Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Anime Review: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans

Normally I order these reviews from my most-favorite anime of a season to least so I should put up a little note that says: this was not my least favorite show of the season! I just go so slammed by con work back in February that I was barely keeping up with anything and even since then I've been non-stop busy and seeing folks make, disapproving noises at the last half of the show wasn't the kind of motivation I needed to finish the show. The fact that it's already dubbed and airing on Toonami in the US is however so let's get onto this very late post.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans

Humanity has begun to reach for the stars and as they do many things remain the same. While Earth remains rich and prosperous, it's colonies in space are poor and under the thumb of the world's remaining superpowers. Mars is among the worst and Mika and Orga work with for a mercenary company, despite some of their friends being young enough to be called child soldiers. But neither of these two want to stay in this position forever and when they choose to honor their current contract, to protect and escort aristocratic Kudelia to Earth where she plans to negotiate for more rights for Mars, over obeying the space police and handing her over, that rebellion is the tipping point in their lives. They overthrow their old masters, form the Tekkaden with their friends who remain, and prepare to make a long trip that will hopefully give them everything they need to keep surviving. 

I think one of the first things hardcore otaku will bring up about this show is that it's written by love-her-or-hate-her Mari Okada who is very fond of melodramas. Actually it's funny to read that she was brought onto this project later and yet it's exactly what she wanted to write, and I have to admit the idea of having melodrama in a Gundam series is, uh, pretty routine as I understand it? I still haven't seen that much of Gundam, and nothing in the main, Universal Century mythos, so I'm evaluating this show more based off of how it works as a mecha show as a whole than how it fits into other Gundam ideas.

As "just" a mecha show it's a fairly entertaining one! I was rather amused that the initial premise is a bit like the significantly less good Aldnoah.Zero (oppressed Mars and ruling Earth are primed for rebellion) but the story is much more down to Earth here. Sure some characters have lofty ideals like freeing Mars but they also have much smaller hopes to even out the inequalities between Earth and it's colonies and that worked for me. There are certainly moments in the show where it seems like it's warring with itself (especially in the final act where everyone is arguing over whether or not the pre-teens should be allowed to fight in real battles, the show seems rather unconvinced of the arguments against it) but it did try to keep itself grounded despite everything else.

To talk about the character's a bit more, the show has what I think of as three main leads, Mika, Orga, and Kudelia in descending order. In just about any other mecha show Mika and Orga would be the same character, the cool ace with a head for leading others and almost unheard of prowess. I like the idea of splitting them up into two characters and the show avoids a few pitfalls along the way, like Orga has some guilt over being the leader and not the ace pilot but it stems from not being as involved in the field as I recall, he's not angry that Mika's better than him! And Mika is the cold-hearted, killer really taken to the logical extreme here, while he does have some interests he's also certainly an example of how bad things could become and this is constantly shown off by how every other member of Tekkadan, regardless of temperament, at least seems more balanced than he is*. I also rather liked Kudelia, the show had a tricky bit to do with "okay so this girl is important but she's not part of the group or in the fights so how can we show that" and I think it did okay, especially since the other characters respect her. I do think it's a little silly that in any other show I'd be able to say that yes, there are a lot of female characters (with at least another six named, frequently reoccurring side characters) but with the sheer size of the cast, Tekkadan in particular, this means that it's still proportionally not a lot of female characters sadly.

While the show ends in a good place (it's logical, archives all of the plot objectives it set out to do etc) I am rather glad that there is a second half coming. As I said earlier, the characters both have practical, smaller goals they want to accomplish (like Kudelia trying to improve Mars' economics with new trading rules) but the show makes it abundantly clear that more has to happen for the show to feel "finished". I am a little cautious about this second half since I'll miss Kudelia if she's gone but feel conflicted if her position changes radically (basically, I don't want her written out or made extraneous) and the show did feel a bit off by the end. After almost leisurely pacing early on it seems as if the last few episodes are extra stuffed and the body count escalated without warning. Hopefully we won't see that kind of pacing issue again but Gundam as a whole is rather prone to going from very good to terrible really easily so I'm hoping that won't be the case here.

*Mika also might not be aware he's in a Gundam show honestly since he's not hot-blooded and even recognized the Char clone immediately when no one else did