Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 50 of
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (TV 2) ?
Let's get personal for just a moment. It's time for new anime, and I've been watching a lot of it, but there's only one episode that feels like it's been permanently etched into my brain, and it's the finale of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. I've written before that this show is hyper-aware of its status as part of the Gundam multiverse, always riffing on known tropes with a nod to the audience.
Everything that happened in this finale follows the nuance of Gundam's homegrown collection of style choices, and yet it still manages to surpass them and throw in a few surprises. Still, is my overwhelmingly positive reaction mostly a response to this episode's enormous emotional toll? I'd say it isn't entirely, but I am definitely swayed by my love for and intimate familiarity with Gundam storytelling. The message of this epilogue—and its questionable sense of justice—made it a more satisfactory finale than Gundam shows usually offer, but for casual viewers, this bloody end might feel hackneyed. For my part, I don't see those deaths as a storytelling shortcut, so here's why I think we were headed for this ending all along.
Since his last accident, Mikazuki has become reliant on Barbatos Lupus Rex. Since then, we've only seen him connected to Barbatos via symbolic umbilical cord. That's not to say he couldn't survive without it, but he did not seem to perceive his life beyond it. More than all the other death flags—more than his unborn child and more than the fact that Gundam heroes typically aren't long for this world—it was Mika's mindset that marked him for death. And yet, I'd argue that Mikazuki got a satisfactory ending. All this time, Tekkadan has been fighting for nebulous goals. Yes, they want to protect their family, but more than that, they fought to find belonging—”Kings of Mars” was a title that represented a place where they could all live together happily. It isn't until the end that Mikazuki realizes they've already achieved that: “We'd already made it. The place where we truly belong.” Mikazuki, Orga, Akihiro, and the others died surrounded by people who mourned them, something these loners previously never expected to happen. Tekkadan was the paradise they'd been searching for the whole time.
By the halfway point of the episode, Tekkadan is destined to be smudged from the history books, its members either in hiding or only immortalized by names scrawled on the “family gravestone". And who should be on top of the new world order but Rustal Elion. Rustal's an antagonist, but not a villain. He uses underhanded tactics, just like McGillis Fareed and Tekkadan, but in keeping with that company, we learn that he has a good side too. His duality was signaled symbolically last episode, when Julieta acknowledged that she can trust him, while other people her age must fear him. Rustal “wins” this round, but he accomplishes what all the factions in Iron-Blooded Orphans, from Kudelia to Teiwaz, were fighting for—the abolishment of both slavery and a corrupt governing system. History is written by the winners, and Rustal will go down as a “good guy," while Tekkadan and the McGillis Incident will only be footnotes. I can understand viewers being upset that Rustal doesn't get “justice,” but his triumph shows how morally duplicitous every faction in this show has been. Ever since Mobile Suit Gundam, fans have wrestled with who to root for. Take Char, the single-minded activist who betrays his best friend and tries to kill the main character. This outcome underlines the “war is bad” message of Gundam by reminding us that in war, there are no real winners and no real good guys, only characters who live long enough to become sympathetic to viewers.
In the end, two women live to tell their tales on either side: Julieta and Kudelia. First there's Julieta, who's grown out her hair and stayed by Rustal's side into adulthood. Julieta acts somewhat as viewer avatar, puzzling over Rustal's apparent change of heart when he allows Kudelia a role on the Martian council, knowing she was once part of resistance efforts. Gaelio knows well why people act inconsistently after his final confrontation with McGillis, now so many years in the past: “They all have their ulterior motives.” Julieta has lucked out in so many ways. First, she vanquished Mikazuki while he had a major handicap (Rustal's Dainsleif attack), and now she stands to become Rustal's successor. Once again, the spoils of war go to those who get lucky, nothing more. Meanwhile, Kudelia has cut her hair and grown her influence on Mars in both politics and business, while Eugene, one of the most straight-edge members of Tekkadan, works as her bodyguard. Some, like Eugene and Takaki, have buried their questionable pasts and gone on to find places for themselves in the new world order. Others, like Ride, have gone out to seek their own brand of justice. Nobliss is dead, and while he of course deserves it, his fate bloodied Ride's hands yet again without bringing Orga back. I felt less like cheering for Ride and more sorry for him. I hope this assassination helps him find the peace to move on, to ditch Orga's scarf and Mikazuki's gun, to “move forward” the way Orga once urged him to do.
Last but not least, it's one of Gundam's happiest little families—two moms and a cute little kid named Akatsuki. His name is obviously inspired by his father's, but I wonder if the “aka” comes from “red,” as in the blood from the show's title. Don't miss the post-credit scene, in which Akatsuki peers curiously at those who made his peaceful life possible. This was a bloody show, like most Gundam shows are, but for once it doesn't feel desolate (looking at you, Victory Gundam); for once it doesn't feel all for naught. By staying true to its Gundam pedigree and making choices that are pointedly inspired by its predecessors, this conclusion is a thoroughly closed book that doesn't demand anything else.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is available streaming at Daisuki.net.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist
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