By Andrew Osmond.
On 17th August, Anime Limited will release the second season of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans on Collectors Blu-ray. It’s a direct continuation of the first, but takes the story and characters into different territory. To say more will involve SPOILERS – there’s a write-up of the first season here.
As the write-up of season one noted, it ended with the story feeling pretty much resolved – so much that viewers might have been surprised to see the announcement in the season finale that Orphans would return. It was clearly planned in advance, though. There was only half a year between seasons, with season one ending in spring 2016 and the sequel starting next Autumn.
By season one’s end, the boy’s brigade called Tekkadan had completed its first epic mission. It has delivered the aristocrat Kudelia – increasingly idolised as a Joan of Arc-style saviour – to Earth and secured the election of the exiled wily sage Makanai as a Prime Minister. The boys of Tekkadan also won fame, a strong network of allies, and the promise of a more equably prosperous Mars, even if the planet’s independence wasn’t secured.
In a parallel plotline, the officer McGillis had succeeded in rising among Earth’s most powerful families, toppling his adoptive father, and it only cost McGillis the friends he duped and sacrificed. Even if he hadn’t sported a silver mask in the first season, McGillis would have plainly have been a version of Char, the iconic anti-hero in earlier Gundam series.
So where will the story go now? Boldly, the second season declines to give a clear answer for several episodes, trusting that viewers are invested enough in the characters from the previous season. Pretty much all the surviving players are back, joined by several new faces and one guy hidden behind a metal mask who’s not McGillis.
Mikazuki and Orga are still central to much of the action, but some supporting characters have expanded roles. For example, there’s an important subplot early on focusing on Takaki – the small Tekkadan boy who suffered a near-fatal injury in the first season – and his friendship with Aston, one of the “Human Debris” slave children liberated from space pirates.
The early episodes return to a recurring theme in the Gundam franchise – the way peace and victory can dissolve so quickly into fresh conflicts. At first, the threats to the characters seem almost petty. A disgruntled formed supporter of Kudelia sends more space pirates their way. In the subsequent fighting, Tekkadan is hired once again by McGillis, strengthening the ties between them.
Back on the ground, a unit of Tekkadan stationed on Earth is cut off from their comrades and tricked into a ground war, secretly instigated by a faction fighting McGillis. And on Mars, centuries-old mecha are being unearthed, including a deadly machine unlike anything Tekkadan has seen before…
As in the first season, we’re constantly reminded that most of the main characters are children; brutalised and damaged child soldiers, but children just the same. They see the world in simple ways; while they have their freedom, they can still be manipulated and exploited for other people’s agendas. At times, Orphans feels like an alternative version of the first (1979) Gundam series, if the crew of the White Base had been naïve kids whom Char could tempt into fighting his battles.
The show often reminds us of the absence of Biscuit, Orga’s beloved comrade who perished in the first season. Biscuit had been the voice of caution, of moderation, warning Orga about being too ambitious about what he and Tekkadan could accomplish. With Biscuit gone, where will Orga’s determination to move forward take him? This is a series where the heroine Kudelia rejoices to hear of Mikuzaki’s interest in farming on Maris and dreams of a lasting peace for her world. That’s just after we’ve seen Mikazuki commit a cold-blood killing for his leader Orga, like a junior 007.
But there are still lighter things in this dark series. For example, several episodes into the story, we learn that two of the adults have begun a heart-warming romantic relationship… and you’ll never guess who those two characters are.