Super Cub – 05 – The Ascent

Kudos to Koguma, who over the summer she expanded her horizons, learned an abject lesson in preparing for the elements, saved up some cash ferrying documents between her school and Kofu. That’s a summer anyone can be proud of. She comes to Reiko ready to make some tasty okonomiyaki in exchange to hear what she did this summer…and why her Postal Cub looks like it’s been mauled by Oniguma-sama.

Reiko also expanded her horizons, learned a hard lesson or two, and presumably also made some money with her job doing manual labor “somewhere close…yet far away.”

It’s just…she went about it a little differently…

I see you, Super Cub.

Back in the day, anyone could ride up Fuji-san, but new laws and environmental restrictions narrowed the opportunities considerably. Reiko’s job with an official team that maintains and resupplies the trail and outposts going up the mountain was the opportunity to do something she’d wanted to do ever since she got her license: Ride to the top of Fuji-san.

She researched modifying Cubs for off-roading and secured the job, which consisted of a lot of manual labor but also riding ahead to ensure the way is clean for the giant resupply Caterpillar that climbs up and down the mountain. Reiko’s arduous ascent is often appropriately accompanied by heavy metal soundtrack, and also full of vicious crashes and tumbles.

Still, every time she falls, she dusts herself off and gets back up, because there’s still a mountain to be climbed. When her boss, who climbed Everest, asks her why she’s so intent on climbing the mountain on a glorified moped originally designed to deliver mail, she says it’s to find out if she’s the kind of person who can overcome something like that.

Instead of mail, Reiko intends her Cub to deliver her to a better sense of who she is and what she’s capable of. It’s an incredibly moving, well-realized, self-contained epic little movie of an episode, and what’s all the more impressive is that it doesn’t exist to outdo or overshadow Koguma’s own summer achievements, but simply to present the vast spectrum of experiences.

Oh, and it surprised me almost every time Reiko hit a rock or peeled out, and I found myself actually crying out in anguish whenever it happened, hoping Reiko would be able to get up and start her Cub back up. Fortunately, she always is, and always does. One day when it’s clear she’s really struggling, her boss tells her not to try to “stand up” against the mountain, but to “come alongside”.

Also lending a sense of grandeur is the absolutely spellbinding scenery that grows more strange and otherworldly and beautiful as Reiko reaches higher and higher elevations. There is nothing quite like the way the earth sprawls out before you when you’re on a mountain, and that unique feeling is captured perfectly.

Reiko takes her boss’ advice as a reminder that she should be having fun, not suffering, but when push comes to shove, she’s not going to “go limp” let the mountain push her around. She holds herself and her Cub down and fights as hard as she can. Alas, her final crash is her worst, and cracks her stalwart Cub’s enging casing.

She calls her boss, who picks her up in the Cat. He remarks that she didn’t make it to the top: she’s only a few switchbacks from it; perhaps a few hundred feet. But that’s okay; Reiko can’t look out at creation unfolding beneath her and feel bad about what she accomplished.

Koguma maybe gets the line of the episode in response to this epic tale of man vs. nature: “That’s silly.” As in, climbing Mt. Fuji on your motorbike is silly. Maybe it is, but Reiko still had to do it, and doesn’t regret it. They change the subject to Koguma’s “Cursed Cub”, and Reiko eases her friend’s mind by assuring her none of the three previous owners died because of it. Two of them didn’t even die.

Koguma takes Reiko up on the offer to sleep over, if nothing else to experience the pitch-black darkness far from the city lights. Ensconsced in the mummy sleeping bag Reiko provided (and looking more like Shima Rin than ever!) she clarifies her statement about the silliness of climbing Mt. Fuji as not meaning that it could not be done. Hell, Reiko came really really close to doing it, and probably could have if she’d just slowed down a bit!

And as we’re treated most gorgeous images of Fuji-san yet, Reiko says the first Cub rider climbed the mountain in August of 1963, followed that same year by a team of Cub riders. Reiko isn’t done; she’s going to be the next one to do it—and the first high-school girl!

That morning, over coffee, Koguma makes clear she’s not done expanding her horizons either. She took the summer job in part to pay for driving school so she could get her full motorcycle license. Reiko hops on the laptop to book Koguma’s reservations, and also to look for cheap ways to increase the power of her Cub so her friend can climb her own mountain a little higher.

This whole episode certainly took Super Cub to new heights, but even if and when it comes back down to earth, Reiko and Koguma will unassailably remain my two heroes.

Super Cub – 04 – Summer Courier

Some of my favorite moments of Yuru Camp involved Shima Rin on her own, setting things up, figuring things out, or on the road in harsh weather with the knowledge a soothing hot spring wasn’t far away. I could watch her do stuff alone without saying anything all day, just like I could watch Super Cub’s Koguma do the same.

Super Cub, I’ve been remiss in mentioning, distinguishes itself in the musical department by employing a lot of soaring classical piano pieces that really match the moods of the montages with which they’re paired as well as lend a sense of added majesty. Plus, it just makes the show that much more classy.

Anywho, this week is full of Koguma taking care of business as she takes on a challenging summer job as a document courier between her school and a high school in Kofu (also a Yuru Camp locale). Pre-job preparations include buying some sturdy new boots, a dependable Casio watch, and getting a 100-km oil change at Shino’s.

Her first trip to Kofu High is full of suspense; she really doesn’t want to screw up, and even declines the Kofu teacher’s invitation to stop and have some tea just so she can remain ahead of schedule.

Just as she got comfortable with operating her Cub and interacting with Reiko (who is spending her summer touring “somewhere close yet far away”), Koguma gets used to the daily trips back and forth. Eventually loosens up and derives more joy from the new routine.

Before she knows it, she’s put 500km on her Cub, and so takes it back to Shino. He tells her she might be riding her Cub a bit too gentlyleading her to give it the beans at her next green light.

One day Koguma is caught in a summer shower, and arrives at Kofu High looking like a half-drowned cat. The teacher makes sure she’s dried off and has her wait out the rain with a cup of tea.

Not wanting to endure another soaking, Koguma heads to the store to buy a waterproof rainsuit. It costs nearly as much as three round trips, but the next time it rains it pays for itself, as Koguma can ride dry and comfortably, looking up at the sky and saying “take that” upon arriving at Kofu High.

The days and weeks go by, and soon Koguma has reached 1000km. She takes Shino’s advice and gives changing the oil a try. While at first she can’t loosen the bolt that releases the spent oil, she watches a bicyclist ride by and it gives her the idea to use her foot to move the wrench, which does the trick.

In addition to yet again gaining inspiration from observing life around her (as with the goggles), the colors of the episode become more lush and vivid, matching the dopamine high that comes from having cleared what is the toughest hurdle in changing oil—getting that damn bolt off without making a mess or hurting yourself.

The rest of the change goes smoothly, and while Koguma probably should have worn gloves, there’s something to be said for getting a little oil under your fingernails after your very first wrenching job. Go Koguma!

After a month and a half of round trips at ¥2,000 a pop minus fuel and expenses, Koguma has a nice chunk of change squirreled away, with which she can use to further expand the world she’s started to grow with this job, both as a matter of geographic distance, and overcoming her shy, reserved nature.

Even betterm she’s rewarded for a summer job well done by a call from Reiko, who returned home the same day Koguma’s job concluded and invites Koguma over to her place. After a beat, Koguma asks Reiko where to go, and pulls up in front of an absolutely gorgeous log cabin in the forest at dusk. Reiko invites Koguma inside so they can talk about their summer adventures. It’s a cozy, warm, and above all triumphant way to end the episode.

Super Cub – 01 (Belated First Impressions) – Kickstarting a New Journey

Koguma has no family, no friends, no goals or hobbies, and not much in the way of money. She gets by living on her own in a near-monastic existence, and the first four minutes of this episode are spent in silence as the sun comes up and we witness each step of her morning routine from waking up to heading to school on her bike. If you love anime that portray real life without any embellishment, as I do, you’ll have already been pulled willingly into Koguma’s life, as I was.

But after watching the better part of one day in that quiet, lonely little life, we watch as she’s easily overtaken by a classmate on a motor scooter, and she decides to head to Shino’s motorcycle shop where she’s in luck: a used Honda Super Cub (the most-produced motorized vehicle in history) is available for just ¥10,000 (around $91). Immediately upon hopping on, the bike literally adds color to her life.

We watch the painstaking but also rather simple process of acquiring a license and tag for her bike as well as a helmet and gloves, as well as the always initially tricky starting protocol. But once all that’s squared away Koguma hits the road (calling to mind Yuru Camp’s Rin on her scooter), and regularly flashing a warm smile simply at the sight of her new Cub sitting in the paddock. It’s not exaggerating to say it saved her from what was a tedious, mundane, aimless existence.

Koguma realizes she’s still shaky on the road, so unable to sleep anyway, she gets up for a midnight ride to practice when the roads are all but deserted. Again, the Rin is strong in Koguma, right down to the occasional relieved sigh and assured yosh after a notable achievement. When she stops at a konbini and can’t get the Cub started, she simply consults the owner’s manual and switches to her reserve tank.

After refueling, Koguma heads home, plops down in her genkan relieved and exhausted, and falls asleep right there, waking up only when her alarm goes off. Already, her crushingly drab routine has been upended by her new mechanical companion. As she confidently rides to school, she starts to think of new adventures to go on with her new ride, like Kofu, well-known to all Yuru Campers. But the point is, she’s finally found an interest and has gained a measure of ambition.

I initially passed on Super Cub worried that it was going to be nothing but a glorified ad for the Honda Super Cub. I reconsidered when I saw it had a decent MAL score and glowing reviews on ANN, and noted that I was missing a iyashikei-style slice-of-life anime this season. So while it’s adding a sixth show to my schedule, it should feel far more like a treat than a chore.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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 – 42

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I may have railed a lot against Jasley as a villain, but in exchange for putting up with him, I got to behold one of the most visceral IBO battles yet, so good in part because there’s no foreplay and no dawdling. All our Tekkadan boys are stone-faced and businesslike in their hugely satisfying, meticulous taking-down of Jasley’s larger fleet. We start in the middle, when things are already going badly for ol’ Jazzers, but he still holds out hope Iok will come to bail him out (he won’t).

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Hush gets to do some stuff in a new suit, and I kinda liked while he held his own, he wasn’t out there dominating or anything. He also got to crack a smile. When he and Shino return to the ship to refuel, reload, I also appreciated the scenes of out-of-breath pilots taking a breather and grabbing a quick bite and drink while they can.

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Also fun is the fact that from the very start of the episode, the Jasley we’re shown seems…different. He may have the bigger fleet, but they’re all unreliable mercs, and he somehow looks smaller and more vulnerable on his paisley-lined bridge, swapping his pimp duds for the same spacesuit as everyone else.

As things go worse and worse for him and his defensive line begins to crumble, he keeps yelling mostly to himself about how none of this makes any sense: he’s a good earner, he deserves the top spot he’s trying to take from McMurdo. He’s simply unprepared for the intense level of resolve the foes he so easily made are carrying with them. He’s literally kicked a hornet’s nest.

He sends out human debris pilots, in hopes they’ll be a match for Tekkadan. Zack asks if it’s really okay with Chad and Dante to be fighting…their ‘own kind’. Chad get one of the better lines in an episode full of them: “Our standings and backgrounds don’t matter. Everyone with a weapon is equal. We just crush them.”

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All hope of the cavalry arriving is lost when Jasley contacts McMurdo to try to work something out, to get him to call off his Tekkadan dogs. But McMurdo turns out to be a lot less old and out of touch than we might’ve thought last week when Jasley was able to undermine him so easily.

No, Iok isn’t coming; McMurdo had a talk with Rustal, who is keeping Iok in check and ignoring Teiwaz affairs in exchange for Teiwaz forgetting about the Iok’s attack on Turbines. And since Tekkadan isn’t part of Teiwaz anymore, the only person Jasley has to sort out his problems is…Jasley. It’s a great little phone call…so devastating.

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Does he jump in his souped-up mobile suit and take the fight to Tekkadan? No; when Tekkadan is close enough to start taking potshots at his flagship, he calls Orga to surrender. I guess Orga could work out a pretty sweet deal with Jasley, but it’s clear Orga just wants to watch him beg, and isn’t even that entertained by it.

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With that, he sends in Mika, who asks Orga what to do, standing over Jasley’s bridge with his weapon drawn. Orga says crush ’em; Mika crushes them, and that’s that. With Jasley gone, and Naze, Amida, Lafter, and all the others he killed avenged, Orga breathes a deep sigh of relief.

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Everyone agrees that while the departed probably aren’t too happy with what they did (and what they had to give up to do it), they still did the right thing. Now Tekkadan can truly move forward towards kingship of Mars. And they don’t need Teiwaz anymore.

Instead, they’ll be joining the Gjallarhorn revolution that announces its existence not long after Tekkadan finishes things with Jasley. McGillis has rightly pinned the blame for the SAU-Arbaru conflict with Rustal, and now that Teiwaz and Rustal seem to have an understanding, it’s possible Tekkadan might fight against Teiwaz in the future. And now that Tek’s cut ties with Admoss as well, Kudelia finds herself on the outside looking in.

But for now, they have a powerful ally who shares their ideals, and will fight beside him as he roots out the rot of corruption that has plagued Gjallarhorn too long. Orga and McGillis’ original deal still stands. In hindsight, Jasley never really had a chance to disrupt it.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 41

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A funeral service was a given in the aftermath of the battle between Kujan (via Jasley) and the Turbines, resulting in the sacrifice of Naze and Amida. Jasley showing up in his usual pimp outfit to essentially gloat about his rival’s death?

That’s entering a whole new level of scumbaggery, and Jasley doesn’t stop escalating, intent as he is on getting Tekkadan to strike first so he can put them down, along with their last Teiwaz patron, McMurdo.

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But first, Lafter has a choice: McMurdo follows through with putting Naze’s all-female crew under his protection, but it looks like whatever role Lafter will play, it won’t involve a mobile suit. Azee tells her what Amida said about finding someone all her own whom she loves (Akihiro) and how she wanted Lafter to be happy, even if it meant “leaving the nest”.

In one of the better scenes of the series, we finally get Akihiro and Lafter sharing a drink, and finding out just how much in common they both have, having begun life in the darkness but being given second chances at freedom and self-determination. Naze and Amida were Lafter’s saviors; Orga and Tekkadan were Akihiro’s.

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But ultimately the Turbines are Lafter’s family, and as much sense as it would make to go with Akihiro, her place is with that family, so she gives Akihiro a big hug and the two part ways, hopeful they’ll cross paths sometime in the future.

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Last week, Lafter and Azee were “spared” from being among the casualties of Kujan’s completely illegal operation (which Rustal seems to chastise him for this week, if not condemn). Turns out the show was merely saving them for more torture in the very next episode.

When neither the operation nor his attempts to provoke Orga work, Jasley has one of his thugs gun Lafter down while she’s looking at teddy bears. I’m not saying IBO is often the subtlest of shows, but the emotional manipulation here was jacked up to 11.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m heartbroken and furious Lafter’s dead, but she was murdered on the orders of a one-dimensional character in a telegraphed and mawkish manner that bordered on silly. She deserved far better, more significant death. Of course, that’s probably the whole point.

At least Kujan can be somewhat excused for being a rich spoiled brat with delusions of grandeur that are too often affirmed; Jasley is just So Very Evil it’s a bit boring. Of course we want our girls and boys to avenge her by any means necessary, but IBO succeeds best when its antagonists are complex, not foregone conclusions.

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Take McGillis, who throughout these forty-one episodes has always seemed like he’s hiding something from someone. We’ve come to trust him more and more as Orga has, and to see him reaffirm his dedication to backing Tekkadan up after devastated Orga tells him they’re probably going to have to go to war with Teiwaz, it was both reassuring and added to the overall tension. He’s relying on Tekkadan as much as they on him now. Their victories are his victories, and vice-versa.

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Mika was more silent than usual last week, limiting his interaction with Orga to a couple of his classic “looks”. This week, while watching some Turbine babies while their moms attend Naze’s funeral, Mika spends some time with little ones, and the topic comes up with Atra, resulting in Mika stating without equivocation (or embarrassment) that if she’ll have him, he wouldn’t mind making a little scamp with her.

That’s all well and good, apparently, because Mika doesn’t think like Orga or McGillis. He doesn’t allow himself to feel the doubt they feel. It’s not a matter of “will I be able to be useful to Orga” to Mika, but “how far should I go?” Orga answers in a way Mika seems to appreciate: “all the way.”

Now, hopefully, we can look forward to some righteous vengeance being carried out on behalf of Naze, Amida, Lafter, and all the others whose lives Jasley, Iok, and their ilk have devastated. But it won’t change the fact that the damage is done, and there will be a steep cost for revenge as well.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 40

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With the stage so ably set last week, all that was left for IBO was to put on a show. The final pieces to go into the mix? The excellent Akihiro and Shino, who are more concerned with how cool their callsigns should be than whether they’ll get Tekkadan labeled outlaws like the Turbines.

Just when Orga is at a loss about what to do, they enter his office and offer an alternative plan: they, along with Ride, will simply be testing out their booster systems when they come across the evacuating non-combatants at the Turbine’s relay base. They won’t fight Gjallarhorn, so everything should be fine.

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It’s a good-sounding plan, but everything does not turn out fine. Before everything turns to shit, we get a look at the feverish evacuation of the Turbine innocents as Naze empties the Hammerhead, ready to face the music himself. Watching the Arianhrod fleet bear down on them from the radar screen packs a lot more dread-punch than I thought.

Lafter and Azee are ordered to protect the civilians, leaving Amida to pilot her mobile suit alongside Naze in the ship. Becausde she knows and loves her man so much, Amida knows what’s going on here, and she’s not about to stay out of the coming action.

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If only Iok had stuck to procedure and not let his emotions drive his command. He ignores the Turbines’ white flag and orders the use of the illegal Dainsleif weapons against the transports, which should be some kind of war crime if anyone was (or could be trusted to) observe Iok’s actions (alas, Micky sits this one out, his hands tied).

It’s horrifying to watch the vulnerable transports get run through with the harpoons like whales full of innocent people; people who die in large numbers for no reason other than Iok’s realization of a grand and noble battle in which he makes no distinction between combatants and children. When he starts targeting the launches, he reaches a new nadir.

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Not everyone will be saved as Naze had hoped, but thanks to the timely arrival of the Akihiro cavalry, more lives are saved. I love how businesslike Akihiro is when he comes to Lafter’s side. The tide cannot be turned, but she still appreciates that he risked everything to come, and every little bit helps against a reckless, heartless, merciless foe like Iok.

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When Amida gets up close to Iok’s ship, she’s met by Julieta in Julia, and the two have an excellent fight in which Juli’s lack of experience is badly exposed. She may have the superior machine, but Amida essentially has her way with her. Not only can Juli not take Amida out, she doesn’t know why it’s so hard to fight her.

Amida gets free and sets a collision course for Iok’s flagship’s bridge, which he helpfully left out of combat mode. I really hoped the hubristic Iok and his reign of idiocy could have been wiped out; it might have been a step towards making all this slaughter not in vain. Alas, a Dainsleif spear stops Amida in her tracks, and her last shot only cracks the viewscreen.

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Now truly all alone, Naze tries desperately to finish what Amida started, and comes so tantalizingly close, only to bounce off the side of Iok’s ship, leaving the bridge unscathed, and crashing and destroying another ship along with his own. Seeing all the familiar places in the Hammerhead be consumed by flames awful to behold.

Is this the end of the battle? Not sure why Iok wouldn’t mop up what’s left of the Turbines, or why the forward mobile suits aren’t recognizing Tekkadan forces fighting them, which as Merribit said, could “crush” them. Perhaps Iok is satisfied and retreats before his screen cracks. In either case, plenty of damage is done.

Naze Turbine and Amida Arca are gone, and the Turbines are history. It’s a huge blow to everyone, and the tears flow accordingly. McMurdo promised he’d take care of Naze’s people (by placing them in groups under his direct control), but the lives of the survivors will never be the same. The episode doesn’t take any further steps to indicate what happens next, for first the dead must be mourned.

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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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