Mobile Suit Gundam:
So here's a confession: I haven't watched a Gundam series since Gundam Wing. I've tried - I tried watching Gundam Unicorn, and tried watching Gundam 00, and I didn't get very far in either of them, broadly on account of being extremely bored. It's not a franchise that has ever massively appealed to me, because god knows that if I'm going to watch a giant robot show, I'd prefer it to be something that takes the inherent silliness of the premise and just pushes it to the most absurd levels possible, like Aldnoah.Zero (which I do still adore).
But I watched Iron-Blooded Orphans, largely on the strength of its trailer and because I knew several people who were very excited for it, and because it dealt with themes that interested me, like the psychology of child soldiers.
Set 300 years after the 'Calamity War' between Earth and its colonies, the show follows a mercenary company, Tekkadan, formed almost entirely out of child soldiers and based off a terraformed Mars. Taking a job to protect a young aristocrat, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, as she travels to Earth to appeal against a cap on the prices of Martian industrial and agricultural products, and to push for Martian independence, the company swiftly draws the attention of Gjallarhorn, an independent military organisation that acts as a peacekeeping force on Earth and among its colonies. Within Gjallarhorn, however, a young officer, McGillis Fareed, has his own plans, involving the reform of Gjallarhorn.
|Ein, who, excepting all of the terrible things he did wrong, did nothing wrong.|
The show gets off to a really slow start, with a significant amount of its first third feeling almost glacial in terms of pacing, with long scenes involving people pontificating on philosophy and psychology, slightly shorter scenes talking about economics, and a few giant robot battles thrown in for good measure, which is - broadly how I remember Gundam Wing, actually. While the fight scenes were generally pretty strong, and I did kind of like the characters, my continued watching of the series at that point was at least somewhat out of a sense of obligation as much as anything.
The series picks up around a third of the way through, with the introduction of the Turbines and the conflict surrounding the Dort Colonies doing a lot to make it more interesting to watch, as the cast of character expands and the series moves away from the relatively bland environs of Mars and into the also bland but somewhat less so environs of space, and later on, Earth. The addition of the Turbines helps particularly (even if I do find their whole dynamic more than a little bit creepy), since it allows for a more in-depth exploration of the psychology of Tekkadan's members, as they're examined not just from Kudelia's viewpoint (which is always kind of framed, not really justifiably, as being the viewpoint of someone sheltered and naive), but also through the viewpoints of characters who are framed as more worldly.
Which is where the series excels, really: The political stuff is fine, but it's very much par for the course, and ultimately it never gets so complicated that it can't be boiled down to 'Kudelia needs to get where she's going and then things will be fine probably', and even the more intricate machinations with Gjallarhorn are painted with a broad brush - but the psychology of the characters, and the effect that being a child soldier has on someone, is a theme that the writers invest a lot of time and effort into, and which runs throughout the series.
(A lot of what the writers are trying to convey seems to skim straight over fans' heads, as I remember seeing people criticise Merribit for her totally normal reaction to young children eagerly going off to kill and die.)
|Mika always looks like he was animated by an entirely different team to|
Coincidentally, 'about a third of the way through' is also the point in the series where the show starts to vary its formula a little. Fight scenes become more interesting with a variety of factions getting involved, with the addition of spaceships to the mix, and with both Gjallarhorn and Tekkadan updating their mechs and roster of regular combatants.
Technically, the series is pretty strong as well, with good animation, good voice acting, and an excellent soundtrack. It definitely needs some work as far as its pacing goes, however, and could definitely do with cutting down on its pontificating time.
Overall, I actually enjoyed this series a surprising amount, although I admit that the announcement of a second series - scheduled for later this year, no less - caught me off guard, seeing as how it came at the end of a relatively self-contained story (and also after a significant amount of the main cast had been killed off). I'll be looking forward to that, and possibly pondering an editorial on this show's gender politics just as soon as I can figure out what I think about them.