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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Episodes 1-2

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans ?
Community score: 4.3

How would you rate episode 2 of
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans ?
Community score: 4.3

When fans talk about Gundam, they're hardly ever talking about a single show. Ever since the first series launched in 1979, Gundam has been a franchise with an enormous cultural footprint, spawning in-jokes and theme restaurants and even Toyota commercials. A show that bears the Gundam name comes with its own set of expectations. A weapon that is called Gundam must be sui generis, with an unparalleled look and ability. Any show can attempt a science fiction story; Gundam storylines must echo a 37-year space opera tradition—complete with an underdog hero, an ambiguous rival, and a constantly shifting set of allegiances to convey that nothing is ever so simple as “good guys vs. bad,” in war or in life.

It's a tall order, so it's no wonder that many shows are crushed under the pressure, from an overwrought Gundam: Reconguista in G to an overdesigned Gundam AGE. The Gundam monolith can withstand a few duds—it's been coasting off its reputation since '79—but the name is no longer synonymous with consistent quality. It's too early to tell if Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans will break the mold (AGE started off pretty strong itself), but it is already shaping up to be a tale of injustice that ought to make your blood boil (no pun intended). Better yet, this show takes place entirely in its own universe. There's no required viewing here. Even if this is your first Gundam show ever, you know just as much about it as the rest of us.

There's been plenty of talk about the choice of Mari Okada, melodrama writer extraordinaire, as the head of series composition for this show. After watching episodes one and two, I'm optimistic. Gundam has always been a drama, and this first hour has nailed the various moving parts of a power imbalance that's ready to blow. Among the warring factions, however, it's the glimpses of humanity that breathe life into this show. Lieutenant Crank is already more than the stereotype of a villainous opposing force. He's a man with his own moral compass and ideas about what's right beyond the “bad guys'” party line. Kudelia Aina Bernstein is already more than a naive rich girl. She's also a politician well-versed enough in political intrigue to (rightfully) suspect her own father of some scheme. Main character Mikazuki is the most typical addition to the Gundam tradition so far—a talented killer who is already jaded despite his young age. His ragtag team of comrades feel well-balanced, spanning from the born leader Orga to the capable tactician (and possible comedic relief) Biscuit. Together, these characters from all walks of life could connect to tell a multifaceted war story that has the potential to be epic.

Iron-Blooded Orphans feels like it has something important to say about humanity and uses the lowest denominators of society—orphan lab rats in forced labor conditions—to convey it. The high-powered opening theme, “Raise Your Flag,” sounds more like a call to action than passive entertainment. The Gundam label weighs heavy on any series that bears its name, but Iron-Blooded Orphans is standing up to that pressure as strongly as I could hope so far.

Rating: A

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is available streaming at Daisuki.net and Funimation.com.

Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.

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