Sunday 4 October 2015

First Impressions: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

If there's one thing I have to commend the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise for, it's its tenacity. Despite original creator Yoshiyuki Tomino-helmed and 35th anniversary celebration series Gundam Reconguista in G not going down quite as well as hoped and firmly dividing fans, the mecha juggernaut is back a year later with a brand new series as if nothing phased it at all. This new series, entitled Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (but also referred to as G-Tekketsu), is a rather curious beast being the brainchild of Tatsuyuki Nagai and Mari Okada - the writer and director team behind AnoHana of all things. While this isn't either's first foray into the world of mecha (Nagai previously directed Idolmaster: Xenoglossia while Okada worked on Aquarion Evol), but it does set a rather interesting precedent on what to expect from this latest instalment of Japan's landmark mecha franchise.

Iron-Blooded Orphans is set in the year Post Disaster 323, a time period following a great war between Earth and Mars. Mars has been successfully terraformed and populated by humanity, however it's population now seek independence from the Earth. The Chryse Security Guard (CSG) are tasked with protecting Kudelia Aina Bernstein - a Martian princess on a diplomatic mission to gain independence for Mars. When the CSG base is attacked Earth military Gjallarhorn, orphan child soldier Mikazuki Augus fights back using a relic from the 'Calamity War' - the Gundam Barbatos.

That's largely the set up for the series anyway, but you won't be taking all of that away from the first episode. In typical Gundam fashion Iron-Blooded Orphans is quite keen to throw viewers in at the deep end, expecting them to pick the details up as they go along rather than open things up with a good old-fashioned info dump. If handled properly doing so can be a more natural and progressive form of storytelling, however if it isn't you end up with a product like G-Reco - and I don't think anyone wants to see that happen again. Don't worry though, Iron-Blooded Orphans at least gives you enough of the details here to properly follow what's going on even if you do find you need to a quick internet search afterwards just to fill in some of the blanks.

However even if some of the context of this episode manages to escape you, there's still enough here to make it a pretty exhilarating debut. The actual fighting doesn't kick off until the second half of the episode and even then we only see moving mobile suits in the final few minutes, but the Gundam Barbatos makes one hell of debut which will undoubtedly continue on into the next episode. After G-Reco provided some of a unique spin on the classic Gundam design with more rounded edges, the Barbatos takes things off in the opposite direction with a heavily armoured frame and exposed waist. But while its debut was certainly memorable, this episode belonged to the Mobile Workers - small Metal Gear-eqsue tank things which provided most of the episode's action. I liked these a lot, and will be quite interested to see them operate alongside the more traditional Mobile Suits in land-based battles.

The episode also gave us a brief introduction to our lead characters, as well as the various factions and groups there are in operation. The main two shining through are lead Mikazuki and CGS Third Army Division leader Orga Itsuka - who share a very close camaraderie similar to that of Simon and Kamina from Gurren Lagann (albeit a more grounded variant). Kudelia will obviously be taking the diplomat role of the series, although it's nice to see her actively want to help physically in times of peril too. Moving on to the political landscape of Iron-Blooded Orphans, it seems to have more to it than simply the immediate problem of the Earth/Mars conflict (what's a Gundam series without colonies after all). There's also tension between the generation divide in the CGS, with the "children" looked down upon by their adult superiors and sent to the front of the firing line - causing Orga to cause a rebellion of his very own.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans certainly shows promise, but then again so did Reconguista in G in its early episodes so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still a little bit wary of what may come. However as far as first episodes go this was a great start to the series, making good impressions in all the right places and creating plenty of intrigue for what's to come. Definitely looking forward to more.

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