As a continuation of season 1, which was an initially decent-looking season showing creativity and hints of what has yet to come in the IBO series, IBO season 2 botches what made season 1 good overall and certainly did not live up to its predecessor. However, the series definitely wasn’t the worst that I’ve ever seen. I have no vehement dislike towards it, though it certainly did not satiate my longing for a good Gundam series.
However, as I believe it does not serve justice to simply berate on season 2, I’d like to give a decent and balanced review on this season, listing out all my thoughts—both positive and negative, about IBO S2.
Morally Ambiguous Characters
One striking positive aspect that the second season has that the first did not was that there was an actual sense of moral ambiguity between the different factions in the IBO universe—a classic hallmark of many great Gundam installments. In the first season, Tekkadan was shown in an aggressively positive light. They were the typical underdogs you’d root for, who strived in attaining equality and peace in their homeworld of Mars by leading the “maiden of revolution”, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, to Earth in order for her to negotiate for basic human rights. Season 2 definitely turns this trope on its head. In the very opening scene of S2 episode 1, we are shown a short narrative by Atra of what has happened in the time gap between S1 and S2. We are told that Tekkadan succeeded in its mission in bringing Kudelia to Earth, as Gjallarhorn was exposed of their recent/past unjust acts. As an unforeseen consequence however, public safety started to deteriorate throughout the world. Since Tekkadan was renowned for being capable soldiers who were all children, more and more children were unexpectedly sent to war and the amount of Human Debris (human slaves) unfortunately increased—the exact opposite of what Tekkadan was hoping for.
In addition to this, Orga began to become progressively more impatient in attaining Tekkadan’s goal of equality. Eventually, he impulsively sided with McGillis in the blonde man’s rebellion against the entirety of Gjallarhorn. Most of us know how that turned out—the rebellion got crushed, McGillis died, and Tekkadan, the once admirable organization, crumbled down into nothingness, being remembered by all from then on as an “enemy of the world”—an organization that wanted too much for its own good. How could such an organization of “innocent” children, possessing such noble dreams and aspirations, fall into the abyss? I would argue that one of Okada’s (the writer of IBO) themes for this series is that sometimes, no matter how much you try, society and life is just unfair. The more you push back (like Orga with his growing incessant desire of becoming the “King of Mars”), the more everything falls down on you until you have even less than what you started with.
In a sense, IBO grounds us to reality rather than in hopes and dreams. Sometimes the “American dream” just can’t be fulfilled, no matter how much effort you put in. For example, despite the valiant effort Shino put in to destroy Rustal’s forces, he ultimately failed and died, without any inkling of a legacy afterwards. His death was truly a painful, stinging scene.
Going back to the theme of moral ambiguity, Julietta, another “enemy” of Tekkadan, was actually shown to be quite a decent person as time went on. Similar to Ein, she was born from a lowly status, but rose in ranks due to the kindness of Rustal by taking her on his team. She remained dutifully loyal to this man because of this.
Throughout the series, we see Julietta wanting to become stronger and a better pilot. She was even granted a couple of scenes of internal monologue in the show, which showed her indecisiveness on whether or not she should achieve her dreams of becoming an ace pilot the “fastest way possible”—through the Alaya-Vijnana system. In the end, she decided to not aggressively obtain her end goal. This is opposite to what Orga did—he wanted his goal by any means possible. Perhaps that is why Julietta survived by the end of the series while Orga did not. She could have taken the easier and faster way out, but instead she chose to improve the natural way.
What truly struck a positive chord with me was at the end of the series when Julietta admits that “everything is for the realization of Rustal’s new Gjallarhorn”. That was when most people including myself realized that maybe Rustal (and other “enemies” of Tekkadan) weren’t all just “Baddy McBads”—an unexpected revelation. We were all led to believe that Rustal was an evil man who stopped Tekkadan and the world from progressing to one with equal rights for all. Ironically, he was the one who gave the world such rights.
Upon further reflection, I began to realize that Tekkadan wasn’t all that good either, morally speaking. There were a couple of scenes where the children of Tekkadan killed people without batting an eye, which was quite scary to see. One such example was early on in season 2, right after the Arbrau vs SAU war ended. Mikazuki, Orga, and other prominent members of Tekkadan executed their traitorous member in cold-blood. Of course, despite their moments of cruelty, the Tekkadan children are still morally good overall, I find. As Julietta said at the end of the series to Gaelio,
“The members of Tekkadan weren’t devils. They were more human than anyone else.”
Last but not least, season 2 definitely had some tear-jerking moments for me. The core cast ends up dying to protect their family due to them biting more than they can chew (by attempting to become the “King of Mars”), and this brought about a familiar feeling of an enjoyable tragedy—catharsis. While it is saddening to see Tekkadan failing, their failure serves as a reminder to us that taking the risky way in life may have horrifying consequences, despite what most other anime portray (e.g. Naruto always succeeding in his risky decisions).
Another one of these moments where I could not help but shed a tear was when McGillis died. Despite having poor development (which I will elaborate on later in this blog), McGillis’ saving grace that redeemed his character was during his last speech directed to Gaelio. McGillis told Gaelio that he always tried to never look at the other’s face when they were younger for fear of getting too attached to Gaelio, his “once and only friend” (as McGillis knew he must eventually betray Gaelio). In retaliation to this shocking news, Gaelio, the once vengeful soul, told McGillis to “shut up” or else he might actually forgive the man for killing and betraying all of Gaelio’s friends.
This was the most emotionally moving scene in all of season 2 for me, as it not only beautifully humanized the once unrealistically superhuman McGillis, but also displayed an incredible amount of complex and mature emotions and themes (including moral ambiguity) with just one sentence from McGillis’ mouth.
In another alternate universe, perhaps McGillis and Gaelio could have been best friends. However, because of their conflicting principles and perspectives from personal life experiences, they were fated to become enemies. But even with McGillis’ hurtful betrayal against Gaelio, and even with McGillis’ unwavering ideologies, Gaelio still had sympathy for the man and McGillis admitted hesitation in his plans of betrayal. They are humans, with human goals, and human emotions. Unfortunately, the convoluted situation they are in forces them to break ties.
This, my friends, is why Gundam is worth to watch.
Orga’s and Kudelia’s characterization definitely became stagnant compared to their brilliant executions in season 1. Kudelia essentially became sidelined throughout season 2. In Orga’s case, his constant indecisiveness in going back and forth between becoming the King of Mars vs merely having the Tekkadan company survive as is was a bit repetitive in my eyes, and it was drawn out far longer than necessary. Not only this, but despite being a rather intelligent and competent strategic leader in season 1, season 2’s Orga pulls off ludicrous mental gymnastics in his decision-making. This is incredibly disheartening to see, especially when everyone’s deaths so far (including Biscuit’s) were supposed to warn Orga of the consequences of leading Tekkadan without proper organization and planning. Instead, he just does what Mika says in the end, and destroys Tekkadan by “moving forward the fastest way possible”. Another thing that didn’t make sense to me was when Shino died, and Yamagi told Eugene (and indirectly to Orga) to avenge Shino’s death. It seems we never quite got that, and instead, the remaining members of Tekkadan put their tails behind their legs and ran away from Rustal’s forces. This part really felt like one out of many unfinished plot threads in this series.
In fact, unfinished plot threads are predominantly the reason why IBO season 2 fails to live up to its predecessor. One big plot thread was the confusing and unexplained background with Mikazuki and Orga. I never quite understood what Okada was thinking when she kept showing us that repetitive scene where Mikazuki tells Orga he will follow Orga wherever he goes. The significance and deeper meaning of it fails to be conveyed in my eyes.
To clarify, the meaning behind Mika’s words seem to contradict itself throughout the series. For example, the following quotes that Mikazuki says to Orga in the flashback scene: “I’ll follow you wherever you go”, “What should I do next Orga?”, and “How do we get there? [To become the King of Mars]” are what initially compel Orga to take the faster and riskier way of achieving his dreams—attaining peace and equality by becoming the ruler of the red planet. However, as McGillis’ poor excuse of a “rebellion” backfires, Tekkadan is torn to shreds and their plan of becoming the King of Mars becomes utterly unobtainable. Ironically, it is at this point on in the show where Mika’s exact same quote of “I’ll follow you wherever you go [even if it means not getting what we want]” was used to also change Orga’s mind from impatiently becoming the King of mars to just conservatively having the remaining members of Tekkadan survive from the onslaught invasion of Rustal’s army. In a sense, this one vague quote from Mikazuki could be applied to both decisions of Orga’s, and it seemed to cause the destruction of Tekkadan due to its ambiguous meaning.
The First Time Mika Said More Than 3 Lines in the Anime
Speaking about Mika, the black-haired boy again had no character development like in the first season. For the most part, Mika had only three lines this entire anime, which were the three exact same repetitive lines he always says to Orga. I feel as if the speech he gives after Orga dies is literally the longest we hear him speak. What really grinds my gears is that you’d think he would think for himself after his friend died, but no. Even in Mikazuki’s final speech, he essentially just says “let’s go with Orga’s plan!”
Lack of Overarching Plot
As many readers already know, unlike season 1’s continuous overall plot, season 2 was divided into arcs in the first half, including the Arbrau vs SAU arc and the Mobile Armor arc. Arc-based anime aren’t necessarily worse than anime with a single continuous story, though it must be executed correctly in order to be of quality. Unfortunately, IBO season 2 lacks heavily in its execution. The more I continued to watch this season, the more I wondered what was the point of the two earlier mentioned arcs. It seems the entire Arbrau vs SAU arc could be deemed as mere filler episodes, since its resulting plot conclusions ultimately beared no weight by the end of the series.
Aston Unnecessarily Died in an Unnecessary Arc
One theory I have from reading a Japanese Reddit-like internet forum is that Okada did not initially have permission from Bandai (the corporate decision-holders of the Gundam franchise) to kill off Mikazuki at the time of writing season 2 of IBO. Long-time Gundam fans know very well that IBO was the first one of its kind to actually kill off its main character, which is certainly no small thing in the eyes of Bandai. As a result, instead of beginning season 2 with what was supposed to be the main plot of the series (McGillis’ rebellion), Okada added in the sub-plot with Arbrau and SAU, and may have rewritten the Mobile Armor arc to be less contingent on the main plot.
Unfinished Plot Threads
As previously mentioned, the amount of unfinished plot threads in this series is staggering beyond belief, and I have a hunch it may be related to the aforementioned theory that Bandai’s intervention may be at fault (IF the theory is true). Nevertheless, due to the number of unfinished plot threads and questions that have yet to be answered being so high, a list of all the unfinished plot threads was made below:
✧What happened to Almiria in the end? We’ve been shown so many scenes of development between Almiria and McGillis, yet we don’t even see what happened to her in the finale.
✧Hush had an inkling of character development near the beginning of season 2, but by the end his potential seemed to have been all wasted with his lacklustre death.
✧Why did Rustal suddenly become the nice guy/have a personality change? It seemed a bit out of the blue to be honest. I mean, he framed Naze and made Naze look like he was harboring the illegal Dainsleif weapons, yet in the end, Rustal used these same illegal weapons himself to destroy Tekkadan.
✧Wasn’t Rustal’s original goal to maintain or increase his own power in Gjallarhorn? Why would he give all of Mars to Kudelia? That’s essentially losing control and power.
✧The reason why Rustal started the war between SAU and Arbrau seems shoddy at best and wasn’t explained properly. (For those that forgot, his reasoning was to weaken the communication between Tekkadan and McGillis).
✧Why is Gaelio in a wheelchair in the last scene of the anime? It’s not as if his legs were disabled in the last battle.
✧How did Iok and Julietta survive so many times? (I admit this is more “plot armor” than “unfinished plot thread”)
✧Rustal sent Julietta to battle against Mikazuki even though she was clearly no match for him. It was a suicide mission, and Julietta even voiced this fact afterwards to Rustal, yet she still trusts him after that?
✧The deaths seemed like forced tragedies and barely anything resulted from them. An example I mentioned before was how Yamagi wanted to avenge Shino’s death, and I genuinely thought his speech would result in Orga deciding to continue down into suicide mission along with the rest of Tekkadan. Instead, Shino’s death became an afterthought and the plot continued as if he never existed, which is really regretful.
All in all, with this many unfinished plot threads, IBO really makes you question what the point was for so many of these scenes without firm conclusions that they’ve invested time into.
McGillis’ Poorly Planned Rebellion
Rather than being an unfinished plot thread, the rebellion of McGillis is plainly put poorly executed. From the start, McGillis was shown as this epic and larger-than-life man with grandiose plans that were years in the making. However, as we all know, he didn’t even go out with a bang. He went out with a fart.
Yeah Ok There McGillis… Definitely A Foolproof Plan. No one Will EVER Try to Rebel Against That.
How did his “foolproof plans” not even anticipate that Rustal might have more than twice the size of his and Tekkadan’s army? How could McGillis’ plan consist of Rustal not fighting back? A good leader should always prepare for a less-than-ideal outcome, especially for a full-out coup d’etat. Char clones usually succeed in such basic strategic logic, but clearly McGillis failed in this. The fact that he was so confident that he could take Rustal out by himself with just his Bael Gundam results in the evident conclusion that he is just a poor planner with no realistic expectations, despite the fact that we were shown flashbacks of his childhood where he was portrayed as incredibly intelligent and strategic.
In conclusion, while IBO S2 had its upsides, its downsides far outweighed the former in sheer number and in significance. While it wasn’t the worst Gundam series I’ve watched, it certainly wasn’t the best. Okada certainly forced the tragic deaths of many of the main characters of the show, while in comparison, Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket’s tragic story was executed well with each death having significance and meaning.
Honestly speaking, I would have concluded Iron-Blooded Orphans in a much different way if I were the writer. After McGillis’ death, Gaelio should have been the one to free Mars, abolish the Seven Stars system, and establish a more meritocratic system. McGillis’ ideals of equality and value in ability rather than class privilege should have been passed down to Gaelio, given how Gaelio saw first-hand how class differences beared no significance in the goodness of a person—especially given his experiences and relationship developments throughout the series with Ein, Julietta, and McGillis (as all three were originally born from less-than-noble bloodlines).
While Iron-Blooded Orphans did have its faults in its second season, it at least successfully portrayed Tekkadan as valiant unsung heroes in the end, with their sacrificial scapegoat role resulting in democracy and basic human rights for all in the future. This sort of trope certainly rings true in real life as well, where most of the well-known human rights activists sacrificed their lives for the good of many. If you ever are interested in this series, don’t hesitate to at least start watching the first season.