I finished all of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans last night, but the show I once loved made me feel hollow and unsatisfied.
I quickly fell in love with IBO and that feeling persisted through the whole first season. The journey of Tekkadan from Mars to Earth, and that amazing conclusion in Edmonton had marked it solidly as one of my all time favorite Gundam series ever. The strength of IBO to me was it?s characters and world building. I was invested in the group of kids taking control of the private military company CGS and forming an organization to help fight for the betterment of their lives while forging deep family bonds. While most of the members of Tekkadan didn?t get all that much screen time, I really enjoyed the personalities of the primary characters. Mikazuki and Orga?s longtime, co-dependent relationship was really compelling, you could really feel the longtime emotional bonds between them. Kudelia?s lofty goal of independence for Mars, combined with Tekkadan?s underdog nature made it a group I was really engaged with and emotionally invested in. The antagonists weren?t the most compelling, but the dynamic between McGillis, Gaelio, and Carta gave the opposing side some more depth beyond their immediate goals. You got a good sense of what each of those three Gjallarhorn officers were like as people. I also really enjoyed the political struggle of the series, the fight for independence from Earth is a common theme of Gundam, but I thought it was portrayed well here.
I deeply loved this show throughout all of the first season, but the direction taken in season 2 slowly beat me down until I could no longer pretend I was enjoying it. The last four episodes really kicked the wind out of my sails and felt cheap. IBO season 1 had one focused plotline that made sense and felt cohesive all the way through. Season 2 is a bunch of loosely connected mini-arcs with no clear focus, vision, or message. The way character death is handled in this season is one of main reason why I?m upset. It?s not just because almost all of the primary characters are killed off, it?s the way in which it occurs and the way the epilogue plays out. It doesn?t lead to, or accomplish, anything. The ending feels stolen from the characters in a really sick way.
Biscuit?s death in the first season had a ton of build up, and we really got to know him as a person and learn about him through his relationships to Orga and the crew. His death informed the decisions and actions of Tekkadan in a meaningful way. In season 2, it felt like the writers just wanted to kill everyone to seem sad or intense, but it doesn?t work. By the time Mikazuki and Akihiro are killed in the final episode, I was numb to impact of their death. I didn?t feel sad because of their circumstance, I felt sad that the writers drew out this whole series of characters deaths to the point where it felt formulaic and predictable. The deaths of Naze, Amida, and Lafter was unnecessary but drove the plot forward by having Tekkadan take revenge of Jasley Donomikols, which ultimately led to nothing.
Shino, Orga, McGillis, Hush, Akihiro, Mika. They all die losing. Tekkadan utterly loses, but is able to protect the lives of the rest of their crew. If through their sacrifice they were able to create the positive future for their friends, that would be one thing. But they don?t and Gjallarhorn wins. Julieta holds the Gundam Barbatos? head on her sword triumphantly, and Rustal Elion maintains his power and influence through successful corruption, controlling the media message on the truth of Tekkadan and McGillis.
The loss and following epilogue really made me angry as I watched. For some reason, despite being shown to be a corrupt leader who crushes everything in his path, Rustal Elion decides to dismantle the Seven Stars system of leadership in Gjallarhorn and reform it as a democratic organization (he, of course, is elected to be it?s first leader). Rustal lets Kudelia becomes the chairperson of the newly independent Mars Union and works with her to abolish Human Debris (slave) trafficking. The antagonist won and through his power let the rest of Tekkadan live, all knowing that he unnecessarily killed their friends and tarnished their names as a scapegoat to punish McGillis. The only reason they still live is because of Rustal and they just have to accept it. It?s embarrassing and degrading. Yet, everyone seems fine with that (with the obvious exception of Ride).
Watching the epilogue made me to realize that much of the character work throughout the series really didn?t make much sense. Rustal Elion specifically. As the main antagonist of the series, we know nothing about him or his ideals. We only see him act as a mustache twirling villain throughout the whole series, but for some reason he ends up enacting McGillis? idea of reforming Gjallarhorn. We have no reason as to why he has done this. It feels really unearned and like a desperate attempt to make a comment about there not being a difference between good and evil, just different pathways for change. This explanation feels extra hollow because the whole show absolutely depicted the different factions as good and evil.
Julieta and Gaelio?s ending was ridiculous as well. These two awful characters get a ?Let?s go eat meat! Anime! lol XD? ending after a whole season of being half-baked uninteresting grunts. Julieta in particular has no character at all. ?I need to get stronger? to the ultimate cliche degree. She is a consistently annoying presence that has almost no connections to other characters and offers nothing meaningful to the story through the entire season. While Gaelio wants his revenge against McGillis, their confrontation ends in a rather anticlimactic showdown. Iok Kujan is a ridiculous cartoon clown that only exists to ruin everything. His presence actively made the show worse at every turn.
McGillis? mysterious intentions were interesting in season 1 but once he started to realize his plans, and they started to blow up in his face immediately, he showed no signs of recognizing his failure and this rapid loss of control. McGillis was a frustrating idiot to watch every time he was on screen, an incompetent Char clone. We never really knew what his plan to reform Gjallarhorn was all about outside of removing the corruption from within. But as soon as he got his hands on Gundam Bael, he demanded that the entire organization follow his every order like a dictator. He didn?t use his platform to expose corruption, he used it to gain power and forgot everything that led him to that point. He had no plan to counter Rustal, who was obviously going to oppose him. The show wants to portray him has some sort of scheming puppet master, but the writing consistently fails to demonstrate this in any way. Why is Bael some sort of icon of leadership? Why does McGillis think that as soon in as he pilots it everyone will obey him somehow?
With such a large focus on the Gjallarhorn side of things this season you would think we would get some sort of new insight as to the ideology or internal conflicts of the organization, but that doesn?t happen. Everything presented is so shallow. Also the entire character of Almiria goes absolutely nowhere.
Tekkadan also saw some new recruits join the team this season, but they remain underdeveloped hangers-on in most cases. Hush, the most prominent of the new recruits, gets almost nothing to do and his relationship to Mika is not well developed at all. His death felt like it should have had a strong emotional impact, but because he was so underdeveloped I felt nothing. He didn?t have that much interaction with the other characters this season, spending most of his screen time as Mika?s assistant. He says he wants to learn from Mika, but we almost never see the two of them talk. We never get a chance to care for him or understand what he adds to the group dynamic.
The treatment of Atra and Kudelia was awful. In season 2, they are given nothing to do aside from fawn over Mika. Because it?s not anime unless every woman in the show is somehow in love with our antisocial, quiet protagonist boy. Atra and Kudelia are most often seen talking to each other, and it is always about Mika. They only ever talk about him and about loving him. This does a real disservice to the characters who had so much potential. As the Founder/President of the Admoss company Kudelia could have been playing politics to help Tekkadan through the entire season. Atra could have actually helped out with the Tekkadan crew in person and had her own independent goals. Kudelia?s love for Mika was not convincing at all to me. Atra has the benefit of knowing him for most of her life and their relationship goes back the longest outside of Mika and Orga. Their romance wasn?t too out of place. But I don?t think IBO ever made a convincing case for Kudelia?s love for Mikazuki outside of his role as the ?main character.? I think Mika and Atra having a baby and Kudelia becoming the step-mom after Mika?s death is a cool idea on paper, but it?s execution in the show was brutal to watch.
Remember the good times.
Season 2 felt like the writers did not know where to take the story so they threw everything they had on the page. It resulted in a muddled mess of themes and story lines with not enough time to give any characters their due. None of the deaths made much of an impact on the main crew at all. Everyone got over each death extremely quickly. You get once seen of brooding then you move on.
There is a part of me that?s just angry about seeing characters I liked die, but it only serves to back up my opinion that death is often a lame way to create drama. The removal of a character is not interesting. You are eliminating a person from your story that (hopefully) had relationships, motivations, goals, and hopes. The interactions between your characters is what gives depth to your story and shows how they each grow individually and as a group. Removing all the characters removes possibility. You can show pain and suffering in other ways. Killing off almost every single one of the primary characters was a boring move.
And it makes me sad.