What Exactly Is The Appeal Of In Medias Res Anyways? — A Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans Post

Need to get some steam off before the New Year begins. And what better thing to rant on than this inexplicably popular franchise?

So against my better judgment, I gave the new Gundam stuff a try over the Christmas holidays. Why? Well, the positive comments calling it one of the greatest things to happen to the franchise were a little hard to ignore and whilst I’ve done a great job of avoiding that sort of praise in regards to Monogatari – if only because I’ve fallen for it five times by now – I figured that I could at least try to get into Gundam again. After all, it’s not like I hate all war anime (Miyazaki films) nor do I hate all Gundam shows (G Gundam). Of course, I’ve never liked a space opera anime – which Gundam indulges in from time to time – but whatever. If I sat through Cross Ange, I can at least sit through a bit of this.

I made it about an episode and a half into Iron-Blooded Orphans before I had to play it at 4x speed – only to realize that it was still boring my brains out when going at the same speed as Teekyu and thus had to stop watching. So much for all the positive comments. What, were these the same people who said Perfect Insider’s first two episodes were bloody brilliant?

I’ve since talked to my Gundam-loving friends and whilst the show has been getting a warm public reception, the blogger community has not been so kind. According to them, even in terms of Gundam shows, the pacing was incredibly sluggish and hits at its war themes too broadly to be intriguing. Also, apparently the show is not kind to women, right down to having an actual harem (not the wishy-washy kind that defines most of the genre) containing a bunch of subservient females who you all want to die because they’re wasting their potential licking some guy’s balls. I did see an episode close to the end of the show’s first cour and whilst I didn’t see the Turbine girls in it, I do remember alot of talking. So much for Okada’s take on the franchise then, huh?

But that’s now what I want to talk about. I want to talk about why I didn’t get the appeal of those first two episodes that apparently made people wet their pants, and not just because it was focusing on child soldiers. I mean it’s not an ideal topic for me, but it’s not an automatic deal-breaker or anything. No, I want to talk about the other reasons I don’t like Gundam as a franchise, and not just because I don’t care about their topics one bit.

As I’ve said before, I prefer to judge the quality of an anime or any other visual medium by looking at the characters first. And I only consider a character good if he’s funny (which he won’t be in military land, and especially not in anime land) or if he has a personal story driven by relatable flaws. Gundam as a whole – and this includes G Gundam mind you – has this annoying habit of starting their shows in medias res. That is, they start their shows in what seems to be the middle of the story and assume you know who these characters are so I don’t have any reason to care about them or their growth until some flashback occurs, other than the show’s insistence that “no really, these are fully developed characters you’re supposed to care about”. Kind of a big problem when you’re the sort of person who’ll automatically write a show off if he doesn’t see any sort of personal story driven by flaws as a hook, isn’t it? And it gets increasingly hard to relate to the main character when gets instantly good at the robot he finds himself thrown in. Because for all of Code Geass’s faults, one thing it did do in its first two episodes was establish Lelouch as a character whose brilliant plans weren’t foolproof.

In fact, Geass really benefitted at the start by keeping its focus almost entirely on Lelouch whilst not telling us who his friends were until the third episode (and once they did, we wanted to murder them, but let’s not focus on that). Not to mention, the show started with a brief summary of Japan’s conquest by Britannia along with a brief scene depicting how it affected our protagonist when he was a kid. And it’s not like Gundam can’t get away from using in medias res as a storytelling device. War in the Pocket starts with a kid who has naive thoughts about war, only to meet a real soldier and have his life changed forever as a result in a way I won’t spoil in case you didn’t see that thing. It’s not the most sophisticated of hooks, but at least it gets the basics right. And then there’s my personal favorite war mecha franchise: Metal Gear Solid. Whilst you wouldn’t know who Snake was at the start of the first game unless you played that NES stuff that wasn’t available in the States at the time, they establish early on that he’s a retired soldier who wanted to get away from the military life after killing his boss. And from that grounding point, we learn more about him through the other characters as he explores Shadow Moses.

Iron-Blooded Orphans’ first two episodes, by contrast, just throws this large cast at us and makes things happen to them without establishing any sort of proper context – not helped at all by the fact that it can’t focus on a single character for two minutes before switching to another one (another storytelling practice that needs to fucking die). It starts off by establishing that our characters need to protect a princess, but I don’t know who she is or what she does. Mikazuki is a miner who’s talented at piloting robots. So in other words, he has no flaws and is mostly reactionary, thus making him a boring character? Oh god, a threat has appeared and its up to our miners that we barely know to combat it so we can talk about how child soldiers are wrongly used. So what? Who are these fucking characters, Gundam? What is Mikazuki’s reason for being the lead other than he can pilot a giant robot? What is the princess’s personal story? Why exactly is this threat so important to combat? Give me something that I can’t just read from Wikipedia or the official site or a fucking instruction manual! And quit switching to a different character who has no storyline significance.

I took a closer look at the initial word after dropping the show and not once did I ever read praise for the first two episodes that went beyond “the mecha fights are good, the men fighting shirtless are cute, etc. etc.”. They said the characters were interesting (without explaining why obviously, other than they were child soldiers, which tells me nothing), but if these are the same people who find Baccano’s cast interesting, then they’ve all but lost me, because the only thing I ever liked about Baccano’s first few episodes was that there were Prohibition gangsters who were immortal, which was only intriguing to me when it was fresh. I sure as hell didn’t think the characters were interesting back then – again no thanks to usage of that f*cking awful in medias res crap, right down to the show’s very first episode talking about said bullshit – and I don’t find them interesting now. Seriously guys, what is the appeal of in medias res? And what exactly are the rules you define for when in medias res is acceptable and makes the characters interesting? Didn’t you guys hate Concrete Revolutio for doing the same thing? Why does Iron-Blooded Orphans get a free pass over a show that at least stays on a specific character each episode?

So in case you didn’t get all that, whilst it’s not always a bad thing, I think in medias res is bullshit because it’s generally anathema to making me relate to the characters, and Gundam should really stop using it if it wants me to attempt paying attention to whatever goes on in that universe. Feel free to explain to me the appeal in the comments though, and why IBO does it well.

Mecha fights were decent by the way.

Minor Quips

  • Some people have told me that Gundam is always a slow burn with most iterations taking ten or so episodes to have the plot be exciting (Turn A, an undisputed classic amongst the fanbase, takes twenty). Please inform me how this is a point in the series’ favor in any way, shape, or form.
  • Yes, G Gundam didn’t get really interesting until the 1/4 mark, but its usage of monster-of-the-week was mostly serviceable until then, not unlike what Stardust Crusaders fans claim.
  • I didn’t actually see Naze, but I doubt he’s a better ladies’ man than Chibodee Crocket.

11 responses to “What Exactly Is The Appeal Of In Medias Res Anyways? — A Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans Post

  1. I like this series and the first episode made me drowsy. It only gets good from the second episode onwards, and 13 episodes in and I have yet to see focus on any of the characters. But I like this series, coz Mika and Orga reminds me of Simon and Kamina and this story reminds me of Gurren Lagann.

    A lot of the talking in the show actually decides where the story would take the characters in the next episode and I find myself liking this storytelling style of switching between tension and rest every few episodes. It gives the story a leisurely pace.

    • I like this series, coz Mika and Orga reminds me of Simon and Kamina and this story reminds me of Gurren Lagann.

      We all want our mecha anime to be Gurren Lagann now, don’t we?

      • Gurren Lagann is the ideal. This is the first gundam i am interested in and find watchable. A lot of it is thanks to nihonreview though for getting me interested.

  2. Iron Blooded Orphans is a case where the public loves it and the bloggers hate it which is exactly the opposite with the reception to Concrete Revolutio.

    For the harem thing, I am pretty sure that I might be the only one who is totally okay with it because it was treated as if it was normal in IBO’s universe. I think the hatred comes from the premise ‘women are treated like toys in that harem and they are okay with it’, which, ironically no one has batted much eyebrows to what the underground student council did in Prison School (comedy or not, that was too much). Both are unapologetic in their approach so why hate IBO for what it is doing?

    This might be my personal taste but I didn’t hate Concrete Revolutio even with its first episode. A narative mess, for sure but I didn’t hate it. My issue lies with the jarring time skips and not with the multitudes of characters it presented. Gundam has none of that brain-wacking, bullet train fast episode and is even noted as tooo slow that I even, as a moderate fan, agrees with. (although Concrete Revolutio is a better show IMO).

    For the events in IBO (I am still speaking for my taste), I am happy with a scene-done-right even at the expense of characterization (I adore Baccano by the way) or a series with a glacial plot but with strong characters (Akagami Shirayuki hime). Now, I am seriously loathing some of IBO’s parts because these thread right that the middle of these two options so it achieves nothing plot-wise or character-wise whenever it did so.

    Yet I believe that the fight scenes are at the first option and the quiet scenes are mostly done for character development. Well, as for the characters, save Kudelia because she is just there, Orga has received decent development for much of the time as he has to be the father figure of Tekkadan (the horrible budding romance with Merribit is uncalled for though) and Mikazuki for the last few episodes as his cold as heck tendency to kill someone is now beginning to crumble. Other characters have received some development too, even the main antagonist. Okada needs to tone down of her drama though. I irked with the Masahiro-Akihiri dramafest last episode.

    Yes, I still love this show no matter what the bloggers tell (even if some of their complaints are legit) unless it will end up like Gangsta which took a nosedive from episode nine onwards. Yeah, shirtless pilots. Lots of them. As regards to its appeal, I really cannot answer you as I am not a Gundam fan and I watch this show as if it was just another Fall offering.

  3. “Didn’t you guys hate Concrete Revolutio for doing the same thing?”

    People didn’t like Concrevo for doing it at 1st because the 1st episode was so overstuffed with content to the point that adding a non-linear timeline made it hard to tell up from down.

    With regards to in medias res, I haven’t really seen it done in a way that I was cool with since Berserk, and that’s because I enjoy seeing a one-eyed dude carve up demons with an impossibly large sword. In medias res is never necessary and the most it can really do for a show is knock the overall quality down a notch. Even with Berserk, they could have tagged that 1st episode on the back end and all it would mean is that the whiplash from the ending would lessen. I guess the appeal lies in seeing “how shit got this way” but I’d prefer stories to hook me without resorting to contextless spoilers. The technique is something I’m indifferent to at best.

    • People didn’t like Concrevo for doing it at 1st because the 1st episode was so overstuffed with content to the point that adding a non-linear timeline made it hard to tell up from down.

      I’m no fan of the first episode either, but I remember hearing the complaints continue with the subsequent episodes to the point most people dropped the show around Episode 3 – aka the episode that got me hooked – due to lack of a hook, ironically. Not really sure what was in IBO’s first three episodes that got more people watching other than the fact that, well, it’s Gundam. But if that was all it took, Reconguista wouldn’t have had such a bad reaction.

      With regards to in medias res, I haven’t really seen it done in a way that I was cool with since Berserk

      Oh yeah, that was pretty decent.

  4. Agreed. I haven’t seen most recent Gundams, but Gundam: The Origin was pretty great. Tight pacing, good action, mature, a very impressive cinematic effort. It throws the viewer right in the middle of the action, though. It takes a while to care about the characters, if I don’t remember them from previous UC Gundams. Origin is still one of the best anime of the year, but they could have done a better job of establishing the scene.

  5. People who said that Turn A take 20 ep to be interesting are full of shit. The first half is the best part of Turn A. It has multi-side war, peace negotiation, world building, complex politics, and establishing a large cast of characters with different background and belief. In IBO, the world is limited, the themes, ideas, and characters have been done better in other shows, plus there is a lot less action than other Gundam. If somebody wants a war anime that focused on characters interaction, please watch Simoun.

    Oh, about the media res thing, I don’t care. I like world building and thematic content, so if a series can provide that, they can tell the story however they want to.

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