Number of Episodes: 50
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Date of Review: April 24, 2017
Three hundred years ago, the Calamity War engulfed the Earth Sphere. Nowadays, law and order is maintained by the mighty Gjallarhorn fleets as well as private contractors, some of which do not hesitate to brutally draft child soldiers. When the kids in Chryse Guard Security overthrow their masters on Mars and form the independent private military company Tekkadan, they take on an escort mission that will change the fate of two worlds. The ancient weapons known as Gundam Frames will enter the battlefield once more…
Initially, the latest installment of the Gundam franchise only received a single season of twenty-five episodes, but its massive popularity resulted in an additional order of twenty-five to be broadcast the following year. Iron-Blooded Orphans marks only the second time that a Gundam series has received a second season (the first being Mobile Suit Gundam 00), rather than a sequel series. It’s a good thing that IBO absolutely delivers on all counts!
Right off the bat, we see that things in this Post Disaster era have some serious differences from the rest of the Gundam saga. For example, there are no beam weapons (with one notable exception in season two), which means that mobile suits usually just beat the stuffing out of one another with melee weapons. Rifles and other projectile weapons are used for long range support, but close combat still rules the roost. Furthermore, IBO has no Newtypes, nor their equivalent. Instead, we’ve got a few pilots who were subjected to incredibly risky surgery — often against their will — that enables them to interface directly with their mobile suits’ systems. Which brings me to the final point: child slavery is a big theme in IBO. Heavy subjects are no stranger to the Gundam franchise, but they don’t get much more serious than this.
The plot starts off as a group of these conscripted children, so-called Human Debris, violently take out their overseers. Our IBO poster boy and primary Gundam pilot, Mikazuki Augus, shows his penchant for quiet violence early on; his demeanor makes Heero Yuy seem absolutely happy-go-lucky by comparison. However, Mika’s not some reserved psychopath looking to get off by killing others. He’s driven by the need to survive as well as getting vengeance on those who have hurt or killed his comrades. This is in contrast to his best friend Orga Itsuka, the Tekkadan boss who is generally more cool and collected. Make no mistake, Orga will also take out any who stand in Tekkadan’s way, but his more reserved manner makes him a natural leader. Rounding out our trio of leads is Kudelia Aina Bernstein, initially an activist who is transported by Tekkadan and later becomes a critically important figure in the larger political sphere. Kudelia’s growth in particular over the series’ run is fascinating, as she’s forced to confront many uncomfortable truths, overcoming them with skill.
The deluge of great characters in IBO doesn’t stop there. We’ve got the charming rogue Naze Turbine (affectionally dubbed “Space Fellini” by the fandom), enemy aces Fareed McGillis and Gaelio Boudoin, and more. One of the series’ main antagonists (if you can even call him that) has a past that is truly horrible, much as the former Human Debris in Tekkadan had their own dark origins. Beyond our mainstays and supporting cast, IBO features a wealth of great characters, practically an overabundance of such. Countless Tekkadan soldiers, Gjallahorn functionaries, aristocrats, mercenaries, and random civilians we only see a few times are given plenty of personality.
I know, I know, let’s get to the war machines. Our lead unit, the Gundam Barbatos, goes through quite a few iterations and upgrades over the course of the series goes on as machine is constantly rebuilt and repaired with salvaged parts. The same goes for the rest of the Gundams and most other mobile suits in Tekkadan’s possession, giving the series a much more realistic feel. When you don’t have limitless repair facilities and spare machinery, you make do with what you have! The various Gundams are named after demons from the Ars Goetia, and the clever reasoning behind this is explained in the second season, alongside a new and terrifying function for Mobile Armors. Finally, there’s also much more of a focus on ground combat with mobile workers (tanks) as well as shipboard assaults in orbit. This helps keep to keep battles tense and fresh instead of just mobile suit battle after mobile suit battle.
In case you haven’t gotten the gist of it yet, IBO is absolutely fantastic. Gorgeous animation, amazing characters, some of the finest mecha design we’ve seen in a long time, all culminating in a truly surprising ending. This really makes the series a must-watch. If the comedy of the Gundam Build Fighters series wasn’t your cup of tea, then jump right back into Gundam proper with IBO.