead dead, but he’s in bad shape, and now Gaelio has a another reason to want Tekkadan blood.

When Carta sends out her mobile suit forces, elite though they may be (or believe themselves to be) they can’t hang with Mika, especially when Montag joins the fray (in what I’m guessing is a suit that disguises his identity from Gaelio and Carta, whose reactions to his involvement aren’t seen). One of Carta’s pilots actually does give Mika a pretty hard time, making him miss his opportunity to use the transport ship as a atmospheric entry shield (Barbatos won’t make it on its own).

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Things look bleak for Mika (whose handshake with Kudelia could also be considered a death flag), especially when he thinks back to the convo he had with Orga back when the were kids, which set them on this course. But Mika’s not ready to say goodbye to the world yet; not when he hasn’t yet seen with his own eyes the place they belong Orga talked about.

So as the transport occupants worry and fear the worst during the long, violent atmospheric entry, Mika hitches himself to the mobile suit of the guy he defeated and uses it as an ablative heat shield, safely emerging not long after the transport. Kudelia, Atra, Orga…they’re all elated. Another close call, that’s all. Now, after that exciting space battle, our people are finally on Earth, where several new battles will commence.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 18

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This is largely an episode that is doing the practical work of moving pieces on the master game board, as well as introducing a few new faces. But it also has some of the most powerful scenes of the entire series, and one of those new faces happens to be the new face of the Maiden of Revolution, Kudelia Aina Bernstein.

Wounded by the loss of Fumitan but now hardened by the wider plight of the people who believe in her, she takes up the baton of destiny. While before she was wide-eyed and often seemed lost, here her stare has grown a lot more resolved and aware.

But this episode is called “Voice”, so it’s not just a new face she’s found in herself, but her voice as well. It’s a voice that’s powerful enough to inspire the larger revolution she didn’t know she was the idol of, and strong enough to stop the Gjallarhorn fleet without firing a shot. Mika is understandably impressed, as am I.

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So is McMask (who continues to have Mustachirato around). He contacts Tekkadan with a business proposal on behalf of the “Montag Company.” It looks like he’s decides to enlist Kudelia’s aid on his crusade to reform Gjallarhorn.

McGillis’ long game has gotten so long, it makes thinking about a potential Gundam rematch with Mika seem like a dinky whim. They’re for all intents and purposes on the same side, due to his and Kudelia’s shared desire for change.

On the other hand, there are some who aren’t so inspired by Kudelia’s voice, like the Gjallarhorn fleet that only stopped because they were ordered to; Gaelio, who’s only looking for a piece of the action, and most notably Ein, who is actually half-Martian and thus mercilessly discriminated against for being “less than human”, which is what Gaelio warns him he’ll become if he undergoes the A-V procedure.

Ein is still inspired by the voice of his late mentor Crank, who for all his toughness was someone who didn’t believe in judging people by lumping them into ordered groups (they chat in a brief but strong flashback scene). He treated everyone equally, and encouraged Ein not to worry about what others think of him. If the A-V can help Ein defeat Tekkadan, so be it.

In terms of wild cards, Ein’s not as flashy as McMask, but he could still exert some influence before the end. In another Gundam, he indeed might be the protagonist, and we can actually empathize with his desire for revenge. However much I like and support Tekkadan and Mika, Mika did kill Crank.

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Another great scene is after McMask’s introductory meeting with Kudelia, Orga, and Naze, in which Orga and Biscuit learn that McMurdo and Nobliss were in cahoots without their knowledge. Biscuit is somewhat miffed by being left out, but Orga isn’t the slightest bit surprised, nor does he feel betrayed

His aniki simply hasn’t deemed him or Tekkadan quite ready for that kind of information, that’s all. His “scurrying at the feet” of greater men who are in the business of outwitting each other. And while Tekkadan are largely now a means to an end – protecting Kudelia – Orga’s talk reminds us they’re not done changing.

In one of the funniest moments of the series, and a very knowing one from the production staff, Mika immediately recognizes McMask as the Chocolate Guy. Yet McGillis doesn’t even skip a beat; after all, he’s not wearing the mask to conceal himself from them, but from his peers.

McMask cannot yet show his hand to the world, but there’s no harm in letting Orga, Biscuit, and Mika (but only them for now) in on his secret, and tell them of his plans to transform Gjallarhorn, and how his goals align with Kudelia.

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But realistically speaking, this has been an extraordinarily rough, draining few days for Kudelia, and she’s continuing to push herself, not sleeping or eating while furiously preparing for negotiations. Atra noticed her legs shaking during her televised speech – something I’m glad we learned through her rather than when it happened. At the time, the show itself, like us, was focused on the voice of Kudelia the Revolutionary; Atra was focused on Kudelia the flesh-and-blood human being.

We’re briefly introduced to the charismatic female commander of the Outer Earth Orbit Regulatory Fleet, who digs eye makeup and may be afflicted with the Gundam equivalent of Chuunibyou, though with the firepower to back up her theatricality. She looks to be a fun and formidable foil to Gaelio as well as Tekkadan. We also meet a female politician and an old whitebeard who considers Kudelia his “Prince Charming.”

Finally, as Akihito trains Shino in the simulators on the Hammerhead, Laffter seems to be throwing out restless vibes that suggest she may have a thing for Akihito. I could totally see her dumping Naze for someone who can give her their full attention…but this could all be just wishful thinking on my part.

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But what puts this episode over the top for me is the final scene, which is definitely be in my Top 5 of the series so far. It had just about had me in tears needing to be held and consoled by Mika. It’s a scene that rekindles Atra’s strange, beautiful, adorable fantasy, but also shows how Kudelia will find the strength to keep pushing forward.

The burden of her responsibility literally pounding at her head, a lonely Kudelia is joined by Atra, who came to deliver her some lunch, but also comfort and solidarity. Atra wants Kudelia and her to talk to each other more, so that they can share the burden she’s carrying alone. Atra actually forgot the lunch, but Mika brings it, hears their conversation, and joins in. Kudelia may think herself powerless, but that’s the strain of her burden speaking.

Mika thinks she’s amazing, having stopped an attacking fleet in its tracks with her voice. No one can overstate how rare a gift that is, no matter how much luck may have played a role. Mika admits even Orga couldn’t have done what Kudelia did. Mika knows he’s out of the loop about a lot of things and knows he can only do so much, but he also knows what he can do, which is support Kudelia with everything he’s got (which, as we know, is a lot).

Atra concurs with his ‘amazing’ label, and Kudelia is moved to tears, prompting Atra to order Mika to take her in his arms and console her. She’s surprised at first, then leans into the hug. When Atra starts to cry, Mika surprises her by bringing her into the hug as well, simply going by the rules Atra herself laid out regarding consoling ladies.

The three just float there Atra and Kudelia crying it out, and you can just about feel the weight of Kudelia’s burden lessening as it’s distributed among the other two. It’s a beautiful moment, full stop. When she later informs Naze of her approval of the McMask deal, her eyes are still raw from tears, but they’ve never looked more strong or determined, because she has friends who love her and who have her back.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 17

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As news of the failed uprising on Dort 3 spreads, other Dort colonies’ workers mobilize for war, just as the “Regulatory Bureau” intended. Those workers soon discover their weapons have been rendered useless and the main Arianrhod fleet lies in wait just beyond the colonies to mop up. All Tekkadan can do is watch it all on TV in the space port.

That is, until Kudelia makes a bold decision that changes the course of every iron-blooded orphan under her employ, as well as her own. She can’t retreat and continue on to Earth after witnessing all this. She’s done running; she’s going to become the hope these downtrodden people need. And she’s issuing new orders for Tekkadan to assist her.

It’s been a long time coming, but now that Kudelia fully understands what’s going on, she is compelled to act.

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In a stroke of luck, the crack Dort news team that has been covering the uprising and subsequent bombings is ordered to cease their reporting by the Reg Bureau, determining the reports are not conducive to maintaining public peace and calm.

The news team isn’t particularly okay with that, so when they spot some “workers” sneaking around, suddenly Kudelia and Tekkadan have exactly what they need: a means off the colony, and a means to get her voice out there, to both the workers and masters everywhere.

Orga informs Naze of the change of orders, and while the Turbines can get involved, they give Tekkadan their blessing, and Akihito sorties in his recently-finished Gundam. The Isaribi sends Barbatos out for Mika, who EVAs out alone to meet it.

Naze seems frustrated that he’s so “soft” on Tekkadan, but also that he can’t join such an interesting and noble battle. Mika remarks how amazing Kudelia is, and he’s frustrated too – perhaps he feels he hasn’t done enough yet (even though, let’s face it, he’s done plenty to be called amazing himself).

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Mika stops some of the helpless workers from getting massacred, but is soon challenged by Gaelio and Ein, the former piloting his shiny family heirloom, Gundam Kimaris, which McGillis recognizes, observing the battle from the bridge of his own ship.

Like Barbatos and Gusion, Kimaris has no beam weapons, and is armed with a good old-fashioned spear with which to crunch into his foes. Kimaris is very fast, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but it’s not a game-changer; the combat here remains wonderfully primitive and visceral.

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When Gaelio and Ein notice Mika’s true intent – to shield the news launch – I felt a quick pang of Flay-end-itis, but the Isaribi meets the launch and the crew make it back safe and sound. Akihito and Shino join Mika in battling Gaelio, Ein, and the other Gjallarhorn forces, with Shino re-naming Crank’s Graze “Ryusei-go”, which raises the eyebrows of the mechanics in a funny little aside.

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Mika comes close to taking out Gaelio, but Ein shields him with his own suit, getting damaged in the process. With the main fleet closing in, Gaelio and Ein retreat as their “further intervention will become a problem.” As all this is going on outside, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, Maiden of the Revolution, dons her own armor – her stately red dress.

After contacting Nobliss Gordon (a move that intrigues him greatly), she begins to broadcast using the news team’s camera and feed signal, to tell everyone out there what’s really going on in the Dort Colonies. If she’s to have any credibility on Earth or Mars, she must own the fact that she was here when everything started to boil over, and shed a light on what’s going on.

With her decision to take up the mantle of authority bestowed to her by the powers that be and actually run with it, Kudelia may have just proven to Nobliss she has the potential to becomes something more than a pawn in a plot, and thus is worth more to his goals alive, even if it’s just to continue to be surprised and entertained by what he observes.

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