The first arc's main protagonist.
After cancelling my plan to watch Steins;Gate as I waited for the Blu-ray version, my attention then switched to a high-priority anime title that just ended its run when I watched Endless Eight. Mobile Suit Gundam AGE is the second Gundam series reviewed here after Mobile Suit Gundam 00. There is a very important change made in this latest non-Universal Century (U.C.) Gundam installment, that set it apart from Gundam 00 and other non-U.C. titles like Gundam SEED and Gundam Wing, both I have watched before starting this blog. This change, which I can call very drastic, revolutionary even, caused this Gundam title to be vastly different in unexpected ways compared to its predecessors in the past. Want to know what the change is? You should continue reading then.
These lines right in the first episode clearly shows what this anime's target demographic is.
A few years before the start of this series, our main male protagonist’s family were killed in an attack of their space colony by an unidentified space invaders. To fulfill his mother’s dying wish, he started to build a mobile suit under the mentoring of his foster father, and as the construction finished, those unidentified aliens conveniently shows up and try to destroy the colony he is living on. Seeing that, he then gets into the cockpit, straps on the seat-belt, fired up the mobile suit and went all-out gun blazing kicking alien’s ass. Oh a question: did mobile suit pilots in Gundam Wing, SEED and 00 wear seat belts?
The change I have mentioned above that makes this Gundam series to be different than its non-U.C. predecessors is the switch of target demographic. It only takes me two or three episodes to realize that whoever writes the storyline for this anime is targeting a more mainstream, and different, young viewership compared to Gundam 00 and co. If the likes of Gundam 00/SEED/Wing shared their audiences with U.C. Gundam titles, Gundam AGE instead shares its intended target demographic with, surprise, surprise, Cardfight!! Vanguard.
With the demographic switch, the storyline 4-arc anime series has a less-nuanced approach to the battle between good and evil, starker differences between black and white and more reliance on characters’ deaths as a plot device, which is the staple of many titles that targets the same demographic as this anime is. This is probably why this Gundam series is less talked-about compared to other non-U.C. titles out there in cyberspace. Is this a good thing? In theory, the answer is yes, after all, watching titles like Cardfight!! Vanguard is one of my guilty pleasures. But practically, problems with presentations and plot executions prevents this anime from reaching its absolute potential.
And lines like this later in the series reinforced that switch.
This 49-episode series is divided into 4 arcs, with the first three having a different main protagonist. The first arc is just your typical mecha action hero stuff common in titles subbed by TV-Nihon fansub group. You won’t see this kind of storyline in previous Gundam titles, whether U.C. or non-U.C. ones. Romantic subplots in this arc is good though, vastly better than the one in Gundam 00, and actually is very instrumental in shaping this arc main protagonist’s character in subsequent arcs. The second arc, featuring the son of the first arc’s main protagonist fathered with his second-choice childhood friend, is even better because he (the second arc’s main protagonist) is basically Shinn Asuka done right, with believable path to redemption to boot. The fact that he doesn’t have the X-Rounder powers helps his characterization greatly. Romance subplots in this arc isn’t really as good or has as much impact as the one in the previous arc though.
The third arc, featuring the son of the second arc’s main protagonist fathered with his first-choice high-school friend, is the worst arc in the whole series. The reason for this is that this arc repeats exactly the same mistakes done in the second season of Gundam 00; cliché-laden dialogues and predictable plot. Plus, the fact that this arc’s main protagonist is the weakest link in the family doesn’t help either. This arc has almost zero romantic subplots, which is probably a good thing. The fourth arc, featuring all three main protagonists of the past arcs, is better and is an improvement from the third arc, but not as good as the first and second arcs. I have a major complaint about the final arc, which will be explained later below.
What detracts from this Gundam’s unique storyline (when compared to other Gundam titles) is presentation. In the very first episode, I can already see haphazard scene transitions right from the start, which in turn also affect the flow of the story negatively. But this problem seems to be reduced in subsequent arcs, or maybe I just have gotten used to it? Another problem that this Gundam has that its non-U.C. predecessors doesn’t have is numerous forced drama scenes. For example, someone has to explain why that Riria kid goes to the surface of Fardain in her first attempt when the two Fardain factions started to shoot at each other.
As I mentioned before, this Gundam has pivoted its storyline to target a different demographic, the one that is the same as Cardfight!! Vanguard. If there is any issue you can have with this switch, that would the the writer’s failures to remove common clichés that is common in the genre out from the storyline. The most prominent of those clichés seen in this anime would be the abundance of moments of serendipity and convenience. An example of this can be seen in episode 9, when the 1st arc main protagonist meets the alien’s mobile suit far away from his Diva mothership, he can conveniently summon his Gundam to fight it as if the Diva is located right next to him. If this is Gundam SEED or 00, the main protagonist would have to fight the alien’s mobile suit using the Shadolls mobile suit that can be found at the workshop he is in.
This mobile suit transfer scene depicted above is the worst breaker of suspension of disbelief in the history of the anime industry.
Still talking about the example I mentioned above, that event has a scene that destroys suspension of disbelief, something I last seen in Gosick. The moment the main protagonist’s team mate says “You have 15 seconds to perform the mobile suit transfer” (or something to that effect), I instantly scream “That sir, is fucking bullshit”. There is no way a normal human being, that only wear normal clothes instead of a pilot or a spacesuit, can even survive one second in deep space vacuum. This is totally bad writing by whoever wrote this story. As I mentioned the last paragraph, this anime employs plenty of the ‘moments of convenience’ plot device; I can easily think of a couple of methods using the ‘moments of convenience’ thingy that will allow the main protagonist to switch mobile suits while still keeping suspension of disbelief intact.
Amongst all non-U.C. Gundam titles I have watched, Gundam AGE has the fastest pacing of them all. With only 49 episodes yet having 4 substantial arcs within it, this is pretty much inevitable. If this Gundam wants to have the similar excellent pacing seen in Gundam 00 for example, this anime will need at least 30 extra episodes at the minimum, and personally I think should have been done. The fast pacing this anime has is also definitely one of the factors that contribute to the haphazard flow of the storyline I mentioned before.
Character developments in this anime is mixed bag at best. The obvious best character in this anime is the main protagonist of the second arc, BUT only in that arc. Him in the third and fourth arc is just so-so. The first arc’s main protagonist is quite decent in his own arc, but become much better (and senile?) in the final arc, overshadowing both of his descendants in the process. The less said about his grandchild, the better. My biggest problem about characterization in this anime is how some secondary characters that appears in the second and third arc simply melted away into nothingness (read: written out of the storyline) without any explanation whatsoever.
Speaking about the ending, I have two main problems with it. The first beef I have with the ending would be the fact that it was crammed into merely two episodes or something, causing the pacing to go through the roof. My second problem with the ending is how it was written. If you expect epic mobile suit duels befitting for a finale scene, you will be disappointed. The two main antagonists in the anime loses their finale battles mainly because they are distracted, not because their opponents are superior to them. Definitely a letdown considering the build-up to the finale.
The third arc's main protagonist.
If you can’t discern the demographic change just by looking at the storyline, the drastic change of character designs in Gundam AGE should slap you into reality. Again, the character designs in this anime is similar to ones in anime titles that are subbed by TV-Nihon fansub group. And the character designs in this anime is pretty much typical of anime titles that aims for that target demographic. Black hairs are rare, but then again this anime is set up in a futuristic age where humans live in space colonies, therefore I expect the humans of that time has evolved to ditch the black hairs and acquires dark green dreadlocks instead (plus X-Rounder powers as a bonus).
Only the mecha designs did not really change, although the Gundam designs in this anime resembles more of its counterparts in U.C. Gundam titles than in the past non-U.C. Gundam titles. To maximize the SKU that Bandai can sell, each Gundam version has the ability to ‘evolve’ into different shapes with different accessories and different power-ups. This actually helps the storyline a lot, not to mention the benefits for character developments and Bandai’s coffers.
The best thing that happened in the second arc, and possibly the whole series too.
Voice acting in this anime is good in general, and better than the last one seen in Gundam 00. But even that, I do not think there is any outstanding voice acting gigs in this anime.
If you are expecting any JAM Project OP/ED themes in this anime, then you will be for a disappointment. Between all 8 OP/ED themes in this anime, only the 2nd and 3rd ED themes are good. The OST itself are excellent, especially the one that plays in important events in the first arc.
This anime used the motion blurring animation technique in many of its action scenes, therefore a point will be docked from its final evaluation. Other than that issue, regretfully I have to report that the animation quality in this Gundam title has regressed when compared to what seen in Gundam 00. Choreography for action scenes are better though, except for important battles in the finale. The director hasn’t made any blunders character-wise too, unlike his counterpart in Gundam 00.
7 out of 10. I think Sunrise’s decision to pivot this anime’s storyline to target a more mainstream demographic is a good one, but the execution could do with more improvements. Sunrise should keep this demographic change for the next non–U.C. Gundam title (while keeping U.C. Gundam titles for Gundam’s more traditional fans) and then ask the Tiger & Bunny’s director and writer to make it happen. The prospect of a Gundam title that is as awesome as Tiger and Bunny is truly salivating.
This Westernized method of presentation has never been seen in a Gundam title before. Unfortunately, its usage is restricted to the first half of the series only.