Gundam will never stop and it’s kind of overwhelming. There are just so many commonalities between each series that it seems like it might as well be one big giant story compiled of a bazillion seasons rather than separate shows altogether, UC excluded titles regardless. Last fall we started a new story within the Gundam Universe (or rather the one of the several universes) with the title Iron Blooded Orphans. There were still the cold and calculated mecha action sequences along with some of the retread themes of peace versus war, but there were at least enough differences and quality writing overall that squares it as a highly recommended show.
Mari Okada did the script in question, and by now a lot of fans know what to expect from the writer behind countless of anime series, including the recently finished airing Trigger show Kiznaiver. She seems to have some ups and downs in her filmography, which is understandable given that she has just done so much well-known work over the last years. Iron Blooded Orphans is higher on her list of excellent shows, although it doesn’t surpass the strongest of her offerings, such as Toradora or Anohana. In fact, looking at the two titles just mentioned, it might have been a good thing to assign her to write a Gundam show. Her best work is known for its very impertinent emotional content, which might be why Iron Blooded Orphans worked so well in the end. One of the troubles that Gundam series run into is being too emotionally distant, so Okada’s natural saccharine dramatic elements create a push-pull scenario that balances most everything out.
Still, there are some really blatant reoccurring components that can be found in Gundam series that also make their way into Iron Blooded Orphans. Luckily, the viewer doesn’t have to sit through another story about “boys who used to be friends but now are forced to turn against each other in war”, which is kind of a relief because that just feels like such an exhausted story point. If you want to see a more recent variation of this, watch (the first season) of Aldnoah Zero, which is Gundam without Gundam (aka unnecessary). However, we still get the princess-savior character that waves around her proverbial flag of peace. This used to be Lacus Cline and the ilk, but now she’s called Kudelia Aina Berstein. Kudelia is actually a lot better than most of the Gundam heroines though, and she feels like she has more inclusion with the plot trying to work with the other characters as opposed to being just a figurehead.
The rest of the characters actually have a little bit of a different distinctive background as well. This isn’t about a young boy thrust into war, but rather about boys that were born into war. Amuro Ray back in the original came across the Gundam by coincidence more or less, but Mikazuki in Orphans has seen his entire life struggle through battle as part of the band of child soldiers. He is like Setsuna from 00 but more relaxed. His situation is pretty severe, brought into a life where he has to grasp onto hope constantly just for survival, but he doesn’t get stuck in being Jaded, at least not too much. He is really close to another child soldier named Orga, who happens to be opposite in terms of character designs, where Mikazuki is short with dark hair and Orga with his fiercely tall stature and light purple hair. He’s the more stoic of the two. As for the rest of the characters that make up the orphans that the show title is named after get a decent amount of focus, but it’s almost more interesting to look at their background as a whole. This is a lot of kids trained in war, yet they still have not learned to read. It’s not like this isn’t a situation found in the real world, because it certainly is, but it’s important that Iron Blooded Orphans took the time away from the political intrigue and gritty action to build the world for these specific characters.
As for those action scenes, as cool as Gundam can be, the parts with the robot fights are not always as good as they should be. It’s not that they are terrible, because studio Sunrise has a handle of how to do the battles competently, but at this point Gundam has been going on for so long that it feels like the motion needs a little extra oomph to keep up with the better animated productions of today. While it’s not about robots fighting, the decent war sequences in Gundam pale in comparison to say, the Fate/Unlimited Bladeworks presentation. I don’t expect the show to necessarily be at the UFOtable level, but things need to pick up in order to really keep the franchise exciting and fresh.
It seemed that Iron Blooded Orphans altogether was closing in at the twenty-five episode mark, but of course there is actually a second season coming our way later in fall. Thanks to the pacing of the writing and the abundance of well put together characters, Iron Blooded Orphans wrapped up with a really solid set of episodes leading to what appears to be the half-way point. Nonetheless, if you are accustomed to what will happen in a Gundam show, this won’t surprise you, but it serves as a well-rounded example of some of the great things this franchise has come to offer.