Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 06

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Gundam IBO is so deft at telling its story, crafting compelling characters, and drawing us in to its world, that even an exposition-heavy episode that would have been boring in less capable hands is almost as engrossing and thrilling as the big adrenaline-fueled battles. One reason is easy: people tend to hew closely to what they know, both about themselves and the world.

The company and family that is Tekkadan is between worlds right now, but they have a place and a home in their ship, if only a transitory one. When we watch Atra and Mika act like an old married couple, we’re comforting that however much has changed, both for better or worse, some things haven’t.

Which will make it that much more impactful (and potentially devastating) when the core status quo is seriously challenged. Which it certainly will once Tekkadan reaches out the Jovian mafia, Teiwaz, for help, and Fareed continues his slow-burn pursuit.

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But that comes later. IBO recommends we be on our guard by checking in on the outside parties pursuing Tekkadan, but also welcomes us to kick back and enjoy the slice-of-life aboard a ship that’s equal parts military contractor transport, orphanage, school, and embassy.

Like any small community, everyone must pull their weight. Atra has settled in as the cook, and the better food is crucial both for growing young ones and morale of the older ones. Even Fumitan flashes her technical skill, getting hired as communications officer. But until this week, with the exception of securing funding from Nobliss, Kudelia has felt increasingly useless.

She’s being unfair: as she makes clear in her elevator speech to Mika and Atra, she might just have the most important role in Tekkadan’s survival—her pursuit of Martian independence. But she’s still restless and wants to make immediate positive contribution to what she sees as a microcosm of the planet she wishes to free, so I like how she settles on the one important role the ship glaringly lacks: a teacher.

That’s doubly important considering how un- or under-educated Tekkadan’s crew is. Most of the youngest are illiterate like Mika, who doesn’t even know why Kudelia is going to Earth, while Atra doesn’t even know they were headed to Earth (technically, they’re headed to Jupiter for the moment).

Mika smiles a bit when Kudelia says she wants to make everyone happy, because to hear Kudelia, complicating his life by expanding his world through reading and writing is the key to that happiness.

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And Kudelia would be right: as long as Mika and the others aren’t properly educated and remain in the dark about how the world works, they’ll always have a disadvantage that makes them vulnerable to those who do. Their potential enemies are getting smarter as the dumb ones exit stage right.

Enter Fumitan, who Orga seems to trust enough to not only make her comms officer on a mission requiring radio silence whenever possible, but leave her alone on the bridge. In my Mika-like ignorance (Mika would trust whoever Orga trusted), I’d hope Fumitan and her close-up eye-narrowing were only a red herring, not something more sinister. But I can’t discount that she’s the new internal threat to Tekkadan, and someone to worry about far more than the hapless Todo.

Similarly, Fareed is light-years ahead of Coral in antagonistic competence. He lets Tekkadan go so he can learn more and more about them, and in particular the weapon that’s keeping them alive. That weapon isn’t the outdated Barbatos (about which he already knows plenty), but its pilot Mika. Fareed reaches out to 2nd Lt. Ein Dalton for more insight into that pilot, and considers rewarding him by letting him join the pursuit mission. “I understand your feelings. I’ll think about it.” So far, that’s Fareed’s credo.

One of the unsung (no pun intended) elements that makes IBO such a great show to immerse oneself in (like an Utawarerumono hot bath) its its excellent score, and the theme that plays under Fareed’s talk with Ein is quintessentially Fareed: quiet, subdued, exacting, and inquisitive, building to more dramatic instrumentation when Ein expresses his desire to avenge his fallen comrades.

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Back aboard the Ex-Will-O’-the-Wisp, Biscuit wonders if Tekkadan is suffering from mission bloat on its first mission. Is this simply to tough with the manpower and equipment at their disposal? Shouldn’t they ask for help, like from a subcontractor? Biscuit asks these questions, but he’s fully aware of the answers: no and no. This is Tekkadan’s first mission, and they can’t compromise or fall short on the promises they’ve made.

Orga has to be bold, not just to make a name for the company, or cement the loyalty and confidence of its employees. It’s all for Mika. Her His eyes are there” every time he turns around. Mika is always ready for action; ready to be told what they’re doing next. To Orga, Mika is stronger and cooler than he’ll ever hope to be. So he, in turn, must be as bold and cool as possible.

That leads to taking shortcuts like balancing the fate of the entire mission on the presumption that Fumitan is one of the good guys who shares his values and goals. Or getting in bed with pirates and mobsters. Or embarking on a mission before determining the fate of your well-connected ex-CEO who ran off with a suitcase full of cash. We’ll see if Orga’s increasingly bold stance to carrying out his mission will pay off or lead to his downfall.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 05

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There’s a wonderful sense of anticipation and occasion on the eve of Tekkadan’s first space mission, as warm moments like Aina joining Mika on his night watch, or Atra enlisting as Tekkadan’s cook for the journey, are tinged with foreboding when Orga shakes hands with Orcus, a man we know he doesn’t trust as far as he can throw him.

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Traps and betrayals await Tekkadan in low orbit, with Todo cutting a deal with Orcus, who gets betrayed by Orcus, who cut a deal with Coral, who himself made a deal with Fareed in the apprehension of Kudelia. And at the end of the day, youth and smarts beat age and greed.  Todo’s treachery has been so blatantly telegraphed, it was all but inevitable his plan would be foiled by somebody; the fact Orga doesn’t have to lift a finger for it to happen is icing on the cake.

So Todo, and later Coral, aren’t just old villains, they’re bad, dumb villains that the show disposes of as soon as it can. In the villain vaccum comes Fareed, who like Mika on the other side is a different kind of animal. The beautifully-oiled gears are always spinning beneath his golden locks. Fareed doesn’t mug for the camera get bent out of shape; he twirls his hair, playing the long game.

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And as predictable as Todo’s failed betrayal was, the fact the show was very coy indeed about what if any countermeasures Orga had was nicely hidden beneath the more predictable surface. Orga doesn’t even tell most of his comrades what he has in store for Aina’s would-be apprehenders: Mika in the Gundam (wearing a flight suit too), and a game Akihito arriving right on time with Tekkadan’s ship.

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We’ve been waiting five weeks for IBO’s first space battle, and it doesn’t disappoint. Is there rampant, obvious CGI? Nope, just hand-drawn (or at least hand-drawn looking) mechas rockin’-sockin’ it could with maces, axes, swords, and bullets. And just when we thought Mika was good in atmospheric combat, we see he’s even better once he has the omnidirectionality of space in which to work.

The action is beautifully and tautly directed, and it’s easy to know what’s going on where at all times, without dumbing it down. There are also a good number of Gundam cockpit shots, and thankfully the pilots can speak to each other on the radio.

As his Gjallarhorn opponents get more and more pissed off, Mika just maintains his cool—but not cold—demeanor. He’s got a job to do, everyone’s depending on him, and he’s going to do it. His constant calm, and the power of those convictions, carry with them their own brand of ferocity.

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It’s fitting then, that Fareed, who really secured his position as most serious, interesting and complex antagonists in IBO, remains equally calm and collected this week. The lack of bluster or panic or desperation makes him all the more formidable a foe.

One of Fareed’s best lines of dialogue this week is a little cheesy and meta, but I still absolutely loved it: when the ship’s database confirms Tekkadan’s trump is a Gundam from the Calamity War, he points out how appropriate that is, since Gundams always seem to pop up and make significant contributions at key turning points throughout human history, and with a Martian independence movement gaining strength, this Barbatos has risen up once more to defend the underdog, in this case Kudelia.

What’s also so great is that his little speech didn’t just fire me, up, but it fired him up, to the point he heads out in his own upgraded Graze to join the fray. His opponent is a legend, and finally, a legitimate chance to test his mettle and prove his greatness.  Very good stuff.

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As Mika is dancing with the mobile suits, the Orcus and Gjallarhorn capital ships bear down on Tekkadan’s. They need a big maneuver to escape: enter a mining asteroid they tether to using some good old-fashioned, quick-and-dirty, NASA-style improvisation. Someone has to cut the tether loose at the right moment to send the ship flying safely away from the enemy.

It’s a suicidal mission, so Orga prepares to take it on, but in a nice bit of character development Eugene (for all intents and purposes his XO) volunteers in his stead, insiting the captain should just “sit around and look important.”

It’s a reminder that even though he’s pissed Orga kept the ship secret from him, he still has ample faith and respect in Orga’s command. It also reminds us Orga is still getting used to being the top dog; which sometimes requires delegating, or sending people out you know might not come back.

The thrilling tether swing-around works like a charm, even when the initial blast doesn’t cut the cord. On its way out of orbit on onwards to Earth, they don’t forget to pick up Mika, who destroyed Coral and got a good lick in on Gaelio. The whole time, Fareed was carefully analyzing Mika’s movement, and came away impressed.

Orga and Eugene also make peace, lessening considerably my previous worries Eugene would try to make a move against him. We’ve got a lot of Gundam left, so that could still happen down the road, but for now, they’re buds.

Oh, and yes, Mika’s fine. No adverse side-effects from all that space combat, either mental or physcial. Having both Aina and Atra aboard is a good move, not just for the triangle, but because they represent everything Mika has to lose if things go south.

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The final kiss-off from Tekkadan is shipping a beaten and marked Todo to Gjallarhorn in an escape pod. No more Todo blatantly undermining Tekkadan in the shadows. Fareed lost this round, but he didn’t come away empty-handed (and I’m not talking about Todo): he got to observe his enemy closely, and will be more prepared for him the inevitable next time.

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