Iron-Blooded Orphans (IBO), the latest release in the long running Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, follows the exploits of a budding cadre of child soldiers who live on Mars. They are the byproduct of a catastrophic battle referred to as the “Calamity War.” It’s conclusion resulted in a diaspora that marginalized the Martian populace and reduced the planet to little more than a fiefdom of the Earth. Soon after, this disparity paved the way for an almost unbridled exploitation of the red planet’s resources and people.
Centuries later, despite the long-standing banner of ignobility that flies above them, or perhaps even because of it, the people of Mars are galvanized into action. A movement begins to rally behind a so-called Maiden of Revolution, the young idealist Kudelia Aina Bernstein. It is during this pivotal moment that the aforementioned child soldiers, who become involved in the conflict after a run in with Kudelia, emancipate themselves from the oppressive custody of their adult overseers. They soon forge an identity as a private security company called Tekkadan (Iron Flower Brigade).
It’s a this point that the true narrative of the series begins. Like most Gundam stories, IBO rests its mantle on a tale of political subterfuge and intrigue – matters of the court are discussed behind closed doors, but their echoes are felt in every aspect of the world the characters inhabit. This, however, is the backdrop to a much more personable story. While there is an overarching plot tying everything together, the meat of this series lies the exploration of its titular orphans and the accompanying cast.
A great part of the IBO’s charm, especially given its somber subject matter, lies in its interesting and well developed cast of characters. As the story progresses, the realities of war are juxtaposed with the burgeoning identity of Tekkadan’s young members. From defining what it means to be a person of character to coping with the loss of a beloved comrade, IBO’s protagonists are not spared a thing as they push ever forward toward their ultimate goal. The realities of war take their toll on just about everyone in the story; even those who surreptitiously appoint themselves as guiding forces and care takers. There is never quite a moment of relief for the team (nor for the audience). It is very clear that Tekkadan’s victories are hard-earned and are all the sweeter for it.
Key to these successes are the series two protagonists, Mikazuki Augus and Orga Itsuki. Brothers-in-arms, this pair’s almost fraternal relationship is disarming when set against the brutality of the world they inhabit. They are child soldiers born of a land that has denied them a basic human identity. Everything they have earned, including their sense of self, has been purchased in a currency best understood on the battlefield. Their struggle is one of survival and of accomplishment. That, more than anything, defines the characters of IBO.
Gundam units in the world of IBO are relics of the “Calamity War” and are, as such, very rare commodities. While they can be piloted via traditional controls, they are most effective when under the control of the Alaya-Vijnana system. This system, a biomechanical interface that feeds directly into a pilot’s nervous system, replaces the long-standing Newtype contrivance that has become almost synonymous with the series. Barbados is the unit that gets the most exposure during the show’s initial 25-episode run, but it will be interesting to see how the eponymous mecha are integrated into the grander scheme of things. There are already some very neat naming conventions that hint at a large pantheon of robots to be displayed as the series continues on into its second season.
All-in-all, the first season of IBO builds a solid world and spins a yarn that is well worth sitting through. Its characters are engaging and well-written, its mecha are well-designed and most of the major themes are handled with class. Adding to this is the fact that, while dark, the story never becomes unwieldy or unbearable. IBO is a fine series that should leave most viewers looking forward to where the next season of this Gundam side story will go.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Director: Tatsuyuki Nagai
Writter: Mari Okada
Music: Masaru Yokoyama
Original Run: October 4, 2015 – March 27, 2016
Slider and Images Property and Courtesy of Sunrise.