Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 24 of
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans ?
With a title like “A Future Reward,” I guessed this episode of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans was going to be rough as soon as it began. Tekkadan may be rewarded in the afterlife, but for now this family is going to suffer. After an entire season spent making us love and care for a surprisingly varied cast, Iron-Blooded Orphans pushes our feelings to the limit with a heartbreaking half hour filled with loss, betrayal, and the horrors of war.
This episode begins jarringly in media res, with Atra and Merribit tending to the wounded after more than a day without sleep. This episode begins with a time limit—six more hours to deliver Makanai to the electoral hearing or else. Things are looking dire, and with the the clock ticking, Tekkadan has gotten desperate. Desperate enough for Orga to send them on a suicide mission, and for everyone—Merribit excluded—to think it's an awesome idea.
“Bet your lives on this operation,” Orga says in the first of many powerful moments of this episode, punctuated by a heart-racing musical score. You can see how much it pains Orga that it's come to this, as he approves even somebody as young as Ride to pilot a mobile worker. Orga is sending his men, boys really, to serve as decoys for Gjallarhorn. “This is wrong,” Merribit sobs, and under normal circumstances, she would be right. But one of the horrific lessons of Iron-Blooded Orphans is that the members of Tekkadan have always lived by risking their lives for money, ever since they were born. Before they formed Tekkadan, they risked their lives for the sake of their corporate overlords. We've come full circle to the very first episode. The company the Orphans worked for on Mars also used them as decoys—while the top brass made their escape. This time at least, Orga and the others are risking their lives for something they actually believe in. Ever since episode 13, “Funeral Rites,” there's been a promise that “each of our lives aren't disposable things that end when we die,” a sort of “Future Reward,” if you will.
From there, the episode only gets more painful to watch. I don't think we'll fully grasp the death count until next week, because while a lot of people have been wounded, we're not entirely sure if they're mortally wounded. This episode captures the chaos of battle, the way that odds can turn on a dime, and how it's impossible to tell what's going on in every corner of the battlefield. I expected the mobile workers to be cannon fodder, but I never anticipated what a difficult time Mikazuki and company would have, fighting in mobile suits at the edge of town. It's a Gundam tradition to bring out a massive mobile suit at a critical point (think Zeta Gundam's Psycho Gundam), and in this episode that responsibility falls to Ein. I didn't realize before how much bigger he was than other suits. Lafter acknowledges their doom with the four words I never wanted to hear: “It's stronger than Mikazuki.” Ein is an extremely weighty presence on the battlefield, not only because of his size but thanks to his emotional instability. While mobile suits are forbidden in the city because the Ahab Reactor would shut down electrical functions, Ein pays no attention.
He zooms right to the armored car where Atra, with such tiny hands on the massive steering wheel, is protecting Kudelia and Makanai “in place of Mikazuki.” This climax puts far too many of my favorite characters in danger, and now Lafter has put doubt in the audience's mind that even Mikazuki will be able to save them. While Ein is out for revenge, Gaelio is wrestling with betrayal—in the least shocking reveal of the season, McGillis has come out to fight him. Every moment of this show is an emotional one, whether we are dealing with a character's shock or trauma or death. Having spent an entire season with these people, there are no throwaway tragedies now. When Tekkadan created a family, viewers became a part of it, and now we're suffering along with them.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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