I knew we were in for a treat this time on Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans as soon as I saw last week’s preview. Descent-to-Earth battles are some of the most memorable in the Gundam canon. As mobile suits clash during their descent, they’re also battling a far more formidable opponent—the Earth’s powerful gravity. The crush of gravity doesn’t care if you’re a good pilot or a bad one, and even if you beat your foe you’ll still have it to contend with. Ever since Gundam 0079, descent-to-Earth battles have injected a renewed suspense into the chaos of mobile suit skirmishes, and this episode is no different.
In many ways, despite this intense literal descent, this episode was an elevation of the story—a revisit to the beginning, amplified. The trip down memory lane begins when Kudelia once again asks Mikazuki to shake hands. In the beginning, Mika said his hands were too dirty, a protest he uses a second time, but now Kudelia’s hands are dirty, at least in a symbolic way. This echo from their first meeting ends on even footing, indicating how far Kudelia has come as a crew member and how fond Mika has become of her.
This isn’t the only love story of the day. We’ve gotten a better introduction and even a name to go with the fox-haired lady of last week—Commander Carta Issue, who turns out to be a childhood friend of Bauduin and McGillis. “That blonde, arrogant one!” she says of McGillis, before the camera pans to the entirely-blond male detail on her ship. Yes, this theatrical lady has some unresolved issues, no pun intended. This scene also reveals that Carta and Bauduin believe McGillis to be on vacation leave on Earth, so it’ll be interesting to see how they react to his semi-betrayal.
Carta has an axe to grind and clearly plans to do anything to keep the Orphans from reaching Earth (except, of course, risk her pride and ask for help). But she has no idea what sort of unorthodox space rat methods she’s up against from a pack of kids who just want to look cool. It’s Tekkadan’s youth and risk-taking that makes even the darkest moments of the episode a little bit goofy. “If I mess up,” Eugene says solemnly, “all of Tekkadan will die.” And yet, this uncharacteristically somber reflection made me laugh instead. There’s so much energy and vibrance in Tekkadan’s recklessness that make them an underdog worth rooting for. And yes, Eugene looked pretty cool using the Alaya-Vijnana system to control two ships at once.
With so much happening, this is one of the more fast-paced battles of the series so far. It isn’t choreographed like a dance, but seems to break out chaotically. Carta didn’t expect the Orphans to go after her suit storage, and the Orphans didn’t expect Bauduin and Ein to show up, and Bauduin and Ein never expected the Teiwaz gals to make an appearance (and for that matter, neither did Tekkadan). And all this is happening while they’re descending to Earth, or skirmishing dangerously right above gravity’s pull. Even if I explain the tactical events of this battle one after another, however, it doesn’t spoil the suspenseful mood. There’s a lot happening all at once because there’s a time limit on descent battles—either you beat your opponent by the time you hit the atmosphere, or you don’t.
But this isn’t even the most powerful moment of the episode. The final flashback to the beginning is also a return to Orga and Mika as kids and freshly initiated murderers. They’re going somewhere amazing, and Orga says, “we won’t know until we’re there, until we see it.” Right then, Mikazuki sees Earth’s crescent moon, his namesake. Mika and Orga finally made it. Only it’s not the end of a journey, like they expected, but just one more beginning.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.