Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekkestu no Orphans – 13

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Is there such a thing as the 13-episode rule?


It seems funny to think you’d still be unsure of what to make of a series when it’s half-over (especially if it’s a multi-cour) but that’s exactly where I am with Tekketsu no Orphans.  Sometimes I like it, sometimes I almost love it.  But there are others times when it leaves me shaking my head.  There’s the germ of something quite special here – something that might even be unique in the Gundam mythology – but it just can’t seem to take root.

The sense I get in watching Orphans is the same as driving a fine car that’s mis-firing.  It runs well some of the time, but one of the cylinders just isn’t firing like it should.  It still handles beautifully and the seats are comfortable, but it’s not quite right.  This show is a very complicated construction – we’re dealing with arguably the most revered franchise in anime, and we’ve added in one of the medium’s best known directors in Nagai and arguably its most polarizing writer in Okada.  I get the feeling that the chemistry just isn’t working, not yet at least.  Everyone is trying to match their well-defined artistic temperament to this well-defined universe, and the fit isn’t perfect.

This episode is a really good example of the inconsistency which seems to be the most consistent part of Iron-Blooded Orphans.  As most of them have, the ep saves its best material for the final ten minutes or so (which is actually a good thing).  But the emotional scenes in the first half are so heavy-handed that it’s hard to take most of them seriously.  I thought we were done with the Akihiro-Masahiro melodrama, but not satisfied with last week’s theatrics, Orphans gives us a face-to-face-in-space tearful goodbye.  It’s too much – the whole storyline has been dialed up to eleven, and too easy to predict.  It has emotional weight, but no literary restraint.

I like the scenes where the Tekkadan child soldiers have boarded the Brewers’ ship, only to find even younger and more underfed child soldiers waiting for them. And we get a funeral scene, which can often be a good opportunity for a moment of grace (even the generally execrable Last Exile: Fam found its finest hour in such a scene).  But again, I just think the whole thing is a bit heavy-handed and manipulative – it’s a pretty good moment that could have been great with just a little more restraint.

The saving graces for me are twofold, the first being MacGillis.  It’s not so much that his shared scenes with his child bride are so wonderful on their own, but after being bombarded by cartoon villainy over the past two weeks, it’s refreshing to get back to an antagonist who isn’t a grotesquerie, isn’t an open book.  And second, of course, is Mikazuki – while it may be a bit of a narrative crutch, the event that closes the episode certainly ramps up the dramatics in a big way.

At this point, anything which begins to flesh out Mika as a character is a positive in my book. Kudel’s words to him – “You’re enjoying this – killing men!” seem to have struck a nerve (even if they were a case of the pot calling the kettle black).  Getting any reaction out of Mika is a step forward for the series – just knowing he’s capable of being creeped out by his own implacable facade.  As for the kiss (no, not that kiss – though it did plant the idea in Mika’s head), well – we’ll see where it goes, but for what it was it was the best moment of the episode.  It again seems to reveal some facet of humanity in Mika that’s recognizable (curiosity if nothing else) and his reaction (just blow the dust off and keep eating) is perfectly in-character.  Poor Atra, sure – though I think she could use some better goals in life anyway – but if we can actually see Mika turn into an interesting person, Tekketsu no Orphans will have taken a huge step forward as a story.

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7 comments

  1. B

    The scene with Masahiro was dramatic (I didn't find it overly so, but tastes differ), but I think it provided some necessary closure for his character. I think I would have been left wanting if it hadn't been included. Gundam isn't called a space opera for nothing, and Okada isn't exactly known for having a lot of emotional restraint.

    I'm inclined to agree with you with caricature-ish villains we've been presented so far, though, but it seems that they're saving the best for last. McGillis and Gaelio are a welcome departure from that- the former seems to genuinely cares for Almiria (though more as a little sister), though I fear the ominous lighting in that in scene might bode ill for his character (and her). And I've been telling people Mika's ruthlessness would be explored sooner or later, but this kind of character drama isn't very easily resolved, moreso here because Mika's the main fighter of the group, and you've got everyone and their mother gunning for Kudelia (even her benefactor plans on betraying her… poor girl). I don't think it's something that can be put to rest in two or three episodes. It's bound to cause a massive rift in his relationship with Orga, and as much as I like their dynamic, a conflict may be beneficial for both of them- Mika pondering on his belief that "Orga is always right" and growing as individual with opinions separate from Orga's, and Orga reflecting on whether he's been truly considerate of Mika's thoughts, and possibly re-evaluating his priorities as a leader. Speaking of Orga, I find his brief talk with Merribit fascinating- I'd always figured that he was a little more idealistic that that chat implied.

    I think what Okada's trying to hammer into our heads, is that the Tekkadan boys and Kudelia are are still young- I bet even Orga and Akihiro (who seem to be the oldest of the lot) are probably below 20. When you're young, you're emotional, insecure, and occasionally thoughtless. I think IBO captures the volatility of youth pretty well.

    One statement of yours made me wonder though: If this wasn't a mecha series- much less Gundam- but retained the core themes, would you like it more?

  2. D

    Heavy-handed, manipulative melodrama… Well, it IS a Mari Okada series, after all.

    I was pretty content with the Masahiro subplot as it didn't drag on the whole episode. It was resolved quickly and Akihiro already moved on by the end when he asked Orga to take the Gusion (arguably the most hype moment of the episode).
    Also, that whole arc with Brewers was only a set-up for the funeral scene, which wasn't as interesting as the discussion between Orga and Merribit about the very purpose of a funeral.

    In the end I'm quite a lot satisfied by this first half of IBO, especially compared to recent entries in the Gundam franchise. The focus on character interactions is nice even Okada's lack of subtelty is irritating at times. Mecha-design is pretty cool, too bad the actual production values aren't as good. The journey of Tekkadan has an unexpected space adventure feel which is refreshing, considering most of mecha nowadays are just placeholders for more bloated angst drama.

    Will you write a First Impression post about Gundam Thunderbolt, whose first episode just came out ? It's a more adult take on Gundam, maybe it will suit your tastes more than Okada's shenanigans.

  3. C

    I'm 100% behind you Enzo on the first half. Just when we thought we were done with the Masahiro thing we get more forced melodrama, and why was that necessary? Ending it with him getting "hammered" was good enough and had weight to it. The funeral was okay but also too heavy-handed.

    I do think Mika's kiss was kind of genius. I mean, when you think about it he's an uneducated orphan who has never been exposed to any kind of romance in his life, unlike us who are constantly bombarded with notions of romantic love from virtually everywhere. He has no idea how the hell that works and just imitated what he saw a few moments ago. I think it was a great moment.

    Very minor detail but I like that Yamagi is not always hung up on Norba, his life doesn't revolve around him unlike a certain little girl who is basically "muh Mika" all the time.

  4. P

    Well as soon as I saw that they kept that tank of mech (Gusion?), then I was quite content. Would have been a real waste if they got rid of it.

  5. I

    Well I'm going to pretty much ignore you're beef with Okada, I don't have a problem with her and don't see the need to bash her so much, and then there's the fact that she doesn't write a lot of the episodes herself anyway. I'm going to respond to your other points.

    I actually liked the first half of the episode much more than the second half, even though the second half was very good too. I think the scene with Masahiro and Akihiro was very much needed. Without that true goodbye between the brothers, and of course the funeral afterwards, it would have left Akihiro an emotional wreck and he would have been back at square one when it comes to his self-esteem issues involving being an ex-slave. He would have been eaten up by guilt about having family while his brother was suffering and that he should have gotten to him on time or should have said something different or something. However, now he's gotten the chance to properly say goodbye and to understand, and it's going to help him get closure and to heal much more easily and faster than it would have been if we just left it as it was last week.

    While the kiss was definitely the talking point of the episode, my favorite scene was actually Orga talking to those kids and taking them into Tekkadan. Fortunately, Orga is a more charismatic speaker than Akihiro and he knew what to say to these kind of kids. He didn't lead with the idea of family, but rather the elements of it that the kids would instantly gravitate to: food, security, and shelter.

    Also, I think that what he said about human debris being a group that was honored in Tekkadan affected his ex-human debris crew just as much as with the kids and how Dante thanked him for taking the kids in, made me think that Akihiro isn't the only one of the human debris who have security and self-esteem issues. They looked like they weren't sure if Orga was going to turn the kids away or not, when the answer should have been obvious.

    As for the other parts of the episode, I thought that McGillis with Almiria was very sweet, and how he tries to show her she's cared for, despite the situation that they are both in, where neither has any control. Always a gentleman, I saw his actions as very much that of a caring older brother who was trying to protect the little sister. I'm not sure what plans that McGillis has planned, but I'm interested to see where his mental wheels are turning. I had no problem with the villainous looking villains, since sometimes they are needed. In this past situation with the pirates, you needed characters like Kudal and Brooke. You knew they we're going to last long, so they might as well be full villain. You can't have ALL of your villains be nuanced, it would make characters like McGillis and his father less special.

    As for Mika, I'm interested in where this episode will take him. I have a feeling that while it was Kudelia he kissed here, that it might not go all the way to a full relationship. I think he and her life goals lie in two completely different directions, but we'll have to see. I really think that it might have been more reactionary than romantic for Mika, but who knows with him.

    As for his issue with what Kudal told him, I don't agree with it. Mika is a pretty pragmatic fighter and he's on pretty much automatic when he does kill others. He fights to protect and to survive, but I don't think he enjoys it per say. I think he's due for another bro talk with Orga, and I think he might bring this up then.

    As for the episode as a whole, it was once again very good and I enjoyed it a lot. The series itself? Depending on how it ends, it is already in my top-tier Gundam series of all time.

  6. M

    I think my problem with the Masahiro/Akihiro storyline was it never made me care. I can easily get down with some overly dramatic stuff if I actually give a crap about those that died, but these deaths didn't work on me. It felt like the show is asking us to please care because they're kids and one of them is Masahiro's long lost brother. But that's it. It put in the bare minimum effort to make me care and it wasn't enough.

    While I didn't like that aspect, there were plenty of moments I liked from the the last few episodes. I liked Shino's dilemma. I'm glad Masahiro got a cool mech out of the deal. It was also nice to get some more development Orga and Mika.

    Also, is anyone else suspicious of Fumitan? She's got control of communications and the camera lingered on her as that guy talked about Kudelia's death. Her staring at the necklace makes me think she's feeling guilty. Also was that old dude the head of Tekkadan? I forget what he looks like.

  7. E

    No that person was Nobliss Gordon, Kudelia's benefactor and supported her trip to Earth for diplomatic talks. She's wary of him and rightfully so, because part of his true goal is to make her a martyr.

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