Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 02

gibo21

Gundam IBO backtracks a bit with the first of what seemed like a redundant scenes whose heavy lifting had already been more efficiently handled last week: Orga sends Mika to fire up the Gundam. This week we see Mika’s side of it, and I can’t say we didn’t learn a lot: why Mika was bleeding last week (Gundam’s visceral neural interface is a lot tougher on the body than the mobile workers), Aina’s condemnation of using such barbaric interfaces (no surprise there; but Mika doesn’t care if it will help them survive), and the fact Mika can’t read. That’s right, Mika is the Charlie Kelly of GIBO.

That’s all well and good, but it was an awful lot of infodumping so early in the episode, and I enjoyed the alacrity with which Mika simply showed up in the Gundam that had been teased early last week, without excessive explanation.

gibo22

But once we’re back in the present with Mika battling and bleeding in Barbatos, we learn that he and his Gundam are only the savior’s by a very shallow margin. Because a lot of quick jerry-rigging had to take place to even get it going, the mechanic forgot to fill it up with gas. Also, Mika himself soon runs out of juice and passes out, mere moments after Lt. Crank, his arrogant young CO killed and his subordinate injured, orders a retreat. The Third Group lives another day thanks to Mika and Orga, but only barely.

gibo23

As Mika’s adorable love interest Atri heads to CGS for a supply run while giving Biscuit’s twin sisters Cookie and Cracker a lift, Coral lays into Crank for not getting the job (getting Aina killed in “glorious battle”) done. This was the other scene that I felt went too far out of its way to explain the Aina assassination plot, which was more elegantly implied last week. Still, Coral’s men’s failure harms his reputation and threatens his unit’s funding, so he orders Crank to take care of Aina before the blue-coated Gjallarhorn inspectors show up, which is soon.

Crank, an old space salt, has no desire to do further battle with child soldiers like the pilot of the Gundam, as he fears they’re fighting against their will. His empathy falls on deaf ears, as Coral will certainly find someone else to do his dirty work if Crank doesn’t. But this is the first case of someone in Gjallarhorn having an ounce of empathy for the childrens’ plight, and depending on how things go, it could be paving the way Crank defecting.

gibo24

Atra’s encounter with Mika—which she was clearly very much looking forward to any may well have been the primary reason for her coming at all—lasts all of ten seconds. Atra doesn’t challenge the still-bloodstained Mika’s assurance that he’s all right, and he shuffles off, saying he has things to attend to. Mika may regret taking Atra’s love for granted down the road.

As Mika attends to things, he crosses paths with Aina. During the battle, she felt useless. After the battle, she’s still there, and feels she can’t leave, out of guilt for everyone who died for her sake, feelings she relays to Mika as an act of contrition. But Mika doesn’t want her sorrow or her pity, and coldly requests she not look down on his fallen comrades and think they only died for her. They also died for him, for their other comrades, and for themselves.

That brings us to what is perhaps the Third Group’s breaking point: the First Corps is back, but rather than have their tails between their legs, they’re eager to punish the Third for their insubordinate actions. Orga, respectful of his superior on the surface but clearly restraining his contempt, works out a lovely explanation for what happened, but is met by his superior’s fist.

Orga takes this beating for his men, but it looks like he’s not any more willing to take any more than his men are willing to watch. Orga knows how things will go with the First Corps dopes in charge. Declining business, higher-risk ops, and more Third Group death and suffering as they’re used as bait. He’s through with that life, and starts preparing for a mutiny.

gibo25

In another instance of their strong fraternal, symbiotic bond, Orga says he’ll call the whole thing off if Mika isn’t on board, while assuring the men that Mika will definitely say yes. When he meets up with Mika, who is fueling the Gundam that is stuck where he left it, he says he’s on board with whatever Orga thinks is best. He’s also working rather than paying respect for the dead because of something Orga said to him when they were young: “You can see the dead when you’re dead, so to keep the living alive, do everything you can.”

“Everything you can” means rising up against their First Corps oppressors before they’re sent on a mission they can’t come back from. But with Aina still at the base, Coral nervously receiving the two elite young Gjallarhorn inspector-majors he has no intention of revealing his failures to, and the decent veteran Crank deploying alone to complete the mission Orlis could not, possible alliances abound. Yet at the end of the day the Third Group will probably have to take care of themselves, as they always have.

8_brav2

Advertisements

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

gibo11

One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

gibo12

One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

gibo13

So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

gibo14

The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

gibo15

The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

gibo16

Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

gibo17

In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

gibo18

So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

9_brav2

Ao Haru Ride – 06

ahr61

When Futaba learned that Yuuri liked Kou, it could have been a simple matter of her telling her she likes him too, so of course Futaba lies and says she doesn’t, and everything Yuuri says and does thereafter makes it that much harder for her to recant her statement. Yuuri trusted her, so now the truth will hurt Yuuri and damage that trust, instead of just the former.

ahr62

But by lying to Yuuri, Futaba is lying to herself too; something she realizes by the episode’s highly charged ending. Futaba decided to consider whether she actually loved Kou, or was simply charmed by his sparingly-used nice side. She strives to devalue her feelings for Kou compared to Yuuri’s, even though it’s far more likely the opposite is true. It seems to me that Yuuri is the one letting one instance of Kou being nice balloon into infatuation.

ahr63

Futaba’s doubts are supported when she has trouble with Kou trivia, but Yuuri knows even less about him, and has no history with him. Not to devalue the strength of Yuuri’s feelings, but from our perspective, Futaba was first, and has just as much right to love Kou as she does. We also don’t see Kou choosing Yuuri over Futaba…not even as a cruel joke.

ahr64

Of course, I’m talking about sense and logic, concepts unknown to teenagers with love on the brain. Futaba wants to love Kou, but it makes her feel like crap because of Yuuri. It’s an unenviable position, and she tries to let fate and circumstance choose for her, with Kou himself as the game piece. The result is satisfying because as inevitable as the couple seems, in this instance it really could have gone either way.

aahr65

Kou surprises her when he sticks around after she turns in the paperwork, and even when she takes the ridiculous step of deciding to give up on Kou if he doesn’t get out of the train and not giving up if he does, Kou stays right there, by her side, a fairly arbitrary test! Yet, it’s as if he’s just naturally drawn to her, and picking up on what he said, it would be “unnatural” for them to be apart. At the end of the day, she wanted him to step out of that train—to pick her—and he did. So, as Futaba says in her head: Sorry, Yuuri.

8_ses

Ao Haru Ride – 05

ahr51

Futaba’s team may not have been the most organized or cohesive on the orienteering trip, and they ended up dead last after getting lost, but they did end up sharing happy memories they’ll look back on with fondness, which was precisely what Futaba had hoped for, and which Kou expounded on in the meeting last week.

ahr52

Sometimes it’s better if things don’t go so smoothly. Had the Aya not ignored Futaba’s insistence they consult the map, they wouldn’t have gotten lost and had adventures, which included Kou carrying her after she hurt her foot. Futaba also learns a bit more about the new Kou: hates celery, likes cats, superficially teases, is a nice guy deep down.

ahr53

While she liked the old Kou, the new one is definitely starting to grow on her, now that she has him a little more figured out…and vice versa. Of course, Kou is also nice to Yuuri, calming her down so she can cross the river, and there’s a cost to that, at least where Futaba is concerned: Yuuri, unaware of Futaba’s feelings for Kou, thinks she’s fallen for him. Dun dun duuuuunnnnn!

ahr54

Futaba and Yuuri formed a fast friendship, but no one said that friendship would be easy to maintain. After all, Yuuri is shunned by other girls at school because she’s so cute and girly, attracting the guys. She and Futaba promised never to leave the other alone, both knowing what it feels like. Yuuri and Futaba both liking Kou will put their promise to the test.

7_ses

Ao Haru Ride – 04

ahr41

The leadership training retreat turns out to be something of a comedy of errors right from the start, but leaving her bag at his place and getting on the wrong train does result in Futaba and Kou spending more time alone together than they otherwise might have. Futaba also gets to see (and feel) Kou shirtless. But they end up being so late to the retreat that they have to write formal apologies.

ahr42

They also end up alienating two-thirds of the other three members of their group. Murao and Kou do not get along in their first encounter, Kominato takes her side and leaves with her, but not before taking Yuuri’s cupcake, revealing her dark side. The group is in tatters, which doesn’t speak well for the leadership skills of the reps. Then again, this is training; you don’t just hop on a bike and start riding; you have to skin a couple of knees.

ahr43

The thing is, Kou and Futaba are generally quite nice to one another throughout the episode, culminating in a very nicely-staged scene at night where Kou puts his head down on the table opposite Futaba’s, and they both end up turning to face one another. This is while Kou is, in spite of the devil-may-care attitude he tries to maintain, going out of his way to say nice things about her.

ahr44

They’ve rarely if ever been as close as they are here, but as lovely a moment it is while it lasts, it’s a bit premature, as Kou isn’t ready to admit how he feels about Futaba; not ready enough to be at the point where she’s nuzzling up to him. It’s panic and his long-honed defenses kicking in at the worst moment; he throws barbs her way, and she gets pissed. It’s a lasting pissed-ness, one the others can’t help but notice.

ahr45

Futaba and Kou act very much like an old couple locked into a familiar battle. Futaba snaps out of the funk on her own, realizing that it isn’t that she doesn’t love the New Kou, it’s that she still has a lot of work to do in getting to know him, as well as continuing to improve herself. Which is why it almost seems like we’re going to be subjected to a cliched gut-punch when she goes to make up with Kou and spots him smiling at a girl apparently confessing to him.

ahr47

That doesn’t happen, thankfully. Instead, there’s a twist: Futaba somehow thought two third-year boys were trees or something, and ended up clinging to them long enough that they thought she wanted to confess to them. But yet again, Kou steps up to rescue her, even going so far as to tell them she’s his girlfriend. She also starts to suspect that she may love Kou after all, since whatever he says to her affects her deeply and lastingly. He’s under her skin, and she’s pretty much under his too—why else would he keep finding ways to be with her?

ahr47a

It’s weird watching a rom-com that satirizes shoujo (GSNK) right beside the very kind shoujo anime it enjoys satirizing. Ao Haru Ride has its share of funny moments, but they’re never ironic commentary on the genre the show inhabits. It’s playing things straight and sticking with the fundamentals, which is fine with me.

8_ses

Stray Observations:

ahr46Part of Murao’s hostility towards Kou stems from the fact she’s infatuated with his older brother, whom she gets alone and tries to make a move on but is rejected, not for the first time. Falling for a teacher who isn’t going to cross that line…not a pleasant position to be in.

Kill la Kill – 22

kll221

While watching an episode of anime, we typically don’t give much thought to what rating we should assign until it’s almost over. There are exceptions to this, obviously: sometimes something can happen in the last moment that can kick a 6 up to an 8, or vice versa. But most of the time, we don’t settle on a number until the credits are done rolling.

kill222

So after a bloodied Ryuko puts Senketsu back on; duels with Harime while explaining the differences between them; slices her arms off, forcing a hasty retreat; the Elite Four-plus-one extract both human and life fiber assets to strengthen their arsenal; Satsuki agrees to be punched by Ryuko, but the Elite Four take the punches for her; and Satsuki admits her mistakes and apologizes(dazzilingly); the two make up and decide to join forces at sunset; and Mrs. Mankanshoku and Soroi whip up croquettes and tea for everyone…

kill223

…We thought we had ourselves a pretty awesome episode in the bag: a solid 9 to be sure. More to the point, we though the episode was going to end with that feast. I mean, all that we mentioned up there…that’s a lot of stuff; surely an episode’s worth, right? And that’s the super-abridged version of what we’d watched up to that point. So, it was superior episode. Only one problem: it wasn’t even close to over. We were only fifteen minutes in.

 

kill224

We’ve never been that off with an ending. That’s the power of Kill la Kill in its home stretch: it’s covering so much ground so quickly and so deftly, it seems to bend time itself. Each episode surges things forward, but each stands alone as a cinematic achievement. After everyone tucked in to supper, everything there after felt like bonus anime, even though it wasn’t. As soon as the dishes are washed and put away, it’s Operation Starto.

kill225

Satsuki finally lets us all in on Ragyo’s ultimate plan: to clothe the entire world in life fiber fabric. It’s how the aliens reproduce: find a world, stimulate its population to evolve into an energy source, than cover it, use the energy to explode, and spread the “seeds” all over the cosmos; rinse, repeat. For all its ridiculous trappings, the plan is surprisingly elegant; the life fibers aren’t evil; they’re just higher on the food chain. But mankind still has plenty of teeth.

kill226

Satsuki puts Mikisugi in command of the Elite Four to take out the transmitter at Honnouji that Ragyo needs to activate Covers worldwide, while the sisters—Ryuko in Senketsu (who feels more warm and comfy than ever now that it has Mako and Satsuki’s blood in it), Satsuki in Neo-Junketsu (no longer evil and imbued with Ryuko’s blood and Senketsu’s fibers), intend to intercept their mom and the Original Life Fiber. With even Mako breaking out her two-star uni to fight, it’s all hands on deck, and when the credits finally rolled, we wished we were still just fifteen minutes in. Instead, we only have about forty-eight left.


Rating: 10

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Golden Time – 02

gold2

A week into the semester, Kaga still obsessively trying to make contact with Mitsuo, who continues to avoid her. This irks Tada, but he concedes that ignoring her it Mitsuo’s choice, just as feeling bad for her is his. Tada accompanies Mitsuo to a party the film club is having at “Golden Time” restaurant. Tada is ensnared by the aggressive tea club in the next room and parties all night. The next day he’s rescued from club recruiters once again by Linda. They part when he spots Kaga sitting alone again. She tells him no clubs have approached her, and he suggest she reach out to more people. A pushy club recruiter from another college wrangles them into a three-day, two-night retreat.

Having experienced it ourselves (at art school, no less), we have to applaud this series for so faithfully depicting the chaotic first week of college life. New, fascinating, and unexpected experiences abound for Tada, and at times it is downright overwhelming. We like how the series exaggerates these experiences for dramatic effect; the awesome ordeal with the hard-drinking, hard-partying tea club being the most prominent example. But he survives that trial, and comes out a more informed, wiser (and hung-over) man. But what really seeks to tarnish his golden time is the knowledge that Kaga may not be happy here. Again, no one can fault Mitsuo for acting the way he does towards her; it may seem cruel to us, but we simply don’t know the whole story.

Maybe she does deserve this treatment. But none of that matters to Tada; he wants to get to know Kaga better. She’s a tough nut to crack for sure, described by recruiters as overpowering or out-of-reach. Kaga herself says she feels invisible, even though Tada has been seeing and talking to her all along. Visibility is a common thread here. By abjuring Kaga, Mitsuo seeks to render her invisible. By the end of the episode, Kaga has finally remembered Tada’s name, meaning he’s that much more visible to her. Linda isn’t quite as visible to Tada as she’d like; the light from Kaga is obscuring Linda’s, who may actually be the better match.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Obserations:

  • That Tea Club Party was nuts. Binge-drinking; stripping; “bowling” into each other crotches and sniffing; turning first-year guys into man-slaves with the force of their personality. All it lacked was kegstands and beer bongs!
  • Cafe au Laits in bowls? That sounds like something you’d first encounter in college.
  • We see Linda out-of-costume for the first time, and we really dig her androgynous character-design. She really couldn’t look any more different from Kaga – which is the point.
  • Idiots usually make bad characters, but Tada’s no idiot, as a part of him is aware she could be putting on an act, even as he desires a relationship with her. Like us, he needs more info to make a solid judgment about her.
  • The cold open: an bandaged Tada in hospital garb runs through a dark forest and falls down a steep hill chasing a light. A figure approaches and lends him her hand. In a flash of light and flurry of roses, it becomes Kaga. But before that flash? The silhouette looked an awful lot like Linda. This, and Linda’s body language when with Tada, got us thinking, did she and Tada meet before his accident, and did he lose his memory of her?