Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 04

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Tekkadan and their celebrity passenger aren’t off to Earth yet, and that’s a good thing. This is a 26-episode show, no need to rush, and besides, while this episode is less hectic than last week’s coup and duel, laying out the full measure of the stakes and all of the dangers that lie ahead for Mika, Orga, Aina, et al is crucial to our full emotional investment in the events to come.

As we see, getting Aina to Earth is no simple matter to say the least, and can’t be done by Tekkadan alone. It requires getting in bed (oh God hopefully not literally) with outside middlemen, forming dozens of little alliances of temporary trust with outsiders; those with their own motivations. With so much on their backs Orga and Aina have no choice but to gamble, and neither assured a survivable return.

On the contrary, with Todo’s private moments of stewing, it’s clear Orga has made a potentially fatal mistake in thinking the threat of death keeps the old man in line. Todo is planning the demise of Tekkadan in its infancy, not for Gjallarhorn or his old bosses, but because it’s his way to survive. If he gets a little more agency and teaches some punk kids a lesson, so much the better.

“Young vs. Old” is also a theme in Major Coral equivocating before the younger Fareed, subtly offering a bribe that’s shot down with the threat of arrest, then cursing the even older Crank for failing (as Crank and Orlis’ comrade stews).

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The Olds seem to prefer when the Youngs are beholden to them. It gives them power and purpose. Todo’s Orcus contact is of big help (assuming it’s not a trap, which it is). Nobliss, who doesn’t even bother dressing to address Aina, clearly considers Aina to beholden to him for his cash infusion. But Fareed rejects his older comrade’s “intelligence” and goes out with Gaelio to gather his own.

There’s a lot of housekeeping this week, as we learn Orga gained Akihito and his group of “Human Debris” (i.e. former property of Maruba) to his side with the promise to free and protect them, as they wouldn’t be able to secure jobs elsewhere. In a strong symbolic gesture, the big CGS sign is painted over by one of the youngest grunts. Out with the old, and all that.

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Finally, this episode makes a slight detour to the Biscuit’s family farm, run by a stern, no-nonsense Granny Sakura who, like Yukinojo and Crank, are the old people trying to foster amity with the young rather than oppose and oppress them. Mika brings Aina here for the same reason he comes: working the land helps clear the head.

That also means, of course, Aina and Atra cross paths again, and for now, Mika has his cake and eats it too, catching Aina when she tugs too hard at an ear of corn, while also heartening Atra by thanking her for the bracelet. At the same time, Mika uses this to show Aina that even this big biofuel corn farm only nets Biscuit’s family a meager return; not enough to survive. Her saving Tekkadan also saved that farm and family, so she should buck up and stop focusing only on the negative.

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Then, all of a sudden, there’s a clashing of plotlines with Fareed and Gaelio nearly running over Cookie and Cracker in their Humvee. Mika doesn’t hesitate to take throat of Gaelio, the first face he sees emerge, and start squeezing mercilessly. Fareed manages to cool everyone off, but I liked how when Fareed and Gaelio were alone, Gaelio was the easygoing one. Here, Gaelio is hostile where Fareed is amicable. He even retches when he sees Mika’s implants.

At the same time, Fareed is, if anything, more threatening than Gaelio, all courtesy, easy smiles and cordial words. There’s raw tension in him approaching Cookie, Cracker, and Atra…and offering them candy. He knows Mika is far more than a farmboy. And there’s the sense he doesn’t believe Biscuit any more than he believes Coral. Meanwhile, Aina has to hide in the corn with her aide. This won’t be the last they see of the gallant inspectors.

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As it happens, Fareed is already aware that CGS is now Tekkadan; a product of Orga and Biscuit playing everything after the mutiny strictly by-the-book, business-wise. When Mika returns to base, Orga shows him Tekkadan’s new insignia, again designed and painted by their youngest as a symbol of hope and strength. Orga looks on the sign with pride and an even greater desire to protect what they’ve won at all costs.

But the fact of the matter is, Tekkadan and its mission hang on a thread, and any one thing could blow it off into oblivion, be it further interference from the various units of Gjallarhorn (bet on it), making a deal with the devil in Nobliss, or underestimating Todo’s capacity for treachery. As Todo so aptly puts it in the episode’s final line: he’s about to show these young rapscallions “how terrifying adults can be.”

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 03

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I don’t hesitate to award this episode a 10, and can be confident it’s not just a kneejerk reaction to the adrenaline rush it provided as things moved forward very fast. I’m giving it a 10 because it was virtually flawless by my standards, and comprised the total package: a taut, refined narrative, intricate character dynamics and motivations, and beautiful presentation, all while preserving the Gundam heritage that deserves to be preserved and subverting it where appropriate.

The escalation from serving a warm, home-cooked meal to everyone—including the surly First Corps—to a complete takeover of CGS by Orga’s Third Group, was delivered with stealthy deftness that respects the viewers. We all knew something was going to go down; it was only a matter of when, how, and if it succeeded.

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The answers to three questions are ‘now’, ‘forcefully’, and ‘yes, most definitely’. The stew they feed the Firsts is drugged, and they wake up, they’re tied up and at Orga’s mercy. I really dug his wry response to his former boss’s classic “who do you think you’re dealing with?” line:

“Incompetents who can’t give proper orders and caused this much damage.”

They’re not just incompetents who got Orga’s comrades killed, they’re incompetents who will also fail at the business end, and lead to the death of the company, along with the rest of the Thirds, in time. Orga is putting an end to their reign before that happens. It’s not just revenge; it’s pragmatism. This is how they survive.

The First Corps commander still thinks he’s in control, talking about sparing the lives of the people with a gun to his head. Again employing Mika as his steady right arm of enforcement, he makes an example of the commander by having Mika put two bullets in his head. No negotiations. No deals. Join Us, Leave, or Die are the only options. It takes Mika having to shoot one more First dead before everyone else has made their decision.

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So…now what? Interestingly, those who decide to join Orga’s new CGS regime include the accountant, Dexter Culastor, who soon determines just how screwed the company will be if they don’t find work immediately, and Todo, a middleman between the First and Third who was going to go whichever way the wind was blowing.

The problem with CGS right now is that they’ve got Gjallarhorn on their asses. Far from being a feather in their cap, no one will do business with them lest they too incur the wrath of Gjallarhorn. Todo has a solution: hand the young miss Kudelia over, in exchange for being left alone (and a little cash).

It’s a self-serving, weaselly plan (apropos since it came from the self-serving, weaselly Todo), but it’s also one of the only ways to get Gjallarhorn off their backs, if there even is a way. Eugene likes the plan and wonders why Orga hesitates, but the discussion is tabled by the arrival of Crank.

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As we should have known, Crank is not there to defect; he’s there to put and end to things between CGS and Gjallarhorn one way or another. If he wins the duel, they’ll hand over Kudelia and the captured mecha. It’s an arrangement even Aina agrees to, because like Crank, she wants to minimize further needless bloodshed, especially where kids are involved.

Orga asks Mika if he’ll do it, but it’s only a courtesy, because he knows Mika will do it. He may be short and scrawny, but Mika is the toughest motherfucker in CGS, as demonstrated when Orga tells Aina (who wants to do something to help and is considering having a mecha interface implanted) that a large chunk of those implanted ended up in hospital beds for life or worse…and Mika’s had it done three times.

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The duel commences, and Thank God the mobile suits have P.A. systems so the pilots can talk to each other. To not have such systems was an obvious and intolerable, beaten-to-death plot hole in Recon. Here, Crank can tell he’s fighting a child, something he abhors, but he must do his duty nonetheless. Wisely, this episode’s sole representative of the “bad guys” is a reasonable, honorable man doing what he thinks is best in this scenario, and if he gets killed, at least all the responsibility will fall on him.

But like Aina, Crank is misguided about one thing, at least as far as Mika’s concerned: He’s not some poor kid being victimized. Everything Mika does, every order he’s obeyed from Orga, has been of his own free will, and out of his desire to stay alive. Mind you, this is Mika’s own perspective; in reality he’s a severely screwed-up dude; “a bit Touchy”, as Atra remarks, doesn’t nearly cover it).

Crank, for his part, never underestimated Mika; he saw what he was capable of the last time he watched him fight. Instead, Crank is simply limited by his loyalties in what he’s able to do. So when he’s done as much as he can and still loses the duel, and is unable to move to kill himself, he asks Mika to do it for him.

Again, he didn’t have to ask: Orga already told Mika to kill Crank; there wasn’t going to be a different outcome, because Mika isn’t the brains of this operation, nor do I think he wants to be. And a notable gesture on Mika’s part: both before he takes off in Barbatos and after he kills Crank, he smells the bracelet Atra gave Yukinojo to give to him, perhaps keeping him grounded in his humanity among all the carnage. For those keeping score: Aina got to feed Mika, while Atra got her bracelet to him.

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The role of brains belongs to Orga, who stands fast even as a huge piece of mobile suit comes crashing down feet away from him. And that’s when he comes up with a new name for their company. Goodbye CGS, Hello Tekkadan, meaning “Iron Flower”, one that will never wilt. Nice name.

As for Aina’s role, she first becomes the newly-named company’s first official client when she commits to using Tekkadan as her security service indefinitely, no longer depending on her untrustworthy father, but the largess of Nobliss Gordon—a name we heard from Coral as also being Gjallarhorn’s financier. It also seems Aina will be eschewing a mecha interface implant for a more political role with Tekkadan, the company that kept her alive.

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