[SPOILERS FOR GUNDAM: IRON BLOODED ORPHANS SEASON 1, GUNDAM WING, and GUNDAM 00]
It’s OK. It’s not a great Gundam series or a great anime. It has great moments (though not as good as Gundam Wing or Gundam 00) spread throughout an OK story that takes a bit too long too progress, and doesn’t really develop a lot of the themes it has, possibly to just introduce them for season 2.
It’s very slow. Not much happens. Very few fights. By the same point in Gundam Wing or Gundam 00 there would have been major plot reveals, which don’t seem to he happened in this, or if they have they haven’t bee particularly impressive. It’s a fairly simple plot. The events on mars, in space, in the colonies, and on earth feel like they could have been done in fewer episodes. Some episodes has no fights at all, and barely any story progression. All they had was basically characterisation, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s better if that’s not the only thing that goes on in an episode. Some episodes, while not bad, had me feeling that while the episode wasn’t boring, I was waiting for something to happen to accompany the characterisation. Like eating a single ingredient as a starter, enjoying it, then being told the meal is over, and wondering where the rest of the different types of food were.
The fight scenes were good, but they never quite reached the high standards of Gundam 00. They were infrequent though, and on average a bit duller than other Gundam series. The lack of clearly separated Gundam mobile suits from other mobile suits did not help. While they did say that Gundams were amazingly powerful, the gap in the power level between them and mobile suits wasn’t as big as in other series. As a result the Gundams weren’t too impressive, especially given that there weren’t that many. This was likely a choice to go with the original Gundam 0079 style rather than the Gundam Wing style of a team of Gundams. The lack of energy weapons was an interesting choice, but simultaneously the old weapon style has drawbacks making the weapons less impressive. To make up for that the Barbatos had some interesting weapons. While the Barbatos was interesting in both design and use, it wasn’t quite enough to impress me. It’s hard to get that feeling of a succinct team of distinct Gundams like in Wing, or the clearly defined roles of Gundam 00. It didn’t even have a clear set of enemy Gundams like in Gundam Seed. But it worked.
The themes of poverty and literacy were good and I thought fairly original since most shows do not deal with these things, especially having an illiterate child soldier as a protagonist. They didn’t quite develop these themes much though, or any of the other themes very much. It didn’t do the revolution theme nearly as well as in Gundam Wing, and the child soldier theme could have been used more too. Gundam 00 made me feel more for the child soldiers, despite not focusing as much on that theme. It also had a theme of underage marriage and harems/prostitution, but again not much was made of it.
The deaths as usual were fairly emotional, except for Biscuit’s. I just didn’t feel like they built it up enough. He had sisters who he wanted to put in school, his brother died after severely disappointing him and selling him out. If they hadn’t made it so obvious then I might have been more surprised. I think more importantly, while he seemed like a nice guy, he didn’t have much of a personality. I assume they meant for him to be very likeable, but he wasn’t exactly an unnamed analogous character from Gundam 00. When someone said he’d have time to tell Orga later, it was clear he wouldn’t have time. I would in fact say, a lot of the characters lacked dimensionality. They definitely had some, but they seem very singularly motivated with a bit of softness. There was also a character that’s hinted at being homosexual, which is an interesting addition that I don’t think has been done before. I felt more for the deaths of the enemies, especially towards the end, since they were handled with more drama. Similarly, some characters who almost died towards the end I thought were handled better than Biscuit’s death. Biscuit’s death wasn’t done completely wrong, as the events that led up to it would have been good if they just weren’t so transparent, and if he was a more interesting character.
The enemies are far too often stereotypically arrogant. They suffer from the fallacy of feeling indignation and wanting revenge for their comrades’ deaths. I think that perhaps every single Gjallarhorn character who they fought suffered from this cliché. They really overdid it in that regard. Mikazuki’s clear disregard for their pride, while entertaining, seemed to have been the only reason this was set up as it was. I don’t think one should -want- to see arrogant people being proven wrong, as if it were a perverse, almost sadistic addiction. When done tastefully it’s fine, but they really went out of their way to make Mikazuki a sociopath. I assume that like the other themes, they wee only setting it up for season 2, which is why they didn’t develop it much in season 1.
The Alaya Vijnana system was a nice choice for t signature technology of the series, but again wasn’t quite used as much as the Zero or GN systems in Gundam Wing and 00. It was done tastefully though, they didn’t make too big of a deal of it. Again, it seems fine since it’s more so being set up for season 2. Not much was done with the colonies either.
The demon theme was good, especially as a contrast to the angel theme in Gundam 00, both of which were fairly subtle. Such themes are better done subtly, but since I didn’t recognise most of the names, I’m not sure to what extent they kept the (few) Gundams or other mobile suits in this theme. The whole story arc seems like a continuation, or contrast to Gundam 00. The organiation that maintains peace, Gjallarhorn, is analogous to Celestial Being who had an angelic theme and were “above” national blocs. A small, militaristic group such as Tekkaden, with more demonic features, is in a way a counter to that, almost as if Treize had started his coup d’etat in a victorious but corrupt Celestial Being.
I would not say there was a lot of missed potential, although that may be true, because I think it was an acceptable choice on their part to make it like this. It wasn’t worse, it just chose not to pursue some avenues that it would have done really well. I think it was mostly to set up season 2. The biggest problems for my taste were how slow it progressed, the lack of depth for some characters, Biscuit’s relatively unmoving death, and the lack of distinct Gundam design themes. Not a bad Gundam series or a bad anime, just a bit disappointing and a bit lower down on my list of favourite Gundam shows.