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Monday, 13 February 2017

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S2E18.

This review comes with a trigger warning, as we briefly talk about paedophilia in it.

Mobile Suit Gundam:
Iron-Blooded Orphans
Series 2, Episode 18
Revealed Intentions.

This episode is in many ways a bridging episode, setting us up for a final showdown between Team McGillis -- McGillis himself, Isurugi, Liza, Tekkadan -- and Team Rustal -- Rustal, Iok, Julia, Gali-Gali, and the rest of Arianrhod -- with a possible intervention by Team Kudelia somewhere down the line. More than anything, it establishes each side and what they bring to their table, while tying off loose ends like McGillis' backstory, Gali-Gali's identity being officially revealed, and all the stuff with Bael.

It is, in spite of that, a very interesting and engaging episode, and one which throws into sharp relief just how clever this show often is in how it utilises the language of television. We'll talk about that a bit more after the jump.

In this week's episode, fresh off their battle with JPT Trust, Tekkadan assists McGillis in his coup d'etat against Gjallarhorn, taking over most of Vingolf and imprisoning three of the six surviving Seven Stars, leaving only Rustal and Iok out of McGillis' reach. As Rustal gathers his fleet, Vidar leaves for Earth -- and discovers McGillis in the underground vault, attempting to pilot Bael, a move which would make him supreme ruler of Gjallarhorn by law.

The episode is functionally split between two different threads: McGillis' backstory, and the confrontation between McGillis and Gali, and while the former is definitely interesting, it's the latter that struck me most about this episode, because it plays with audience expectations, and recurring tropes in fiction.

Also, look how pretty Gali-Gali is now.

In the underwater vault that contains Bael, McGillis and Gali have a conversation about their respective ideals, which culminates in Gali challenging McGillis to a duel and Mika interrupting them. It's a set-up that happens a lot in fiction, to the point where it's practically a staple of action films, and it's interesting because Gali is the one in the position of protagonist in this scene, not McGillis, nor even Mika. It's Gali who's championing the side of loyalty and devotion, Gali who has the personal grievance, Gali who takes the honourable route -- but more importantly, Gali is outmatched in this scene, deep in enemy territory with his opponent ready to enter a powerful mech. In fiction, the protagonists are almost always the underdogs, bravely striking out into impossible and dangerous territory, while the antagonists are overdogs.

(Of course, we've seen that dynamic get reversed in Iron-Blooded Orphans before.)

McGillis is -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- in the role of antagonist, but more interesting is that Mika is reduced to the role of henchman, the penultimate obstacle who must be overcome before Gali can face McGillis. One person on a forum likened the two to Goldfinger and Oddjob, and it's a very apt comparison: In this episode, and arguably in the series as a whole, Mika's story is incidental to the main plot -- he is, instead, the henchman of a succession of villains, whether that be Orga's violent mobster-mercenary or McGillis' scheming nobleman. Mika only really becomes heroic when set against something or somebody that can't be sympathised with, like Hashmal or Robo-Ein.

You're also very pretty, Bael.

Speaking of Robo-Ein, we get confirmation here that Ein's brain is inside the Gundam Vidar, which a lot of people were already expecting. It's interesting, the show could have very easily played that as a horrific abomination -- because it is -- and it would have felt like a totally natural approach to take to it. Instead, they play it as being almost heroic (or at least anti-heroic), as Gali borrowing his best friend's power to avenge him.

The other plot strand is learning about McGillis' backstory. Again, not many surprises here -- we all knew that McGillis was abused as a child by Iznario, and I think a lot of people expected that Iznaro being a paedophile would at least be alluded to. What's most surprising about that is that it's more or less outright stated rather than left as implication, but fair play to the show for being as brutal and open about it as its timeslot allows it to be. This is, after all, a show about child exploitation, and it behooves the writers to not pull any punches in that regard.

(It does also raise the question of exactly how much Rustal knew, though. We know he was aware that McGillis was being beaten, at the very least.)

McGillis' backstory doesn't necessarily tell us much about him as a character that we didn't know already, but it's still nice to have it demonstrated for the audience.

It's a shame, I quite liked the mask.

We also got our first proper look at the Gundam Bael, which it seems the Seven Stars are all terrified of, and which apparently holds Agnika Kaieru's 'soul', possibly through the AV System absorbing his personality -- which makes it very likely that that is eventually going to happen to Mika, which would be a good set-up for Hash to take over for a third series, perhaps, or even just a good place to end the story entirely.

(It would also explain why Mika often talks to the Barbatos -- it's been established that it has some kind of rudimentary AI, but if AV Systems really do absorb/mimic their pilots, then its AI would be that of its previous pilot.)

All in all, this is a pretty good episode, and it sets us up well for the final seven episode stretch. It looks like the next episode will have a slower pace, with everyone dealing with the fallout from Gali's broadcast -- which doesn't bode well for Iok, given what Rustal said about no longer needing him if Gali took off his mask -- and Tekkadan preparing for battle.

Incidentally, doesn't Rustal seem like he could be played by Jonathan Frakes? Just me? Okay.

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