FEATURE: Mobile Suit Gundam AGE

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM AGE
"Three Destinies will form History"

Original Creators
Yoshiyuki Tomino · Hajime Yatate

Director
Susumu Yamaguchi

Mechanical Designs
Kanetake Ebikawa
Junya Ishigaki
Kenji Teraoka

Character Designs
Takuzō Nagano

Production
Sunrise Inc.
Mainichi Broadcasting System (MBS)
Level 5

Two years after Mobile Suit Gundam 00 ended on a relatively excellent note, Sunrise decided to take the next Gundam series on a different route. The Gundam franchise has stood the test of time for 30 years and for it to continue further, a new generation of audiences must be introduced. To realize this, a collaboration with game studio Level 5 (Professor Leyton, Inazuma Eleven) was formed to produce a series with the task of being an introductory series for the younger demographic to the Gundam mythos. And after 49 episodes to elaborate its unique narrative, was Mobile Suit Gundam AGE able to deliver the drive that will usher in the newer audience to sustain the franchise?

Announcement Reception

Before going any further, let’s talk about the initial backlash that Gundam AGE received upon its initial announcement. Back in June 2011, rumors were spreading that the 12th Gundam series was in the works and will premiere in the fall of that same year, just like the previous series were. Announcements were first made in Shogakukan’s CoroCoro Comic, a publication mainly aimed at children. This immediately gave a knee-jerk impression of what will be the series’ tone. In the formal announcement that followed, it was then revealed that game company Level 5 was involved with the production with its president Akihiro Hino spearheading the story.

Magazine scans of the characters then began appearing all over the internet. These further implanted the “R” in “AGE” (RAGE) as many were already drawing conclusions that this Gundam series will be for children (i.e. "Gundam for Babies") simply because of the "childish" character designs. Others have even gone as far as complaining that it will be a worse travesty of the franchise than Mobile Fighter G Gundam back when it was on air. Next targeted by this wave of superfluous internet rage were the mobile suit designs. While the titular Gundam looks like a definitive RX-78-2 Gundam derivative to say the least, the enemy mobile suits designs drew reactions suggesting that they were alien in nature. Take note that the Gundam 00 movie A wakening of the Trailblazer was the first entry in the franchise to introduce aliens as primary antagonists… And as expected, that didn’t sit well with the vocal fanbase.

So months before it even started, Gundam AGE was already receiving undue flak when it hasn’t even aired a single episode. That’s overreaction right there.

Plot & Premise

A typical premise for any Gundam animated production involves a war fought between those that reside on Earth, usually represented by the Earth Federation Forces of that story, and some colonists that wanted to gain independence for reasons convenient to the plot. For the case of Gundam AGE, the production team was ambitious in trying to present what they described as a "century-spanning Gundam saga". To achieve this, they established a multi-generational story focusing on the Asuno lineage of mobile suit developers to which details about the war and the enemies they’re fighting were revealed throughout the course of 100 years. The scope of the story was also decentralized to cover events happening not only within the Earth and its colonies but also expanded to include Mars as well. With this, writers and designers had more creative freedom on how the characters and mobile suits will be depicted without having to alienate the current followers.

This kind of story was definitely a fresh take for a Gundam series as it tried to emulate a space opera-like feel similar to that of Legend of the Galactic Heroes through the use of multiple protagonists. Actions and decisions made during one generation will not only have immediate effects, but will also have ramifications that will extend through the next 20-30 years and will drive the plot of that generation. From a marketing standpoint, it was also the first series in a while to break from the "sentai forumla" that previous Gundam productions had. Each generation only had a single mobile suit to bear the Gundam name, at least until the point where each Gundam worked together for the series’ climax.

Gundam AGE had a lot of potential in terms of storytelling, but the same setup also gave the series one of its greatest faults.

Mechanics

Gundam AGE has probably the most unique of enemy designs, and using unique to describe them is an understatement. For starters, the Vagan mobile suits sport organic-like design elements such as wings, claws and tails. If those weren’t enough, they were also depicted in the animation to have movements along the lines of monsters rather than soldiers. Doing so provides the mysterious nature of these enemies, which introduces more terror whenever they appear. Combining these points further established the unknown origins of these enemies back when they were first introduced in the series — thus being referred to in-universe-wise as the "Unknown Enemy (UE)". Though in all honesty, getting oneself to appreciate the Vagan designs can take quite a while.

Those of the Earth Federation Forces, while not as stark of a divergence like those from the Vagan side, still remained as derivatives to the classic Gundam federation grunts without being lazy designs themselves. The Gundams, on the other hand, were different stories. As part of the effort to make Gundam AGE a gateway series for newcomers, not only did it borrow story elements from the Universal Century, but the Gundams themselves were also homages to their predecessors. The Gundam AGE-1 definitely echoed the RX-78-2 Gundam while the Gundam AGE-2 and its Strider Mode were inspired by the Zeta Gundam and its Waverider Mode. Finally, the Gundam AGE-3 with its overall aesthetic and core-block system had its roots from the ZZ Gundam. Each Gundam also had variations through the use of "Wears" where the core body remains intact while the limbs were replaced depending on the combat requirements.

If the previous series had two lead Gundams… Gundam AGE tramples those with four.

Execution

With a very promising story coupled with interesting mechanical designs, Gundam AGE had the potential to be a great series. Completing the circle lies on how the whole concept would to be executed. Unfortunately, it was in the execution where most problems haunted the series in its 49-episode run. As for what these problems were, they can be summarized into three points — Episode Count Limitations, Unused Story Elements and Characterization.

Gundam series are usually given 49 to 51 episodes to expound on its narrative. With the premise of Gundam AGE however, it had three stories to tell given the same number of episodes. Therefore, each generation has roughly 15 or so episodes to fit the year-long production run. Fifteen episodes may sound too short, but a lot Japanese animated series are aired in a single cour (i.e. a half-season with 13 episodes) and are still able to produce outstanding stories. How the generational approach was handled in Gundam AGE added to the disappointment that a lot of people had with the series.

The First Generation story had the task of setting up both the hundred-year long conflict and who could be said as the primary protagonist of the series, Flit Asuno. The episode pacing was decent, though some arcs (i.e. the opening arc) dragged unnecessarily when the time could have been spent on character development. Still, they were successful in justifying the reason as to why Flit became the person he would be years after. This ushers in the Second Generation story as the viewers were introduced to Asemu Asuno and his whole dilemma of being under the shadow of his father, now the commander of the Earth Federation Forces. Zeheart Galette also made an entrance through the whole high school arc. Asemu then discovered that he didn’t inherit Flit’s X-Rounder abilities, resulting in much needed angst </sarcasm>. The writers had to set up the rivalry between Asemu and Zeheart, which took a quarter of the second generation, then deal with developing Asemu out of his inferiority complex. It also didn’t help that of the three generations, his got the shortest at 13 episodes. Though as consolation, Asemu went on to become awesome by the Third Generation, which then brings Kio Asuno into the spotlight. The story got off to a really great start, immediately bringing the new protagonist up to speed of what he had to deal with. Kio was an idealistic pilot at the start and the episodes were quick enough to make him realize the harsh realities of war. What his character developed into is a different story though.

Outside of the three Asunos, Gundam AGE had trouble in handling character developments, with only a handful exceptions. And these don’t include the female protagonists (i.e. Emily, Romary and Wendy) who all got the short ends of the stick. They contributed close to nothing to the plot and only served as future mothers of the following generation. The series also had the habit of introducing named characters as convenient plot devices, mostly during the third generation. Who could have forgotten Girard Spriggan as everyone was shouting her name every time? She gave the notion of a top-tier villain with her interaction with Zeheart and all but in the end, she was just a glorified disgruntled soldier. Then there’s Kio, and while he got development as a lead protagonist, he became the stereotypical pacifist pilot and that’s it — in the same vain as Kira Yamato — causing the majority to be annoyed by his actions. Needless to say, Gundam AGE may have many forgettable characters, but those who were unforgettable really stood out. There’s Woolf Enneacle where despite being a self-serving ego-maniac, he had an honest to goodness concern for his subordinates. Same is true with Grodek Ainoa with his no nonsense attitude and solid conviction.

The writers also weren’t able to utilize existing story elements that had the potential of serving as great plot points. There’s the almost-mythical EXA-DB to which the whole existence of the Visidian space pirates was tied to. It was analogous to the Black History from Turn A Gundam, holding technology that could change the tides of war. It was there to emanate a sense of danger when used by the wrong hands, leading to catastrophe. However, a number of episodes passed after its introduction and then it was easily destroyed, seemingly as if it was there just to justify the existence of the mobile armor Sid.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Mobile Suit Gundam AGE was not an excellent show, but it should not be easily named the worst in the franchise (Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY still has that title). Despite all the problems and challenges the production team had, they definitely deserved credit in trying to present a new take on the classic Gundam story. The series had potential but poor execution brought it to mediocre territory. Leading back to the original intent of Gundam AGE — Was it able to draw in a new generation of followers to the franchise? Honestly, it was a hit or miss kind of series that eventually ended up as more of a miss. Still, Gundam AGE was an enjoyable show with its own strengths and distinctiveness. It was the story of Flit Asuno; the boy who wanted to be a savior, went astray due to his internal struggles, but was able to come full circle and became the person he always wanted.


Image Credits: Mobile Suit Gundam AGE @ Twitter · TASTE

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