I think this was an episode that highlighted the lingering issues with Tekketsu no Orphans.
I’m hard-pressed to remember many shows about which my feelings have see-sawed from week to week more than this one. And in a way that’s probably not surprising, given that you have a director and writer who excel at a certain style of storytelling and a franchise as iconic and rigid as anime itself – one which favors a very different style. It may just be the classic case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object – with predictable results.
The first problem I have with episode concerns predictability. Yes, it’s certainly true that there’s a comfort level when watching a Gundam series that you know basically what’s going to happen. But it grows wearisome sometimes, especially when you don’t have a script that accounts for that familiarity very well. But this is a Gundam show and by gosh, this is how things work – when a character’s death flags are raised, they salute. When their name is in an episode title, they die as ordered.
Then there’s the matter of the big emotional scenes in episodes like this one, which have fallen flat more often than not. Any veteran of AnoHana or Toradora knows the Nagai-Okada pairing can be as elite as it gets when it comes to melodrama, but something just seems off in Tekketsu no Orphans – whether they feel constrained by the weight of the franchise or not, I don’t know. But these big emotional crescendoes just haven’t clicked with me too often – the emotional buy-in with the characters hasn’t been earned and the show just seems to be trying too hard.
My biggest problem here, though, is Kudelia. We’re two-thirds of the way through the series and she’s still a purely passive character. She impacts only by her existence, not by her thoughts, words or deeds. I get that she’s a symbol because of what she is – but I need more than that to actually care about her. If you’re going to put her out there as some kind of Jon of Arc figure, you’ve got to give her a voice – give her a perspective, give her charisma, give her bold and foolish courage. Right now Kudelia is being held up at the epicentre of everything that’s happening, but she’s very much what she was when Tekketsu no Orphans started – a naive and sheltered girl who wants to make a difference but has no idea how to do it, always on the periphery of tragic events she’s helpless to prevent or even mitigate.
Is there still time for that to change? Yeah, I suppose – especially now that word has leaked out that Iron-Blooded Orphans is getting a second season. Is there still time for it to change and be credible? I’m more skeptical there – but ask me when it changes (given the next episode title, hopefully next week). In the meantime I hope this series focuses on its strengths – its depiction of the nascent stages of the coming war, an unstoppable tidal wave on the horizon. And the characters on the fringes of the story looking to take advantage of it in ways still opaque, especially McGillis Fareed.