I have no quibbles with this episode of Iron-Blooded Orphans, and I expect it’s going to be greeted quite favorably by the audience. No reason why it shouldn’t – it’s a very solid mecha action ep (though I would argue less compelling than the exceptional 5th episode), and puts all its footsteps in the right places. One might very well be watching Gundam mainly for stuff like this, and that’s as good a reason as any.
It’s odd, then, that when all was said and done I found the episode to have been pretty flat. Part of that no doubt comes down to expectations – with Nagai Tatsuyuki and Okada Mari involved, what seems most intriguing about Iron-Blooded Orphans is its potential to go to places other Gundam series don’t usually go, not its ability to step nimbly in the regular stomping grounds. Though, that it does step so nimbly as it does is a testament to the versatility of a director and writer who don’t usually do this sort of thing.
I think I missed Fareed McGillis here, too – he’s the most interesting of the antagonists we’ve met so far because he’s so hard to predict. By contrast this week’s foes are pretty standard-issue – especially Maruba Arkay (who at one point is actually reduced to running in place and flailing his arms in fury). Somewhat better is Naze Turbine (Toriumi Kousuke), captain of the Hammerhead – the ship that intercepts the Tekkadan. Naze is at least smart enough not to take a buffoon like Maruba seriously, but he’s pretty clearly a zaku – it’s his boss McMurdo Barriston, the leader of Teiwaz, that seems like the guy who’s going to be a real factor in the story.
The dynamic among the Tekkadan boys is pretty clear – Biscuit wants to negotiate, Mika just waits for the go sign from Orga, and Orga thinks about the big picture. Orga is smart enough to realize that having Teiwaz as an enemy would present Tekkandan with huge problems, but also that Biscuit is negotiating from a position of weakness. As it stands, Turbine has nothing to gain from giving Tekkadan a good deal – I suspect he’d make good on his word to spare them and even give them some work if they surrendered unconditionally, but I wouldn’t want to be in a position to bet my life on it.
I do find the character-driven nature of last week’s episode, with its focus on the larger injustices at the heart of Tekketsu no Orphans and the feelings of the principals, to be somewhat more engaging than this straight-ahead tactical battle drama – I think the creatives behind this series are more at home in that mode – but this is still solid Gundam. The confrontation with the Hammerhead and it’s seemingly all-female combat team is well-done (happily, the curry survived), and Orga’s plan to turn the battle around a suitably clever stratagem.
The key takeaway here is that Orga is formidable beyond his years – he understands both that the only desirable outcome of this encounter is an alliance with Teiwaz (winning this battle would mean losing the war) and how to go about achieving it (finding a way to negotiate from a position of strength). I’m not sure how realistic it is that a teenager with Orga’s backwater background would have this level of tactical sophistication, but it sure makes this an easier story to tell that he does – chalk it up to good instincts and necessity, I suppose…