So you know how I was complaining of things being boring last week, how the series was kind of just treading water and that it was likely they were just saving the budget for something? Well called it, this episode was literally everything that Iron-Blooded Orphans was supposed to be right from the beginning and it could not have come at a better time. After last weeks episode I was kind of feeling down but not this week. No this week we’re in for a ride, also I can finally bring out this game: Count the Death Flags! No without further adeau to Episode 21 “To the Place of Return”.
Note: I’d like to explain the lateness here: on Monday I was 90% finished writing this. Literally down to the conclusion and Gundam Music of the Week and my laptop died. I mean shut down and all that technical jazz (it’s crazy old and am saving for a whole new PC) all that was saved was the first 3 paragraphs, which were really just first draft garbage. Intending to finishing it for Wednesday though I woke up sick which has lasted the past two days. This delay was completely due to personal issues, however due to how amazing this episode was I knew I had to finish it regardless.
An idyllic field opens the episode with long forgotten characters Cookie and Cracker taking center stage as corn season is abloom on Mars. Back on Earth Biscuit is wondering if his little sisters are troubling his grandma. While sentimental little is seen here, until Mikazuki requests Biscuits help for Orga’s planning. This of course is Death Flag One considering the two characters previous engagements together. At this point I was think this is it, the time one of my longest predictions finally came true.
Following the Opening scene the Full Metal Mechanic makes his appearance leading the outfitting of the Mobile Suits and more specifically the Gusion Rebake. This is likely done as the Mobile Suits were outfitted for space and now have to deal with the gravity of the Earth. On the outskirts though Tekkadan forces keeps an eye on the sea bound Gjallahorn forces amassing for a full frontal assault. Orga and his confidantes comprised of Kudelia and Biscuit engage the exiled leader in negotiation.
During the talks the exiled leader explains how Gjallahorn is moving against an ostensibly sovereign nation. This is due to the fact the Earth Orbital forces are led by the Carta the daughter of the Issue family the pinnacle of the Seven Stars families that rules Gjallahorn. This is interesting for several reasons the first is that she is clearly pressured to uphold the name and pride of her family. The second is Carta’s relationship with Gaeleo and McGillis who clearly wish to up end the current structure of Gjallahorn, which would eventually have to put them in direct conflict with Carta and her allies.
Due to the fact that Orga knows clearly as long as they have Kudelia they will always be a target of the Seven Stars and Gjallahorn. Despite the knowledge that he has been manipulated by the Oceanic Federations exiled leader Orga decides he must escape the island with the leader; for a price of course. Biscuit is clearly opposed to the plan, once again showing how he thinks Orga is too reckless with the lives of the Tekkadan crew. However he stays quite out of deference to his leader.
In a bit of foreshadowing various members of Tekkadan and Teiwaz prepare for battle setting up explosives which uses will become clear later. While this is occurring the others are having a meal discussing the future plans following escaping the island. Interesting even the younger and less important members of Tekkadan know a lot is going on and will be chased even into space.
Back in space a masked McGillis is talking with Hitler-stash about future plans. Following the conversation he decides to head down to Earth, likely to set up his and his awesome Mobile Suits appearance in the seasons climactic battle sometime in a few episodes. However all is not well on the Earth either as Biscuit and Orga have a quick discussion; Orga asks to put it off until they escape where the two of them will have a real discussion and hash everything out. Of course by now its pretty clear on of them wont be around to have it as this was a second clear black flag of death.
Just before the battle for a little added emphasis it becomes clear Biscuit himself will be entering a Mobile Worker to battle. During this time Orga confesses to Merribet that he couldn’t tell Biscuit he wanted him to stay in Tekkadan. Merribet touches his hand comforting the young man saying it’ll be all right. Of course it wont be and Orga will have to deal with this issue later, which gives us a quick third death flag.
However the battle quickly begins with Gjallahorn forces bombarding the Tekkadan encampment with a saturation attack. Mikazuki on the front lines is deciding upon a weapon to use seeing that all there is left to use is a Katana which he finds unwieldy he makes his (Awesome!) decision; a big giant war hammer. Yes if the Barbatos was clearly not already the best melee type Gundam ever (Sorry Deathscythe Hell) it now is.
Tekkadan’s first counter attack uses the Gusion Rebake as a mobile bombardment platform and unleashed hell upon the Gjallahorn carriers. This action forces a sortie which the Teiwaz girls are quickly able to capitalize on and engage as they wait on the beaches. However this advantage is short lived as Carta’s elite forces emerge from the sky even sooner then Orga predicted.
In a scene straight out of Sunrise’s Code Geass Carta’s main forces does a damn good impression of the Gaston Knights with Carta playing the role of Princess Cornelia. Check it out, seriously the similarities are uncanny. However as they play knights Akihiro takes a cheap shot throwing both Carta and her forces off balance in one of the funnier moments of this darker episode.
With the charge forced Carta moves in for the kill however Mikazuki’s superior mobility, strength, and skill easily break the line. Alloying the Ryusei-Go! to join the fight and not be totally overwhelmed by Carta’s elites. While this is going on Carta demands to know where her reinforcements are located, however they are currently engaging the Teiwaz suits. Interestingly though Gjallahorn was unaware of their presence seeming to indicate they were unaware of Teiwaz’s presence along side Tekkadan.
Finally moving against Akihiro and the Gusion, Gjallahorn forces him to abandon his long rang weaponry. However Gjallahorn is in for a surprise as Akihiro reveals the Gusion was never really the time for long rang combat. Revealing an entire new set of limbs armed with Graze axes Akihiro man handles the opposing suit. Literally hacking it apart with the Gusion’s overwhelming power. Showing once again that while speed and savvy may be Mikazuki’s forte pure power is clearly Akihiro’s.
As Gjallahorn moves further into the Southern tip of the island Orga compliments Biscuit on his tactical sense. Explaining they purposefully left the southern section of the island weak to draw Gjallahorn in. This sets up a classic move where trip bombs are activated destroying many opposing forces, the exact same tactic Orga used previously in episode one. Indeed everything as Orga and Biscuit agree is “going according to plan”. Death flag number four.
As the battle winds down with multiple Gjallahorn forces taken prisoner and the women, children, and elderly being taken to safety. Orga arrives at the main battle field where the Ryusei-Go! and Barbatos are engaging a sizable number of Gjallahorn elites. Despite having an advantage Orga is forced to communicate with Shino who stupidly was about to set off Tekkadan’s own trap... luckily he moves in time and quickly finishes his opponent in a surprisingly bloody fashion, especially after how sanitized the battles have been in these later episodes.
This causes Carta to explode in rage as her subordinates are dropping like flies, people she to her credit very clearly cares for. However as Orga gives the order for Shino to help out Akihiro and Mikazuki to mop things up, Carta discovers his location and charges forward. Biscuit flees but Carta’s suit is far to fast for the Mobile Worker and in his last heroic act bumps Orga off and takes Carta’s blow alone. Mikazuki quickly catches Carta and using his hammer brings her suit down crushing the suits head while leaving the cockpit intact.
Orga limps forward shouting “Biscuit, Biscuit!” towards his wounded friend. However his wound is too grave and with thoughts of family in his mind he dies as Orga takes his hand. In a nice touch Orphans No Namida the first ending begins playing as rain starts falling on the battlefield. Others know its now over but they still don’t know the cost.
As I said above this was a great episode, I’ll even say this was likely the best episode of the series. Hell it may be one of the best episodes in a mainline Gundam series period (Movies and OVA’s excepted - Char’s Counterattack and War in the Pocket are works of art). It had everything for everyone world building, epic Mobile Suit battles, epic music overlaying the epic Mobile Suit battles, even a main characters death with zero percent chance of a take back.
All around I’ve watched this episode four times now (while basically writing this twice...) and I still cant stop smiling as I do. It was amazing and one of the more fitting ends for a fictional character. While Biscuits death was telegraphed right from the beginning of the episode and I would say series even it still had an emotional resonance that literally every death in the series (except perhaps Cranks way back in Episode 3) lacked. This was how to do death: it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t cheap no it had a point, and most importantly it feels determinant. Death in fiction is one of the best way to set stakes and for a while Iron-Blooded Orphans felt as if it had forgotten that. It’s now clear characters can die now the only question is will they?
PS: It’s clear Carta is alive and alone with Tekkadan... she’s not in a good place.
Gundam Music of the Week
I figured since this was one of the most bloody and death filled episode of the series since the beginning I’ll take executive control and pick this weeks selection. From an Aqueous Star with Love is Zeta Gundam’s second Opening and while the song itself isn’t too sad the series is generally considered the darkest (it’s also one of the best) ever produced. In many ways this was the series that solidified (along with Space Runaway Ideon) Gundam creators Yoshiyuki Tomino’s nickname “Kill em’ all”. See I told you it was fitting.