Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 07

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Space may be big, but the shipping lanes aren’t, and it was only a matter of time before Tekkadan got some attention. Only the first ship to confront them since their Gjallarhorn skirmish is the Hammerhead, commanded by Naze Turbine, who works for Teiwaz. They’re not stodgy and militaristic, but rather much more of a Bizarro Tekkadan, right down to the two groups’ eccentric young ace mecha pilots. It also reminds us that CGS were no angels back when they were working for Maruba. They did the jobs they were contracted to do.

I couldn’t really ask for a better adversary at this point: a group of people who under different circumstances I wouldn’t mind rooting for. Naze, like Orga, is a fundamentally pragmatic guy. With the info he currently has, Naze has no reason not to help the connected Maruba recoup his CGS losses. And while the Turbines have probably made lots of compromises to get to where they are, the point is they’re surviving and thriving. They’re a glimpse of a successful, stable Tekkadan no one is hunting.

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Except the Turbines have been charged with hunting Tekkadan. Biscuit thinks their wiggle room, but Orga has to consider all the angles, like losing face or breaking their promise to Aina and Nobliss. So negotiations break down, Turbine’s ace paints her nails and then licks her chops (the Tekkadan’s Isaribi looks kinda like a mecha-shrimp), and Atra battens down the curry and rounds up the potatoes in Zero-G.

In this battle, Orga sends Mika and Akihito out in the Barbatos and Graze, gives Eugene the bridge, then sends Shino down to the hangar. Now, I don’t know Shino so well, so I figured his time was going to be up., but the show turned out to be far cleverer than that. There were also no more strange shots of Fumitan; perhaps that’s just her natural expression to glare at people.

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Atra and Aina, who aren’t so great at the combat, make a connection during the chaos of battle, as Atra helps Aina get her spacesuit on properly and keep her company. Out in space, meanwhile, IBO finally introduces us to some female pilots in Amida and Lafter, who aren’t just among the Turbines’ pilots; they’re the best, and don’t let anyone forget it.

After six weeks of Atra and Aina not having that much to do (and filling into “traditional” roles of cook, teacher, and emotional support), I can’t underscore enough how glad I am the show now has women in powerful warrior roles. And Atra and Aina aren’t in their roles because they’re not men, but because they’re not soldiers; an important distinction.

Mika’s ancient Gundam is realistically having software bugs, and is absolutely no match for Lafter’s super-fast customized-to-the-hilt rig, which fits her like a glove. Mika has to give everything he’s got not to be overwhelmed, while not forgetting he has to protect the Isaribi from the Hammerhead. Akihito has similar problems with Amida and her wingman Azee, but holds his own by sheer will, determination, and courage in the fact of unfair odds.

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Throughout the battle, Naze and Amida keep on ongoing narrative of the Turbines being the adults who must do their duty and teach the Tekkadan rapscallions a lesson. To that end, they feign being impressed when Tekkadan executes by-the-book tactics, and dismiss their reckless mecha combat as juvenile and undisciplined. Basically, while they’re not nearly as incompetent as any Gjallarhorn officer not called Fareed, Naze and the Turbines are still underestimating these kids. Obviously, that’s a running theme.

In fact, Orga, Biscuit, and Eugene use those by-the-book tactics in order to lull the Turbines into a false sense of strategic superiority. When the Isaribi fires missiles, the Hammerhead shoots them down, creating a smokescreen. But the Isaribi doesn’t escape; the screen is used to surprise the Hammerhead when Eugene plots a near collision course, stealthily dropping an Orga-led boarding party that cripples the Turbines from the inside.

To his credit, Naze doesn’t fume or pull his hair out when he realizes he’s been outmaneuvered. Instead, like Fareed, he seems glad to have a worthy opponent to face off against. Tekkadan exceeded his expectations, and he can’t help but smile about it.

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Out in the void, things get more and more intense, and if your adrenaline wasn’t pumping for that Isaribi maneuver through the smoke, Mika and Akihito’s increasingly brutal, metal-crunching duels do the trick. Mika manages to cast a line out and tether himself to Lafter’s mecha, and she tries to use the fact his old bucket lacks inertial dampers to let the g’s take care of him for her. But Mika not only endures, and lets her slam him into an asteroid: he uses his spear to anchor himself and pull her back to him.

Similarly, Akihito, who Amida says with semi-sarcastic respect fights like he has “muscle for brains” doesn’t give up, despite his mechanical shortfalls and the fact the enemy has numbers on him. He keeps fighting because he told Mika he’d take care of it, so he will. Even so, while Mika got the upper hand on Lafter and is poised to finish her, Amida seems ready to close her jaws on Akihito…

…Then Orga and Naze suddenly order a cease-fire to their respective fighters. Just like that, the battle is over, and for once, it’s the stopping of a battle I wanted to stop. I didn’t want Lafter or Akihito to buy the farm so soon, and I didn’t want Tekkadan and the Turbines stacking up blood-grudges that would prevent future cooperation.

I look forward to seeing not only how Orga, Biscuit and/or Aina deal with Naze and Amida now that the guns have been lowered and cooler heads have prevailed, but hope Mika gets to interact with his counterpart Lafter, who seems to share his love of the uncomplicated. They already had their first dance, after all.

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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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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 04

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Tekkadan and their celebrity passenger aren’t off to Earth yet, and that’s a good thing. This is a 26-episode show, no need to rush, and besides, while this episode is less hectic than last week’s coup and duel, laying out the full measure of the stakes and all of the dangers that lie ahead for Mika, Orga, Aina, et al is crucial to our full emotional investment in the events to come.

As we see, getting Aina to Earth is no simple matter to say the least, and can’t be done by Tekkadan alone. It requires getting in bed (oh God hopefully not literally) with outside middlemen, forming dozens of little alliances of temporary trust with outsiders; those with their own motivations. With so much on their backs Orga and Aina have no choice but to gamble, and neither assured a survivable return.

On the contrary, with Todo’s private moments of stewing, it’s clear Orga has made a potentially fatal mistake in thinking the threat of death keeps the old man in line. Todo is planning the demise of Tekkadan in its infancy, not for Gjallarhorn or his old bosses, but because it’s his way to survive. If he gets a little more agency and teaches some punk kids a lesson, so much the better.

“Young vs. Old” is also a theme in Major Coral equivocating before the younger Fareed, subtly offering a bribe that’s shot down with the threat of arrest, then cursing the even older Crank for failing (as Crank and Orlis’ comrade stews).

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The Olds seem to prefer when the Youngs are beholden to them. It gives them power and purpose. Todo’s Orcus contact is of big help (assuming it’s not a trap, which it is). Nobliss, who doesn’t even bother dressing to address Aina, clearly considers Aina to beholden to him for his cash infusion. But Fareed rejects his older comrade’s “intelligence” and goes out with Gaelio to gather his own.

There’s a lot of housekeeping this week, as we learn Orga gained Akihito and his group of “Human Debris” (i.e. former property of Maruba) to his side with the promise to free and protect them, as they wouldn’t be able to secure jobs elsewhere. In a strong symbolic gesture, the big CGS sign is painted over by one of the youngest grunts. Out with the old, and all that.

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Finally, this episode makes a slight detour to the Biscuit’s family farm, run by a stern, no-nonsense Granny Sakura who, like Yukinojo and Crank, are the old people trying to foster amity with the young rather than oppose and oppress them. Mika brings Aina here for the same reason he comes: working the land helps clear the head.

That also means, of course, Aina and Atra cross paths again, and for now, Mika has his cake and eats it too, catching Aina when she tugs too hard at an ear of corn, while also heartening Atra by thanking her for the bracelet. At the same time, Mika uses this to show Aina that even this big biofuel corn farm only nets Biscuit’s family a meager return; not enough to survive. Her saving Tekkadan also saved that farm and family, so she should buck up and stop focusing only on the negative.

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Then, all of a sudden, there’s a clashing of plotlines with Fareed and Gaelio nearly running over Cookie and Cracker in their Humvee. Mika doesn’t hesitate to take throat of Gaelio, the first face he sees emerge, and start squeezing mercilessly. Fareed manages to cool everyone off, but I liked how when Fareed and Gaelio were alone, Gaelio was the easygoing one. Here, Gaelio is hostile where Fareed is amicable. He even retches when he sees Mika’s implants.

At the same time, Fareed is, if anything, more threatening than Gaelio, all courtesy, easy smiles and cordial words. There’s raw tension in him approaching Cookie, Cracker, and Atra…and offering them candy. He knows Mika is far more than a farmboy. And there’s the sense he doesn’t believe Biscuit any more than he believes Coral. Meanwhile, Aina has to hide in the corn with her aide. This won’t be the last they see of the gallant inspectors.

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As it happens, Fareed is already aware that CGS is now Tekkadan; a product of Orga and Biscuit playing everything after the mutiny strictly by-the-book, business-wise. When Mika returns to base, Orga shows him Tekkadan’s new insignia, again designed and painted by their youngest as a symbol of hope and strength. Orga looks on the sign with pride and an even greater desire to protect what they’ve won at all costs.

But the fact of the matter is, Tekkadan and its mission hang on a thread, and any one thing could blow it off into oblivion, be it further interference from the various units of Gjallarhorn (bet on it), making a deal with the devil in Nobliss, or underestimating Todo’s capacity for treachery. As Todo so aptly puts it in the episode’s final line: he’s about to show these young rapscallions “how terrifying adults can be.”

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