Childhood is a wondrous time of life. Far beyond the realm of work and responsibility, before the weight of the adult world becomes evident. Or at least it’s supposed to be. Some are not lucky enough to live their formative years free of strife and must mature beyond even the kin of those supposed to protect them. They struggle and fight in battle not meant for them, pondering concepts they should never have to. Granted, not every child under these dire circumstances enacts a coup against a corrupt corporation and embarks on a journey across space to destabilise a military superpower, but not every child doesn’t either.
Enter the Iron Blooded Orphans, never actually called that in-universe, but representatives of the ideal all the same. Born into poverty, or sold by parents who were, the young employees of CGS live lives of hardship. As far as the specifics of what they actually do are concerned, the series is a little vague on the details, but you’d better believe their lives are awful…because it tells you so. Also, every adult within a million kilometre radius is an absolute pile of garbage and seem to exist only to beat children and provide an example of what absolutely zero remorse looks like. I believe military training is mentioned, therefore labelling the CGS workers as child soldiers, however most time is actually spent on base, showcasing the aforementioned adult trash people. Now I’m all for simplification, but I will admit the caricature nature of every villain within the series is almost laughable, in a twisted sort of way. I honestly wonder how any adult is capable of functioning in this universe. If they aren’t completely inept, they are so overtly evil that business seems like an impossibility. Granted, this leans into the overall theme of the series, but the lack of any subtlety truly hampers early attempts to sincerely care about the goings on of Mars. The series begins on Mars, by the by.
Skipping past some of the early examples, which include a cowardly thief, a cowardly thief, a cowardly pirate and another cowardly pirate, one egregious example of adult based fear and corruption stands head and shoulders above the rest…except it doesn’t. Though what happens should arguably be one of the most horrible attitudes ever held by a humble businessman, the constant escalation of terrible people throughout the series limits its impact. Within the scene in question, two police officers interrogate a roughly twelve year old girl by beating her senseless. Worse still, when their informant learns that they have the wrong girl, he proclaims it doesn’t matter, as long as everybody else believes it is who they were looking for. The series does attempt to showcase said informants slow descent into fear induced madness, but it is very, very hard to feel even pity for a man willing to go to such lengths. The police officers themselves also continue this trend of age representing evil, in that they do little but smile when beating said child. They don’t even have any reason to be evil, they just are. It may sound truly redundant at this point, but I just cannot undersell how evil everybody outside of the main cast is. And that’s without delving into the political leanings of the upper class or that guy whose betrothed is a nine year old. That will never not be unsettling.
To escape the vagueness of the words above, let us explore the specifics of Tekkadan. Born from the overhaul of CGS (which probably stands for something), Tekkadan is the embodiment of all the main cast strives for. The iron flower than never wilts, the group that will take them all beyond their lives of pain and strife and into a future of prosperity and comfort. Naturally, this path leads them to protect and courier a young lady attempting to reform government policies regarding the harsh regulations of Mars, despite heavy, violent protest from seemingly everybody else in existence. From politicians who enjoy the current state of the worlds, to the pirates who see and opportunity to sell off a political enemy, even her own father who fears losing his wealth and power, Kudelia Aina Bernstein’s life is one full of opposition. For that reasons alone, you have to give her a substantial amount of credit for adhering to what she believes in. Moreover, her ability to understand her own flaws and accept the thoughts of others allows her to grow throughout the series. From a doe eyed girl with visions of utopia, Kudelia becomes an odd combination of pragmatist and idealist, never losing her dream despite understanding the methods which may be necessary for revolution. With this in mind, though Iron Blooded Orphans is most assuredly the story of Tekkadan, it is also the journey of Kudelia.
Representing the majority of the cast, Tekkadan displays an interesting progression over the course of the series. That being said, Orga and Mikazuki never conceal the extent to which they will go to protect their friends. I mean, if you thought the story of children who willingly executed those who enslaved them was going to be an uplifting tale of heroism, you may not have seen the part where they willingly executed those who enslaved them. It was right after they drugged and bound them, pretty sure it was a triple tap to the head. Don’t get me wrong, they had it coming, but still…that’s a lot of taps. If you appreciate this attitude, however, you will love what Mikazuki brings to the table. Regardless of any grandstanding by the enemy, of any doubts of his actions, he will see Orga’s instructions through ‘til the bitter end. It’s a little refreshing, in its own twisted way and tends to cut through enemy’s attempts to justify their actions. The lack of hesitation on Mikazuki’s part also presents a very black and white worldview that contrasts the wishy washy sense of justice purposefully created by the corrupt government. Is this action just? Then do it. Is that guy an enemy? End them. That’s it.
With that in mind, the series attempts to create empathy for any of the antagonistic characters is an effort in futility. Take Ein for example; a soldier out for revenge against those who slew his commanding officer. Though we are reminded that he is plagued by sadness and guilt for not being able to protect Crank, it is honestly hard to care. Never once respecting Crank’s beliefs or wishes for him, Ein falls deeper and deeper into madness as he wishes nothing but death upon the children he and his fellow Gjallarhorn soldiers attacked without warning. Better yet, Crank challenged Mikazuki to a duel, so Ein’s sadness will forever carry the notion of a sore loser. It most certainly doesn’t help that this section of the story appears very sporadically, skipping meaningful build up in order to keep pace with the main plotline. And on top of even this, Tekkadan’s ever increasing importance and the growing scope of their actions leaves Ein in the dust very early on and his desire to get revenge for what is essentially the first fight of the series seems almost petty when he eventually resurfaces. I do, however, have to give Ein credit for bringing the most energy to the villainous table. This is especially true of his later appearances, showing an insane fervour that serves as an interesting foil to Mikazuki’s calmer, calculating nature.
This concept of vaguely explained story pieces is not limited to Ein’s revenge either, generally permeating everything that is not immediately relevant to the action at hand. What stands out for me in its own way however, is Gundam Barbatos’ katana. Presented a way into the series, the katana is a seemingly important weapon that really doesn’t do anything. Appearing to be a replacement for the spear lost during a previous battle, Mikazuki immediately notes a distaste for the weapon and his lack of understanding when it comes to utilising it. Now, one might assume this would lead to more appearances by the weapon in question, either for training purposes or to reiterate Mikazuki’s preference for other weapons. You’d be somewhat right, but not for a while. After its first appearance, the sword largely disappears, completely irrelevant to anything. Mikazuki eventually sees it again, turning it down for another melee weapon. It isn’t until the final episode that Barbatos wields the katana and utilises it effectively for the first time. Why? I have no idea. Given Mikazuki’s inherent skill with everything Mobile Suit related, the reason he could not effectively wield the katana is never brought up. And if he held a distaste for swords, I am not entirely sure why the technicians provided him one. This wasn’t some relic after all, it was just a weapon equipped to Barbatos. Am I reading too far into this? Most definitely. It just seems weird to me that this weapon fluctuated between seeming important and mundane. I’m still not sure what it is, other than mildly frustrating.
Mobile Suit Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans is a series with drama at its core and a message in its heart. Unfortunately, it tends to falter when attempting to convey these elements. Not as completely as a certain other Gundam series I have seen, but in ways that are certainly noticeable. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my journey from Mars to the blue heart of our solar system, but I could not help but wish for more. Though it attempted to create a world outside the view of Tekkadan, nothing ever felt like it moved until the plot demanded. The most glaring example of the universe bending to the whim of drama is the appearance of Akihiro’s brother. Randomly brought up not five minutes earlier, he appears before them, having not been seen (or remembered) for years. Did it allow Akihiro to have an emotional moment? Sure. But it was so contrived that it was hard to care, an unfortunately recurring theme throughout the series. Unless…unless that’s the point. Yes, I understand now. Those who look towards the future have no need for peripheral vision, unless something crosses into their path, it may as well not exist. Thank you Iron Blooded Orphans, for teaching me this valuab-never mind, just watch the show where a robot punches people until they change regulations on Martian half metals.
Iron Blooded Orphans: Troubles Magnets