Category Archives: Anime Reviews

Cromartie High School – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sakigake!! Cromartie Koukou

 

Similar: School Rumble

Pop Team Epic

Detroit Metal City

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy

Length: 26 episodes (half-length)

 

Positives:

  • Surprisingly funny
  • Consistent in humour and style

Negatives:

  • Dirt cheap visuals

(Request an anime for review here.)

When I first start Cromartie High School, I think it will end up as a “Quick Review” alongside several other requested comedies. However, I watch a few episodes (they are half-length) and then find myself wanting more the next day. And more the day after that. Before I know it, I have watched the series in full and enjoyed myself throughout.

Cromartie High School is about an eclectic group of high schoolers doing seemingly ordinary high school things in the most unordinary ways. I have never meant eclectic more than here. The first episode introduces a few characters, including a guy who looks like Freddie Mercury that they decide to call Freddie. It’s Freddie Mercury, okay – clearly him! He never says a word, though he can sing like a superstar. He also rides to school on a horse. Why? He’ll never tell. There’s a robot (often mistaken for a vending machine), a gorilla, and even the yakuza as part of the class.

One episode about a rival gang wanting to get the leader of the Cromartie gang has them spooked when they meet the increasingly weird characters in attendance at Cromartie High School. Aliens pay a visit.

The humour in Cromartie takes the absurd and places it in the normal. The gorilla, for instance, is like an ordinary student, except, you know, a gorilla. The running joke with his is everyone trying to determine if he is actually a student. One gang leader, despite his outward tough guy persona, just wants to be a great comedian. He internal monologues everything as a comedian critiquing other people’s comedy. The running joke with him is how he takes everything as an attempt at comedy. Absurd meets ordinary.

Consistency of humour and style makes Cromartie High School a success for me. It isn’t a random collection of unrelated jokes, jumping from one wacky scenario to another wacky scenario from a different anime. The consistency, the running jokes, allows the humour to build over time. The escalation makes me enjoy it more the later we get into the series.

One character I particularly like is the gangster who gets motion sick easily, but can’t let anyone know lest it ruin his image as the toughest guy around. He can’t open his mouth or he will surely vomit, so we hear his thoughts about how he does all in his power to keep it down. He’s willing to help hijackers if it means avoiding a plane trip. His classmates throw him a birthday party on a boat. He can’t ever voice his objections, of course, so he must endure as things only get worse. It’s great!

The cast is great in general. I love how none of them look like high school students whatsoever. I laughed hardest when they see a new guy and are like, “What’s he doing here? He must be 30!” Bruv, he looks the same age as you lot!

Humour is highly subjective, so we could have one person look at this and say, “I don’t get it. This just isn’t funny. Too random.” While another could say, “Funniest shit I’ve ever seen!” For me, it’s not Fumoffu or Nozaki levels of funny, but it is humorous enough and consistent to see me through to the end. The half-length episodes are a plus in avoiding drag.

On another note, I can imagine the art will put off some people. There is no getting around it – Cromartie High School looks like crap. There is barely any animation and they reuse stills. Even still frames are minimal in quality. Wouldn’t surprise me to hear the art team consisted of one artist for drawing, animation, and colouring. The only nice thing to say about the art is the occasional visual gag.

Cromartie High School is a niche comedy on a niche budget.

Art – Very Low

This doesn’t look good with barely any animation, repeated stills, and shoddy line work. Some visual humour is nice, but there isn’t much.

Sound – Medium

The voice acting, whether in English or Japanese, is surprisingly good when compared alongside the art. Music is weak.

Story – Medium

An eclectic group of high school students get up to who knows what. With consistent humour that builds over short stories in a variety of scenarios, Cromartie High School is an enjoyable romp of older anime comedy.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime comedy fans. One episode probably isn’t enough to get a feel for Cromartie High School. Give it a few. Besides, they’re short.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Vinland Saga – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Vinland Saga

 

Similar: Dororo

The Heroic Legend of Arslan

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Action Drama

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good music

Negatives:

  • No effort at historical realism
  • Empty protagonist
  • No likeable characters
  • Super powered warriors when convenient
  • Art is riddled with problems

(Request an anime for review here.)

It shouldn’t be difficult to write a story about Vikings marauding the coasts of Europe. At minimum, it shouldn’t be difficult to know that Vikings didn’t act like high school anime characters. It should be easy, yet Vinland Saga fails in nearly all possible measures.

I need to go from the start, where an early sign warned of the direction for which this anime headed. Thors, leader of the village and father to Thorfinn, finds a runaway slave on his land. His family tries to rehabilitate the slave, but he soon dies. Worse yet, his owners come to collect and Thors, being the honourable Viking that he is, refuses to return him even as a dead body, offering a few cows instead. He buries the slave.

I understand what the author is going for here – difficult not to – however, the execution shows a lack of thought into the time and place of this story. Thors acts like a modern day person objecting to slavery. This likely stems from the author’s inability to separate his personal feelings from the characters within the story. Some authors think it makes them noble or better people if they write moral characters, regardless of whether it fits the story. This only makes them bad writers. A great writer doesn’t just write the good guys that align with their personal morals, while all villains are everything they see as reprehensible.

This slave incident is minor, in the grand scheme, yet it is an early indicator of problems to come. In 99% of fiction, every core problem has a presence within the first chapter or two (or first episode or two, in the case of anime). It’s why author agents and publishers can reject a novel within a few pages. If characters are shallow in the finale, they will be so in the opening as well. Mistakes echo in every chapter.

The author wants you to know how noble Thors is so that when he gets into an ambush later, executed by the mercenary Askeladd at the behest of the Danish king (Thors deserted his army years ago), you buy into the idea that he would let himself die for the sake of his honour and morals. Thors challenges Askeladd to a duel and wins. It doesn’t take a genius intelligence to foresee that a sellsword driven by gold wouldn’t hold up the terms of the duel. That isn’t the problem. We run into heightened levels of stupidity when Thors, who up until now has outsmarted and outfought the entire mercenary crew singlehanded, refuses to dishonour himself and “cheat”, even though his death leaves his village without a leader, without their strongest (possibly only) fighter, and his family without a father. For honour.

I hate stupid characters. An honourable character isn’t stupid. Someone who doesn’t save themselves, not even for the sake of others, just to preserve their honour is loathsome, however.

And so, Thorfinn makes it his life’s mission to kill Askeladd. Does he turn himself into a killer so he can stab him at the first opportunity? No. Thorfinn joins Askeladd’s crew, fights for him, does his dirty work, all so he can prove himself worthy of an honourable duel to the death.

Mistakes echo in every chapter.

This stupidity compounds further when we talk fighting prowess. After a jump of some years, Thorfinn is a trained warrior, often sent in first like a scout or assassin capable to dispatching a dozen enemy soldiers with ease. There is no doubt of his deadliness. He could kill Askeladd any day now, whether in his sleep or with his back turned. That wouldn’t be honourable though.

I hate stupid characters and Thorfinn is the stupidest in the lot.

Speaking of his deadliness, Vinland Saga has a crippling issue of nonsensical character strength. Looking at this show, you would imagine we were in for a realistic Viking saga. It couldn’t further from. This first rears its nonsensical head when Thors leaps five metres into the air in the battle against Askeladd’s crew.

At first, I thought it was a minor exaggeration of strength, as was often done in folk tales of legendary warriors. However, one warrior fighting for the English can hurl boulders with the strength of a trebuchet using his bare hands. He can also mow down a half dozen soldiers with a single throw of a hand axe. It’s ridiculous.

The issue isn’t the strength (anime is no stranger to super powers). Rather, there is a problem in how it affects tone and breaks the in-story logic of the world. If a warrior were that strong, he could conquer the world. Just give him a cart of boulders and no fort stands a chance. The story avoids this pickle by conveniently forgetting that some characters are super powered when required. Thorfinn does duel Askeladd early on – after we see him massacre a squad – and one would think the kid had never held a weapon with the way he fought. Vinland Saga can’t decide if it wants to be a realistic Viking drama or a battle anime.

Not only is inconsistency a problem, it also makes action less interesting. One battle has Askeladd and co hired by a French nobleman to siege the castle of a rival nobleman. The enemy has a fortified position with view of open ground in front of their castle and a river protecting their rear, guarded up and down stream. The Vikings manage to bypass this defence by hoisting their longships on their shoulders and charging full tilt from the forest into the water. They run as if these boats are as heavy as a paperweight. No one gets tired either. If all trained warriors were this strong, that castle wouldn’t have lasted a day even without Viking help. Let’s not forget to make these same Vikings weak in the next fight so we can kill some off. It would have been better to go more supernatural – incorporate powers bestowed by the Norse gods or something – and work out clever uses than to have this nonsense. Or you go grounded and use some brainpower.

When I talk of realism, I don’t mean everything has to be exactly as it was in real Viking times. I’m talking of getting the tone and feel right. The recently reviewed Dororo is more realistic than this despite having monsters and magic. I praised it for how it truly feels like a nation gripped by famine during samurai times. The way the characters act – the way the monsters and magic affect them and the world all makes sense. Everything fits together.

In Vinland Saga, nothing works. You have these stupid overpowered characters that turn weak when needed. You have a protagonist with no depth beyond his “I’m angry and will kill you” attitude 24/7. Everyone acts like a modern day anime character. The big twist of the story makes Askeladd protagonist (he should have been from the start) and introduces enough allegiance flip-flopping to make you want to hook your brain through your nose.

Is Vinland Saga the worst anime? It is the worst Viking anime, sure. I hated Vinland Saga more and more with each passing episode. I do not recommend this to anyone. If you want Viking content, go watch the History channels Vikings instead.

Art – Low

I could show you many nice still of Vinland Saga. I would however be hiding the insane amount of CG and poor implementation. The number of scenes with characters running (read: sliding) across a CG ground are too many to count. Even the OP has one. This anime almost looks great, except there is something wrong in every shot.

Sound – Medium

Thorfinn’s performance is laughable. The script is rubbish for a historical Viking show. The one redeeming quality is the great soundtrack.

Story – Low

A Viking boy swears revenge against the mercenary that killed his father. With so many stupid character and inconsistent strengths, the feeble plot is the least of the problems here.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. I don’t recommend Vinland Saga, especially to Viking fans.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingInduces Stupidity

Code Geass: Re;surrection & Akito the Exiled – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Code Geass: Fukkatsu no Lelouch & Code Geass: Boukoku no Akito

 

Related: Code Geass (original timeline)

Code Geass movies (prequels – alternate timeline)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction

Length: Re;surrection: 1 hr. 52 min. movie

Akito the Exiled: 5 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • Animation and visuals in general hold strong
  • Resurrection’s villain has an interesting power
  • Akito the Exiled gives us a different view of the war

Negatives:

  • The alternate timeline is bad fan fiction
  • Far stupider than the main series
  • Lacks weight and consequence
  • Unjustified series revival

(Request an anime for review here.)

Warning: Contains implied spoiler for Code Geass – go watch the series first if you want to avoid any spoilers!

Of all the anime franchises out there, Code Geass is amongst the last I would have picked for a revival. It has, to this day, one of the best endings in the medium. Everything wraps up in a neat, satisfying end that doesn’t need further exploration. It’s done; leave it!

Later they announced the spin-off series Akito the Exiled to mixed reviews and it was largely apart from the series proper. So, whatever. Then they start the Code Geass Movies, which I thought was a simple cash grab that repackages the series into an a set of abridged films (Gundam often does this to maintain interest between new releases). Now we come to Resurrection, the fourth film that promises to continue to story from where the series ended. I look at the poster and see Lelouch featured. If you’ve seen the series but not the movies, you will understand my confusion at his involvement. That’s when I learn the movies changed key events from the original series.

Most notable amongst the changes is the reversal of several character deaths. Pivotal moments that had a significant impact on the story and characters undone without a second thought. One would imagine this wouldn’t go down well amongst fans – surely, the meaningful consequences are one of the key factors that drew them to Code Geass. However, while researching the production of the films and the motivations behind the changes, I would see comments underneath articles of such stupidity that it hurts to be distantly associated with them as fans of the same series. Things like, “Movie so much betta cuz [character] lives and [character] don’t make stpd decicion. Like if agree.” Mastery of language isn’t a strength amongst these commenters.

In discussion with my friend about Resurrection after having watched it together, he tells me of something called “saviour fan fiction”, where fans who don’t like that their favourite character/s died will rewrite the canon to have them survive and often help/save the day. Looking further into the background of these movies, I start seeing this everywhere. Almost everyone who likes the alternate timeline does so because some character doesn’t die. They don’t care that it undermines the story, that the challenges these characters faced is what gave them depth. If not for these complex character arcs, would they have liked the characters to begin with? Whom am I kidding – these saviour dimwits can’t see beyond the superficial.

I haven’t even talked about Resurrection yet.

Resurrection starts shortly after Lelouch brings peace to the world. This time of peace isn’t beneficial to all, however, for the Kingdom of Zilkhstan’s primary trade was in weapons and who needs those anymore? Their ruler, Princess Shamna, kidnaps Nunnally of the United Federations council and uses the girl to amplify her Geass power as tries to elevate her kingdom once more. Many characters from the previous story arrive to get her back.

There are so many problems here – even ignoring the alternate timeline changes – that I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start on the premise. No kingdom, were they as powerful as purported here, would collapse to rubble if they couldn’t sell weapons anymore. One, people would still buy weapons (though not as many) and two, what of their other industries? Did everyone in the kingdom work in weapon factories?

Then we have the characters. The news ones – most of them from the kingdom – are so forgettable. There is this one scene where the crippled prince has Suzaku in chains and starts whipping him with a cat o’ nine tails like it’s some fetish. It’s so random that my friend and I burst into laughter. I couldn’t tell you what the enemy fighters are about. The only new character with a hint of complexity is the princess. As for the returning characters, they are mere silhouettes of their former selves. The greatest issue here is the sheer number of them. It feels as if Resurrection wanted to include the entire cast from the original 50-episode series. Surely, production would be smart enough to know you can’t do this in under two hours. Then you remember this is just fan service to satiate the drooling saviour fan fic writers. Of course, go ahead, cram everyone in and make sure we get plenty of framed arse shots instead of character arcs.

The worst offender is Lelouch himself (to be fair, this is also because he’s the most important). He starts the film as a brain dead simpleton (literally) until CC restores him to health amidst this conflict – nice coincidence to have them hiding in the one village in the world where any conflict is happening. The moment he recovers, he’s back to his old self. No concerns whatsoever for how he got there to begin with after what he did to bring peace. Why do this, why even involve him if you’re going to undo everything? You could have used someone els— Oh, silly me. Of course – fan service!

They don’t even get the strategy right. Code Geass is known for smart characters and smart battles. It pits Lelouch in battles where brains matter more than brawn. Resurrection is nothing like that. Shamna has a cool power, full of potential for interesting battle scenarios. I won’t give it away, as it is the one good element of the story. All I’ll say is that it’s a power which is difficult to figure out. As such, Lelouch has to use deductive reasoning to figure out why she’s always one step ahead. It’s similar to L cracking how people are dying as if by the power of God in Death Note. Unlike that anime, where we see each step of the process, Resurrection rushes through the trial and error stage as Lelouch eliminates the possibilities.

If insistent on going through with this whole alternate timeline story, they should have at least turned this into a series. Everything is so rushed. We don’t get to know any of the new characters, the old characters only have a connection because of what we know from past stories, and the events jump from one to the next too quickly. This feels like a recap movie, not the definitive continuation of Code Geass.

Ahead of Resurrection, I thought I would check out the spin off series Code Geass: Akito the Exiled. This is part of the original timeline, taking place between seasons one and two. It is set in on the frontlines of Europe, where the Britannian Empire is invading the Europia United allied nations. We follow a secret military unit made up of people from all over Europe and Japanese street kids led by an aristocratic girl.

The first thing that jumps out to me is the accents in the dub. Set in Western Europe, they made the effort to give accents to characters from different countries, something I very much appreciate. They work – for the most part. The French accents, sadly, all use the wrong ‘r’ sound. It’s placed too far forward in the mouth (sounds more German) and makes me tick each time I hear it. An absolute minor nit-pick that most won’t matter to most – hell, most won’t even notice! – but I notice it every. damn. time.

Enough of accents. Akito the Exiled is better than I expected for a spin off series (the bar is set to low). Not to say it’s great or that it lives up to the Code Geass name. The action is engaging enough – could do with less CG – and the characters are fine, if a bit too simple. Unlike Resurrection, where the new introductions get 30 seconds of characterisation, Akito’s [almost] entirely new cast has far more depth and actual arcs. I should have mentioned Resurrection has no arcs.

I also like how it centres on a different part of the world. If you make a spin-off, it’s good to have something new. In fact, the worst aspects of the series are the tie-in elements to the original, namely the inclusion of Geass powers and the appearance of Lelouch. The powers feel tacked on and the villain’s power is a worse version of Lelouch’s Geass. He never uses it in an interesting manner. Would have been better without it.

Lelouch’s appearance is worse, as it comes across like a fan service cameo. He gets sent to take over the operation on the European front. The story sees a notable dive when he joins. I’m just asking myself the whole time why he’s there. The answer is obvious, of course – fan service – yet I still wonder.

Do I recommend either of these? Resurrection, definitely not; Akito the Exiled, maybe. The latter is decent for Code Geass fans that want to see more of the world, whereas the former undermines the value of the original. It should be offensive to any fan.

Art – High

The Code Geass continuations still look good – the movies more so than Akito the Exiled, where CG battle scenes are jarring amongst the 2D. Hard to fail here when coming off the back of the original.

Sound – Medium

There is a notable drop in script quality, though the actors still give it their all. The soundtrack, unlike the art, hasn’t maintained some level of quality. Utterly forgettable. Akito the Exiled’s writing is better.

Story – Low

Akito the Exiled shows us the war with Britannia on the European front, while Resurrection continues the series as a new threat rises in the time of peace. Akito the Exiled isn’t an awful supplement to the series, expanding the world and giving us a new set of characters. Resurrection, however, is bad fan fiction.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid the Code Geass movies, especially Resurrection. Give Akito the Exiled a try if you want more that isn’t garbage.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Disappointing

Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: MEMORIES

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Perfect Blue

Akira

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Horror Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 50 min. (3 short films)

 

Positives:

  • Magnetic Rose’s atmosphere and horror
  • Stink Bomb’s dark humour
  • Beautiful, grim art

Negatives:

  • Cannon Fodder has little to it

(Request an anime for review here.)

Memories is an anthology of three short films that brings together several big talents of the anime industry. All three are based on manga works from executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo (director of Akira), however are directed by three different directors.

Magnetic Rose, first of the three, comes from director Koji Morimoto (animator of Akira, Kiki’s Delivery Service) and writer Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue). This follows a pair of engineers working for a salvage company sent to investigate a distress call from an abandoned space station. Inside, they find a residence of such opulence that it would match European palaces of old. It isn’t abandoned either. The opera singer who once lived here seems alive in the very bolts that keep this place together. Hologram or hallucination, the two men can’t differentiate as she pulls them deeper into her tragic past.

Of the three, Magnetic Rose is easily the best in all regards. Whether talking story, art, music or atmosphere, this is a level above the rest. You immediately feel the styles of Morimoto and Kon. The measured pace, the emphasis on atmosphere and emotion over dialogue, the attention to detail in all of the art, and the psychological tension are telltale signatures. I get strong Dead Space vibes. The madder things get, the more it draws me in. I love it. The only area for improvement is in giving depth to the characters. There is enough here to work, but more wouldn’t have gone awry.

The second film is Stink Bomb under the direction of Tensai Okamura (creator of Darker Than Black). This one is more of a black comedy around a horror scenario. A lab tech tries his company’s experimental cold medicine and takes a nap at work. He awakens to find everyone dead. Turns out this wasn’t cold medicine at all. He has become a living gas bomb, only he doesn’t realise this as he makes his way back to Tokyo with the secret formula.

Stink Bomb feels like it would be a perfect fit as an episode to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It’s all about the ridiculous scenario – equal parts comedy and horror – without much to the characters or the story beyond that. The more the death toll rises, the funnier it gets. The visuals are great here, particularly in the animation.

Otomo himself directs the last of these films, Cannon Fodder. This is a simple story set in a steampunk city that revolves around firing cannons in an endless war. There are cannons everywhere. Instead of skylights, buildings simply have more cannons. We follow a cannon loader as he goes about a day on the job.

While the most unique visually, Cannon Fodder is the shallowest and least interesting of the three. It’s more of a presentation for a world concept than it is a complete story. I take this an allegory on Japan’s “salary man” work life, where one is slave to the company, no matter the abuse received from higher up, living each day to work so you can pay the bills to live, stuck in this endless “war”. We even have the contrast of the child who wants to become the cannon officer (orders when to fire cannons), as children often do when idolising what their parents do for work (parents haven’t the heart to tell them of reality). An interesting concept, but not the most memorable.

Overall, I highly recommend Magnetic Rose (the worst thing about this film is reminding me that Satoshi Kon isn’t around anymore to share more of his genius with us). Try Stink Bomb if you want to continue, and then you may as well finish Cannon Fodder to complete the anthology. You might want to end on Magnetic Rose to close with the best.

Art – Very High

All three films feature a different style – Cannon Fodder especially – under the guidance of different art directors, all of which succeed in augmenting the tone of their respective stories. The animation is beautiful too.

Sound – High

The voice work is good for the most part. Standouts of the audio department are the sound design of Cannon Fodder and everything audio in Magnetic Rose, which delivers a haunting atmosphere.

Story – High

Three short stories: engineers investigate a haunted space station in Magnetic Rose; a hapless chemist becomes walking death in Stink Bomb; a look at a day in the life of citizens living in a city all about firing cannons in Cannon Fodder. The order of appearance happens to be the descending order of quality.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch Magnetic Rose, try Stink Bomb, then finish with Cannon Fodder if you want to complete the set. Memories is also good for showing to those who aren’t usually interested in anime.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans

 

Similar: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

Gurren Lagann

Rainbow

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Science Fiction

Length: 50 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Great mech designs
  • Doesn’t take the subject matter lightly
  • Perfect end for this story
  • Dirty land brawls

Negatives:

  • Lack of interpersonal conflict
  • Talks down to the audience regarding characters
  • Drags in the second season with space battles

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can only go so long without watching a new Gundam series. It was a while as I waited for this one to release in a complete collection (season 2 took forever). So, was it worth the wait?

Iron-Blooded Orphans centres on a squad of child soldiers, who manage to survive an attack when their military company leaves them to die as fodder. They live on Mars, a desolate planet that relies on the benevolence of Earth. Kudelia Aina Bernstein, daughter of one of Mars’s aristocratic families, leads the plight for independence, but her naiveté comes under fire when she sees the effects of war, particularly on children, first hand. Mikazuki and his comrades of Tekkadan, led by Orga, aren’t messing around when it comes to fighting for their lives.

First, I love the premise. It’s great how Iron-Blooded Orphans goes to the lowest level, to the people at the very bottom of the ladder. Even more so, I love how it doesn’t shy away from the tough circumstances these kids would face and the harsh violence they must commit. Episode 3 illustrates this when Mikazuki executes the leader of their military organisation – and man responsible for leaving them behind – with a bullet to the head the instant he talks back. I did not expect such good sense.

The story hooks you from the start with high stakes and high conflict. I’m sold right away. So what goes wrong?

It isn’t long before you notice something off about the characters, about the way in which they interact with each other. There is a distinct lack of interpersonal conflict. One would imagine that Kudelia’s naiveté could cause much drama amongst these poor downtrodden kids. Why does this spoilt rich girl think she can save us? But nope, there are a few minor comments here and there and we move on. Surely there would be conflict between Mikazuki and Orga. No, Mikazuki never questions his leader. He follows like a dog, a passive protagonist. A love triangle starts between Mikazuki, Kudelia, and this other girl (childhood friend). Come on, there has to be conflict here, right!? At best is a slight shyness from the childhood friend. The most conflict comes from minor characters, whose names you will never remember.

Even with a plethora of external conflicts on these characters, a story also needs internals ones (often aggravated by those external forces). It’s what makes characters human, relatable, and memorable. Regardless of what I think of the rest of Iron-Blooded Orphans, this single factor alone makes me prefer other Gundam series like SEED and Origin.

This problem is no more evident and sorely needed than in the case of the “legitimate businessman” and his harem of women that ally with Tekkadan. Supposedly, he’s married to all of these women whom he claims to love equally. However, there is clearly a favourite, which one would imagine is leading towards several cases of jealousy and thus conflict. Nothing comes of this weird relationship dynamic. His purpose is to create a bridge between Tekkadan and a large yakuza-like corporation they end up working for. Give me drama!

That leads to another problem with this series: too many characters. Way, way too many characters. Tekkadan has twice as many named characters as it should. Then we have businessman and his harem, followed by several enemy organisations, each with their own cast of characters. Gundam series generally have a large cast, but this is on another level. It’s not so much the quantity (Legend of the Galactic Heroes has far more) as it is the quantity at one time. When you have so many characters fighting for screen time, everyone suffers. The phrase “wide as the ocean, deep as a puddle” applies to much of the cast (still no one as bad as Cagali). Cut it in half. Yes, half.

I believe this is the reason we have so little character conflict. Not enough time when a hundred characters need their share in the spotlight. This also explains why everyone and their grandpa has to spell out their motivations for the audience. For instance, an enemy squad captain returns after defeat to challenge Mikazuki to a duel, knowing he stands no chance against the Gundam. Once defeated and given the chance to retreat, he requests to be killed instead. Why? Well, it’s obvious, but he has to give a dramatic monologue for minutes to make sure we understand. Iron-Blooded Orphans deals in heavy themes not for small children, so why talk down to the audience like children in regards to characters? People will get it. Every character has this moment.

Also do something about the creepy marriage between one of the antagonists and a child. It isn’t talked about enough by other characters. I’m not sure what they were going for here. If they want to establish that this isn’t unusual, they need to make a point of it. Just creepy.

To top it all off, I’m not a fan of the designs. I know this is personal taste, but the hairstyles are just too silly for a gritty war drama. Does anyone else think the protagonist looks like Sonic the Hedgehog? On the other hand, we have the mechs. There are awesome designs here. The main Gundam, Barbatos, a relic of an ancient war is one of my all-time favourite designs. I liked it before having even seen the series. 10 outta 10! Gundam of the year!

So far in this review, I have been quite negative – it comes from a place of love – so why did I enjoy this in the end? It is equal parts being a Gundam fan in general, the action, and the story.

The decision to have much of the action be up close and personal, mechs smashing into each other, tearing armour plate by plate instead of all the usual high tech beam weapons was an ideal match to the story’s tone. Some of the deaths, people crushed inside their cockpits, are brutal. I cannot emphasise enough how little Iron-Blooded Orphans holds back on the subject of child soldiers and war. It also gains extra points for featuring one of the only instances where a hero shoots an enemy in the head during their speech on “honour”.

Then we have the story, which stays engaging (apart from a lull in season 2) in the face of an average cast of characters. The meld of war, politics, shifting alliances, and scrappy fights had me until the end. And what an end it is. I should never have doubted the team to deliver the right ending, but this surprised me. The perfect end to this type of story.

Do I recommend Iron-Blooded Orphans? Yes, but not to Gundam newbies. This one is overloaded with specialist terms and names you’ve never heard of. It can get difficult to track who’s who when referred to by name alone. Or were they talking about an organisation? Go with Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin if you want to start with the main line series or Gundam SEED / Gundam 00 if you prefer standalone stories.

Art – High

Though I’m not a fan of the character designs, there is no denying Iron-Blooded Orphans looks great. Best of all, repeat animations aren’t an issue and the action flows smoothly. There is a visceral quality to the way Barbatos carves up enemies.

Sound – High

I like the soundtrack, but I wish it had a little more grunge to match to the down and dirty lives of these kids. The acting is better than the script, which could do with a simple 10% trim that over explains characters.

Story – High

A squad of child soldiers find themselves holding destiny in their hands before they fight for a better future. A great story with mediocre characters comes to an excellent conclusion.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it (if it isn’t your first Gundam series). Iron-Blooded Orphans is a solid series despite its flaws. However, I don’t recommend this for first-timers to the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None