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.

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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 – 31

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Even Takaki can feel it: something’s not right. Something hasn’t been right since Chad was injured, Radice took over, and Galan was brought on. But that “something” is impossible for him to grasp, at least to the point it alters the course he and the other Earth Branchers of Tekkadan, which is precisely the course Galan wants them on: the path to ruin.

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As such, Takaki finds himself very nearly back to where this all began: human tools of CGS; cannon fodder for endless, pointless battles between Arbrau and the SAU. And it’s all in service of weakening McGillis’ position and reputation. As he stares in his coffee, McGillis knows exactly what’s going on, as he’s probably been expecting concerted resistance to his reform movement. It’s strange to see him on his heels, almost forced to make a move.

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I’m not yet sure if McGillis is being played here, but Takaki and Aston are being played like fiddles. Galan treats them decently, but behind their backs calls them dogs he’s helpfully trained for Rastal. He tells Takaki again and again that this is it; the last battle; just one more push and he can go back home to his normal happy life with Fuka and Aston. Only they’re just words, and in reality there is no end to the war in sight.

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That’s just how Galan, Radice, and Rustal want it. It’s another case of the adults getting one over on the kids; manipulating their emotions to keep them pliable. Galan even goes out of his way to save Takaki’s life, not just to keep up the charade but to build more trust; trust Galan has every intention of betraying when the time is right.

It’s an episode that establishes a terrible situation for Earth Branch, and makes me question the wisdom of splitting Tekkadan’s forces across two planets in the first place. Mika, Kudelia, Eugene & Co. are on their way, and may be able to provide some relief but Galan won’t make it easy for them to interfere in his plans. Will it be too little, too late to save Takaki?

Meanwhile, McGillis takes the stage in his mobile suit, determined after a matter of weeks to nip this sprawling yet low-boil conflict in the bud. A rematch with the masked Gaelio seems imminent.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 30

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Note Orga tucking his tie to keep it clean – nice little detail
With so much opportunity for prosperity and stability on the horizon, Orga’s not one to go soft: When he’s late for dinner, he doesn’t ask Atra to heat it up, preferring to “deal with whatever’s in front” of him, be it food, work, or trouble.

Mika, always one to both notice and speak up about things no one else does, notices Orga is looking a little skinny, and drops some of his weird nut things on top of Orga, who isn’t a fan of the taste. But by episode’s end, Mika’s coat lint-garnished snacks are the least troublesome thing he must deal with.

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Julieta and Iok report their failure back to Rastal, who already has plans to open a front against McGillis on Earth, using some “bearded gentleman” Iok isn’t comfortable with but Julieta seems to be fine with, as long as he serves her master ably.

Julieta also meets with Mask Gaelio, who seems to be trying to warn her about trusting someone, even a superior, too closely. After all, all he and Carta ever were to McGillis were loyal and admiring, and he repaid them by screwing them royally. His only mistake was not making sure Gaelio was dead.

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McGillis’ enemies are joining forces out of a shared desire to see him fall, and McGillis’ enemies are now Tekkadan and Admoss Co.’s enemies. They reaped the benefits in last week’s battle, but Tekkadan’s Earth Branch represents its soft, vulnerable underbelly, and Radice has already given up on the ragtag Tekkadan Earth crew he deems “uneducated animals”.

Mere minutes before a commencement address, Makanai’s office is bombed, and Radice is in on it. Chad is injured along with Makanai, leaving Radice in charge of Tekkadan Earth, and he wastes no time showing his contempt for his underlings in keeping them in the dark.

Radice is having a drink with the “bearded gentleman” when the bomb goes off, and this is only the beginning, as rumors start to swirl everywhere that the SAU is responsible for the incident, and Gjallarhorn is brought in to arbitrate.

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It’s a chaotic situation and the last thing Orga, Chad, and Takaki wanted. Takaki, the ostensible leader of Tekkadan Earth with Radice having turned against them (still unbeknownst to them), must way everyone’s selfish desire to avenge Chad with Chad’s actual orders to keep things under control. It’s a lot for the gentle-hearted Takaki to take on, and just when he was hoping he could give Fuka a better life on Earth.

He at least has Aston on his side, who may share the others’ thirst to avenge Chad but considers his duty to his superior more important. What ticks Takaki off is that in interpreting his duty to him, Aston goes straight to fighting or dying for him.

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Tekkadan was supposed to be moving past such desperate measures, but McGillis’ and their foes are determined to keep them dragged down in the mire. On a hunch, Orga rushes the delivery of weapons and new mobile suits to Earth, and sends Eugene and Akihiro to make sure they get there.

Mika and Kudelia also tag along for the journey, and with such big names it looks like Earth is going to play a bigger role than I thought…once they get there. It’s a three-week trip, and a lot can happen on the ground in that time.

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Like Orga, Takaki isn’t fully aware of the depths of Radice’s betrayal when he shakes the hand of Arbrau Defense Force’s new commander, the hulking “bearded gentleman” Galan Mossa. But he’s certainly uneasy about the future, and his future self narrating admits this was the time a trap began closing around Tekkadan; one that they could not escape from without more fighting and dying. It’s a cold dinner, but all they can do is deal with it.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 29

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When Kudelia didn’t play ball with Allium, he sent the Dawn Horizon Corps after Tekkadan, but quickly lost control when Sandoval decided to use the job as an opportunity to put the upstart Tekkadan in its place.

Throw in rival Gjallarhorn forces and you have a chaotic, compelling mix of goals and motivations. It’s a big knot that came together last week, and by the end of this episode, that knot is mostly undone and replaced by other, tighter knots.

First things first: Nab Sandoval, and Tekkadan wins. Orga tells Mika to win it for them, and he does, capturing the pirate leader before Julieta can (Julieta is pissed, but not manically so, at least for now).

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For their victory, Barristan awards them the biggest half-metal mine in Chryse – giving Tekkadan the well-earned opportunity to supplement or even eliminate their mercenary activities with self-sustaining revenue stream…once it’s up and running of course. More victories, more rewards…more problems.

After the fine battle where he was essentially only part of the pit crew, Hush decides he deserves not just to confront Eugene and Shino, but ask them to ask Orga for a mobile suit. Mika says he will, after Hush tells him why: to become stronger than him. That’s fine with Mika; he’s not in a competition to be the strongest, he just is the strongest.

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Later, we see Allium desperately trying to pick up the pieces, continually reminding us of that cockroach Todo, only somehow less capable. Nobliss doesn’t answer his calls, and when Orga and Mika have come to ask for compensation for his treachery, a call to Gjallarhorn is of no avail.

Here we see a combination of the dual hats Orga must wear. He has to be the politician in the tie, making sure all his connections are in order before he steps in Allium’s office. Naze knows this side will be tough for him.

But in using Mika as his unblinking attack dog when diplomacy fails, Orga shows he must still cultivate and bring out the brawler/gangster side, backing words with steel. All Allium had in the end were words: far too many and not convincing enough to save him.

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It’s no accident that this unpleasant if necessary scene is juxtaposed with a far more peaceful moment between Kudelia and Atra at the Sakura Farm, tossing out potential death flags in committing to an endgame that is, as we saw with Orga and Mika, still quite a ways (and many more battles) off.

Kudelia is out of immediate, constant danger of the kind she was in last season, but she is still struggling with exactly how to end the deadly “chain reaction” of creating Mikas and Tekkadans to achieve her desired gains. Like Mika with the other types of seeds, she’s going to have to trying multiple methods, with no guarantee of success despite the conviction of her promise.

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Peace is a lot tougher not just when you’re surrounded by resentful rivals (two of whom Tekkadan ends in Terra Liberionis and the Dawn Horizon Corps) but possessed of all-too-tantalizing weapons.

At the end of the day, the nabbed Sandoval and won the mine thanks to Mika in his Barbatos. I’m not sure if Barristan knew about the more immediate treasures in the mine—a Gundam frame and “something bigger”—but it’s looking more likely like Hush may get his shot.

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Finally, Orga, along with Mika and Merribit, are invited (not summoned) to Gjallarhorn’s Mars HQ, Ares, and to the same office where Coral once plotted their and Kudelia’s demise. That didn’t go well, because Coral was corrupt and unprepared.  McGillis won’t make the same mistake of underestimating Tekkadan’s desire to survive and thrive and the upside of remaining close allies.

Orga and Mika are understanably suspicious—this guy wears more than one mask—but in this place and time it seems only appropriate to continue working with him. They want a less corrupt Gjallarhorn too, and McGillis offers advantages he says will outweigh whatever problems come from gaining the same enemies he has, which include Rustal, Iok, Julieta…and Gaelio.

I really liked this scene, because it shows McGillis dispensing with Gjallarhorn superiority, looking a potential ally level in the face, and offering an earnest hand of friendship and cooperation without strings (that we know of). Perhaps it’s because McGillis, like Orga, Mika, and Tekkadan, is not only an orphan, but an upstart rising high. Upstart orphans gotta stick together in a world trying to keep them down.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 28

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This week is a case of strange bedfellows and an unexpectedly huge and complex space battle. Orga can only move Tekkadan forward, but Merribit is there to remind him not to push too far too fast, and there’s a constant feeling Fareed’s Gjallarhorn allies could turn on them at any minute. So it’s interesting when they don’t, though they only brought one ship out of five promised, for “reasons.”

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The Gjallarhorn no-nonsense Captain Isurugi (perhaps the most level-headed and least scenery-chewing GJ commander to date) wanted to get a head start on the battle because the victor will get the fame of having taken down Dawn Horizon.

But Dawn’s leader Reuters seemed to be counting on his opponent to attack quickly when his forces were scattered…which is why he tricked them by towing seven of his fleet’s ships behind the only three Tekkadan detected. The Orphans used to pull off tricks like this all the time, now they’re falling for them. The times they are a-changin’…

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Even though they have the numbers, Dawn doesn’t have Mikazuki Augus, who goes about his business in his usual casually brutal way. We also meet Akihito’s huge Gusion “Rebake”, and the Tekkadan pilots experience the very strange sensation of being covered, not attacked, by Gjallarhorn Grazes. The goal isn’t total victory over a larger opponent, but simply buying time for the rest of Gjallarhorn’s fleet to show up. And it’s a tremendout battle – one of IBO’s finest.

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Even that task requires all mobile suits to be brought back in for pit stops, and launches are staggered so there’s always someone out there. When Mika comes in, Hush, assigned to flight deck duty, curses under his breath how efficient Mika was with his propellant, despite moving around the most.

Mika, meanwhile, is personally refueled with pita sandwiches by Atra, making sure the pilot who makes Barbatos go doesn’t go hungry in the midst of a battle. Even in an intense battle like this, it’s warmer lighter moments like these that give life and realism to proceedings that would otherwise be stodgy.

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We perhaps learn the reason Fareed’s Gjallarhorn ship arrived so quickly: when the others show up, they have no intention of fighting with Tekkadan. Iok, Julieta, and the bitter Masked Man (Gaelio?) all pilot mobile suits and add even more complexity to the battle. Reuters also covers Dawn’s withdrawal by taking his Hugo out.

But when Mika engages, he’s blocked by Julieta, who so far is not acting as crazy as her butterfly-eating debut. Perhaps, like Mika, she’s All Business when she’s in the cockpit? In any case, these two will either start going at it next week, or one or both of their COs will tell them to stand down. One would hope the pirate leader doesn’t get to slip away in all the confusion over dibs and jurisdiction.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 27

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This striking image encapsulates the episode pretty nicely: Hash (or Hush) wants to be able to do what Mika can do, and what what his “older brother” couldn’t do back in the slums. He is at the head of the new recruits who have heard tales of Tekkadan and seek greatness—and purpose—in this new Mars, but haven’t escaped their past.

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We also check in on Tekkadan’s Earth Branch in Edmonton, where Takaki lives with his sister Fuka and takes her to school. Things are still a little delicate, but Takaki will take all the stability, normalcy, and domesticity he can get. He’s an iron-blooded orphan success story; in a way, he achieved what Biscuit tried to but could not. Now that he has it, he has no qualms about paying it forward.

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We jump from a meal on earth to one on Mars, where Hash makes his pitch to Yukinojo: he wants the A-V surgery. “Too old” is the cold reply, along with warmer words from Atra that Hash simply doesn’t want to hear. He’s poised to shove Atra aside, but Mika grabs his arm. And here Hash is: faced with the person he wishes to be more than anything, even at the cost of his life.

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Hash seems an over-eager brat in a hurry to die—until we hear his story, and it’s a sad one. His “big bro” Builth went off to CGS looking for glory, but his A-V surgery failed, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Hoping to make the lives of the younger kids like Hash easier, Builth’s actions had the opposite effect, and he took his own life before he could over-burden them too much. But doing so bestowed Hash with a new and potentially deadlier burden: to follow in his footsteps, but succeed where he failed.

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Meanwhile, Tekkadan is going to subjugate the Dawn Horizon Corps pirates, Todo reappears (as a Very Irritating Person), and Fareed has sent the Arianrhod Fleet to Mars to join the pirate fight. Aboard is Iok (who seems put out), Julieta (who seems less crazy but no less devoted to Rustal), and…a new Masked Man.

Who the heck is this? Will he ever speak, or does he rely on the pulsing lights on his face to communicate? I’m not quite sure, but Julieta doesn’t trust him. Nor does Orga trust Fareed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together, at least for a time, towards a shared goal.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 26

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Donna Draper, Creative Director

Tekkadan is finally legit, Kudelia is getting shit done from her Mad Men office, and Gjallarhorn has fallen out of favor. Perfect opportunities to introduce new players on all fronts. Tekkadan’s standing is more solid, but there are still tectonic rumblings throughout this episode, which starts out peaceful, even mundane, but becomes progrssively more Gundam-y as the unintended consequences of everyone’s success mount.

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Looks like a family

Kudelia’s underestimating of a sniveling economic rival mirrors how seemingly innocuous threats could end up a pain in our heroes’ collective rears. Cookie and Cracker are getting a decent education, but they cling to Mika when he even thinks about going back out into danger, something he obviously has to do and will continue to do.

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Julieta here (voiced by MAO) is sure be in a cockpit soon, facing off against Mika

Kudelia and Tekkadan alike gained feisty rivals by showing the world that not all underdog causes are hopeless. Now that McGillis has a seat at the Seven Stars Big Boy Table, he, like Orga in Tekkadan, isn’t going to stop moving forward; it’s the only way for either figure to survive. Only Orga just wants to settle down make an honest living some day. McGillis has big ambitions, which attract both ire and push-back from the families whose toes he’s stepping on.

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Mika makes another grand entrance in the nick of time

The world(s) is familiar, as are most of the faces, but it was exciting to see many in new or refined roles. It was also good to see new recruits positioned below, experiencing at the end a measure of the hell of war the main cast went through in their first episode (though these newbies have much nicer bosses.

All of Kudelia’s, Tekkadan’s, and McGillis’ plans to “let it ride” on the gutsy gambles they’ve made are being challenged at every turn by those who want to keep them down in the muck. We’ll see how the new role of the challenged, rather than challenger, fits our scrappy team.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 25 (Fin*)

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This episode marks the end of my Winter 2016, and it was a good one. In fact, it was a great one. The order of the final battles were all set, with no more surprises in store; all that was left was for everyone to have at it and see who comes out of the fray getting what they want.

Kudelia wants peace and equality for Mars; Orga wants to find, through the crucible of war, the place where Mika and Tekkadan belong. Henri and Iznario want to maintain their grip on power; McGillis wants to purge Gjallarhorn of the corruption and hypocrisy that brought about the crazed FrankenstEin monster.

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The actual battle between Mika and Ein is brutal and smashy, as has come to be the typical mobile suit battle style (even Ein doesn’t have any beam weapons or missiles, which is for the best). As for the personalities, Ein remains, well, crazy, while Mika keeps a casual calm, muttering fuel levels and tactics and generally ignoring Ein’s ranting.

Slightly more civilized in execution is the duel between McGillis and Gaelio, with the former landing swift and deadly strikes on the latter once Gaelio states he won’t let even a lifelong friend in McGillis get away with exploiting Ein the way he did.

While these final two mobile suit duels are going on, Makanai finally arrives at parliament. Was there any doubt once he got there that he wasn’t going to have any difficulty getting his way?

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When Orga receives the good news, he starts to be able to see the end he’ll make…but they’re not there quite yet, so he orders everyone to not die, warning them he’ll kill them again if they do.

As Henri and Iznario sweat, McGillis really gets into Ice Cold Mode, telling Gaelio such “soft-hearted emotions” as friendship, love, and trust Carta (who it’s confirmed has died) and Gaelio gave him won’t reach him, as he has “lived in anger.”

It’s an anger his two childhood friends were too busy trusting, loving, and even partially pitying him for not having been born to power as they were. McGillis took full advantage of their blind spots in using them to expose Gjallarhorn.

When he marries Almiria, he’ll become head of the Bauduin family, the Seven Stars, and the new, unblemished order. He admits to Gaelio that he was the only true friend he ever had, but sacrificing him was necessary for the good of the world.

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Ein’s constant ranting about making Mika repent for his sins really starts to grate, and it doesn’t help that Ein isn’t going down while Mika is running out of gas and ammo.

Back in Parliament, Makanai cedes his speaking time to Kudelia, knowing she’s more likely to deliver a speech that will rouse more members to their cause. She states her purpose for coming and the constant disruptions by Gjallarhorn, and asks the body to choose a future filled with hope.

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Mika, finally on his last nerve, hears Orga’s voice of support and finds his second (third?) wind, finally understanding how to use Barbatos, and proceeding to cut away at Ein’s mobile suit.

Ein calls him a monster, to which Mika dryly responds “Look who’s talking,” finally simply telling Ein to shut up by running his suit through the core. Mika’s never needed many words to get his point across, and achieves yet another badass victory by sticking to that M.O.

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Makanai wins re-election, cease-fire flares are fired, and the battle ends with Tekkadan the victor. Half-metal negotiations are opened, while Mika asks Orga at sunset if they’ve arrived at that place he’s always talking about. Orga affirms that they have, at least one of them, and Mika simply says “It’s pretty.”

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McGillis proceeds to send his father away to exile, then comforts his betrothed; he got everything he wanted out of this, but he still has much to do, and while he’s sitting pretty near the top of the food chain, he’s still not invulnerable.

To Merribit’s relief, after the battle the seeming death-and-revenge-obsessed kids…turn back into more-or-less regular kids/brats. They’re not doomed after all, but a lot tougher than she thought.

Laffter, Azee, and Shino are all fine. Orga meets with Naze and laments the men he lost, but Naze tells him that’s part of being a leader, and he can’t let it get to him. For his men to believe in him and his cause, he must believe in it too, no matter the cost.

Kudelia will be staying behind in Arbrau, but Atra still has the two of them console Mika, who’s lost the use of a hand and a partially ruined eye. And finally, after Orga congratulates Tekkadan for completing their first mission—escorting Kudelia to Earth—he turns around and asks Mika what they should do now, a nice mirror of the usual dynamic. Mika’s response: Let’s go home.

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*If it seems like this “final” episode left a lot of things on the table—no return to Mars, McGillis’ plan just getting off the ground; more observing and maneuvering by the parent companies—well, that’s because a new season has been announced, airing Fall 2016. We haven’t seen the last of the Iron-Blooded Orphans, and I’m not complaining.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 24

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Well, I’m back, after managing to climb my way out of the Ik Kil cenote, and upon my return I’m greeted with one of the hardest-punching episodes of IBO yet, the climactic Battle of Edmonton. What’s interesting is that most of the time, the city itself is completely untouched by the battle, as are its citizens (none of whom we see) and the parliament that is about to convene.

Tekkadan have six hours to get Makanai there, or everything will have been for nothing. But Gjallarhorn is careful not to appear like they’re interfering in Arbrau affairs, while Mika can’t just barrel into the city and wreck up the place, because Makanai would lose all support he has with such a reckless entrance.

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But the clock doesn’t rule this episode. It’s there, but far more important is Orga and Tekkadan’s commitment to demonstrating their version of the Inverse Gambler’s Fallacy: Things have worked out for them so far, so they’re going to keep working out, if only they keep fighting and pressing forward. There’s nowhere for them to retreat to anymore, so it’s not as if they’re swimming in options.

Merribit has an active role in the battle—tending the wounded, which seems like far too big a job for just her and Atra, neither of whom are triage doctors—but she remains convinced they’re doing this all wrong. She’s become the new Biscuit, only she’s even more outwardly opposed to the more reckless plan being implemented, and the costs of which are mounting by the minute; a lot of orphans die today.

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But Merribit isn’t in charge; Orga is, and he has the full support and loyalty of the men…er, boys,along with the tacit approval from Kudelia, who absolutely must get to Parliament with Makanai. In not so many words, Orga tells Merribit to stuff her objections where the sun don’t shine.

Since before they were Tekkadan, they’ve been risking their lives, either for their own purposes or for those of their masters. Tekkadan still has masters of a kind in Teiwaz, Makanai, Kudelia and Montag. But never has the need to put aside worries about losses or political or emotional fallout than now.

Even if Orga were to cave to Merribit’s wishes, what does she suggest: surrender? They’d likely all be killed anyway, and all the higher-ups would do is click their tongues in distant disappointment, lamenting Tekkadan wasn’t who they thought they were and moving on rather quickly.

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So Orga doubles down, hoping even when his boys see their comrades fall, they’ll fight that much harder so the survivors can survive and smile. It is a full understanding that nothing so much as a place to belong comes free, especially for a band of Martian orphans oppressed all their lives: the orphans who fall shall be bricks in the foundation of the survivor’s future; their blood will be the mortar.

But yeah, for all that to happen, some of Tekkadan has to actually, you know, survive. While I liked how the episode started with the battle already trudging on for three days, if you stop and think about it (or watch how quickly they incur losses in the scenes of the battle we get), you see that the show has suddenly gotten awfully darned liberal with Tekkadan’s strength and resources.

But this is an episode about putting a lot of stuff aside, whether it’s how Tekkadan can hold out so long against Gjallarhorn, or how good a wheelwoman Atra is in a pinch. It’s an episode where both the heroes and the show throw caution to the wind and go for it, and the results are far more thrilling than frustrating.

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One could level the criticism that there’s simply too many people fighting for screen time this week, but this also didn’t bother me, as we’re in the climax of the show (barring a third season). So when Eugene suddenly shows up to bail out the mobile workers, we cut to the nervous Makanai faction or Fleurs and Iznario watching from safety, or Gaelio takes Mika on to avenge Carta, I’m fine with all of it.

The most obvious reveal that was coming this week was someone I’ll call “Frankenst’Ein”, but his entrance was still chilling in its ominousness. Laffter and Azee are two of Tekkadan’s best fighters, but the way StEin casts them aside like ragdolls really drives home the point that this guy is bad news. Indeed, Azee, Laffter, and Shino could all be toast, and all in a matter of seconds, which, obviously, would suck.

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Not only that, Ein manages to unite all the disparate battle vectors by working so fast he’s almost everywhere at once, undermining Tekkadan’s gains and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. Once he’s done beating up the mobile suits, the power is switched off in Edmonton so that Ein’s Arab reactor won’t cause any more chaos than he causes by ripping up the streets with another badass entrance.

However, on this point, Ein is outmatched by Kudelia, doing probably the bravest (and stupidest) thing she’s ever done by standing her ground and staring Ein down, daring him to do what he will. By doing so, and throughout his dialogue, Ein is not only revealed as an over-powered, formidable fighting force, but not the stablest of individuals, which is understandable considering how much Crank meant to him (and the fact he no longer has a full body).

Kudelia really is going all-in here, giving clarity to a very complex situation: Ein can kill her right then and there, but there will be consequences for the powers that be. Not only that, Kudelia’s able to distract Ein long enough to allow Mika to blast in to rescue her, along with Orga and Atra, at the last second.

Meanwhile, though it’s almost overshadowed by the impending Mika-Ein duel, I kinda cheered inside when Montag Dazzled the Stage and unmasked himself, proclaiming he’ll be Gaelio’s dancing partner for the duration. Great stuff.

I’ve wagered twenty-four weeks on this show (and would bet twenty-four more) and have been vastly satisfied with the rewards. I’m hoping the finale will net me a windfall. Yes, I have a problem, but I can’t stop now, with the finish line in sight.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 23

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Commander Carta Issue is ready to accept the consequences for her latest humiliating failure at the hands of Tekkadan, but Lord Iznario says she’s being given one last shot to redeem her pride honor. It’s thanks to an unlikely benefactor: McGillis himself, whom Carta can’t help but blush before when they meet on the stairs.

Carta may believe herself a worthless, humiliating failure, but she forgets that when she and McGillis were kids, she always treated him as an equal, despite everyone around them saying they weren’t because of Gill’s low parentage. All that mattered to Carta was that McGillis was a Fareed, and he should always stand proud and strong.

Now McGillis is simply asking her to do the same, and she will. But who knows the true reasons he wants her to fight Tekkadan once more, and how that coming battle fits into his grand plan to reform Gjallarhorn.

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As the Edmonton Express proceeds unabated, Merribit is increasingly concerned that the orphans of Tekkadan, including Orga, have gone mad in their thirst for revenge, and that it can’t possibly end well. But those same kids she wants to keep out of the fight tell her to back off. They’re fighting for Biscuit, and they will not be denied.

If only Gaelio could fight for his dead friend Ein. We see the toll Ein’s transformation into essentially a half-Gundam takes on Gaelio. Just as the Tekkadan kids are being metaphorically hardened into killers (which Merribit hates), Ein has been literally weaponized. He no longer has the luxury of choice, nor does he want it; he is still “alive” to avenge Crank and his other fallen comrades.

I never thought I’d be comparing Gaelio and Merribit, but here we are: both are appalled and scared of the sudden turn things have taken, but I don’t think either will be able to resist the force of the currents they’re caught up in.

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Even more unsettling is that Carta is, on some level, being thrown to the wolves by McGillis, with Gaelio and Ein sure to follow. Carta doesn’t realize the extent to which killing Biscuit radicalized Tekkadan.

She also quite wrongly assumes their patience and willingness to have a good old-fashioned 3-on-3 duel to decide whether they may pass or whether they hand over Makanai and Kudelia. Mika, in particular, isn’t having it. Why should they? Chivalry in this situation doesn’t do them a damn bit of good.

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Carta magnanimously gives Tekkadan 30 minutes to prepare, but Mika doesn’t need one. He rushes Carta and curb-stomps her two McGillis lookalikes. He doesn’t just disable their suits, he kills them, and then starts mercilessly whaling on an overwhelmed Carta. Even Lafter gets a little squemish at the sight of the carnage.

She rants about how this can’t be and who she is, but Mika doesn’t care about any of that, and neither do the kids who are watching (and won’t let Merribit send them away). Carta and Gjallarhorn are the enemy, and they’re in the way, so they’ll get crushed.

For a few moments, Mika is the bully, the antagonist in this fight, and Carta is like a lamb in the snow I’m feeling sorry for, even though she shouldn’t have expected anything else. It was a little hard to watch.

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A weeping, utterly defeated Carta is only spared from death at the last minute by Gaelio, but her injuries draw comparisons to Ein’s when he was last defeated. Could Carta end up the brain of another Gundam, like him? I don’t know, but Gaelio doesn’t have the heart to tell her he isn’t McGillis. McGillis, presumably, has moved on to other steps in his big plan.

The train makes it to the gleaming city of Edmonton, on time and ready to deposit their passenger right smack-dab in the parliament when the time comes for elections. Orga calls the city “the enemy’s grounds.” Mika listens, as he pops a snack in his mouth, unsurprisingly none the worse for emotional wear after his 3-on-1 beatdown.

But he used to just follow orders; take out those who he’s ordered to take out, because orders were orders. Now he’s finally seeing those he takes out not just as targets, but as enemies; those who stand in the way of Tekkadan getting to a place where they belong. If anything, this realization only makes Mika a more potent weapon.

As for Merribit, she seems to have taken on the thankless mantle of Tekkadan’s conscience, thinking about a future beyond the next battle’s outcome, like Biscuit did before. But is that future the “Final Lie” of the episode’s title?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 22

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This episode doesn’t stray far from the familiar patterns associated with the aftermath of the death of a major character. Rain clouds gather. Tekkadan’s march forward is suddenly halted. Their leader Orga withdraws to his room to be alone, racked with grief and guilt over the decisions he made that cost Biscuit’s life. The iron flower’s petals are wilting.

As predictable as this reaction and its resolution may be, it’s important to remember why they’re predictable: because they’re realistic. The loss of someone both dear to the Tekkadan family and integral to the Tekkadan business reveals that yes, indeed, these are still a bunch of kids. Even Orga can’t deny how few years he’s been alive, nor can he conceal the fact this is the largest loss in his life to date.

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Naturally, as the other kids of Tekkadan deal with their grief without their leader around to share in it, the adults don’t skip a beat. Fareed’s father orders Carta home, telling his chosen pick for Prime Minister that Carta has only proven to be a “worthless tomboy,” which is pretty harsh but not inaccurate. Carta’s job was to stop Makanai, period. She could not attain that result even with superior manpower and equipment. Carta is furious over her latest defeat and wants to keep going after the “space rats”, but follows orders.

The other two, non-shamed members of Carta’s childhood triangle, McGillis and Gaelio, are busy as well. McGillis makes Gaelio confront his prejudice and ignorance over the A-V system (the only thing at this point that can save Ein) by showing him the A-V research that continued even after the war. Gaelio laments the “loss of humanity” needed to embrace A-V, but McGillis remarks, not wrongly, that every time the world has changed, either for better or for worse, it was because someone abandoned or exceeded their humanity.

Revealing a squadron of new (or really old?) mobile suits, McGillis reveals his “plan”: Ein and Gaelio will both undergo the A-V procedure, and together with him eliminate Tekkadan and prove that they should be the ones running Gjallarhorn. In reality, McGillis intends to keep propping up Tekkadan and Kudelia as a relevant threat in order to use them as a stepping stone to power, i.e. overthrowing Gjallarhorn. In other words: he may only be their ally as long as they do what he wants them to do.

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Meanwhile, aboard the Montag ship, one of the “kids” is also moving forward without stopping. That’s Kudelia, and it’s no surprise: she already went through the pain Orga and the others are enduring after the loss of Fumitan. She decided long ago that no matter how much blood ended up on her hands, she wouldn’t stop fighting to become Hope.

That’s an important distinction from becoming a leader, as Makanai suggests after hearing her plans to get him to Edmonton via a train in Anchorage. A leader is just a person. She wants to be more than that, more than a mere human agent whose power is extinguished when she dies. She seeks an enduring transformation and influence. That’s the same area where McGillis is operating.

The adults on the Montag ship are powerless to do anything about the low morale. Merribit wants to do or say something to Orga, but isn’t confident she can get through to him. Laffter and Azee are more comfortable with their role right now, unable to fix the morale, but still committed to doing what they came there to do: support Tekkadan on behalf of Naze.

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As I supected, it’s Mika who breaks Orga out of his funk. Merribit is inches from knocking on his door, but Mika appears, and she suggests they both simply leave him be. But Mika comes right back and crashes Orga’s pity party with some cold hard truths. Way back when they were kids, they had an agreement, one that predates even meeting Biscuit: Mika would do anything, kill anyone for Orga, as long as Orga took the both of them to that place where they belong. That place was never simply an abstract concept for Mika: it’s a place.

Up to this point, since Biscuit died, Orga hadn’t been telling Mika anything. That ends right here and now, with Mika grabbing Orga and asking again and again what he wants him to do. He stands there, ready and waiting to carry out his will. He also puts it to Orga: are they there yet? No. So they must keep going. After bringing Orga back into the present with his eyes re-fixed on the future, lightning strikes; a nice, if on-the-nose touch.

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Orga emerges from his room, musters his boys, and tells them the best way to honor Biscuit is to make sure he rests easy knowing they’re continuing the job they have to do. At the same time, he makes it more about a job, which he probably has to considering how much of a jolt the kids need to keep going; he makes it as much about revenge.

After Orga’s pep talk, Tekkadan gets back to work, and the iron flower’s petals re-sharpen. As the credits roll, we see Makanai and Tekkadan already aboard the train bound for Edmonton, meaning they didn’t have any trouble getting to Anchorage or securing transport. That indicates the next three episodes are going to start taking care of business in earnest.

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