Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans- A Postmodern Tragedy The birth of modern grimdark fantasy and the use of tragedy has once again become popular like it did back in Ancient Greece. This can be seen in Japanese light novels and manga, but nowhere is it more apparent than in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans. Sunrise's latest Gundam series from 2015. This is a analysis blog of the series, and why I consider it to be a modern tragedy. First we will break each season down, and then I will state why I think that the series is a tragedy, combining real life references and symbols to help echo this claim.
Iron Blooded Orphans (IBO) was written by Mari Okada, and directed by Tatsyuki Nagai and is the latest in the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. The Gundam franchise is no stranger to tragedies, and it is since it's inception been about the loss of war. One could say that the first Mobile Suit Gundam is a statement against war, and many Gundam series have either tried to continue this tradition to some point.
IBO's main viewpoint character and protagonist is Mikazuki Augus, a pilot and human debris for the Chryse Guard Security (CGS). Human debris describe orphan children with nothing else to do except fight on the battlefield or sent to human labor that adults won't do. Since Mars is effectively a colony of earth's major powers it has lost human rights, and Cryse is one of many cities on Mars that seeks independence. That is where Kudelia Aina Bernstein enters the pictures, and her involvement will change CGS and in fact start the wheels turning on the plot. Kudelia Aina Bernstein needs to get to Earth, so she can start a Mars Independence movement. She hires CGS, but internal conflicts in the organization as well as the military might of Gjallarhorn stands in her way. Gjallarhorn is a military power that keeps the peace on Mars and Earth, it is a massive organization that serves as the antagonists of the series. Eventually, the CGS is dismantled when confronted with Ghallarhorn, but the children soldiers led by Orga Itsuka, Mika's childhood friend rebel against CGS and form a new organization in it's wake called Tekkadan.
Tekkadan just like it's CGS past, is not a benign organization and Orga pushes for one thing, the selfish act of finding a place for these human debris to belong. Backed without sponsors and in a world full of adults that use Tekkadan creates a narrative of important decisions undertaken by children in a world that only seeks to abuse them. Eventually, Orga aligns with Naze Turbine and his organization the Turbines to safely find a way to Earth. Which culminates in Orga joining the mafia-like organization Teiwaz for monetary backing. This allows Tekkadan to start other jobs and eventually gets Kudealia to Earth to meet with Makanai Togonosuke a politician who seeks to use both Tekkadan and Kudelia Aina Bernstein as his own puppets.
The first season structure is a series of rising actions which ends with the disgracing of Gjallarhorn due to a renegade soldier named McGillis Fareed who sees the organization as corrupt. He uses his own friends trust including Gaelio Bauduin and Carta Issue as collateral just to get his way. He is seemingly a tactician and intelligent, and helps Tekkadan get to Earth. His experiments with Ein Dalton to allow the Alaya-Vinjana System, to allow adults to use the man-machine interface. It is introduced early in the series which allows Mika and others to use Gundam Frames. It was considered banned after the Calamity War, but McGillis's research would be Gjalljorn's doom, but also prelude to the events in the second season.
The first season ends with Tekkadon considered a heroic revolutionary organization. Kudelia Aina Burnstein is dubbed the Maiden of Revolution by Noblis Gordan, her financier and secretly the plotter of her assassination. It is given tons of praise, but there are those who do not like the rise of the human debris. Orga will go from a young man who dreamed of something better for his family to be pushed into more of the limelight. This change is present in the second season as Orga allows Tekkadan to be split between two branches an Earth Branch and a Mars Branch. Meanwhile Kudelia Aina Bernstein who helped Makanai Togonosuke rise to power in Arbrau, one of earth's powers based in Edmonton, creates the Admoss Company. She seeks to gain economic liberation for Mars in a way to help Tekkadan and others like them.
At first it seems that everything is going smoothly for Tekkadan. Gjallajorn has become weakened. But, slowly seeds of dissent coming from multiple positions start to level against Tekkadan. First is Gjalljorn, and it's main military power the Ariarnhod Fleet led by the Seven Stars of Gjallarhorn member Rustal Elion. At first Rustal does his dirty work behind agents such as Galan Mossa, Iok Kujan and Julieta Juris. But, Tekkadan is also assaulted from their allies in Teiwaz, mostly by Jasley Donomikols the second to McMurdo Barriston the leader of the organization. Jasley will eventually conspire with Tekkadan's enemies to create tons of tragic events for the children.
It can be said that the children started to grow into adults in the second season, but this doesn't end for happiness for most people. Galan Mossa as an independent penetrates Tekkadan's Earth ranks and ends up fighting a proxy war, blocks communication between branches, and starts the tainting of Tekkadan's name. This causes loss for characters, some of them newer or secondary in the first part of the series. This is important for a couple of reasons. We see Tekkadan's growth, but also how it is initiated with new blood and how it's rise to power has affected the organization. It is the start of the loosening threads that will lead to the fall of Tekkadan.
The tone briefly changes when Tekkadan's new mining operation for Admoss Company finds relics of the calamity war. A disastrous war that not only saw the rise of Gjallarhorn, but also ended the use of the Alaya-Vinjana system and created the hero Agnika Kaieru into legend. The actions of Iok Kujan results in the reawakening of a Mobile Armor as he suspects McGillis's treachery. This is at first an arc that comes out of random. But, it is important for a few reasons as it introduces the character Vidar as a main antagonist and hand of Rustal Elion and helps shed light on McGillis's character and his obsession with power and the legend of Agnika Kaieru. Not to mention the resurfacing of the old technology of the past. The small mini-arc ends with Mika and his Gundam Barbartos destroying the Mobile Armor, but the end result is Mika becoming paralyzed as a result.
The event humiliates Iok Kujan to the point of joining forces with Jasley Donomikols in a joint force to bring down Tekkadan. But, first Jasley deals with Tekkadan's allies in The Turbines. They use the weapons of the Calamity War to frame The Turbines getting them alienated from McMurdo and Teiwaz and even Tekkadan. This results in Naze Turbine and Amida Arca's deaths by Kujan who uses the illegal weapons on them. Jasley then kills Lafter Frankland who had feelings for Akihiro the other Gundam pilot in Tekkadan. This angers Tekkadan to action, but Kujan is punished for his transgressions leaving Jasley isolated and brings his own doom by Mika's Hand.
During this event, McGillis realizes his dreams and rebels against Gjallarhorn using Agnika Kaieru's Gundam Bael. The mysterious Vidar is revealed to be Gaelio Bauduin his former friend whom McGillis used to achieve his goals. He has teamed up with the AI remains of Ein Dalton to defeat him. McGillis is saved by Mika and his Barbatos. It is here that Tekkadan and Orga especially starts to see that teaming up with McGillis was a bad move.
After a failed last battle, Tekkadan loses face against all odds losing half of their mobile suits in the process. Defeated, Tekkadan returns to Mars, but has to do in secret due to the propaganda labeling them as terrorists and rebels. This is all orchestrated by Rustal Elion who uses Tekkadan and McGillis as scapegoats to allow for Gjallahorn's resurgence. Tekkadan's back is against the wall, but with help from Kudelia and Makanai as well as the surviving Turbines decide to leave Mars and get new identities, but first they must dig out an old tunnel to transport Tekkadan out of their base to Cryse and to do that must face off against the full might of Gjallahorn. In an attempt to contact the outside world, Orga goes to Cryse, but after successfully contacting Makanai and gaining support from Turbine he is assassinated by agents of Noblis Gordon.This results in a fierce battle, that ends up with taking the lives of Mika and Akihiro, but allows for Tekkadan's members to escape.
The second season shows the tragic consequences of aligning with McGillis. Everything goes wrong for Tekkadan because of it. They are targeted by a weakened Gjallahorn and become martyrs. Which shows that the reference of 'The Maiden of Revolution' aka Joan of Arc which was first attributed to Kudelia, is also a symbol of Tekkadan. Just like Tekkadan's meaning of an blood iron flower that grows. The blood of Tekkadan turned them into martyrs of a different kind. They are the tragic heroes of this tale just like Joan of Arc. In the end their deaths allow for Kudelia's dream of Martian Independence and equality at the hands of ironically Rustal Elion.
Power is also a theme in the show, as McGillis is infatuated with it. He first sees Mika and Barbartos as beautiful and a likeness of his own. He seeks to obtain ultimate power for that he orchestrates the rebellion within Gjallahorn. But, he is a child despite being an adult. He doesn't plan against if his plans don't come to fruition and realies too much on Tekkadan and his obtaining Bael, it is all an illusion of power. In the first season he uses Gaelio Bauduin, Carta Issue and Ein Dalton to get his way. Just like he uses Tekkadan in the second season, to both equally disatrous results. He himself is a tragic character as he is killed by Gaelio, in the end still sharing that he abandoned his friends as it distanced himself from his goals. The same goal that failed and got himself killed in the process.
Many other character arcs have tragic endings, Orga's especially. His character arc starts as him just wanting to find a place where Tekkadan belongs. But, he is tempted by McGillis's words to become King of Mars, an impossible goal, and as we see it unfold it ends with Orga's death. But, in his death allows Mika who always did what Orga told him to find peace for himself on the battlefield. It was a great way to link the two characters, and in the end showed their friendship which transcended life and death. Through the deaths and tragedies we see the terror of war. And, unlike other Gundam he see the repercussions of war. We see children die, people torn from their loved ones. The acts of corrupt soldiers killing children and women. There is a real death toll, and in the end an appreciation of life. The series ends with Mars getting independence both thanks to Kudelia Aina Bernstein's diligence and to Rustal Elion getting rid of the aristocratic rot of Gjallarhorn and replacing it with a more democratic regime. IBO shows the affects of war as well as how it is resolved. But, in the end with former Tekkadan member Ride killing Noblis Gordon shows that war is a cycle and never ending. Most Gundam showcase a hatred of war, but IBO is one of the few that really shows it. It was a tragedy, that came with many pitfalls. Children soldiers who only knew how to fight and the people that believed in them. The people who in blood would raise their flags to the world in an effort to be heard. Iron Blooded Orphans showed how war is a tragedy that affects life, and how it will always continue on even after the battles are over. Thanks for everything IBO