By now you probably know better than to read a Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans review before you’ve watched the episode, but today’s discussion is just so darn spoileriffic that I want to stress this again. This is the 48th out of a presumed 50 episodes, and I imagine the death count is just going to ramp up from here. In “Promise,” Tekkadan is continuing with the very un-Gundam strategy to conclude the conflict without any fighting, but today’s events ensure that nothing will go according to plan. Unfortunately, this extremely emotional episode comes as the result of a very trope-filled narrative.
“Promise” is an episode about Orga Itsuka, spanning from his childhood to his death. Even in flashbacks, it provides us with new material about Orga’s state of mind during each of these milestone moments. First, there’s his first meeting with Mikazuki. “I was scared of you that day,” Orga admits. I mean, who wouldn’t be scared, confronted with a three-foot-tall cold-blooded killer? That’s probably why Mika immediately gave Orga his lifelong loyalty, because there was finally someone who wasn’t afraid of him but offered authority over him instead. Since then, their relationship became codependent to an unhealthy extent for Mikazuki. “What Orga wants to do is what I want to do,” he tells McGillis, clearly exasperated at the man’s lack of understanding. Then there’s various characters’ reflections on the founding of Tekkadan. Orga thanks Kudelia for hiring them to escort her to Earth, a mission without which “there never would have been a Tekkadan.” Meanwhile, Eugene remarks that he wasn’t being serious when he told Orga that people didn’t want him to be the leader—of course they did. Orga is most like himself when he’s leading. After he’s chosen to reject McGillis’s plan to fight and instead help his family escape, “he’s like the old Orga again,” says Eugene. Orga has a different objective this time: “this battle is about every single one of us surviving.”
That’s when the dramatic irony comes in, because Orga’s the one who doesn’t survive. This is a classic example of Chekhov’s Gun, the storytelling trope that dictates that every element of a story must be necessary—if a gun appears, it will inevitably be fired. Today, that was Mika’s gun. Orga wants to borrow it, and this is our first inkling that his fate has been sealed, at least to the extent that he’s going to need that gun. When Mikazuki agrees on the condition that Orga returns it, it’s more about assuring that Orga returns safely than getting his gun back. I can’t imagine how Mika is going to react to the news. This is a boy who hasn’t made a decision on his own for years! Even when it comes to his two girlfriends, it’s more like Kudelia and Atra decided to pursue Mikazuki on their own, and he went along with it. (I love the way these two are becoming more like sister-wives as time goes on, loving each other as much as they care for Mikazuki so unabashedly that Hush has to look away!) “Wolves move in packs,” McGillis observes of Mikazuki and his Barbatos Lupus Rex. But without Orga to serve as his own moral compass, will Mika decide to follow the confident McGillis instead?
The wolfpack known as Tekkadan is already set to make its escape near the end of the episode—Orga’s promise to keep his family safe has been kept, and things are going a little too well. That’s when tragedy strikes. This is Chad’s second time getting shot! Then Orga makes a move that Ride is going to always remember—he shields the young soldier with his own body while squarely shooting a mercenary with Mikazuki’s gun. Sadly, Orga has already lost too much blood, and somehow sensing that he’s doomed, he doesn’t lie down and wait for help. Instead he stands up, walking confidently forward until his strength runs out. This is utterly painful to watch. Why must it continue for so long, with Orga’s leaderly tone ringing out in direct contrast to his waning strength? Finally, he dies as he lived, his finger pointing in the direction he wants his family to follow—forward. It’s a little on the nose! I’m definitely upset that Iok continues to survive, cockroach-like, while Orga dies a mafioso’s death in the streets. Orga’s death certainly got the reaction from me that the show intended, but the soap opera drama of it felt a little cheap. From start to finish, this episode was filled with predictable tropes, signaled so overtly that I feel like I’ve been had.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is available streaming at Daisuki.net.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist