The elephant in the room with Iron-Blooded Orphans is and always has been the same: how will Okada Mari’s dominant-gene vision mesh with the supremely well-established and archetypal Gundam universe – and what impact will a powerhouse director like Nagai Tatsuyuki have on that unholy marriage? I’d go so far as to say that for most who aren’t already huge Gundam fans, that elephant is the main curiosity factor for this series.
The thing with Gundam is that as elemental to anime history as it is, as a mythology it does have some considerable plasticity to it. There are certain “historical” facts that every incarnation is expected to incorporate, but stylistically there’s always been a lot of room for play here. That’s why the idea of Okada – as disastrously as she’s misstepped with updating established franchises, especially mecha – taking a stab at a Gundam show always seemed to have at least some chance of working.
After two episodes, I think the jury is still out on whether or not this will work. There are things about Tekketsu no Orphans I’ve liked, others not so much. I’ve never thought sci-fi was a great fit for Okada because, to be blunt, she doesn’t seem that interested in getting the details down. Okada wants to write emo and angst, and she wants to put her characters through existential hell – and Gundam gives her plenty of opportunity to do that. But so far the larger universe seems like a 2-D backdrop rather than a living, dynamic setting with depth of field. Ironically, it almost seems as if Okada has been too respectful – or lazy – to do any reinventing of a very classic Gundam setting.
I’m waiting for some of the cast to break out of the cookie-cutter class, too. It’s a pretty standard bunch so far, with a few more getting additional focus this week: there’s Crank Zent (Mamiya Yasuhiro) a senior commander for the Gjallarhorn forces who’s morally affronted at the idea of fighting child soldiers (if he doesn’t die a noble death in the next episode, it’ll be the surprise of the year). We also meet Biscuit’s two sisters, Cookie and Cracker (Kuwahara Yuuki and Senbongi Sayaka), whose function in the story should be self-apparent from the moment they appear on-screen.
As chestnut as it is, there is some traction to the core premise of Iron-Blooded Orphans. These boys have really been screwed by life – illiterate, forcefully mutated to synch with their mobile worker machines, abandoned and abused by their own adult overlords even as the enemy attacks. It’s pretty obvious that Orga has decided on a full-fledged revolt and I certainly can’t blame him, and as condescending as Kudelia’s initial attitude is, at least she represents a potential ally with some pull in society. There should be some emotional pull to seeing them fight to gain some control of their lives and change a sick and craven system, but it’s too early to say whether the writing and execution will be able to extract it.
ED: “Orphans no Namida (オルフェンズの涙)” by MISIA