The Nardio Anime Review
IS Is Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans Season One WORTH YOUR TIME?
A review and discussion of what makes Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans season one great.
Warning: This is not one of our spoiler free reviews!
The post below is full of spoilers and gifs of spoilers.
Gundam Iron Blooded Ophans does the seemingly impossible and retools the classic Gundam formula, making it gritty and believable. If I have to compare it to any thing else out there I’d go with Ron Moore’s amazing Battlestar Galactica reboot. I love that show and this is me heaping very high praise on this Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans (IBO) and spending over two thousand words gushing about it.
How was it?
The dark, violent and at times bleak show works surprisingly well considering and because of the source material. In a lot of Gundam shows some kids either randomly stumble into and or randomly just have these gigantic killing machine robots. It’s weird to just wrap your head around and accept. No one almost ever mentions how they fuel and keep that bad boy going. How the kids deal with the fact that they spend their days killing dozens, hundreds and or even thousands of people. Sure here and there angst was sprinkled in. Sometimes we might get a break down or two, but really the characters remained stoic and able to complete their tasks as the heroes. It got kinda boring. Even worse as the years went on the Gundam universe got really light hearted and kinda cheezy.
Iron-Blooded Orphans deals with several real-life problems such as war, slavery, child soldiers, poverty, corruption and neo-colonialism. Now that sound like a lot and it can even sound like to much, but it works. The show never feels forced or heavy handed. It works because of it’s magnificent writing, directing and pretty much everything else. Strap in for an amalgamation of a space opera, war story, coming of age story and a mecha show rolled into an anime that defies the current tropes and cliches bogging down the industry.
The heroes of Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans start off as just that, orphans. Child Solders to be precise. A small step above slave labor, although that line is quickly blurred and destroyed. Sure these kids are “hired” on as solders, but they are treated as slaves. That’s how the show starts off.
You meet the cast working at CCG, mercenary company on Mars. All of young people there are child solders who work there to survive. They have no families, they have no job prospects, they have no education. Their only way to survive is to get a painful and dangerous surgery in their spines that allow them to control mechanical equipment as if it were a part of their bodies. If they don’t get the surgery or get taken in as child solders they can look forward dying of hunger on the streets of Mars. This is bleak world.
They don’t need to be smart to do this, they don’t need education or to be special. None of these kids and teenagers are snowflakes or see themselves as such. They are desperate and have no other choice. They just needed to be willing to risk their lives getting the surgery and be willing to live as “human debris”, a child solder. Welcome to Gundam’s brave new world. We learn that like in most Gundam universes that there are colonies and planets being inhabited by humans, inequality ensues and our heroes are the underdogs and the downtrodden. This story has the space colonies and Mars under the thumb of an organization called Gjallarhorn.
Adding further murkiness to this screwed up universe we find out that the Gjallarhorn organization was created 300 years ago and they were originally heroes that helped end a war that almost wipe out humanity. Since then they have been the guardians of humanity and help protect the known space. Unfortunately that nobility seems to have died off and the biggest peacekeeping group humanity has is now horribly corrupt. Gjallarhorn serves as the main villain for the first season and it’s members that you meet throughout the show seem to run the gamut of power hungry, corrupt, and people who still believe in the good it can do. Betrayal, murder and problems ensue for the once noble organization.
This isn’t to say our protagonists are “good” or “bad”, they are just survivors trying to make their way out of a horrible situation.
The show starts off with a brutal invasion of the a mercenary base that is guarding a would be diplomat. Gjallarhorn wants her dead and the chain leaders at the mercenary base realize they are hopelessly outgunned. So they abandon the base and leave the child solders to hold down the fort, defend the girl and get the hell out of there. It was a screwed up scene to watch, but it was made clear that the lives of these kids means nothing to the people in charge. Soon after being left to die by their superiors the child solders pull off a surprising victory over the invading Gjallarhorn’s forces. Then when the commanders come back to the base the teenagers and kids decide enough is enough and go on to take over the mercenary group by force. Deadly force. We are treated to seeing our “heroes” drug, knock out and murder their leaders and assume command. Sure it’s been shown that these guys were not good people, but it still is murder. But then again what is murder to a bunch of teenagers who have been raised in a dog eat dog world and then became child solders who spend their lives on the front line? The commander and the solders in charge did practically leave the kids to die.
It makes sense what the kids did. It’s fucked up, but it makes sense. They rename themselves Tekkadan and bam. Our journey begins.
Later on to as they try fulfill the mission to get the would be diplomat to earth they realize they need help if they are going to stand against Gjallarhorn. Tekkadan decided they need to the mob. Because, of course there is a mob in this crazy universe. As luck and exciting events would have it, they eventually get taken in by said mob and become part of the organization.
Once again we see the tough choices that have to be made and our “heroes” with no other choice go ahead with them. That’s sort of the recurring thing with this show, there are no options. The only way out is not the normally the “right” way, but it’s the one afforded to them. This mob group initially get’s introduced as pirates and mobsters. Since the good guys Gjallarhorn are out to get them our group of teenagers has no choice. With no other help available to them, our heroes join the space pirates/mobsters. Now this group is a little more complicated than that, but this is me giving a brief overview. While I am spoiling some parts of the early show, I don’t wanna do a full on spoiler filled recap.
Gundam IBO tows the fine line between our heroes being the bad guys and the heroes. Sure they work for they kill, but you never see them killing “good” people. It’s usually whatever scoundrels cross their paths. Of course the “bad” guys always start the fights and our heroes finish them. Along the way our “heroes” build up a reputation as good guys. They just don’t do it in “good” guy style. They go for the kill. They don’t give second chances and they keep what they conquer. It also really helps as the show goes on Gjallarhorn gets more and more evil.
It’s refreshing to have this in the Gundam universe. Gundam IBO explains the how and the why of things that normally get glossed over. What are the effects of having kids kill people all the time? Well they become emotionally detached from the world and see it as the obvious answer when people challenge them. We also see that they have no real concept of money or running an organization. Because of this they easy to take advantage of. They also lack social skills and are ignorant of what’s happening in their world.
Don’t expect classic anime trope characters here because they are a rarity. Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans is filled with fascinating characters with depth that you just want to see more of. So far the series has only had two characters that were unbelievable and annoying. Thankfully the show never gives them to much screen time and has since killed one off. The show also makes sure to show just how stupid they are in this gritty world. Blind idealism and stupid diatribes are immediately mocked and put down. It almost seems as if Gundam IBO is trying to mock the light hearted shows that came before it and the blind idealistic heroes that like a cancer, headline most modern anime.
This ownership of command and choices also becomes an interesting problem all of the characters of the show have to face in one way or another. They all have to step up, take make choices and live with the consequences. This is big because every main character of the show has to make hard choices and people they care about live and die because of them.
One example of this is the leader of our squad of heroes, Orga. He was initially squad leader when they were all just mercenaries, after he steps up and takes command you see him struggle with the responsibilities. His actions make sense, in the stupid teenager sorta way. But then the show digs deeper and you see that he is overwhelmed as well. You often see him forcing on a brave face, but you also see the many moments of doubt and the weight of it all bearing down upon him. He leads his friends to battle and makes the tough choices so that others don’t force them to die in vain. He struggles with this throughout the show. We also learn later on he is plagued by a sense of guilt because of his best friend Mika.
Mika who happens to be the main Gundam pilot of the show constantly expects Orga to lead. Expects Orga to know what to do next. Expects Orga to have a plan. All of these expectations as well as Mika’s willingness to put his own life at Orga’s disposal as his weapon and tool haunts Orga. Yet it also motivates him not to hesitate. In a weird way Mika is also Orga’s strength. He is a constant reminder that people are looking to Orga for direction and a way out of the hell that is their lives. The show also shows that Mika has always been Orga’s trigger man since they were children. While Orga doesn’t seem to hesitate in asking Mika to kill you see that it haunts him.
I can go on and on but Gundam IBO has a lot of characters that I would love to just pick apart, write about and theorycraft. Sufficed to say that no character feels wasted, if anything they can feel underdeveloped since they all seem so darned interesting. Gundam IBO is a fast paced show that I wish would slow down a bit and do some more character building, it doesn’t need to. It’s just a wish. That said the fast pace of the show is what also helps it keep it’s sense of urgency. Why you just have to watch the next episode.
The show isn’t always as bleak as I have described. There is hope, there is progress and there are wonderful lighthearted moments that really make you care about the cast. These are still kids, and there is an undertone of hope and striving to the show. It’s just magnificent how well it works with the bleak darkness of the universe. The struggle, they fight, and they die, but they don’t give up. They don’t have the option to.
The show fits wonderfully in our world of modern heroes who live in the grey and don’t always make the morally right choices. Sure they would like to not have to do these things, but they don’t have a choice. They never had the luxury of choice. This crazy path they are all on together was forced upon them and they are all just trying to survive together. Trying to find a place for themselves in this heartless universe that they live in and carve out a little safe place they can call their own. They aren’t out to save the world. They don’t really care about the greater good. They want to make a better life for themselves. Along the way they just end up taking out a lot of bad people and helping some good ones.
Now lets take a second and talk about the mind mindbogglingly amazing art this show has. Gundam Barbatos is amazing. In the first season alone it’s went through six different iterations of armor and it’s design is both sleek and aggressive. The design is less boxy than most recent Gundams and oddly more human. Not in a weird way, but it’s interesting and it works. Matching the art style of the Gundam, the way it fights looks more organic and human like. This is a very nimble, graceful and yet fierce and forceful Gundam. The giant robot fights are awesome, violent and visceral. The art style for the rest of the mobile suits are are also great. The art design for the people of Gundam IBO is magnificent. The show manages to make a seemingly culturally diverse world with a large gamut of body types.
The colors of the show vary widely and yet it makes perfect sense. it really shows the disparity of all of the areas they visit. It works and it’s amazing. Be sure to notice how filthy the world and dark the colors are when the show starts on Mars and how it brightens and cleans up by the time they make it to Earth.
The final thing praise that must be heaped upon Gundam IBO is it’s amazing music. From openings to endings the sound track is amazing and immersive.
Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphan season one is twenty five episodes long. I think it could have been fleshed out a bit to 30, but as is it’s an amazing ride. I wholeheartedly recommend it. I originality watched the show in Japanese on Crunchyroll and still continue to rewatch it there. There is an English dub available as well. While it’s alright, I find myself distracted by the overused American voice actors. That said so far dubbed version works well and isn’t bogged down by some of the usual bad apples who overplay their parts. If you had a choice between dubbed version and the subtitled one, I recommend the subbed.
YOU MUST WATCH THIS.