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.

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.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 48

McGillis, sporting a slightly less ostentatious look goes to the hangar to ask Mika what he wants to do, and whether he wants to join him in fighting the Gjallarhorn forces surrounding them. But no matter how he phrases it, Mika’s answer is the same: He’ll do what Orga wants, no more, no less.

Ever since the two met as boys, their relationship has been defined by utter dependence on each other, a bond no one, even Atra, could break. He is the hand; Orga is the will. But what happens if one dies before the other?

Yukinojo decided that now is the time to bring up the only remaining potential means of Tekkadan’s escape: underground tunnels and comms equipment left over from the Calamity War. Orga’s new order is not to fight, but survive, even if they have to dig themselves out by hand.

In order to ensure a future for everyone, even if it’s a future where they’re able to keep on living and nothing else, Orga has to contact Makanai. So he, Chad, Ride, Kudelia and Atra leave HQ in an unassuming armored car.

Notably, Orga does not take Mika along, saying he has another task for him. Mika is weary of what Orga “might mess up” if he’s not with him, but still gives him his pistol when he asks for it; the same pistol Orga watched Mika kill at his command with years ago.

At first Mika scared him; but he soon realized that there was nothing to fear, because if Mika was your friend, you couldn’t lose against anyone. Who would have thought Mika would be right about Orga messing up, and that this would be the last time they saw each other?

I greatly appreciated the little scene in which Kudelia and Atra kiss Mika goodbye, much to the discomfort of Ride and Hush. I personally have never had any problem with their weird lovey-dovey triangle (indeed, it’s been a nice change of pace from the usual kind), but this is an acknowledgement of that weirdness in the eyes of other Tekkadan members, who either don’t quite understand, or are jealous, or both. It’s really the only funny moment in the episode, but I’m glad it’s there.

And how will Orga’s little road trip get to Chryse without being attacked by Gjallarhorn? McGillis has that covered, though he doesn’t deploy, defeat Iok in three strokes, and fight the entire force on his own merely as a diversion for Orga. He still speaks of destroying Rustal, but Rustal isn’t even on the planet.

Whatever scheme is still in motion for McGillis, he seems resigned to the fact that he isn’t a wolf in a pack like the members of Tekkadan; he’s always been alone, and if that’s how he has to achieve his goals, so be it.

Orga & Co. get to Chryse, where they learn that those they’ve helped survive in the past are ready and willing to return the favor, like Makanai, who despite being one of the older adults on the show, continues to favor the youngins of Tekkadan who are the only reason he’s still around.

And what a nice reveal of Takaki, who is doing fine, working as Makanai’s aid, and implying Fuka’s doing fine too. One could argue as long as one member survives Rustal’s purge, Tekkadan wins.

Makanai and Takaki aren’t their only allies, for they are providing haven, but not the means to get there. Enter an email from an awesomely-suited Azee and Eco, stating that they have the okay from McMurdo to assist Tekkadan in any way they need, at any time. All of the fighting and dying wasn’t for nothing; Tekkadan made important friends whose loyalty isn’t wavering when it counts the most.

With that, Orga says goodbye to Kudelia and Atra in a hallway gorgeously lit by the setting golden sun. They’ll hole up in the Bernstein residence and await good news from Earth. I’m sure Atra would have liked to stay with Mika until the end, but he wouldn’t have wanted that for her or their baby, and Kudelia promised Mika she’d protect them.

After a long walk down that almost eerily lit hall, with Ride all but shouting death flags about everything working out, the seething tension was almost unbearable. It didn’t get any better when they step outside to the waiting car and there’s no Gjallarhorn soldiers, or anyone around at all. It’s too quiet, too calm. Something was going to happen.

Something did: in an incident just as quick and merciless as Lafter’s muder, Orga is gunned down by a bunch of suits in a passing car. Chad and Ride escape mortal injury, and Orga kills one of the assassins with Mika’s pistol, but he’s riddled with bullets and leaking his life’s blood on the pavement.

Still, he wears a wry smile, gets up, doesn’t slip on the blood puddle, and moves forward. Not towards the car, just forward. His last order to Tekkadan before collapsing: don’t stop. “As long as you don’t stop, I’ll be at the end waiting for you.”

Before heading off on his own, McGillis told Mika the power he saw in him, and once thought would bring about a bright future, turned out to have “no ideals, no objective, no destination,” any more than a pistol has such things. A defiant Mika derided Macky’s use of too many words and insisted “We’ll get there.”

But at least for Orga, Mika’s will, the definition of “there” has shifted, from a happy, ideal, peaceful life they always fought for, to whatever comes after that life ends. Barring a medical miracle, Orga has already reached “there.” Mika must now decide what to do all on his own; whether to join Orga now, or stay alive and chart a new course with Atra, Kudelia, his kid, and the others.

Until then, R.I.P. Orga Itsuka. You died well.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 47

This is an episode of small consolations and comforts before the apparent End of Everything arrives in the form of a Gjallarhorn mop-up crew (including but mercifully not led by Iok). The Mars branch of Gjallarhorn won’t join forces with McGillis and Orga, but they will overlook their arrival and claim ignorance as to their whereabouts. Like so much that happens, it just isn’t enough.

Mikazuki, perhaps sensing the end of Tekkadan as they know it, literally stops to smell the flowers at Sakura Farm. Once all the news outlets start proclaiming Tekkadan as a brutal criminal organization led by the rogue McGillis, who Iznario now claims was never his legitimate child or heir, even Biscuit’s twin sisters get ostracized at school.

Acknowledging that his promises of a better life came to nothing, and that with Tekkadan’s assets frozen, he can’t even pay his people well, or at all, Orga has an all-hands, and says anyone who wants to leave won’t be stopped, nor will less be thought of them. Obviously, Voice of Reason Zack is the first to volunteer to split.

He certainly wants to save his own skin, but we see how it pains him to no end that hardly anyone else has the same good sense to know that the end has already arrived, and there’s nothing to “give up.”

Of course, Zack still can’t understand that so many Tekkadan members like Dane don’t have the life fallbacks he enjoys. Dane is a murderer; Tekkadan was the only organization that let him in.

Kudelia calls her odd but sweet triangle with Mika and Atra “awkward”, and she’s not wrong, especially when Atra, who has already tried to conceive with Mika (off-camera, natch) and is waiting to see “if it went well”, enthusiastically asks her to have a baby with Mika as well.

She has to settle for another group hug, the first, and possibly last one in a long time, and Kudelia’s promise that she’ll protect them: Mika, Atra, and the baby, with everything she’s got.

Orga, who has reverted back to old All On Me Mode, calls McMurdo to beg him to put him in touch with Rustal so he can beg him to spare his men in exchange for his life. But Rustal has all the cards and needs a scapegoat to raise Gjallarhorn back up into a place of legitimacy. Orga alone won’t be enough, no matter how awfully they kill him.

After the pathetic call that gets him nowhere, Eugene tries to shake some more sense out of him, and glimmers of hope start to appear towards the end of the episode, as Dexter and Merribit are able to scounge up a fifth of Tekkadan’s funds from secret unfrozen accounts. Kudelia adds to the hope by suggesting everyone in Tekkadan simply take on new identities, evacuate to Earth, and live on, leaving Mars behind but saving their lives.

But all of those little glimmers are quickly stomped on by the arrival of the Gjallarhorn task force, which surrounds Tekkadan HQ. All communications in and out of HQ are cut off, including, presumably, what’s left of their cash. Just like that, a jumping-off point for a future of peace becomes a siege that could consume everyone. At best, many more members of Tekkadan will die if anyone is to escape.

But hey…at least Macky has Bael, right?

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 46

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Once Shino’s suit blows up, there’s not enough time for Mika to take over the task of destroying Rustal’s bridge (nor is he assured to succeed). Besides, Mika is still busy with a very pesky Julieta. When Shino dies, we see a switch go off in Mika’s head: no more messing around with this relative amateur: Get out of my way.

After that, Julieta is lucky to escape with her life and limbs. But even when her suit is impaled, she still grabs on to Mika. Every moment he must fight her is a victory for her, especially considering she’s merely a human pilot, albeit a talented one; she hasn’t sold her soul to any technological devils. Julieta may be on the wrong side, but I still admire the hell out of her.

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Gaelio, who is tired to no end of McGillis’ bullshit, is determined to kill his former friend and commmander, a man who once inspired him. And to his credit, he seems to be doing quite well in his duel, even mocking McGillis for being so arrogant about piloting a suit with the soul of G-horn’s founder. And to the duel’s credit, it’s another brutal, beam-weapon-less smash-fest.

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In a crucial moment, the hand Almiria stabbed fails Macky, and Gaelio almost gets him, if it weren’t for somebody Gaelio sees his past self in: Isurugi. Someone hypnotised by the BS and whose head is filled with dreams that will never coalesce, but which will end only in his ruin.

Gaelio isn’t wrong about what happens: Isurugi’s last-ditch defense of his commander claims his life. But Isurugi wasn’t from a great family; he was colonist and a commoner, and being with McGillis allowed him to dream big, so big that he didn’t even need to be around to see those dreams fulfilled, as long as he was useful to McGillis.

It’s not a one-sided thing to him, in which Macky takes and the world makes. McGillis gave hope to the hopeless, and they gave him their lives.

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IBO has always had exciting battles, but it’s often the aftermaths of those battles that I’m more invested in, and that’s the case here. The “final battle” wasn’t final and wasn’t a battle so much as a rout, in which McGillis’ shorthanded fleet poked the bear and got mauled.

But Tekkadan isn’t just a military organization like G-horn, they’re a family, and to see Shino and others buy it not for final victory, but just so the rest of the family can live to fight another day (which they were hoping not to do) is particularly despairing.

There’s a great moment when Derma is wishing he had died alongside his friend, rather than losing an arm and becoming less useful as a weapon. Akihiro puts his hand on his head and simply thanks him for surviving. Aki doesn’t care about his adoptive brother’s future effectiveness as a weapon. He cares about being able to talk to him.

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Shaking off the loss of his most loyal lieutenant, it’s full-speed ahead to Mars for McGillis, who has the awkward task of having to call Orga and Eugene to his ship to talk about what happens next, even though the battle they just fought was supposed to be the final one.

At this particular juncture, McGillis believes, or at least gives the impression that he believes, Tekkadan will weather these setbacks and terrible odds as they always have, better than the group’s actual leaders. Orga likely never considered that whatever loses they sustained in the battle with Rustal would only be the beginning; that all those losses gave them was time.

The significance McGillis places on “flying over Mars” and fighting on “home ground” in the next leg of the battle couldn’t feel more hollow, because there wasn’t supposed to be a next leg.

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I loved the scene where Akihiro comforted Derma, but I loved the scene with a recovering Julieta and Gaelio even more. The second he appears, the playful adversity picks right back up, with her wondering what took him so long to visit her after she woke up.

In some Gundams, no doubt this would be a scene in which the injured pilot double down and decides that, like Gaelio, there’s no price she won’t pay, nothing she wouldn’t give up, to become stronger; strong enough to beat Mika. Julieta doesn’t go there.

Having faced off against the terrifying, inhuman might of Mikazuki, she’s decided that’s not her path. Even if she didn’t see the malice in Mika’s real face, his Barbatos’ “expression” mirrored his own. Julieta will become stronger as a human, as herself. No shortcuts.

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Having come back from that deeply unpleasant meeting with McGillis, Orga inspects a room full of body bags filled with comrades for whom he promised a warm place to live and make money without bloodshed. Yamagi, still reeling from the loss of Shino, expresses his resentment for what he sees as cowardly whining by Orga.

When Eugene tracks Yamagi down, he thanks him for tellking Orga what he couldn’t say. Then he tells Yamagi about a time Shino pondered whether Yamagi liked him, and expressed his gratitude that their family is full of so many different types of guys, including a guy who’d love someone like him.

Yamagi knows Shino wouldn’t want him to worry about having not died with him, but to live on, fight on, and make him proud. Just as Isurugi gave his life for a dream he’ll never see, so did Shino, and both went out perfectly fine with that arrangement. No one cursed their lot in life, because they were the lives they chose.

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We end with another excellent Orga-and-Mika scene, in which Orga admits all the lies and big talk he told everyone about money and status and one last battle. Mika, true to his Mika-ness, tells him if there’s someone to blame, it’s him. Orga only “lied” because Mika couldn’t wipe everyone out. His failure to do so only steels him to want to correct that failure in the battles to come.

Orga seems to get it, finally: he’s never had to bear the entire weight of the decisions that have led to their current situation, because they were never his and his alone. They were also Mika’s, and Eugene’s, and Akihiro’s, and everyone else’s, because Orga isn’t a dictator. The things they’ve done are things everyone more or less agreed to or went along with.

On the one hand, most of Tekkadan can’t easily walk away, like Zack could (but likely won’t). But the responsibility lies with everyone. Orga’s most important job is to not have doubts, and as Macky sends Tekkadan and what’s left of his fleet into a Martian trap, a absolute lack of doubt is vital to just keep going.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 45

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The calm is over; the storm is here, and it’s going to be a bad one. IBO wastes no time plunging us into this, what everyone is calling The Final Battle. As there are still five episodes left, I didn’t think the battle would only last an episode, and so it didn’t. But a great deal of damage was done to the good guys, and though key pieces still on the board mean they can still turn things around, they have lost and will lost a lot to do so.

Rustal Elion shows what a ruthless sonofabitch he can be, quickly splitting McGillis’ fleet and focusing on the rebels and Tekkadan, confident if he takes them out the Regulatory fleet will go over to him. He even has a mole among the rebels, who fires a Dainsleif at Rustal’s fleet, making it legal to return fire with the same weapon, only a hundred fold.

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The results are devastating as round after round pierces allied ships. Even Shino takes a big hit, but manages to get back to base, where Yamagi fixes his broken arm, and Yamagi reveals (to us, not Shino) his feelings for him. This…seemed a bit rushed, frankly.

Shino’s great, but from the way he fights I kinda always knew what end he was headed for. Adding this extra wrinkle out of nowhere as incentive to want him to avoid a violent fate doesn’t harm my like of the character, but doesn’t elevate it; it’s just there.

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McGillis tries to dazzle the stage after over half his forces are destroyed (along with Tekkadan’s Hotarubi) but I couldn’t help but think how similar Macky’s posturing felt to Carta’s empty pageantry, which is worth less than nothing if the enemy doesn’t fight with honor, as Rustal certainly doesn’t. He’s playing to win, as well as for survival.

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Even the look in McGillis’ face—a truly “Oh Shit” moment when Rustal looses another massive volley of Dainsleifs—seemed Carta-like in a sort of entitled Things aren’t supposed to go this way! outrage. Bael looks like a shining knight on this stage, but there’s increasingly little he can do to stop the crumbling equipment and spirits that surround him.

Meanwhile, Tekkadan’s only hope is to use one of their crippled ships as a shield in a last-ditch effort to get Shino close enough to Rustal’s bridge to take him out with his “Super Galaxy Cannon.”

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…It doesn’t work. Once more, a potentially huge pressure-releasing moment is denied the audience, just as Naze and Amida were denied their final revenge. In a way, repeating this pattern is a strategy of diminishing returns.

With Julieta somehow holding her own against Mika (which seems dubious) and Gaelio lurking around Macky and Isurugi, Orga down to one beat-up ship, and nowhere left to run, our iron-blooded orphans are in the direst of straits yet.

With Barbaros and Bael still on the board, it’s not quite time to throw in the towel. But will these two namesakes of the franchise possibly be enough to grab victory from the jaws of defeat, and how many more familiar faces won’t live to see it?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 44

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While it certainly seemed like the start of the “final battle” between McGillis/Tekkadan and Rustal was eminent, that start is pushed back to next week, leaving us with the CBTS to end all CBTS episodes. Turns out piloting Bael isn’t enough for the other families to side with McGillis; the best he gets is their neutrality.

I guess they figure not actively helping someone Rustal has publicly labeled a traitor and murderer may help them down the line, if Rustal is able to defeat him. I’m not sure why one of the family heads is an alien, but between him and the fat one I’m not sure Macky would have gained much by having them on his side anyway.

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Another “loose end” is Almiria, who hears Rustal’s speech and assumes, not wrongly, that she’s been a pawn in this all along. When she can’t force herself to do what she believes is her duty—kill Macky for killing her brother—she turns the blade on herself, only for Macky to stop the thrust with his hand.

Telling her he will fulfill his promise to make her happy, one day, is all well and good, but her head is swimming with so many complex emotions (and she’s just a kid besides), she concludes that Macky is simply going crazy here, and so is she.

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As for Orga, he is not pleased McGillis could not secure a larger fleet to fight Arianrhod. When they meet face to face he makes sure to slug Macky for so blithely bringing up the casualties that will surely result from being outnumbered 2-to-1.

Orga wasn’t expecting to have to sacrifice so many members of his family to gain the Martian crown, and it’s because he fell into a pattern of accepting McGillis’ constant reassurances without question.

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From there, everyone starts taking stock. Merribit and Dexter feel helpless for not being able to fight beside the fighters, but will stand beside them anyway. Zack wonders out loud whether fighting the battle really is the only option.  Gaelio tells Julieta she’s becoming stronger “the right way”, perhaps insinuating he didn’t by relying on taboo measures.

Kudelia tells Atra over the space phone that she finally realizes the contradiction of working to eliminate strife from Tekkadan’s future, even though they wouldn’t be the tight-knit family they are without past strife.

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But because Kudelia is back on Mars, it falls to Atra to be there for Mika, so that’s what she does, and in one of the most tender scenes Mika has ever been involved in, when Atra bursts into tears from his tough talk, he hugs her and won’t let go. He’s only known battle in his life, whether it was his choice to fight or someone else’s. Now he’ll fight so Atra, who he admits is precious to him, won’t have to cry anymore.

The show can’t wriggle out of giving us a battle next week, so however many episodes it lasts, what form will it take? Will it be the beginning of Tekkadan’s future, or will Rustal see to it that future is snuffed out in the flames McGillis’ childish delusions of super-heroism?  There are sure to be casualties, big ones, but who? We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 43

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When the stage is set at the end of this stage-setting episode, Rustal calls McGillis “just a child who can’t grow up,” referring to his obsession with shining monolithic superheroes who can bring righteous light to the world.

Rustal is probably right. McGillis can’t grow up. He’s been portrayed as the upstart kid at the adult’s table; an iron-blooded orphan who suffered just as much trauma as the kids of Tekkadan. Learning that Iznario Fareed was a pedophile who collected blonde boys paints Macky’s past even blacker.

To say he grew up far too fast ignores the fact that the ordeals he had to endure didn’t embue him with all the subtle qualities required for proper development. They only taught him the absolutes of weakness and strength; the only subtleties being in the various forms of power.

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With Mika assisting in capturing Gjallarhorn headquarters, McGillis believes he has finally achieved his goal of resurrecting the hero that propelled him, Agnika Kaieru, the tool that will cleanse a dirty system. He renames his rebuilt Bael Agnika Kaieru to commemorate his imminent victory.

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Vidar turns back into Gaelio Bauduin this week, after spending much time correctly ascertaining McGillis’ true goal. For the time they grew up as friends and brothers, Gaelio thought he already knew the McGillis behind “the mask” (not his physical one), until Gaelio betrayed him and Carta.

Now that he knows what McGillis wants, he’s going to stand in the way, not just for his Gjallarhorn, but his family. And he’s come in a Gundamn frame imbued with an faux-A-V system and Ein Dalton’s brain.

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The results are pretty impressive, as Gaelio is able to keep up with Mika and keep him guessing, even getting him to quietly admit “this dude is big trouble.” It certainly looks like McGillis has been outmaneuvered here, with Rustal’s dog able to fight on the same level as his dog, possibly necessitating his own personal involvement in the fight earlier than he’d like.

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But as it turns out, everything seems to be going the way McGillis had hoped, and he’s more than ready to join the fray immediately. Gaelio/Ein is merely giving him the opportunity to test his research. They are an obstacle he will swat away, and with Tekkadan’s help, complete his conquest of Gjallarhorn.

Mika, Orga, and Tekkadan are all counting on this shirtless, suddenly slightly unhinged-looking McGillis for all their fortunes. They cast their lot with him long ago and it’s far too late to back out, even if they wanted to. Now we’ll see if he’s actually on to something, or if Rustal is right and he’s just a kid who can’t grow up.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 38

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This episode teases us a bit by jumping from the beginning of Mika’s battle with Hashmal to “One Month Later”, but thankfully Orga’s talk with McMurdo is a vehicle for rehashing that battle, which is one of the more vicious ones we’ve seen.

For perhaps the first time, an opponent is able to keep up with Mika, push him back, and do a ridiculous amount of damage, such that Mika truly has to pull out all the stops (and borrow Isurugi’s ludicrously huge sword) to get the job done. And he does: it’s immensely satisfying to hear the smash of Hashmal finally hitting the ground, out for the count.

McMurdo, like Naze before, gives Orga a polite — for now — warning not to let his interests clash with Teiwaz’s, because his life won’t be the only one to be forfeit. With each battle, it becomes more and more impossible for Orga to deviate from his forward path to dominion over Mars, as more and more alternate avenues close around him and Tekkadan.

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In another satisfying scene, Master Rustal all but drops his alliance with an increasingly chaotic Iok Kujan, and in doing so, gains a lot more respect from me. Rustal wants to rid himself of McGillis, but he’s not going to operate, or continue to allow someone like Iok, to work outside of the established ideals of Gjallarhorn; i.e. to protect order.

This is why Rustal gives Iok the cold shoulder at the meeting of the Seven Stars, congratulates Fareed for his hard-won victory, and bides his time. Like Iok, Julieta wants to act and act fast, but she’s at least able to take dierection from Rustal better.

What he wants from her isn’t mere brute strength like Mikazuki Augus; he wants something more; perhaps something that will endure longer than a bright-yet-brief flame. Julie is willing to try to find out what that is.

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As for Mika, he continues to sacrifice pieces of himself, almost exclusively for Orga’s sake. One could argue Orga has the power to stop him, but he simply can’t say the words, perhaps for fear it would undermine their relationship and Mika’s faith in him; perhaps simply because he knows Tekkadan would likely have fallen many times by now were it not for Mika’s singular contributions.

But Mika’s whole left side is paralyzed now. He needs (a very willing) Hush to carry him around, and is constantly asking if Barbatos is repaired so he can get back into the cockpit and be able to “move” again. In exchange for its Calamity War-ending power, Barbatos is exacting a heavy cost upon Mika by making it increasingly difficult for him to function without it.

There isn’t even any discussion about whether such effects can be reversed, so it certainly isn’t looking good for Mika long-term. This upsets Kudelia and Atra alike, who are also worried that all the gains Tekkadan has made hasn’t really changed Mika at all; he still sees himself as a blade; Orga’s blade, and only lives to serve him in any way he can, until his body and mind and soul are utterly spent.

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This compels Atra, likely too bashful to consider herself for the job, to beg Kudelia to have a baby with Mika, so that, if the worst happens and Mika doesn’t come back one day, they’ll still have a part of him to love and care for. It’s very in-character for Atra to propose such a thing, but I doubt it will go anywhere, since I don’t see Kudelia ever being able to propose such a thing to Mika, even if Mika could well simply say “ok, sure fine” about it.

But for now, Mika is focused on one thing: continuing to fight, kill, destroy, for Orga. For Tekkadan. For the Kingdom of Mars. He considers his current position “not that bad” as it “simplifies things.” Kudelia wants to create a world where he doesn’t have to fight. Now he can no longer move, let alone fight, without Barbatos, so as far as Mika’s concerned, there is no going back until Kudelia’s dream is attained. The only other outcome is death.

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Again, it makes sense for Mika to be so obsessed with Barbatos’ status; it is literally the machine that keeps him alive and able to be useful. When Orga visits him, thinking he’s asleep, he refuses to apologize for what happened, but Mika isn’t asleep; he hears him.

And he agrees: Mika chose to do what he did, and he can live with the consequences. He is also willing to keep going, and keep giving up pieces of himself for the cause. He won’t let Orga apologize, because there’s nothing to apologize for.

As McGillis considers Gaelio’s apparent return to the field of play, and Julieta aims to emulate Mika in her unswerving devotion as her master’s blade, Mika stays the course. With Orga, he believes he can go anywhere. In the final dozen episodes, we’ll see how far that is and how much more it will cost.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 37

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While Vidar’s showdown with McGillis and Isurugi is merely a tease, the continuing battle against Hashmal is most certainly not, as it enters — and is not quite resolved in — its second episode.

Just when we thought Mika and Akihiro would be able to take care of it with their badassery, their A-J systems enter “Safe Mode” and their Gundams are paralyzed at the worst possible time – with the city of Chryse in Hashmal’s manic crosshairs.

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We haven’t known Master Iok long, but it’s clear despite his age, he’s just another know-nothing Gjallarhorn aristocrat completely divorced from all good sense and competence.

I gained a lot of love for Julieta for being so utterly disgusted by her so-called superior, that she doesn’t even allow him to get himself killed, as even death is “no cure for his stupidity.”

Iok may be obsessing over his fallen men, but he’s also responsible for the deaths of all the civilians at the agra plant. Julieta sees to it he’ll live to answer for those deaths.

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This is a thrilling, stomping, unrelenting episode, where all the chaos unfolding threatening to spin everything we know out of control. From his makeshift command post Orga is only just keeping his and Tekkadan’s head above the surging waters of Hashmality.

With his two strongest pilots out of the picture until further notice (Zak reveals hidden knowledge by figuring out what the issue was, if not an immediate solution), he must unleash Shino (and a reluctant Yanagi in close quarters) and the new Flauros, which transforms into a wicked gun emplacement.

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Orga must swallow his and his organization’s pride (so it can live another day, tarnished rep or no) by asking McGillis and Isurugi to assist. One of Iok’s quieter crimes of late was planting the Seven Stars seed in Macky’s head; now all of a sudden he wants to grab glory while saving his partners’ butts.

But he very nearly bites off more than he can chew as Hashmal gets the better of him. Even McGillis is not immune to the insidious arrogance a Gjallarhorn uniform infuses in its wearer; combine that with Macky’s belief that history is on his side, and he nearly gets himself killed by insisting on sharing the front lines with his underlings.

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Orga wants to keep Mika out of the fighiting, lest another “Edmonton” occur, but Mika manages to convince Orga to let him go, remove Barbatos’ limiter, save Macky (and a foolhardy Ride), and fight Hashmal head-on, no matter what (further) damage it might do to his body. His logic is simple, as things tend to be with Mika: he only has a life at all because of Orga. Mika has to give him his all. It’s not a question.

Kudelia and Atra sit in Kudelia’s office in Chryse, confident Mika will keep them safe and come back, like he always does. But his arm sling has been a constant reminder that Mika hasn’t been 100% since Edmonton, and his use of Barbatos against Hashmal means he’ll leave a lot more behind on the battlefield when – or even if – he returns, as they hope he will.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 36

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If anyone wanted confirmation Iok is a moron, this episode put all remaining doubts to rest. First, he wakes up the Mobile Armor. Second, he gets his butt kicked, his men killed, and barely escapes with his life. Third, he ruins everyone else’s plans with an ill-conceived counterattack motivated only by vengeance for his lost comrades.

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That last blunder proves most costly, as the Mobile Armor heads not into McGillis and Orga’s a carefully-planned ambush in a gorge, but towards the nearest agricultural complex. There simply isn’t enough time to evacuate the facility, and when Ride tries to protect it, the Armor’s beam bounces off his armor and hits the facility anyway, killing an untold number of innocent people. Things are officially out of control.

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Ride is saved by Mika, who manages to take out the swarming “Plumas” around him. Mika also stubbornly refers to the armor as a “bird”, not “angel”, as McGillis corrected him. To him, this is just another target to be eliminated, but as we don’t see him in a direct confrontation with it, and saw what happened to Iok’s elite suit, there’s a festering doubt that Mika can a.) defeat the armor and b.) do so without more collateral damage.

Chryse is the armor’s next target, and with McGillis and Isurugi are confronted by an opportunistic Mask-Gaelio, it will be mostly up to Tekkadan to stop their would-be throne from being torched by a relic from a bloody past. There’s no going back.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 35

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After a very obvious but enjoyable calm before the storm, the clouds roll in fast here, as tensions mount over the “mobile worker-like” discovery dug up in the mine. One look at it and you know it’s not something you necessarily want to switch on without taking certain precautions—if at all. But those handling it have no idea what it really is or what it was designed for – it’s just another potential asset to help Tekkadan become stronger.

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Not this time. This isn’t Barbatos. When McGillis hears (pretty damn late, if you ask me) about the relic Tekkadan dug up, along with the much larger machine still in the ground, he personally warns Orga to cease excavation immediately and not to activate what they already dug up. He also arranges for a secret in-person meeting with Orga on Mars.

McGillis has seen the old way of doing things – from afar, through delegation, etc. – and he wants to be a different kind of Gjallarhorn leader: one who looks his allies in the face, shakes their hands, and speaks with his own voice, out in the open.

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I never for a second thought Teiwaz’s #2 Jasley wouldn’t become another thorn in the side of Tekkadan. I just didn’t know he’d be such a big wrench in the works so quickly. Keeping a close eye on McGillis, he soon learns of the secret meeting, and leaks the intel to Rustal’s people. Why? Well, he doesn’t like the Tekkadan “punks”, and doing this disrupts their plans and throws Gjallarhorn into even more pitched infighting. It’s win-win, basically.

We don’t know Jasley well, and he’s a pretty broad character, but his motivations check out. He’s another one of the group of “cranky adults” in IBO who don’t like how these upstart kids are rising so fast. Even if Tekkadan wins the throne of Mars, Jasley is still Teiwaz’s #2, and Orga is still a punk in his eyes. He even thinks McMurdo, an “old man” a generation ahead of him, has gone soft for Tekkadan, and he doesn’t like it.

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Even with all the rising tensions, secret meetings and betrayals, there’s plenty of snapshots of ordinary life at Tekkadan, whether its at the maintenance bays, or mess hall, or in Kudelia’s office as she meets with Mika and Atra, with Hush tagging along so he can learn more about his new idol/master.

In this little scene, we see Mika’s reading has continued to improve, but he, Atra, and many other orphans still have no idea how to handle the money they earn, and have Kudelia manage it for them. Kudelia is an imminently trustworthy person with only their best interests at heart, but they’re still quite vulnerable to those who are less so. The key, Kudelia stresses, is education.

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I found myself a bit taken aback by the openness of McGillis’ meeting with Orga on Mars. It’s admirable for him to be mask-free and out in the open with Tekkadan, but considering Rustal is coming for him, perhaps a bit too careless. McGillis assumes no one knows he’s coming, unaware Jasley informed Rustal. But why not be more careful anyway?

Not only that, Orga’s best men accompany him and McGillis to the excavation site, but with no mobile suits backing them up. Now, we know the Mobile Armor that lies in the earth may be activated by mobile suits, but you’d think McGillis wouldn’t make himself a sitting duck for Iok so easily.

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When Iok and a brace of mobile suits land near the site, it’s because they believe McGillis is plotting to destroy what’s left of the mobile armor so he can receive the “Order of the Seven Stars” and rise to the first rank currently occupied by the headless Issue family. McGillis seems to scoff that off; but he can’t just be there as a sign of trust, solidarity, and transparency to Tekkadan, can he?

As such, Iok, like Jasley, has his information, and makes the conclusions he believes best fits: McGillis is starting a Gjallarhorn rebellion, and must be stopped. With mobile suits at his command and communication with Tekkadan HQ down, Iok is totally in charge…until his suits activate the mobile armor, which immediately shoots a giant energy beam into the sky – one of (if not the) first instance of such a beam in IBO.

This is, in effect, a game changer. We knew Tekkadan and McGillis had resentful adversaries to overcome. But this pteradactyl-like menace is a relic of the Calamity War that claimed hundreds of millions of lives, and it operates autonomously, a la the machines in The Matrix. Even the normally serene face of McGillis twists in oh-shittitude at its awakening. The storm is here. 

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 34

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Tekkadan is sharpening its teeth. It has to, now that Orga has cast his lot in with McGillis. One can’t be King of Mars without a powerful army, and with Tekkadan booting up their third Gundam frame (Flauros) that army is being made into something that will hopefully make potential rivals think twice about starting anything.

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Of course, some of those rivals may come from Teiwaz itself. Naze is pilloried by some of his fellow members for letting Orga make a deal with such wide-ranging effects on the entire organization. McMurdo is okay with it…as long as things go well.

If not, not only will Teiwaz likely dump Tekkadan, but Naze is on record as vouching for them with his very life. Of course, Orga is well aware he may have overstepped his bounds, so when Naze tells him this is the last time he’ll forgive him “with a smile”, he understands perfectly.

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As Orga heads to Ares to start talks with various people McGillis wants him engaged in, Isurugi also impresses upon him the importance of not screwing up, even to the point of bristling at Orga’s worry Macky is “overestimating” Tekkadan. Maybe he is, but Tekkadan has come a long way in a short time, so there’s no reason they can’t keep climbing if they maintain relationships with powerful allies…provided those allies can be trusted.

Speaking of allies, we see Kudelia, Atra, and Mika gathered around the same table – a rarity this season. Not much is said, but both girls see that Mika has a new student/servant in Hush, whom Mika finds annoying but isn’t about to cast him away. Hush still has a lot to prove to a lot of people – and he certainly doesn’t seem anywhere near ready to pilot that new Gundam – but he’s working hard, and more importantly, no longer has an over-inflated sense of his abilities.

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Speaking of Gundams, Masky shows Julieta what he can do in Vidar, and even after telling her he fights for revenge, she doesn’t see that in his graceful, beautiful fighting, which he chalks up to having so much fun fighting in the suit that he forgets what he’s fighting for, simply losing himself in combat.

Masky certainly shows he’s capable of taking out a good many of Tekkadan’s pilots, though Mika, Akihiro, and obviously McGillis could probably still handle him. I’m sure we’ll find out before long.

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As for Macky, he keeps reading the book about the founder of Gjallarhorn at his house; the same book that lifted him out of suicidal thoughts, because Agnika Kaieru believed in building a world where anyone, regardless of birth or status, could do great things.

Macky gets Almiria on board with his plans by telling her that this is also a world in which she won’t be mocked because she’s such a young fiancee. Masky says he’s consumed by revenge and is committed to erasing his past identity (as Gaelio Bauduin) so I figure he doesn’t care about Almiria anymore. I’m hoping Macky is aware Masky is out there, so that when he inevitably comes at him, he’ll be ready.

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