Ever since the first incarnation of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise premiered in 1979, countless anime fans have seen the various series’ as a gateway to giant robot anime. Iron Blooded Orphans, Gundam’s latest entry in its vast library, seems as though it will fit that archetype very well.
At the center of Iron Blooded Orphans are Mikazuki (called Mika) and Orga, child soldiers who have undergone genetic enhancement to better pilot “mobile workers”, low-level mechs that are used for manual labor and basic defense. They are part of a mercenary group known as “CGS”, where the adults abuse and exploit the children, often using them as human shields while they enjoy the lions share of the money they make from jobs. After accepting an escort job for a young woman named Kudelia Aina Bernstein, an influential figure in the movement for independence on Mars, they are targeted by the powerful peacekeeping organization Gjallarhorn. Seemingly outgunned and outnumbered, CGS unveils its trump card: a 300-year old mobile suit code named “Barbatos”, which can only be piloted by Mika. The series follows Mika and Orga as they lead their mercenary group and protect Kudelia from powers that wish to see her dead.
What has really stood out to me in the 3 episodes that have been released so far is the construction of our protagonist, Mika. To be blunt, he’s a stone-cold killer. It’s still too early to tell if Iron Blooded Orphans will visit the classic “his past crimes come back to haunt him/burden him with guilt” trope, but as it stands right now Mika is probably one of the most emotionally distant/”can’t be bothered with the concept of guilt” heroes we’ve seen in a Gundam series. If you have any lingering doubt by episode 3, it will be easily dispelled by the end of it. I’m hoping to see some more development of Mika in the coming episodes, because even though his development thus far is interesting and different, if they can successfully diversify his personality traits he will definitely be one of the stronger heroes we’ve seen in the Gundam universe.
Both the opening and ending theme songs for Iron Blooded Orphans are fantastic. Lauren Orsini at Anime News Network describes the opening song not just as a theme, but a “call to action”, and it’s hard to disagree. It reminds me of Gurren Lagaan’s “Row Row Fight the Powah” in this way.
The animation is good, but you can easily see some of the “in-between” frame artists work, which can sometimes be so bad that it distracts you from the proper animation. I know that these are techniques that many series use, but it seems like I haven’t noticed it in other series as easily as I noticed it with Iron Blooded Orphans.
Overall, Iron Blooded Orphans is a gritty addition to the Gundam universe with a solid story, well-developed characters and great music. Definitely keep your eye on this one!