Humanizing the Aggressors in Iron-Blooded Orphans December 12, 2015Posted by navycherub in Anime, Essay, iron blooded orphans, mobile suit gundam.
Tags: Anime, Essay, iron blooded orphans, mobile suit gundam
Note: This contains spoilers for Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans thorough episode 10. Maybe technically less, but just to be safe.
Since its premiere, Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans has not shied away from depicting the tragedies of conflict. Kudelia’s crusade for the people of Mars stems almost entirely from the abuse of the planet by the nations of Earth and Gjallarhorn, and the show lets us know every chance it gets with dramatic stills, flashbacks, and interesting infodumps. Tekkadan’s members are literal child soldiers, forced into the worst possible situation thanks to situations out of their control. On the other side, though, we haven’t had much of that kind of humanization.
Luckily, we do have Ein Dalton.
The Earth’s four blocs are political enigmas, people from higher classes and politicians that control the supposedly autonomous Mars from afar. This makes sense both from a plot perspective and a thematic one. In terms of the story, the protagonists have not yet reached Earth, and Kudelia is not as knowledgeable about the Earth Sphere’s political machinations as one might want from the symbol of an economic revolution, simply feels explaining those complex topics to the simple people of Tekkadan is a pointless cause, or both. Thematically, our perspective has been from the side of Mars, who has only recently started realizing how their territories have been under control by puppet governments, allowing us to feel how small and helpless the citizens of Mars have felt.
On a more personal level, we have seen a few Gjallarhorn characters, and they have mostly been cogs in the machine. People like the failed conspirator Coral Conrad and crazed officer Orlis Stenja are much less round characters than most in the cast, making it easier to see Gjallarhorn as less sympathetic than Tekkadan and Mars. Meanwhile, the more characterized McGillis Fareed and Gaelio Bauduin feel more like people, but still clearly antagonists. We understand their motivations, and might even root for them as they refuse a bribe or discuss McGillis’ young fiance, but their overall roles as auditors and their desire for upward mobility in the antagonistic organization shows that they are consciously aware of how their actions influence the lower classes.
Enter Ein Dalton and Crank Zent. Crank makes an impression early in the series, participating in the initial attack on Chryse Guard Security and, soon after, dying in battle with Mikazuki. Like McGillis and Gaelio, Crank is aware of the corruption and influence of Gjallarhorn and how they negatively affect the lives of the citizens of Mars, but unlike them, he doesn’t feel so great about it. After realizing he is fighting actual children, Crank’s personal code of honor prevents him from being able to go on with a good conscious against them, leading to his suicidal fight and subsequent death by Mikazuki’s handgun.
Before doing this, though, we also see that he has a fatherly relationship with Gjallarhorn soldier Ein Dalton, who seems to look up to him. Crank passes on some wisdom to Ein before he leaves, warning him of the dangers that come when the desperation of war and fights for ideals go too far. Ein takes everything he says in as Crank leaves to die, and upon learning of his death, promises that he would follow in Crank’s example from here on out.
Crank’s ideas seem noble, if misguided. His desire to protect what he perceives as innocence is, for many people, the immediate reaction to the simple premise of Iron-Blooded Orphans; it is a tragedy that these kids must sacrifice their youth and fight for their lives against an uncaring system that oppresses them. It is a good thematic decision, then, that Crank’s internal struggle and expression of those feelings is explored and, ultimately, punished so early in the series. It is the narrative’s way of saying, yes, it is unfortunate that this is Tekkadan’s reality, but simply refusing to acknowledge it as just that – a reality – is foolhardy and helps no one. Crank’s good heart and empathy are not enough without action, which in some ways is also a lesson in Kudelia’s personal journey. Soon after Crank’s death, the children of Chryse Guard Security become Tekkadan and begin to fend entirely for themselves. Under Orga’s world-worn but still childish views, they operate aggressively, doing their best impression of what they perceive to be serious adults.
That is, until they meet Teiwaz and Naze Turbine. Naze does not take long to catch on to Tekkadan’s grown-up act, and ends up empathizing with them. He takes Orga under his wing in the name of joy and teaches him the importance of creating a positive atmosphere among your “family.” This ends up being the beginning of finding the middle ground between the serious nature of Orga and Kudelia’s naive desires for complete peace, wrapped up in a thesis of sorts as Naze lectures to Orga that trying to keep himself alive does more for the group he wants to protect than irresponsibly throwing his life away. It is immediately telling that Crank’s desire to simply die rather than work within his organization toward his ideals directly contradicts Naze’s message that the greatest thing you can do for the things you care about is stay alive. No one could have realized it at the time, but that moment was symbolic of Orga’s faults as a leader not only through his own allowance of Mikazuki killing with abandon, but also Crank’s self-sacrificial nature mirroring Orga’s.
Unfortunately for Ein, Crank’s message and his death doesn’t come with the context of the Mars side’s personal stories, and his reactions given his own context portray a complexity in war and, really, conflict in general. Ein is a simple soldier for Gjallarhorn; unlike McGillis and Gaelio, Ein’s investment in the success of his side seems to come from a place of circumstance. This changes when Crank dies, as Ein has suddenly experienced loss from the fighting. With only Crank’s parting words, Ein is unable to see past the short-sighted grudge he holds in his heart for Tekkadan. He loses his composure when he realizes he is fighting Crank’s killer, Mikazuki, and later twists Crank’s words to justify the pain he wishes to inflict on those who took his mentor away from him.
In other words, Ein represents an oft-forgotten side effect of conflict – the motivations of any given side is not so easy to define, and the simple act of carrying out war is sometimes enough to breed hatred from otherwise good people. Ein’s position is a perfect storm of ill-circumstance, and Iron-Blooded Orphans does a great job painting the picture of a person whose motivations are sympathetic, but is unfortunately within a system that encourages him to act on those feelings while also indirectly, and even unknowingly, perpetrating overall oppression. Unlike Tekkadan, whose time with Teiwaz has tempered their unhealthily violent and angry attitudes, Ein continues to exist in a world without the small things that remind what is even being protected in the first place, and through his character, Iron-Blooded Orphans manages to ground and humanize Gjallahorn and the Earth Sphere without taking away the righteousness of Tekkadan’s plight.
Ein’s last encounter with Tekkadan was before Teiwaz entered the picture, featuring a more ruthless cast. Could his next remind him of what Crank was actually trying to impart, or is he on an inevitable path toward self-destruction?