The year is 323 of the Post Disaster era. Centuries after a great war between Earth and Mars, Mars has been terraformed into a habitable planet that chafes under Earth’s rule. Amidst the growing Mars independence movement, Mikazuki Augus is a war orphan and member of Chryse Guard Security, a Martian mercenary group. Gundam Barbatos, a weapon of a bygone era, is housed at their headquarters, dormant and acting as a power supply. When CGS comes under attack from Earth’s military arm, Gjallarhorn, Augus steps into Gundam Barbatos and begins his fight against Earth.
Gee’s verdict: A Solid Launch
Let me say this right off the bat. I am going to praise the first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans. This does not mean I think the show will continue to be great, instantly turn horrible next week, or anything in between. Gundam fans know the old cycle. New Gundam gets announced, fans get skeptical. New Gundam airs, fans rejoice at what seems like a great entry in the franchise. New Gundam finishes, fans despair as the plot utterly shits the bed in the second half and loses anything that made it interesting. Unicorn, 00, AGE, it doesn’t matter. Barring Gundam Build Fighters, no Gundam series has had a good ending in quite literally over a decade. No reason to start now.
With all that said, Iron Blooded Orphans starts off strong. It sets the scene for us and we get thrown in pretty quickly. We figure out how the good guys and bad guys are pretty quickly. Kids are good, earnest, and misunderstood. Adults are evil, conniving, and lazy. This is nothing new for Gundam.
As for our characters, Augus is a bit of a blank slate so far. His relationship with Orga is giving me some Simon-Kamina vibes, which is even reflected in their physical appearances. Without any other particularly defining traits, I don’t know what to think of our new protagonist quite yet. The other characters are your typical Gundam archetypes so time will tell if they ever go beyond that. Shout-out to my boy Biscuit Griffon though, in the running for both best anime name of 2015 and hopefully best bro of 2015 too.
If there’s one thing you can rely on Gundam for, it’s good mechanical design. With the likes of Ippei Gyobu and Kanetake Ebikawa, we have some notable talent on board. So far, both are bringing their A game and I’m really enjoying what I’m seeing. In all fairness, I’ve already seen a good dozen of the mecha that will be showing up, but you can see the strong design work in the debut. The mini tanks are a fantastic and unique design in the Gundam franchise, which will make their inevitable obsolescence all the more a shame. The bad guy unit, the Graze, is one hell of a not-Zaku and easily one of my favorite AU grunts since the Grimoire of G-Reco fame. Full disclosure. This is probably because the Leo from Wing is like my favorite AU grunt of all time. As for the Barbatos itself, while I can’t say I really love everything about it, I vastly appreciate its distinct departure from the typical Gundam look.
And that’s not the only distinct departure. Iron Blooded Orphans is going for a grittier feeling than the last few entries in the franchise. Almost harkening to 08th MS Team, there’s some good potential here for great things. Throw in the solid non-beam weaponry being thrown around and you have something with considerable physicality to it. Watching Barbatos cave in a robot’s head with a giant mace was something to behold. Unfortunately, most Gundams tend to have pretty impressive debuts to the point where it’d be even more cause for alarm if it didn’t. It remains to be seen if Iron Blooded Orphans can maintain its momentum and make good on its promises. Throw in the notorious Mari Okada’s involvement and the forecast becomes even more dubious.
So in the end, Iron Blooded Orphans is an impressive start to what is perhaps the most accessible mainline TV Gundam in years. Whether it will stay that way remains to be seen. For now though, I’m on board. I mean at this point, the Gundam franchise has broken my heart so many times I hardly care anymore. It’s not like this is going to be any worse than SEED right?
Iro’s verdict: Surprisingly Good
We expected (and still might get; this was only the first episode, after all) a hilarious trainwreck from a Gundam with Mari Okada at the helm, but the premiere of Iron-Blooded Orphans hit a lot of the right notes. After a string of shows that club the viewer over the head with blatant exposition, it was refreshing to deal with Gundam‘s usual MO of rushing into the thick of things. I also appreciated that the actual Mobile Suits were saved for a burst of action at the very end of the episode, which allows them a few minutes of actually feeling like the ultimate weapons before the show actually gets started and they become mundane. Apparent protagonist Mikazuki Augus seems to be the weak link so far, featuring hardly any personality, but it’s framed as a notable trait related to his backstory with Orga, becoming a driving question instead of poor characterization. It remains to be seen if Mari Okada and crew can keep it up, but so far I look forward to seeing how Iron-Blooded Orphans develops.
Zigg’s verdict: Heavy Metal
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this actually. It still contains some of Gundam’s old sins, such as way too many characters introduced too fast, and an almost pathological need to not explain what is going on at all. But there’s still plenty of resonance to be found in the classic themes of war, political wrangling and a desire to pilot flashy robots, and the team here do a good job of drawing out most of the franchise’s classic strengths. As Gee mentions there’s an earthy, tough feel reminiscent of the much loved 08th MS Team and the cast, although pretty large and unwieldy, is nicely varied and attractive in both design and personality. I particularly appreciate the pairing of the younger and older kids as it allows a nice degree of variety in designs and characterisations that you don’t normally get out of this kind of show. The Mobile Suit itself looks super awesome and it’s wisely saved for the final moments, making fora really strong debut and some fine mook-crushing action. There’s still plenty of chance for Mari Okada to get her Mari Okada on in upcoming episodes, but I’m more interested in a Gundam show than I have been for years, and that has to count for something.