Iron-Blooded Orphans is certainly shaping up as an interesting show, albeit one with some discernible flaws (and I’m not talking about the quite significant drop in animation quality this week). The first four episodes have generally been inconsistent, but it strikes me that the B-parts have been significantly the better halves of every episode, which is a favorable sign in more ways than one.
In a sense, one could look at Tekketsu no Orphans as Okada Mari’s attempt to do a take on the Aldnoah-Zero theme – though to be fair, it could just as easily be argued that show was Gen Urobuchi riffing on Gundam. There are certain holy relics here which must be honored, that’s a given – even writers this influential only have so much freedom to twist expectations. And if anything Okada has even less than Gen did, because her series has the “G” word in the title. It may seem strange for me to be bemoaning Okada Mari not having enough creative license, but there’s still something about this show that feels too reverential – and reverential is not a cloak that rests easily on Okada’s shoulders.
But having gotten the negativity (mostly) out of the way, there was a lot in this episode that sparked my interest in where the story is going. Setting aside the laboured moe-pandering with Cookie and Cracker and Todo being turned into a villain so broad he’s actually got a Hitler moustache, things got a lot more interesting. And a lot of that is thanks to developments with McGillis Fareed and Galileo Bauduin (those Gundam names…) who impacted the story like an asteroid on the East Coast of Australia.
In many ways, McGillis and Galileo’s behavior here makes little sense. Why would they be driving around Mars with a Gjallahorn logo on the side of their SUV, asking leading questions? I like the fact that McGillis is more than the conventional villain here, a guy with more than one angle he’s playing at. And just what is Gjallahorn in this confusing geo (and beyond) -politic, anyway? They don’t seem to be a representative of any specific government that’s part of either the Earth or Mars power structure.
Earth’s new map is certainly an interesting one. Europe painted green and part of Africa? Canada allied with an Asian Federation, a hemisphere away? It seems as if the four power blocs that reign over post-disaster Earth each have a colonial stake on Mars, and there’s some evidence that Kudelia is in secret talks with one of them (“Arbrau”, the Asia-Canadian bloc). Colonialism and its evils are clearly going to be a big part of what Okada is tackling here – another tie-in with Aldnoah, though again that was itself a tie-in with decades of Gundam mythology. Added to the that is the issue of “Human Debris”, which is effectively slavery, and a stigma which stays with the victims even if they manage to buy their way out of it.
On the personal side, Mika continues to be an interesting sort of anti-hero – his comfort level with acts of extreme violence is quite disturbing. Kudelia is obviously falling for him and Atra obviously stressing over it, but I’m not feeling the romance side of the story right now (if anything, I kind of like the idea of Kudelia and Biscuit, but that doesn’t have a chance in hell). In fact, I would say the story of the orphans as a group has more emotional heft than that of any of them individually right now. The boys at the heart of Iron-Blooded Orphans are basically the branded of society, defined by what they are and what’s been done to them rather than as individuals. The irony is that this makes for a compelling story, but that lack on individual distinctiveness carries over to the narrative as well, and renders them less interesting as people (at least so far).