Gundam AGE Episodes 1, 2, and 3 – The Next Generation
It’s difficult to just talk about a Gundam series absent any deeper context. As one of the two most venerable mecha franchises in anime history (the other being Macross), there were Gundam episodes coming out before I was even alive. And although Sunrise has been willing to effectively reboot the series on more than one occasion, there are certain tropes that always seem to apply to any show with “Gundam” in the title somewhere.
Gundam AGE is another reboot, with no acknowledged ties between it and any of the predecessor series beyond the bare minimum: the name Gundam for the hero’s “mobile suit,” the usual mecha designs, and the annoying spherical robot named Haru (see above). In fact, there are enough differences, at least in the opening episodes, that I feel an initial review is warranted, even though my pledge to cover every new show this season didn’t extend to kids’ series.
If you’re in the camp that doesn’t believe that Gundam AGE is meant mostly for kids, I encourage you to actually watch the show, and pay attention this time. The incredibly goofy designs of two of the characters (made all the more jarring by the fact that their designs don’t match up with the style of the rest of the production) are a hint by themselves, as is the fact that the general animation quality is pretty lacking compared to usual Sunrise standards. There are ways to maintain stylistic fidelity to the original Gundam series without diminishing artistic precision (see Gundam Unicorn), and this show doesn’t make that cut.
There’s also the age of the protagonist. Flit Asano, our hero for the first part of the show, is only 14, yet he’s already designing a Gundam at an even younger age, and piloting it like a pro the first time out. Unlike shows like Deadman Wonderland or Future Diary, there’s no particular attempt to shock the audience by Flit’s youthfulness, or to show he is out of his depth (emotionally or otherwise) in an adult world. The story just takes for granted that someone barely into adolescence can do everything Flit can do.
The really odd thing about Gundam AGE, however, is how it ditches the usual angst-ridden discussions about war and peace, and the use of violence to achieve noble ends. At least most recent Gundam series (Gundam Wing, Gundam 00, etc.) harp on the themes of the savagery of war and the contradictory desire to fight for peace at regular intervals. It could get annoying after a while, but it was also a sign that the franchise was at least attempting moral ambiguity, which doesn’t appear to be Gundam AGE’s forte.
Instead, the enemy is faceless and literally unknown (and even called U.E. for Unknown Enemy), and are what appear to be robots following pre-established attack patterns. Those patterns call for slaughtering civilian colonies and generally being utter monsters. There’s no ambiguity here, just Flit’s desire to protect those close to him and avenge those he’s lost.
That’s not to say the show isn’t ambitious. The promo material for this series has clearly stated that this will be a depiction of a hundred-year conflict, with Flit’s son and grandson eventually following in the family tradition. Of course, promo material also reveals that all three Asanos’ will be 14 when they start piloting, so the youthful wish fulfillment part will stay unchanged throughout.
There’s also hints that the U.E. or whoever is controlling them has some deeper plans involving Flit and his family: Flit’s own life was spared in the attack on his colony seven years prior, and the first arrival of the U.E. coincided with his birth (although I think they happened in different places). The attack on Flit’s most recent home seems deliberately inefficient, and even the head of the colony seems to know more than he’s saying. I’m sure Sunrise will have an appropriately epic storyline in play for its multi-generational conflict, and perhaps it will actually be interesting.
I do want to emphasize that even though I say Gundam AGE is written primarily for kids, comparing it to your usual Saturday morning fare here in the States would be a terrible disservice to it. Just about any anime will wipe the floor with what’s on American TV when it comes to animation, so my attacks on its visual quality have to be taken as relative. Like any Gundam series, there’s enough real science in the fiction—such as human adaption to zero gravity and some concessions to real physics—to make the applied phlebotinum around the mobile suits a bit easier to swallow. (The animation also perks up when doing hard sci-fi stuff like showing off the colony.)
And while the writing hasn’t been particularly clever, or deep, or funny, or moving, or anything else that is worthy of praise, it’s not bad either. I’m sure Gundam AGE will never degrade itself with fanservice or all the requisite cliches that go with it. Consider that the advantage to being a children’s show. If I had a young son, I’m confident I could show him this series without having to worry about accidentally scarring and/or corrupting him somehow, and he would think it was the coolest thing in the world.
I, on the other hand, am no longer quite that young. I can appreciate that the Gundam franchise is wide enough to encompass many different series and prospective audiences. If Gundam 00 is attempt to take the ideas of the franchise and update them for modern sensibilities, and Gundam Unicorn is an attempt to give longtime fans an flashback from their childhood, than Gundam AGE is an attempt to reach out to a younger demographic and set them up to watch more mature Gundam series later down the road. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not for me.