Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – Review
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans:
Original Air Dates: Oct 4th, 2015 – March 27th, 2016
Synopsis: Mars is stricken with poverty. Jobs are scarce thanks to the stranglehold on the economy by Gjallarhorn, a governing military faction established by Earth. Seeking to grant Mars its independence, Princess Kudelia Aina Bernstein seeks to be escorted to the Earthsphere by the Chryse Guard Security Third Group. However, knowing of Kudelia’s plans, the CGS is attacked by Gjallarhorn in an attempt to prevent Mars’ movement towards independence. The CGS, unwilling to oppose Gjallarhorn directly, abandons Kudelia. However, the child soldiers enlisted by CGS, lead by Orga Itsuka, form a rebellion within the ranks and take CGS from the adults who abandoned Kudelia.
In order to beat Gjallarhorn back, Mikazuki, the star pilot of the group, boards the ancient Gundam Barbatos. Now, having seized CGS for themselves, Orga and his team strike out to deliver Kudelia to the Earth, secure Mars’ freedom, and make a place in the chaotic universe for themselves. But will anyone survive to see that day?
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Mikazuki, perhaps like many Gundam pilots, is hardly the most interesting character, coming off as cold, emotionless and generally stone-walled in the face of adversity. But IBO isn’t about Mikazuki, not really, unlike previous Gundam’s, IBO focuses even more so on the ensemble cast of Orga, Biscuit, and every major member of the CGS security force, eventually remained to Tekkadan. While Mikazuki might not be the most engaging, there’s a slew of well defined and evolving characters that cast a wide net of appeal. Because of the sheer wealth of characters, it makes all the mounting deaths that much more impactful. Make no mistake, IBO is in the spirit of early Tomino directed Gundams (Even if Reco in G wasn’t), meaning you can be sure to lose a few beloved characters before the final episode has concluded.
Linny: The large ensemble and division of focus amongst several characters works really well in IBO. You get your expected and predictable ‘Gundam’ archetype protagonists and antagonists but you also get some new takes on the good ol’ Gundam formula. There is no clear single lead character and the split between characters is done very evenly and smoothly. You get a sense of who most crucial characters are, either through backstory or through their reactions and behaviour to the situation at hand. Furthermore, almost every pivotal character reacts and behaves in a manner that brings their own spin to the tale, letting us see different sides of the story.
Tom: IBO may not live up to the memorable nature of the original White Base crew, but even so there’s a wealth of enjoyable characters here, from Orga, to Biscuit, to the Guts look alike, Akihiro, and even Kudelia herself (who honestly makes a far better and more sensible Relena Peacecraft than the real thing.) We also, of course, have our Char clone for the series too. You may never get attached to these characters in quite the same way as the White Base crew, or other beloved Gundam icons, but even if none of the characters stand out on their own, the whole cast feels like a tightly connected family, so when people begin to drop like flies, you can’t help but share the pain of the survivors.
Linny: As someone who never really enjoyed Mecha, and has limited interest in the Gundam franchise as a whole, this was one of the first Gundam series that really got to me. Not only did the show manage to have enjoyable protagonists, even the antagonists left an impression. While none of them were a Char Aznable level of memorable and iconic, they felt believable and even evoked feelings of sympathy in me. Even characters in smaller roles managed to leave an impact by committing acts that have long running effects on the story and the other characters. However, this show’s version of Char felt a little weak compared to how impact laden the rest of the cast were. I am not certain if that’s because of how impressive the cast is, or if our IBO Char is just plain bland compared to similar characters in other Gundam series. I’m no Gundam expert though but I am curious if other viewers felt/will feel that way about him.
Tom: Watching Tekkadan grow not only as a organization, but as a group of orphans coming together and struggling as a family was really cool. The characters may never pop out all that well individually, but the pressures they go through as a group are engaging. I personally never got too attached to anyone, save for maybe Kudelia, but as a group, the drama works. Much of the cast receives development, from Akihiro and his struggles surrounding family, to Orga and his quest to better their world, and Kudelia and her feelings surrounding the people dying for her cause, everyone receives some strong development. This helps to solidify IBO as one of the more character driven Gundams in recent years. That said, some of the deaths are telegraphed a mile away, making their impact feel a bit hollow, while others are sharp, sudden, and abrupt bringing back the horrors of war that were so well portrayed in early Gundams. IBO does shy away from perhaps killing some of the more prominent characters, something that would really shake the audience to its core, but what IBO does do is already the A-game for many of the best Gundams.
Linny: The impact of the deaths and the sense of danger and worry for the characters is reinforced by the moral ambiguity employed by the show. There are several characters that reveal unexpected traits and morality, which makes the audience see them in a new light. A lot of the characters are portrayed as human, flawed yet understandable. There are characters who are forced into situations not of their asking or choice, or those acting under misguided belief, altogether making for a complex and engaging story.
Tom: Gundam IBO is slow paced, something Reco in G very much needed, allowing us to easily follow the gradual progression of Tekkadan from a bunch of no ones, into a powerful combat group that can go toe to toe with Gjallahorn’s forces. The growth is generally realistic (or as realistic as you’ll get within sci-fi) and there initially isn’t too much reliance on the mcguffin, the Alayjna-varia, that perhaps plagues certain older Gundams, like Seed or ZZ. The show does eventually fall back hard on the Alaya-Vijnana system, which is what allows pilots to directly interface with their mobile suits, but even in the final battle between Mikazuki and the ultimate foe, it doesn’t feel too much like a dues ex machina moment.
Linny: The growth of the characters is certainly well portrayed and is a key factor in raising the quality and entertainment of what could have easily been just any other Gundam. The slow progression feels realistic, rather than monotonous and viewers will likely find themselves silently cheering along when characters take small but significant steps towards their betterment.
Tom: Internal struggles, scheming plans and personal drama keep the story moving, especially in the final episodes as the series build towards the largest conflict within IBO, that is both brutal and a real treat to watch. IBO can feel a bit slow at times, in part to what I mentioned before where Mech battles take a back seat to the character drama, but in the final arc, the show really picks up steam becoming a tense, edge of your seat experience. By IBO’s final two episodes, it became my most anticipated show week to week, beating out other heavy hitters from the Winter season like Erased or Showa.
Linny: Aesthetically, the show looks clean and crisp with the mobile suits looking modern yet still clearly evoking the Gundam sensibility. Combat sequences tend to get brutal, especially as the series progresses, with clear depictions of violence. It’s not super graphic, but it manages to come off gritty enough to depict the level of force and damage being inflicted and engaged in.
Tom: The art for IBO is generally good, at times simple, with less detail than normal for longer shots. It’s effective enough however. But at times, particularly during mid-season Mech battles, the art gets too simplistic, especially for Mech fans looking for giant robot warfare drawn with the utmost detail. The quality reminds me a lot of earlier Gundams, particularly Victory, where it’s never disgustingly bad, but it’s not eye candy either. Otherwise most of the early and late series Mech battles look really impressive, and solidify my personal preference for 2D mechs over 3D. For Mech enthusiasts IBO might become fairly irksome mid-series, but if you can stick it out through the low period it does pick up again for the final six or so episodes.
Linny: IBO does a good job of breathing new life into the Gundam franchise, especially when compared to ones like Reconguista. The show takes it slow with its character development for a story that feels strong and engaging, even though it does sacrifice having copious amounts of battles and explosions.
Tom: Comparatively, IBO is even more about its characters than previous entries in the franchise. With episodes going by without a single mech battle, it’s clear where IBO’s priorities lie. But perhaps that makes it a good jumping on point for new fans who are less easily sold on giant mech battles. For long time fans don’t fear, the end is wrought with mayhem and war featuring numerous mechs in one final all out gambit. There’s no doubt that IBO is stronger than last year’s Reco in G (Thank God) and helps to wash away the taste of that poor entry in the Gundam franchise. IBO sits among the best alt-universe Gundam tales, with deeper story and characters than either Seed or Wing. With a season 2 confirmed for later this year, I have to wonder exactly where the story will go, but at this point I’m just dying to see it back on TV.