Mar 27, 2016
Stark700 (All reviews)
The Gundam franchise is a massive universe. As another installment, there can be a lot of optimism for Iron-Blooded Orphans. I have to admit, getting into this show at first made me nervous. Some of the recent Gundam related series such as Gundam AGE and Gundam: G no Reconguista received very mixed reception. Furthermore, Iron-Blooded Orphans is spearheaded by Mari Okada, a director who is well-known for adding in melodrama into the story. But for this show, I can safely say that it’s definitely something worth investing time into whether you’re a fan of Gundam or not.

For timeline purposes, the show takes place after the Calamity War, a war between Earth and Outer colonies. Actually, make that 300+ years. A major conflict involves Mars and its city Chryse. The people there seek independence from the government and make their own lives into something better. A young Martian woman named Kudelia Aina Bernstein hopes to secure independence. Her role in the story becomes more complicated as she gets involved with a group known as the Tekkadan, whom is entrusted to protect her life. So begins this story that leads politics, warfare, and a world of internal conflicts. As the show’s catch phrase, this is “the sustenance of life is on the battlefield."

In context, the show is a war story but also deals with a variety of real life issues. From poverty to child soldiers and imperialism, the show really offers a lot of insightful concepts. There’s even themes of experimentation as certain characters are fit with the Alaya-Vijnana System (Whiskers) to enhance their fighting abilities. Still, the show constructs a story that expands beyond just fighting a war for independence but also takes a look at the interpersonal conflicts of people in its universe. At the heart of it, we have members of the Tekkadan. Led by Orga Itsuka, the show capitalizes on their role to protect Aina. Their ace pilot, Mikazuki Augus (also known as Mika) pilots the mysterious mobile suit known as Barbartos. Throughout the show, we see his piloting and combat skills including his role to fight off Gjallarhorn, an Earth Military organization set up to capture Aina. Tekkadan also consists of other members including Biscuit Griffin (a strategist), Eugene Stark (former leader of the third army’s division), Norba Shino, Akihiro Atland, Atra Mixta, among others. What’s interesting about this group is that although they all come from different backgrounds, they are all united with similar purposes and treats each other like family. The family theme extends to not just the group but also Aina as she gets to know more of its core members. With such a colorful cast of characters, the show really can be appreciated for its characterization.

A good part of the story involves the journey Aina and Tekkadan takes in order to reach their goals. Part of it feels like a cat-and-mouse story while other parts are calmer with even has a feel of slice of life. In addition, the show also introduces others factions, some who later become valuable ally of Tekkadan while others are against them. Now I have to admit though, the story itself may feel like it has some pacing problems. A few of the episodes are non-combat related and some lacks development with the overall presentation of the story. However, it also emphasizes on the characters because they really are something special. The director and producers are aiming high for with this TV show so everything constructed has a purpose. The main characters has an iron will with their goals so a few of the episodes examines at their personal lives. Throughout their on-screen roles and background storytelling, we learn more about them especially Mika. He is an orphan with poor social skills but learns throughout the show with help from Aina. There’s a change about his character through his acquaintance with her as he becomes more casual and more interested in his own future. Their relationship even has a taste of romance in it as time goes on and this doesn’t seem like a surprise. Aina’s a kind woman who cares about others’ well-being above her own. She is also a good role model for the children through her ways of teaching them how to write, in particular Mika. This opens up his interest to forging his own future someday. Similarly, Mika’s relationship with Orga is strong. Their friendship has already been established during their childhood and it’s evident that the two would risk their lives to protect each other and their goals. Now I don’t expect everyone to like Aina’s role in the story. Despite her aristocratic status and selfless nature, she is still a bit naïve at times. And furthermore, her insecurity to provide help during crucial moments of fighting can be a bit irritating. Because of the nature of the show, expect other characters to relive moments from the past that resurfaces in the present storyline. A prime example is Akihiro as he deals with a blast from the past. On the other hand, there are also lighthearted relationships such as Mika and Atra. Some may see her involvement with him to almost be part of a love triangle. However, don’t expect this show to be a love story. It’s still an iron-blooded war tale. In retrospect, the show really has an iron blood with its story and characters.

When looking at the themes of the show, it’s easy to notice how much it has relations with the past, present, and future. The poverty of the past influences people to try and find a better future for themselves. The present has an emphasis on neo-colonism as we see advanced civilizations expand through funding and technology. For the future, Aina’s ambition to seek independence is a hopeful vision for her people. This is a bit contrast with Gjallarhorn. In essence, they are a military organization who seeks peace but pursuits them with violence means. Some of its core members such as McGillis Fareed, Gaelio Bauduin, Ein Dalton, and among others has their own ideologies. But one thing they seem to all share is strengthening their nation’s own relations and wealth. On the other hand, there’s also Teiwaz, a business conglomerate. Their relationship with Tekkadan also a similarity about family as their representative member forges a pact with Orga. The amount of relationships in this show is really special and something to take by heart. Whether you agree with their goals or ambitions, it’s important to understand why they fight. And this show is pretty damn good at making its point about that.

Produced by Sunrise, the show’s visual quality is a unique piece of work. Michinori Chiba is in charge of the character designs but visually looks a bit different compared to some of Gundam’s previous predecessors. I guess it feels like a fusion of Gundam 00 and Gundam AGE as the characters looks both childish and mature the same time. This is especially true with characters like Mika and Biscuit. Orga on the other hand has the look of a mature commander. Aina has more of the look of an aristocrat but can also look like a simple lady when she needs to be. Character visuals aren’t the only thing interesting about the artwork though. The universe of the show has colonies that shows wealth with its rich technology and weapons of war As such, it brings legitimacy to their statuses. From the mysterious Barbados to Teiwaz’s Saisei, everything looks crisp and establishes the studio’s effort to craft them as technological innovations. This is further enhanced by the solid action with a great amount of effort during fight scenes. Be amazed. This is a show that can be will leave strong memories even with its action.

At first, I wasn’t much of a fan of the music or soundtrack. But after watching a good amount of the show, it’s definitely something to take in by heart. Masaru Yokoyama clearly invested a good amount of effort into producing the music for various scenarios in the show. From melancholic moments to intense combat oriented moments waged in space, it has everything that a mecha fan can wish for. The OP song “Raise Your Flag” is also a way that symbolizes the fight for independence especially with its catchy tone and choreography. And finally, voice mannerism is impressive. Characters such as Orga shows their commanding presence while Mika is known for his cold personality.

Iron-Blooded Orphans is definitely a show to invest time in. Whether you’re a veteran or a causal viewer, the experience after watching this show will be memorable for its story, characters, themes, world-building, and powerful action. Characters’ actions all have purpose and the show offers a balanced way to showcase their motivations. I don’t expect everyone to like all the characters as some may find them less likeable than others. Still, this show is not to be underestimated and is a triumphant one at that. Watch it with an open mind and you’ll see why.