Kidou Senshi Gundam – Tekketsu no Orpahns – 12

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I’ll say this for Tekketsu no Orphans – when the flag is raised, it sure doesn’t take long to salute.

Iron-Blooded Orphans is a bit of a vexing show, to be honest.  It’s one of those series that you tend to like in spite of its flaws, and of course that’s a double-edged sword.  It’s nice to have that essential quality that inspires your affection, absolutely – but that doesn’t make the flaws go away.  There are things about this show that just don’t work for me, but so far they haven’t been enough to cancel out the things that do.

There’s a moment in this episode that captures for me what makes Tekketsu no Orphans at its absolute best.  The scene when the human debris kids are eating their meager rations and musing about reincarnation is burned in my memory – not because of the dialogue (which is pretty standard-issue) but the scene itself and what it represents.  The image of those boys outside their mobile suits, revealing how frighteningly malnourished and haggard they are, is absolutely haunting.  And it represents the distilled essence of why this story works – the plight of the children victimized by the venal adults in this mythology is as poignant as I’ve seen in any Gundam series, and they pretty much all try and depict a version of it (that success probably comes down to the artistic temperament of the writer and director).

It’s a good thing that’s true, because there are other areas in which this series really struggles to achieve lift-off.  The action scenes are fine, certainly, but nothing so exceptional by Gundam standards that they’d be enough to make the show on their own.  I continue to be troubled by the gender politics here, and Atra is especially a problem in that respect – I just want to see more from here than dreams of being a junior wife in a polygamous marriage and of the delicious food she’s going to have waiting for her man on his return from battle.  And too many of the major characters have yet to grow beyond their two-dimensional templates.  Kudelia is an accessory, showing little evidence that she’s ready to become a real leader.  We get precious little insight into Mika’s true feelings about what’s happening around him (though that’s undeniably a standard mecha protag archetype).  And I don’t see much with Orga that goes beyond the requisite leader tropes he represents.

There’s still time for all that to change, certainly, but we are about halfway through the series.  At this point what’s happening with Iron-Blooded Orphans is that the stories of the second-tier characters like Akahiro and Takaki have more emotional traction than those of the leads.  And in looking at Akahiro and Masahiro, their tragic tale with its mid-battle embrace was certainly effective, but less so because its ending was so predictable.  Indeed, it was the fate of Masahiro’s comrades that I found really tragic, because they were dying utterly unloved and forgotten.  They’re no less victims than Masahiro is, and likely all have stories as sad as painful as his.  But they’re throwaway casualties of the plot – Masahiro’s family being killed by Akahiro’s allies even as Akahiro waxes poetic to his brother about the importance of family.  Those boys are the real emotional center of this show as far as I’m concerned, and their tragic fates the reason it can be so effective.

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7 comments

  1. R

    The real tragedy with Masahiro's character, even though we barely knew him, is not that he died (which was indeed predictable) but rather that he died a broken soul. The years of abuse have really destroyed his mentality that even his brother couldn't snap him out of his nihilistic slave mindset. Even Akihiro himself took months to break free of that.

    At this point what's happening with Iron-Blooded Orphans is that the stories of the second-tier characters like Akahiro and Takaki have more emotional traction than those of the leads.

    I guess that this is the real beauty of IBO in that it also narratively cares about building its secondary characters and even the minor ones, which in turn, will help in developing the narratives of the mains later. Just to compare, this was sadly one of the things missing in Aldnoah Zero, which put too much focus on its mains and never bothered to build up the second tier cast or even the bit players to create a larger picture of its themes.

  2. I

    I can't really think that Akihiro and Masahiro's story is the center of this series as a whole, but really of this particular arc. You complain about the other characters like Orga and Mika and Atra really not having a bit impact, but honestly, they DO have a bit impact. However, what is going on is that this series has such a large main cast that it really tries to concentrate on a set of characters at a time. We've had episodes showing Orga's development and some that show a small amount of Mika's. We've had an episode for Atra, and even one for Eugene. And now, we're seeing more about Takaki and Akihiro during these last few episodes. Akihiro and Masahiro were pushed to the forefront during this last small arc, while everyone else has been pushed to the background, but that doesn't mean that the other characters have been neglected, they just have been put onto the backburner in order to give others a chance to shine. They all get their time to shine, but it's one or two characters at a time, rather them all of them at once.

  3. R

    I don't think Enzo was complaining about it per se. He was just pointing out the fact that Orga's and Mika's own narratives has yet to reach that emotional level. Though to me, this isn't that much of an issue, since the stories of the second tiers and how the mains participate in them will help in building their narratives later on.

  4. C

    I actually like the fact that Atra has accepted Kudelia as her future sisterwife. It's nice of her and, seriously, it beats them fighting over Mika and trying to one-up each other like uhhh every other anime in the history of the medium. I'll take that any day of the week over generic love triangle shenanigans.

    As for this Masahiro subplot, well, I guess it was handled better than what I expected. I still think it's kind of the low point of IBO (besides Kudelia), but I admit it wasn't that bad.

    How the series will go from here is what will make or break it, I believe.

  5. R

    It's nice of her and, seriously, it beats them fighting over Mika and trying to one-up each other like uhhh every other anime in the history of the medium. I'll take that any day of the week over generic love triangle shenanigans.

    Considering that this is Okada we are dealing with, I am quite surprised she actually avoided the love triangle shenanigans this time around.

  6. G

    One thing I struggle with while loving anime is the fact that anime kids do things at a really young age that adults aren't able to do. It takes me out of the series so that I can't suspend belief. The anime kids in most series live on their own with no parents, no jobs but have money to snack after school, and here they are piloting spaceships and yet many of them just started puberty.

  7. F

    To your third point, which applies the most to this series…

    For example, there are 7 years old children in Africa able to use rifles and war armament, maybe younger… no suspension of disbelieve needed on that regard, sadly.

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