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First Impressions: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

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Steel Yourself

Another year, another new Gundam series. My interest in Sunrise and Bandai's flagship has waxed and waned over the years, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm rarely attracted to the "mainline" shows that make up the core of the franchise. In fact, my favorite Gundam show of the last ten years or so is Gundam Build Fighters, a spin-off that traded on nostalgia and positivity rather than the war stories that are Gundam's narrative bread and butter.

Not that I don't enjoy war stories, mind, but for whatever reason I usually tend to find more entertainment reading about a given Gundam show on the internet than actually watching it. Episode synopses and technical details on the various mecha are usually enough for me, as it turns out.

Not so with this new jack, Iron-Blooded Orphans. From the first two episodes, I feel a real desire to stick things out.

Broken down, point-by-point, Iron-Blooded Orphans fills a fairly standard Gundam - or, for that matter, mecha-show - template. Once again, as per Gundam tradition, the focus is on a brewing conflict between Earth and her colonies, in this case, Mars. Centuries after a conflagration known as the Calamity War, citizens of the red planet are agitating for independence. Tired of being sucked dry to feed the motherworld's economy, they send a young naif, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, to make a public appeal. Looking to connect with the commons, Aina picks out a group of ex-child soldiers, our titular orphans, as her escorts.

Naturally, she comes under attack by a Titans-like pan-system security agency called Gjallarhorn, prompting ace pilot Mikazuki Augus to jump in an old Gundam called Barbatos to repel the assault. So far, so Gundam, right?

What sets Iron-Blooded Orphans apart, though, is how thoroughly easy it is to get into, be it for new viewers or disinterested dilettantes like me. There's a whole lot going on in the first two episodes, and a lot of setting to lay out and build up, but the script, written by famous/notorious scribe Mari Okada, brings in both concepts and characters with an almost brutal efficiency that keeps the audience just informed enough to keep up, without getting bogged down in the details the way other Gundam shows and even seasonal contemporaries like Heavy Object tend to. 

Barely even halfway through the pilot, we're already aware of the show's character dynamics and the general shape of the world. The people of Mars are suffering, but the orphans of Third Company suffer more. They're beaten regularly, bullied by their superiors, live in squalid barracks, and were raised unlettered and unmannered. Orga, Mikazuki's friend and seeming big brother figure (there's a very Kamina-Simon-like quality to their relationship), is acutely aware of the imbalance, and looks to be biding his time. Yet Aina, practically drowning in her privilege, gets her worldview shocked, both by Gjallarhorn's apparent attempt to martyr her in the hopes of sparking a new Mars-Earth war, and the hardened attitudes of the people she's ostensibly there to help. 

It's not the most novel narrative stuff in the world, for sure. Echoes of Gundam Wing, Gundam 00, 08th MS Team, and even Aldnoah.Zero can be found if you're fond of reminding yourself that there's no originality in art. But it's all executed on in a riveting and engaging way, a far cry from the almost deliberate obtuseness that characterized Reconguista in G, the last mainline Gundam show.

It also helps that Iron-Blooded Orphans is quite striking on a visual and design level. There's a gritty, almost dystopian quality to the designs, particularly for the orphans' equipment. Their lumpen "Mobile Worker" vehicles strike an appealing balance between utility and ugliness that drives home the scrappy condition of Third Company. The flashy beam weapons and gleaming paint jobs of Gundam 00 and the like are also missing, with heavy axes and projectile weapons making the majority of armament. Gundam Barbatos itself looks like Gundam-style mecha-Viking, toting a massive polearm as its main weapon, its outline looking like a beefy brawler rather than the sleek, angelic designs of Wing and Seed

The animation and action scenes are also grittier, with Mobile Workers sliding around in the dust, and Barbatos tangling with mobile suits in something more akin to a battlefield brawl than the balletic duels of series past. Everything about Iron-Blooded Orphans' look suggests a dirtier, inglorious view of the conflict that fuels Gundam stories, and that's refreshing in its own way.

So far, so good. Iron-Blooded Orphans isn't one to pass on so far, though not everything is rosy, either. Though the pilot looked great all around, there were noticeable drops in quality through episode two, mostly concentrated in the quieter moments. Worse for international viewers is Daisuki's shoddy translation job. The English subtitles on the show are barely passable, with howlers like "I am losing by strength" slipping past the service's quality control. It's great that the show is getting a near-global simulcast via Daisuki - I can actually watch it where I am without having to resort to less-legal distributors - but having the subtitles in this state might end up driving viewers into the arms of fansubbers anyway, if Daisuki or whomever at Bandai is in charge of localization don't step up their game.

And that's a shame, given how likeable Iron-Blooded Orphans. At this point, I'm willing to call it the easiest Gundam show to start on in many years, and it would be a tragedy if the companies most invested in making it a thing overseas were to screw the pooch that way.

[Watch Iron-Blooded Orphans each week on Daisuki!]


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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


 



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    Filed under... #anime #annotated anime #Bandai Entertainment #Daisuki.net #First Impressions #Gundam #mecha #recap

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