First Impressions – Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans

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Whatever one might think this series will ultimately become, it’s not one to be dismissed easily.

This series probably has more baggage than any other this season.  There are so many eponymous words attached to it – Gundam, Sunrise, Nagai, Okada – that it’s impossible to go into it with an open mind, no matter what anyone might claim to the contrary.  Unless, of course, one isn’t an anime fan to begin with – and it’s hard to imagine there are too many viewers like that in the audience for a show like this one.

Where does one even begin, then, to try and analyze what happened on screen here?  I suppose they would have to start with the most basic, elemental point – the premiere of Tekketsu no Orphans was good.  It was very good, in fact – not brilliant, but solidly entertaining from start to finish.  The setup here is as familiar to Gundam viewers as an old shoe – tension between a wealthy Earth and a poor Mars colony roiled by an independence movement.  Child soldiers exploited by adults on both sides.  Political intrigue and betrayal.  It really is like a song where you know all the words.

The difference from the stock Gundam show, of course, is the presence of director Nagai Tatsuyuki and writer Okada Mari.  Both are about as famous as anyone in their field, and they have a track record together – AnoHana and the movies attached to it, Toradora.  Okada also has a track record writing original material for existing franchises, and it’s an abysmal one – Rurouni Kenshin, Kuroshitsuji, Lupin III.  Most relevant here is Aquarion Evol, her spectacularly misguided take on another beloved (though very different from Gundam) mecha franchise.

Like I said – more baggage than an Airbus A380.  If one chooses to accentuate the full half of the glass, it’s in partnership with very strong directors – especially the stalwart Nagai – that Okada has tended to do her best work.  And again, this first ep is excellent – she has a way of scene-setting that’s very effective, and while there are moments of clumsy exposition, the episode does a very good job of setting up the premise.  But I’ve been fooled by strong first eps with Okada before only to be brutally disappointed, so I’m going try to keep my expectations very much in-check.

Okada and Nagai have 25 episodes to work with (that was announced today) which should be ample time to flesh out this story of the iron-blooded orphans at the heart of the story, and the conflict they’re caught up in.  The major players appear to be the quietly GAR Augus Mikazuki (Kawanishi Kengo) – the one who pilots the Gundam this week – and his best friend Itsuka Orga (Hosoya Yoshimasa).  There’s also the requisite chubby mechanical genius Biscuit Griffon (Hanae Natsuki) – seriously Tomino, where do you come up with these names? – among others.  Critically, there’s also Kudelia Aina Bernstein (Terasaki Yuka), the MacGuffin and catalyst for now.  She’s the daughter of the president of the Mars colony (Kinoshita Haruyuki), and she’s hand-picked four boys from the Third Squad of abused orphans to escort her to Earth to mediate a peace conference.

There’s certainly the usual Okada silliness here – all the buff boys pilot their tanks with their shirts off just because, for example – but there’s some real bite and poignancy to the story.  I especially liked the way Kudelia came off as more of a villain than the men doing all the betraying here (including her father and the boys’ adult comrades) in some ways.  Her arrogance and sense of rich woman’s burden here is really despicable, and her intent to relate to the boys on a so-called equal level really insulting and demeaning.  No doubt as she’s educated as to just how naive and sheltered she is she’ll grow as a character, but Okada and Nagai have certainly given her plenty of room to do so.

All of this as chestnut as it gets in anime, of course – not just Gundam, but sci-fi anime in general.  We’ve seen stories of child soldiers exploited as expendable tools by craven adults over and over and over again, and it’s surely going to be a challenge to find anything really original in telling that story yet again.  But even as she jumps the shark, one thing Okada is generally good at is finding the new angle, the original twist – and she’s pretty fearless.  I’m loathe to get my hopes up, believe me, but especially with the unassailably great Nagai-sensei on board I really think this has a chance to work.  Enough so that I’m going to be disappointed if it doesn’t, anyway.

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OP: “Raise your flag” by MAN WITH A MISSION

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  1. s

    i like the trade between kudelia and mika where he points out that if she actually saw the boys on equal terms, she wouldnt need to point out that she's trying to view them on the same plateau. It's a psychological quandary really because the act of trying to be humble in that situation only sheds light on the fact that she has her biases about her status in regards to them. However, she doesnt really have any ill will in her words because she genuinely does want the boys to look past her status; it's a catch 22. While it wasnt insulting on her part to frame her position in that way, she wasnt trying to be douche. Like they say, intent doesnt always reflect in one's actions

  2. I see her actions in considerably less charitable terms, I guess. It all comes down to arrogance for me – a sheltered girl stoking her own ego by pretending she wants to get down in the muck with her inferiors. I don't think the symbolism of not getting her hands dirty was used by coincidence. On some level she may have good intentions, but at this moment she comes off very poorly IMHO.

  3. s

    which would explain why when the shit hit the fan, she was so meek and unresponsive. It's like talking a big game but not having the determination to actually get your hands dirty (pun intended). But that's understandable considering being in battle is a new experience for her. But yea her initial exchange with mika came off a bit insulting

    *while it WAS insulting on her part to frame her position in that way, she wasnt trying to be a douche*

  4. N

    Personally, I'd hate her much more if she was already ready to get her hands dirty. A sheltered princess will need more than few minutes to actually get to know how it is below and "Sheltered Princess immediately knows how to be empathetical" is one of more unrealistic and arrogant tropes out there.

  5. R

    One interesting speculation I read in the forums about this particular scene is that there would be a callback to it where Kudelia would become a mechanic for CGS and would shake hands with Mika with greasy palms. I don't know if that would happen, but there seems to already be a bit of foreshadowing for it, with Kudelia asking Biscuit and the mechanics on how she can hel later in the ep, as well as her character narrative revolving around understanding the plight of the boys. What better way to do that than become part of the crew for their journey.

  6. K

    @Guardian Enzo

    If that were true then she wouldn't be working toward trying to better the situation for the people of Mars, certainly she isn't following her parents example of enjoying their cushy lifestyle. While she may be ignorant I don't think it fair to question her intent/resolve, she's feeling her way through this is all.

  7. f

    okada mari certainly has mixed reputation, but with the great nagai-san as the director, i think it might go well for this one.

  8. R

    One thing that I find interesting here is that, despite the different visual styles, Mikazuki actually bears some resemblance to Reco's Bellri. This is probably unintended but it kinda creates an interesting contrast between the two protagonists, with them being polar opposites of each other. While Bellri is the priviledged son of an elite family (and a slight Gary Stu in his series), Mika is pretty much treated as a low class citizen no different from Reco's Kuntala people (which that series seemed to have forgotten to expound on in its story).

  9. And Kudelia looks like she was designed by Matsumoto Leiji. It is an interesting patchwork of character designs.

  10. J

    Yep, that Augus Mikazuki really is the most GAR *maid* I've seen in a while GE…

    I don't think the episode played up Kudelia's rich privilege/"Granola Girl" persona quite as much as your post is suggesting, but it looks pretty clear that she is heading for a serious reality check in the early episodes. It did seem cheap to have her father give her up straight away, that didn't take with me where I suspect it would if a little more time was devoted to explaining the situation before Bernstein sold his daughter for whatever safety he's looking got (and won't get).

    After the somewhat clunky premieres of the other mecha shows, it was good to see everything flow well here even if was essentially by-the-book. Then again Okada Mari has penned some of my personal favourite opening episodes, and only one of those went on to become a favourite series. My hopes are still tempered at this point.

  11. Indeed, this is the nut of the dilemma. Okada is very talented – her world-building skills make her first episodes some of the best in the game. But it's the follow-up that's the problem.

  12. J

    Hopefully it will suit (complement?) her style if the story sticks to the tried-and-tested for the next few episodes so she can concentrate on fleshing out the Earth/colonies/etc., because I can't think of a better avenue to do this than a mecha staple such as Gundam.

    Also, you still haven't fixed the link to the maid screen cap, which should be of Augus. I know it's not a big thing and you're bound to be busy at the moment, but maybe my hint earlier was a little too subtle.

  13. C

    I don't think Tomino came up with these character's names, Enzo. Not that non-Tomino Gundam doesn't have ridiculous names, anyone remember Bring Stabbity from 00 S2?

    Anyway, yeah it was good. I didn't find it amazing but so far so good. Mikazuki is interesting, he could very well be another Setsuna, but his relationship with Orga disagrees with that assessment. I like that it looks like they're two kids who were dealt a shitty hand by fate, and now they've formed this partnership to claw their way out of such a poor life.

    The Gundam Barbatos itself looks pretty slick, I like it. I like it a lot more than the G-Self, and I do enjoy that giant mace thing it has.

    Here's to hoping that our obligatory peace princess is a nice character, unlike Relena, and maybe just a bit more relevant than Marina, in the sense that her character doesn't exist solely for the MC.

  14. D

    Damn, Aquarion Evol is my favorite of the franchise and one of my all time favorite anime overall. Haha. You were brief in your season preview but certainly didn't mention any exceptions to Mari Okada's adaptions, so I already figured you thought something like that. You still write great stuff though and that's why I like hearing what you have to say.

  15. K

    I thought It was quite clearly established they have a spinal interface to their mecha's, hence the bolts in their backs,and that's why they pilot them shirtless. They're literally Iron Blooded Orphans.

  16. c

    "Okada also has a track record writing original material for existing franchises, and it's an abysmal one – Rurouni Kenshin, Kuroshitsuji, Lupin III. "

    Let's not be forgetting DTB: Ryuusei no Gemini on that list….

  17. F

    It was very engaging, loved most of the characters.

    Olga has a very Kamina-esque charm, I hope he doesn't meet the same fate.

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