It’s always interesting to see the response to episodes of a Gundam series in the usual places where people vote on such things (you’re familiar with these popular sites, I’m sure) especially a Gundam show like this one with its somewhat unusual pedigree. Episodes like this one and the one before almost invariably (I would say just “invariably” based on every instance I remember) score lower than ones like Episode 7 – action-driven episodes that are heavy on franchise canon.
Stuff like that I wonder where Tekketsu no Orphans is going to fit into the larger Gundam pantheon when it’s all said and done. In terms of disc sales it looks poised to be a middling Gundam performer if Stalker is to be believed – better than the obviously atypical “Build Fighters” series but nowhere near the nosebleed numbers of some more traditional editions. Is “Orphans” kind of a tweener, I wonder? It hasn’t had all that much action so far, really. And given that’s it’s written by what’s-her-name, it’s been pretty light on the outrageous and melodramatic too. It doesn’t seem to be hewing tightly to the tastes of fans of either the franchise or the writer – will it end up kind of working for almost everybody, or leaving almost everybody unsatisfied?
One thing I know is that there’s a definite sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, either in the Gundam sense or the Ok*da sense. There was a burst of violence early on, but the current tone of the series is decidedly low-key and even philosophical. The dominant themes are politics and social convention – rather than a war itself, the aftermath of a long-ago one and the machinations involved in trying to prevent another. And the notion of what a family is – with an embrace of decidedly not-traditional definitions. Biology and the nuclear model take a decided back seat to emotional bonds in the world of Iron-Blooded Orphans.
The newest spin on this is Teiwaz, represented in the very large person of McMurdo Barriston. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have him voiced by one of the very best in Ishizuka Unshou, who immediately brings that peculiar type of heft that only he (well – and Ootsuka Akio) can. Barriston is the head of another type of family, right down to the cannoli – it’s no coincidence that Naze calls him “the old man”. He’s very much the godfather here, and what he’s effectively doing is inviting Orga and Tekkadan into his family. But that comes with a very real price.
No question, a very significant theme of this episode is the notion of what it means to become an adult. We get the very unusual spectacle of anime actually showing minors getting drunk (though it’s generally fine with showing them getting killed), but that’s just playing house – the real lesson here is in the agreement with Barriston. Some of the kids are more aware of it than others (Biscuit I think most of all, and Mikazuki more than he lets on), but they’re giving up a tremendous amount in exchange for this connection – much of their freedom, in fact, and not just in what they choose to do but in what they choose to stand for. And that certainly applies to Kudelia, too.
This is what sticks with me – the idea that adulthood means accepting that in order to get something you have to give something up. One must compromise in terms of goals, resources and ideals – choose what your priority is and act based on that. Orga getting drunk and playing the fool, I think, is his way of trying not to think about everything he’s giving up in service of his top priority, his family. We see scenes of the younger boys excitement over the sweets Orga buys them with the spoils of Naze’s sale of Gjallarhorn’s stolen property, but this too is a rather childlike attempt at playing parent on Orga’s part – and even one of the little ones like Ride can see this as an opportunity to think about the even younger boys.
It’s hard not to walk away at this point without being struck by how unprepared all these kids are for what lies ahead of them. Atra has no idea about the complexities of relationships (in any sense). Kudelia’s understanding of the political dynamic she’s trying to reshape is naive and sketchy. All of them are being forced to do grown-up things in order to survive, but they’re not grown up (“guilty children”, indeed) – and they’re valuable tools in the hands of those who are, and want something from them. All they have, in the end, is each other – and it’s hard to imagine that’s going to be enough to guide them through the minefield of treachery and deceit that lies before them unscathed.