Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 34 of
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (TV 2) ?
With so much focus on characters' daily routines, would it be too much to call this episode of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans a slice of life? Nothing major happens in the plot this episode, but it still strengthens our cast and story through glimpses of what passes for mundanity in the worlds of Tekkadan and Gjallarhorn. Trouble is brewing, that's for sure, but we see this through a multifaceted perspective that makes potential threats less urgent, giving us time to explore and learn a new thing or two about each of our favorite characters.
The title of the episode is “Vidar Rising,” but not much of it is about Vidar, who we know by now is Gaelio in a mask. The name “Vidar” is almost certainly an homage to Star Wars, paired with that mask and Gaelio's mechanically echoing voice, and it isn't the first time a Gundam show has done something similar—fans saw glimpses of Vader in the appearance of Carozzo “Iron Mask” Ronah, the antagonist of Mobile Suit Gundam F91. Like Ronah before him, we see in this new instance of Gaelio a man who has concealed his identity and thrown away his past, all the better to seek revenge. This man who calls himself Vidar also named his mobile suit Vidar. Unique mobile suit identities are one of the cornerstones of the Gundam franchise—even in the very first Mobile Suit Gundam, nobody really called Amuro's suit by its alphabet soup name RX-78-2. They called it the Gundam or the White Devil. Suits have never been simply weapons or tools, but reliable partners with exceptional powers—some of which the pilots themselves aren't always aware of. Julietta correctly notes that Vidar's decision to call his suit Vidar too is unprecedented. I don't know what's under that suit, but I figure that Gaelio is a cyborg now after all the damage he's sustained. Maybe as a machine man, he really does understand his machine so fully that he sees it as a mere extension of himself. Seeing him in a battle that is more like a dance than a fight, his grace and "beauty" (as Julietta sees it) is awe-inspiring. His fortitude and resolve are told through combat choreography instead of speech.
Meanwhile at Tekkadan, Gundam naming conventions are still alive and well. Following Barbatos and Gusion comes the newly excavated Flauros, and Merribit reminds us that they're all named after the 72 demons of legend. (If you're curious, a helpful redditor listed all 72 demons and the mobile suits that bear their names.) Merribit sees it as a bad omen. Change is definitely in the air at Tekkadan. Hush has done a 180 from sneering at Mikazuki to serving him at mealtime, and Mika (brusque, from the slums, accustomed to being treated like unwanted trash) is definitely uncomfortable with it. Tekkadan has sold its farmland to Kudelia's company. Orga's facing the consequences of acting like the boss and getting Naze in trouble for his brashness. (Naze carefully avoids informing Orga that he raised his own death flag to keep Tekkadan out of trouble.) Oh, and Merribit and the mechanic are dating, which really came out of nowhere. Chad is the audience stand-in as he runs around being surprised, but this wasn't telegraphed at all! Lafter and Akihiro's relationship hasn't begun, but it's been signaled since last episode. Mikazuki's love triangle with Kudelia and Atra has been ongoing for two seasons. But suddenly this, without any warning? Mari Okada revealed this in a way that's intended to surprise us and rub it in the face of Orga/Merribit shippers like me.
This episode also had a darker undertone—a storyline about users and people who are used. A war profiteer moves pawns around a chessboard while on the phone with Kudelia, who is asking him for money: making it obvious that Kudelia is the pawn in his mind. Then there's Amida's impassioned speech to Jasley, the Teiwaz hotshot in the fur coat, telling him “you only see women as women.” Jasley sees Amida as Naze's love slave while Amida sees Naze as a savior who gave her and the other women a home worth defending. Jasley thinks Naze is using Amida, and Amida shoots back that before life with Naze, each of the women was being used by a man like Jasley. Finally, there's Almiria, McGillis's child fiancee. Of course a world with child soldiers has child brides, doesn't it? It's hard to tell if poor Almiria realizes she's being used—while it's fun to make pedophile jabs at McGillis, we all know he's really in this for the status that an alliance with the Bauduin family will bring him. Right? I mean, I hope. I was really nervous they were going to kiss at the end of the episode!
While nothing intense happens this episode, it's difficult to dismiss it as mere setup when the story is this expressive. The small actions that characters take while going about their days reveal magnitudes. It's also become clear how much Mari Okada loves toying with us. Someday soon she's going to hurt us again, and we won't be able to help but care.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is available streaming at Daisuki.net.
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