What They Say:
A group of child soldiers—Mikazuki Augus, Orga Itsuka, and several others—are sent to protect a young aristocrat seeking to liberate a Martian city from Earth’s rule. When an outside force threatens those involved, Mikazuki must head into battle using a war-era relic—the Gundam Barbatos.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the English language dub in the same, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is one that’s surprising that the dub didn’t get a 5.1 bump but we can make plenty of easy guesses as to why. The stereo mix is solid for the show where it works the forward soundstage well as the action moves across seamlessly with plenty of good moments of directionality and impact as needed. It may not rumble the bass all that much but the mecha fights are engaging throughout and the dialogue has its moments of placement here and there that adds to a few scenes. The show has all the standard elements of a Gundam series and works it as you’d expect in a clean and clear fashion.
Originally airing in 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes of this set are spread across two discs in a nine/four format. Animated by Sunrise, the show has all the right looks for a modern Gundam series with strong backgrounds as needed, fantastic mechanical design and animation that really flows smoothly when it’s in action, and character designs that hit certain sweet spots without becoming caricatures for the most part. The encoding for the show captures all of this very well with a lot of detail to be had in the mecha and the backgrounds for the ships, whether in command or in the hangar areas, while the planet based material has its own strengths – particularly with color design. Fans of the show will definitely like the high-quality release we get here as it delivers on all the strengths of the show.
The packaging for this release is nicely handled as we get an o-card with it that replicates the case artwork that has a good look about it. With the black stripe along the top that adds to the weight of the show nicely, the main visual of Orga with the mobile suit against the starfield has the weight of war presented in the right manner while also showing his worn nature in the overall image. The back cover has a couple of shots from the show that don’t really sell it well and while we get the expanded starfield as the background the material on top of it is kind of minimal, with a simple summary of the premise and no extras to dig into. There’s a lot of empty space. The bottom has the production and technical information as it covers the two formats in a clean and easy to read format. The set does have a reversible cover with Gaeili getting his chance to shine.
The menu design for this keeps things simple but effective with the logo through the middle and lots of animation playing behind it. This draws you in easily with some fun mecha scenes and visuals that sets the mood and achieves exactly what it needs to. The navigation along the bottom avoids the dreaded color bar and goes for something a little theme-oriented with the smaller black strip and the blue shading to make it feel like a futuristic console piece and it looks good both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback. It’s a quick and easy to use menu since there’s nothing here besides setup and the episode selection overall.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first “season” of Iron-Blooded Orphans brings us to a pretty solid concluding point by the end of it while also obviously being more than open-ended enough for the second season to come with all the really big solar system altering material. I enjoyed the previous set fairly well, though you could remove the Gundam and just have a solid mecha show with a few familiar traits, because this really doesn’t feely heavily like a Gundam show in a lot of ways, which is kind of strange. The focuses that it worked are just as strong in the back half of the season with child soldiers and the nature of war as well as the way people are oppressed for the gain of others. These are familiar elements to be sure to the franchise and they’re worked well enough… for a young audience. There’s no real depth to be had here when you have the real world aspects of these being talked about regularly.
The early part of this set continues to work the space based adventures as things are set with Teiwaz and his greater sponsor that Kudelia has aligned with to try and do some additional negotiations for in exchange for the help she’s getting. That has the group headed toward Earth once again and our first encounter with the colonies of this iteration of the franchise. It’s amusing in that they look simpler and less interesting here than they did in the original series back in the 70’s. This colony group, Dort, has a kind of standard layout where one of them is focused on production with slave wages and living while the others are better off and more normal, with families, corporations, and so forth. The team has to split to achieve their goals with Orga and most of them heading to deliver the goods they contracted for while Kudelia and a few others head off for some necessary shopping since she’s going to have to do some politicking on Earth and needs to look the part.
Both arcs work well as they do eventually combine. The dock workers and the like are excited by the shipment but it’s a shock to Orga and the rest that they were delivering weapons to them. A revolt is in the making because of how bad conditions are and they’re getting caught up in it since it’s all tipped off by someone very quickly, resulting in a quick spreading revolution in the colony that struggles with the forces at hand. The Dort folks don’t dig into things too deeply as to their reasoning, going for a kind of simple overview, but it factors into what we’ve seen with the child labor and how some, like Biscuit and his sisters, escaped to Mars because of their older brother who went to work for one of the corporations. The revolution is one that does not go easily but it does go quickly in the grand scheme of things.
Kudelia’s story where she’s out there with Mika and Fumitan takes its own turn where there’s the obvious cuteness of Mika’s uncertainty about such places considering his own origins. But as the revolution takes shape and her role starts to form in it we get one of those classic pivotal moments that while tragic will help her ascend to hopefully do more good. The forces aligned against her in trying to stop her from reaching Earth have been embedded in her life for a while, much to her surprise, and an assassination attempt in the streets while on camera just makes for great television when you get down to it. It helps to make her name heard throughout the system, spreading in a viral way, and leads to her using a different camera team as part of the overall escape from Dort to give them cover and show just how the Gjallarhorn forces are operating in some pretty grim ways.
As is the case with Gundam shows, this part of the series is one where it shifts locations in a big way. After starting out on Mars and spending its time in space plus the colonies, a good chunk of this brings us to Earth at long last. While I think they miss out in some ways on really showing the impact it has on these kids even compared to a terraformed Mars, it’s definitely fun to see them exposed to a range of things – including a fish meal that wigs them out pretty well. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the mix once they get there and try to establish contact with Makanai, someone they think they can make inroads with for support on Mars and the independence movement there. It’s a fun series of events because it lets Kudelia take center stage and work some political stuff while everyone else just adjusts to being on Earth. But, as fate would have it, there’s fighting to be had and some serious losses start to hit that over the course of it really starts to shake the crew. So much of what makes this group work is the presence and charisma/honesty of Orga that seeing him really get taken down by some of these losses shakes morale in some surprising ways. Again, these are all things that aren’t exactly glossed over but it’s not given the depth that it needs to really be effective as opposed to just a bullet point on the adventure.
The Earth adventure is one that has a singular goal overall of getting Kudelia aligned with Makanai and to get him into a better position of power to help. That means the kind of odd travel choices, such as using the train to transport the company, and an elaborate plan to get the two of them into the last-minute election while Gjallarhorn forces try to stop them outside the city – an event that would shut most everything down in the real world. While it is a kind of a mess in how this plays out there are a lot of good things about it. The use of Carta as a motivation point that allows McGillis to reveal his true nature along the way works well but it comes with a caveat in that pretty much all of the Gjallarhorn characters barely feel superficial at best. We get some nods to their dynamics but they’ve had sketchy foundations for so long that as they now start to take a greater role for the second season it exposes the weakness even more. That said, I thoroughly loved the sequence where Carta issues her challenge with a thirty-minute setup for the fight only for Mika to just blaze forth to try and kill her and those with her after the losses they experienced. The rules of war are followed on Earth but that’s not who Tekkadan are.
And we get a bit more with masked guy that’s playing to one of the most eye-rolling aspects of Gundam series that try to recreate what Char Aznable is in the UC continuity. None have done it and it almost always just feels poorly done or goofy. Please stop trying to capture that magic in a bottle again.
While I have a number of gripes with the series in how it works what it’s doing as I keep (foolishly) expecting shows like this to mature after this long, Iron-Blooded Orphans continues to work its themes well. The nature of the kids and what they’re facing is dealt with decently but mostly when it digs into Orga and Mika more than anyone else, or as commentary by some of the “adults” in the room. The space based adventures and time on the colonies is definitely a lot of fun here with some good characters in the mix while the shift to Earth opens things up even more, though it lacks the kind of exposition we needed earlier in the run to establish how it functions and the web of connections that exists. Never mind the minimal bits we get on the Calamity War that finally explains some of the systems that the kids use to work the mobile suits and the importance of the Gundam’s themselves. It’s almost like some of it was shoehorned in to make it a Gundam series.
Funimation’s release is definitely solid when it comes to the show and it has to be as there’s nothing else here, not even clean opening and closing sequences or any other extras beyond some trailers. It’s a sharp looking release but Gundam releases are notoriously slim these days in terms of extras, new and old shows alike.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: November 14th, 2017
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.