Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 1: Thoughts, Opinion, and Analysis

Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 1: Thoughts, Opinion, and Analysis

The first season of Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans was certainly a rollercoaster of a ride, starting with the low, grueling upbringing of the abused children of Tekkadan, moving up all the way to their triumphant success in transporting Kudelia Aina Bernstein, the “maiden of the revolution”, safely to Earth. This blog will mainly be about my thoughts and opinions on the first season’s plot, character development, and overall pros and cons. Finally, I will be talking about my opinions of the heavily controversial mech designs and technology incorporated within the Post Disaster universe.

All in all, whilst the first season did have its share of flaws, it was a relishing and refreshing new instalment in the Gundam franchise.

 

The Aesthetic Appeal of Grime

If there’s one striking aspect of IBO that has to be mentioned, it would be what hooked me into the series in the first place—its general aesthetics, which included the aesthetics of the environment, its characters, their personalities, and their mechs. To put it simply, the entire series’ aesthetics can be summed up into one word: “rugged”. It was what war SHOULD look like—grimy, dirty, and bloody. The first opening is a great example of this; it embodies and succinctly reflects IBO’s rugged atmosphere quite well, with both its visuals and music.

Mobile Suit Gundam Iron blooded Orphans Opening 1「Raise your flag」機動戦士ガンダム 鉄血のオルフェンズ

The last time I’ve really seen this type of aesthetic in Gundam was back in the UC universe (primarily in “08th MS Team” with its desert storm-like atmosphere). It goes without saying that this gritty war aesthetic is long overdue.

In contrast to this rugged aesthetic is the aesthetic of previous recent series such as “Gundam 00”, “Seed”, and “Seed Destiny”. These three series had clean and sleak Gundam designs that were in my mind a bit “too perfect”. They also had bishounen and bishoujo characters (e.g. Kira Yamato and Lacus Clyne), and the most flawless environments you will ever see. IBO on the other hand, outwardly displays its dirtiness and virility in its character and environment designs. A good example of this is when Mika refused to shake miss Kudelia’s hand because his was filthy.

Mika’s Dirty Hands Cannot Shake Miss Kudelia’s Hand

Other examples include: the pragmatic dirty outfits and lack of hygiene amongst Tekkadan’s crew (especially that of Nadi, who was shown throughout the series to be “incredibly stinky”), the crass conversations of the Tekkadan boys with their frequent loud desires of “getting women and good food”, and finally, the rugged aesthetics of Tekkadan’s various mech suits, which are frequently seen in a state of disrepair after a long and arduous battle.

The Rowdy Boys of Tekkadan

What I really enjoyed most of all was the physical effects of war that the protagonist, Mikazuki Augus, endured. It’s the first time we see a main character in all of the Gundam franchise to become disabled half-way through the series at the end of season one (his right arm to be exact). Seeing how he copes with his newfound disability in his day-to-day tasks was new and interesting, such as how he did pull-ups and push-ups with only his left arm. Of course, some may argue that Camille from “Zeta Gundam” was the “first” disabled protagonist, but I do not think he should be included, as he was disabled only at the very end of “Zeta Gundam”.

 

Nicely Interweaved Controversial Subjects

In relation to the rugged aesthetics, IBO introduces serious and controversial topics into its universe and story in a seamless manner, where the main cast—the underdogs of society—have painfully experienced or been involved with less than moral behaviors, from slavery (where portions of the population are deemed as “human debris”), inequality (with Tekkadan frequently being mentioned as “space rats”), misogyny and rape (in relation with the Turbines and Atra), child slavery (Tekkadan), economic disparity (Mars vs Gjallarhorn and Earth), polygamy (the Turbines and the love triangle between Mika, Kudelia, and Atra), and lastly organizations that are illicit (the mafia-esque Teiwaz) or corrupt (Gjallarhorn). The disparity even amongst Mika and Lady Kudelia is shown in the image below of when Mika denied Kudelia a handshake.

Some may say that the overwhelming number of serious topics this anime tries to incorporate makes it too “edgy” for its own good. However, while I agree with calling this anime “edgy” strictly in terms of its neutral usage, I don’t personally agree with this opinion if “edgy” is to be used in a negative manner. Sure, the series is over the top to the point of absurdity at times. However, the particular way in which the characters lived in such horrible conditions is what made it better than most anime that depicts such serious topics. In other anime, the characters are generally extremely emotional because of their predicament, and at times want to give up on everything due to the horrible things they experienced in their lives from war, slavery, etc. IBO’s characters demonstrate the complete opposite to this “oh, woe is me” trope. What’s incredibly unique about Mika, Orga, Atra, Akihiro, and others are their abilities to still hold their heads up high and move forward through their lives towards a better future, despite both the perilous experiences they have endured, and the inevitable hardships for them that have yet to come.

In fact, this theme repeats throughout the anime and is what Mika keeps saying to Orga again and again throughout the series.

❝Hey Orga, what should I do next? I won’t stop until we get there. Tell me Orga. You’ll take me there, right? Who should I kill next? What should I destroy next? If I can reach your goal, I’ll do anything.❞

-Mikazuki to Orga

Each time Mika asks Orga “What should we do next?”, Orga is able to muster up enough courage to continue Tekkadan’s mission—that is, to keep fighting and surviving despite all odds.

❝We don’t need any destinations. We just need to keep moving forward. As long as we don’t stop, the road will continue. I’m not stopping. As long as you all don’t stop, I’ll be at the end waiting for you. So hear me well. Don’t you ever stop.❞

-Orga

One could also see their survivalist and pragmatic way of living through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Needs and wants are relative to the situation you are in, according to Maslow’s model. For most of us in the modern era, we have our physiological, safety, and our belongingness and esteem needs met. Because we already possess most of the bottom half of the pyramid, we begin to desire more, i.e. we hold self-actualization needs. As a result, we tend to have “first world problems”. While most members of Gjallarhorn are on the same hierarchical level as us in Maslow’s pyramid, Tekkadan members are not. Mika, Orga, and the rest of the gang are so far down the pyramid that they take utmost priority in being able to at least fulfill their physiological needs. For most of their lives, they have not had the time to waste effort on anything above that. This is not surprising, given their precarious situation as disposable “space rats”. When it comes down to it, you and everyone else will and must do anything to survive, even if that means fitting yourself with say, the Alaya-Vijnana system—a painful mechanical implant that attaches to one’s spine to help increase piloting skills—that when fitted incorrectly (as is often the case), will paralyze you for life.

The Painful Alaya-Vijnana System Installed Into A Young Boy 

One thing that is also related to Maslow’s model is Tekkadan’s shockingly apparent apathy with regards to their oppressive place in society. This is especially pronounced when we are introduced with Naze and his harem, the “Turbines”. Somehow, for some reason, not a single person from Tekkadan was surprised of Naze’s polygamous nature except for the privileged Kudelia. The most shocking moment to me was when Atra, inspired by the Turbines’ way of life, was completely fine with the idea of being in a harem with Mika and Kudelia. At this point in time, my inner thought was along these lines: “Is IBO normalizing this kind of behavior? Of harems, pedophilia, child slavery, etc.?”. It wasn’t until later when I finally realized why the characters of IBO acted so differently from my perspective of “the norm”.

Atra’s complacency with a harem between her and the other two seems to stem from her own lack of self-esteem. Throughout her whole life, she was constantly dehumanized and thought of as nothing more than an easy victim to abuse. Thus, her lack of self-worth to even be with Mika, someone who’s already at the bottom of the societal barrel himself, makes her desperate enough to the point where she will be satisfied with sharing Mika with another woman in order to achieve her romantic hopes and dreams.

The women of the Turbines also seem eerily satisfied with their harem lifestyle, which I didn’t quite understand until Amida, the primary wife of Naze, commented how nicely Naze treats his women compared to others in society. This was when it actually struck me; life outside of the Turbines was harsh enough that these disadvantaged women were willing to be in a harem relationship. Relative to other Martian women in IBO’s universe, Naze’s Turbines was a female paradise.

In some sense, IBO really forces you to look at life in a whole other perspective. When everything is stripped away from you, you begin to be content and grateful with any little advantage that you have that others from the bottom rungs of society don’t possess.

 

Appropriately Virile Characters

From the original “Mobile Suit Gundam” to “Unicorn”, a well-used and drawn-out trope for the main characters of a Gundam series is for them succumb to the guilt and pain from all the blood they got on their hands. In fact, many memes within the Gundam community have emerged due to some protanogists’ irritating levels of “emoness” and absurd hypocrisy of being a soldier/killer yet advocating for peace.

For this reason, IBO is a huge breath of fresh air as there are no nonsensical characters compared to the previously mentioned series. As Tekkadan mainly consists of children and former “human debris” (slaves), their lifelong desperation for survival and desire for a better life forces them to be more pragmatic and grounded to the reality of their situation.

Satisfying examples of their pragmatic nature include scenes where Mika kills anyone Orga orders him to kill, without even a flinch. An additional example is when the sole thoughts and concerns of the child soldiers in battle are to survive and to defeat the enemy, no matter if the enemy are children or human debris themselves. As some of the Tekkadan characters said within the show, if you don’t kill the enemy first, they will kill you instead. I’m sure that in the same situation, other Gundam protagonists would have spent three or more episodes just crying from thinking of doing such horrific acts. The members of Tekkadan fortunately fully understand that war is war.

The funniest scene where they showed their frank pragmaticism in battle is the episode where Biscuit dies. Right before his death, Carta Issue attempts to be all holier and nobler than thou, giving Tekkadan a long and lengthy speech before the battle should formally start. Of course, Tekkadan members begin fighting without letting Carta finish her monologue. While Gjallarhorn might see this as a savage, unruly, and uncivilized act, Tekkadan sees Carta’s speech as pretentious and unnecessary for a real battle. For Tekkadan, there is nothing noble about war. Only a single thought should ever cross your mind when in battle—to kill the other opponent before they kill you.

In essence, their horrendous conditions of being “space rats” allow them to mature faster and further than other Gundam protagonists. This can be seen both positively and negatively, as in one way, they are less irritating of characters as a result, but in another way, their childhood has been unfortunately stripped away from them far too soon.

Good And Bad Character Development

While there may be a vast array of differing opinions on IBO’s character development, I personally believe that it was well done in one aspect; it allowed us to see the characters’ backgrounds and daily lives aboard their spaceship. These scenes certainly evoked empathy from me with their past hardships as space rats, their present precarious situation in moving Kudelia safely to Earth, and their future fears and uncertainties of whether they will make it out alive. Endearing moments like when Atra hands out food for the children, when Mika learns how to read, or when locker-room talk of love, girls, and boobs occur amongst the crew, all help display personality and life amongst the iron-blooded orphans. However, one negative side to these scenes was that they were at times too slow in terms of pacing—an opinion that many viewers, including I, shared.

Despite these character-developing scenes being grueling and slow, they do successfully convey the close bonds that form between Tekkadan’s members. In fact, a central theme of IBO is family. Even if the children aren’t tied by blood, they are still kindred brothers-in-arms as they all came from the same background—as orphans, space rats, and human debris.

Not only do we see this recurring theme of family within the crew of Tekkadan, but we also see it between Orga and Naze, and between Tekkadan and Teiwaz in general. The Teiwaz operate like a mafia-esque brotherhood. This is frequently shown whenever Orga calls Naze by “aniki” (the Japanese word for “older brother”). As an older brother figure, Naze frequently gives advice to Orga in a mentor-mentee relationship, and even gives the younger man generous gifts, such as free repairs for the Barbatos Gundam. In return, Orga gives his undying loyalty to Naze, and will help his aniki in any way, shape, or form per request.

This older-younger brother dynamic also exists between Orga and Mika, where Mika blindly follows Orga. Mika will do anything to satisfy Orga’s goals for a better life for Tekkadan—even if this means killing anyone in their way.

However, this blind loyalty of Mika’s and his personality in general are one of the downfalls of this series. Despite being the main protagonist, Mikazuki has no personality nor character development throughout the entirety of season 1. His character honestly reminds me of Gundam Wing’s Heero Yuy, or Setsuna from Gundam 00, both of whom are annoyingly reticent. How Kudelia and Atra fell in love with a boy with such a stoic demeanor remains a mystery to me. In fact, I question whether or not Mari Okada (the writer of IBO) intended for Mika to be an actual character or not. Perhaps Okada constructed Mika as a mere plot device to help progress the battle scenes and to help Orga’s character development.

Out of everyone in the Tekkadan family, Orga seems to be the best character. What makes this silver-haired man such a great character though aren’t his leadership skills, but rather his empathetic and human flaws and how he overcomes them. Despite being one of the the tallest and oldest members, he is in many ways still a mere child who is a bit too young to be deemed a leader of all of Tekkadan. As he talks and learns from Naze, McMurdo, and Biscuit throughout the show, his flaws are exposed one by one, from his anxiety of being a good leader, his indecisiveness in crucial life-or-death situations, to his guilt and remorse when a valued member of Tekkadan perishes in combat. The most important point of transition for him was when Biscuit died – his most trusted friend who he confided in each time before making any major decision. Biscuit’s death caused Orga to henceforth be more independent and wise in his decisions. Seeing his growth and development from an inexperienced leader to a competent boss man was truly relishing to say the least.

Kudelia also had great character development in this first season compared to her counterparts in other Gundam series, such as Relena Peacecraft in Gundam Wing, and Marina Ismail in Gundam 00. Relena and Marina fell into the same hole as Kira Yamato and other hypocritical pacifist protagonists, but were actually even more irritating since they really added nothing into their respective series. The only thing these two Gundam ladies did in their shows was talk about their worries and concerns about war, advocate for peace but then doing practically nothing to really achieve it, and above all us, they consistently and repeatedly show their aggravating naivety in politics and leadership, despite their position being of crucial political importance. While being initially uneducated in politics and of the life of Martian children, Kudelia manages to break free from this Gundam trope.

The turning point in which she transforms into a mature and fully-fledged leader figure is when Fumitan, her personal maid and mentor, died. In parallel with how Biscuit’s death catalyzed Orga, Fumitan’s death caused Kudelia to mature and be able to independently move forward with her life and goals. In fact, Kudelia actually managed to become braver than I expected during this transition phase. Her fearlessness was brilliantly shown when she broadcasted to the entire world about the truth of what happened to the rebellion in the Dort colony (as it was covered up by the corrupt Gjallarhorn). This broadcast of hers also helped allow Tekkadan’s crew through Gjallarhorn’s blockade that was made to prevent them from reaching Earth. The episode in which all this occured, “Voice”, has a very appropriate title—with just Kudelia’s voice, the maiden of the revolution was able to stop an entire Gjallarhorn fleet.

While Kudelia was developed well, her servant, Fumitan, was unfortunately​ not—particularly in terms of her death. Within a single episode, unimaginatively titled “Fumitan Admoss”, a whole wave of flashbacks of this black-haired woman’s past ordeals is suddenly shoved into the viewer’s face, leaving us little time to process the information nor garner much sympathy for her. It definitely could have been handled better if we saw more of her background earlier on in the show so that we actually have time to develop feelings for her and her unstable situation between choosing to be loyal to her boss (who wants her to assassinate Kudelia), or choosing to support Kudelia.

AIaya-Vijnana Ein in his Graze Ein cockpit, filled with fluid

Another character that wasn’t developed as well as he could have been was Ein. After Crank (his former senior that he respected) was killed, he was filled to the brim with vengeance against Tekkadan, all the while being unfortunately ignorant that Crank actually wanted to be killed by Mikazuki. In the end, Ein succumbed his severe vindictive desires to the point where he lost his sanity. Determined to best Mikazuki and the Barbatos, Ein rescinded his own corporeal self by attaching the remainder of his severely injured body to his Graze Ein suit via an Alaya-Vijnana-like interface—an interface he was once ironically disgusted by. The apparent death of his character in season one seemed incredibly dissatisfying to me, as he never got to realize that Crank was in support of the children. Instead, like Mika, his character’s sake seems not just to be a character, but rather be a plot device to help Gaelio’s character development (as the two of them became very close to each other during the events of this season). With Ein’s death and McGillis’ betrayal, Gaelio and his predicament at the end of this season was very astonishing and interesting.

To be honest, Mcgillis surprised me at first with his backstabbing behavior, but upon reflection, I realized it was not totally unexpected, as we saw McGillis’ previous unorthodox behaviors of helping Tekkadan (under the alias “Montag”). I felt that season one definitely ended well with this sudden cliffhanger of an ending, making the viewer question what McGillis’ true intentions are, and why he resorted to betraying and killing his dearest friends. This is all too reminiscent of the Garma and Char dynamic in the original UC Gundam series.

 

Battles and Strategies

Gundam isn’t Gundam without battles. However, I’m quite torn in terms of the quality of the battles and strategies used in IBO. For pretty much every fight, Mika and his Barbatos saves the day to the point where it becomes easily predictable as to when and where he would appear. Each battle would consist of fighting scenes between certain Tekkadan members and their enemies until one of the Tekkadan fighters is about to get killed. Right before this member gets killed though, Mikazuki, the embodiment of IBO’s deus ex machina, rescues the guy. To be quite frank, this just isn’t the a good way to execute mech battles. Mikazuki is never presented with any real challenge throughout the entire season (until he fights with Ein Dalton and his Graze Ein suit near the end of the series, but even then, Mika just goes god-mode and obliterates Ein).

However, there are some saving graces to the battles and strategies in IBO. I found it refreshing to see more guerilla-style strategies in this anime, reminiscent to “08th MS team”, rather than conventional battles where mobile suits spam laser beams the whole episode. The worst offender in this regard would be the “Awakening of the Trailblazer” movie from the 00 universe, where the entire battle in the movie can be transcribed to “pew pew pew”.

A good example of guerilla-style fighting in IBO was when Tekkadan fought against the Turbines before they allied with each other. Orga’s clever yet unorthodox method of hijacking the Turbines’ ship, the Hammerhead, was amusing to say the least, and definitely not a tactic that would ever be employed by Gjallarhorn (who are “above” that level of dirty tactics).

Another enjoyable guerilla tactic was when Eugene Sevenstark piloted two ships simultaneously against Carta’s fleet via his Alaya-Vijnana system. One of these two ships, a former Brewer’s ship, was attached via a rope in front of Tekkadan’s main ship, the Isaribi, as a shield from Carta’s ongoing missile assaults. No one had ever achieved such a feat before in Tekkadan. It was at this point where Eugene rightfully achieved 100% “coolness” in my books, in contrast to his previous tsundere personality.

Mech Designs and Tech

Over the course of this year, I found that people held many different opinions on the mech designs of IBO. Some say it’s too weird. Others dislike the extremely small waists of IBO mobile suits. My opinions however, differ from theirs.

As I said before with the aesthetics of this show being a “breath of fresh air”, the mech designs as well were refreshing for me. There is truly only one word to describe the designs—unique.

One of the biggest problems with the Gundam franchise for me was the lack of originality in suit designs in recent years. The biggest offender in this regard would be “Gundam Seed” and “Gundam Seed Destiny”. Wackymodder, a famous Gundam youtuber, filmed several hour-long videos in which he talked about his vehement dislike towards the Strike Freedom and the Destiny Gundam, as each of their designs were stripped from other Gundams in previous series.

The Shiden, A Favorite IBO MS of Mine

Instead of rehashing former designs, IBO tries to be different. One defining characteristic of all IBO mechs is their slim waist. At the end of the day, whether you like this the slim waist or not is purely subjective. I am the type of person though who prefers slim-figured Gundams than unnecessarily bulky ones (e.g. the Full Armor Unicorn Gundam). Thus, I like the slim waist design of IBO mechs. Besides, in some sense, I believe it is beneficial to have a sleak design in order to properly maneuver the suit around when handling and particularly dodging heavy melee weapons such as the beloved Mace-chan of the Barbatos Gundam.

Another unique aspect of IBO mechs is how they all fight melee-style instead of using projectile weapons (due to the existence of laser-deflecting “nano-laminate” armor). This is the first time we really see such a huge paradigm shift in weapon technology. The originality of this idea is off the charts, and we can especially see it effects on battle scenes. The melee style of fighting it causes compliments very well with the general rugged aesthetic of the show.

Finally, as with other Gundam series, the evolution of the mobile suits is quite fascinating to see throughout the show. As with some other Gundam series, the mech designs in the Post Disaster universe evolve and ameliorate over the duration of the show, something that I personally like seeing. Examples include the Kimaris developing into the Kimaris Trooper, and the Graze design being developed into a whole number of variant suits (e.g. Graze Ritter, Graze Custom, etc.). I also enjoyed seeing Tekkadan modifying salvaged suits to fit their needs and purposes, and designing them in their own Tekkadan-esque way, such as Shino’s hilarious Ryusei-Go!

Conclusion

While I didn’t have much expectations from this series initially (due to the amount of hate the most recent Gundam series received, i.e. “Gundam Age” and “Gundam Reconguista in G”), Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans managed to surprise me, and I actually verily enjoyed the first season. Despite its ups and downs as mentioned in this blog, the first season was definitely a solid instalment for me, and I recommend everyone to watch it!

Tune in soon for my thoughts and opinions blog on the second season of IBO!

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