Is there such a thing as the 13-episode rule?
It seems funny to think you’d still be unsure of what to make of a series when it’s half-over (especially if it’s a multi-cour) but that’s exactly where I am with Tekketsu no Orphans. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I almost love it. But there are others times when it leaves me shaking my head. There’s the germ of something quite special here – something that might even be unique in the Gundam mythology – but it just can’t seem to take root.
The sense I get in watching Orphans is the same as driving a fine car that’s mis-firing. It runs well some of the time, but one of the cylinders just isn’t firing like it should. It still handles beautifully and the seats are comfortable, but it’s not quite right. This show is a very complicated construction – we’re dealing with arguably the most revered franchise in anime, and we’ve added in one of the medium’s best known directors in Nagai and arguably its most polarizing writer in Okada. I get the feeling that the chemistry just isn’t working, not yet at least. Everyone is trying to match their well-defined artistic temperament to this well-defined universe, and the fit isn’t perfect.
This episode is a really good example of the inconsistency which seems to be the most consistent part of Iron-Blooded Orphans. As most of them have, the ep saves its best material for the final ten minutes or so (which is actually a good thing). But the emotional scenes in the first half are so heavy-handed that it’s hard to take most of them seriously. I thought we were done with the Akihiro-Masahiro melodrama, but not satisfied with last week’s theatrics, Orphans gives us a face-to-face-in-space tearful goodbye. It’s too much – the whole storyline has been dialed up to eleven, and too easy to predict. It has emotional weight, but no literary restraint.
I like the scenes where the Tekkadan child soldiers have boarded the Brewers’ ship, only to find even younger and more underfed child soldiers waiting for them. And we get a funeral scene, which can often be a good opportunity for a moment of grace (even the generally execrable Last Exile: Fam found its finest hour in such a scene). But again, I just think the whole thing is a bit heavy-handed and manipulative – it’s a pretty good moment that could have been great with just a little more restraint.
The saving graces for me are twofold, the first being MacGillis. It’s not so much that his shared scenes with his child bride are so wonderful on their own, but after being bombarded by cartoon villainy over the past two weeks, it’s refreshing to get back to an antagonist who isn’t a grotesquerie, isn’t an open book. And second, of course, is Mikazuki – while it may be a bit of a narrative crutch, the event that closes the episode certainly ramps up the dramatics in a big way.
At this point, anything which begins to flesh out Mika as a character is a positive in my book. Kudel’s words to him – “You’re enjoying this – killing men!” seem to have struck a nerve (even if they were a case of the pot calling the kettle black). Getting any reaction out of Mika is a step forward for the series – just knowing he’s capable of being creeped out by his own implacable facade. As for the kiss (no, not that kiss – though it did plant the idea in Mika’s head), well – we’ll see where it goes, but for what it was it was the best moment of the episode. It again seems to reveal some facet of humanity in Mika that’s recognizable (curiosity if nothing else) and his reaction (just blow the dust off and keep eating) is perfectly in-character. Poor Atra, sure – though I think she could use some better goals in life anyway – but if we can actually see Mika turn into an interesting person, Tekketsu no Orphans will have taken a huge step forward as a story.