Today I'm looking at Gundam AGE, a show that has been perpetually stuck in my watch pipeline for a couple of months now. If I had to describe Gundam AGE in a sentence, it would be this: It had a mega-ton of potential, but it squandered every drop of it. Yep, it's that bad.
The premise of Gundam AGE came from gaming company Level-5 (known for game series like Professor Layton) after Sunrise hired them for a Gundam video game. After seeing the promise in the premise, Sunrise instead upgraded it to the next entry in the Gundam television universe.
Gundam AGE follows the exploits of the Asuno family during humanity's almost hundred year war with the Vagan. That's right, a hundred years. What that means is that we have three protagonists, each having their own arc inside the forty-nine episode series. Each arc carries on to the next one and the child of the previous protagonist takes the center stage.
The original protagonist doesn't just exit stage left either, the previous characters stick around and fold into the story when prudent.
Honestly speaking, the general setup of Gundam AGE had bundles of potential. It was the perfect opportunity to subvert dozens of Gundam tropes all in one go and slip a ton of things past the management. The idea that the show would follow the lives of three generations of the Asuno family would have been a great opportunity to explore three very different protagonists that could break the usual Gundam protagonist archetypes. For instance, if I'd have been on the writing staff, my immediate thought would have been to make the second or third protagonist a girl.
It's a crazy thought, I know, having a girl as a Gundam protagonist, but it's been done once before! It's not that out there! We could have a guy in the first part of the series to ease the audience into this idea of a girl protagonist slowly. It's possible!
My next thought is to have one of the protagonists defect to the opposing side, possibly the final one. This would introduce a very complex dynamic between the previous protagonists and the current one. It could explore themes similar to the ones that Gundam SEED tackled before it, but even better. Since the previous protagonists are firmly established and we understand them, it could make it truly excellent.
There's endless potential to interweave the stories of each generation and depict the complex relationships between a family that has literally been involved in the war for decades.
Lastly, if nothing else, the theme songs for this series were pretty good, although I particularly like the third one.
...Unfortunately that's it. Gundam AGE squandered it all. The plot was mixed at best and it fell into a terrifying cycle of doing the exact same thing over and over again. This wouldn't be so bad if the plot was good, but it wasn't. It had issues from just the first few episodes with pacing, plot holes, and ridiculous broken Aesops of epic proportions.
The first big example of this comes from the "enemy" themselves: the Vagan. They're initially presented as an extremely powerful enemy that can't be reasoned with, then they desperately try to humanize them (heh) and make their struggle seem righteous later.
The problem is that no matter how you look at it, they still come off as gigantic assholes, pardon the language. "We were exiled to Mars! Now we're going to take over Earth and exile you too!"
What the hell is this? The first grade? You've got to be kidding me. Has it never occurred to you stupid Vagan that doing this will just result in the same bullshit in the future when humanity comes back to kick your ass? You did it, so they can do it too. Even the most arrogant prick will realize this.
The show and Vagan characters harp on and on about how the Vagan only kill after they've given people the chance to escape, but that's a load too. In the early episodes we see the Vagan murder an entire space station. Oh, but they gave them time to get into escape pods to escape! That's alright!
No, it isn't. In reality what kind of rescue ship is going to go anywhere near a space station that was just murdered by three enemy mobile suits without breaking a sweat?
None if anyone is smart. Boom, the entire colony is dead. Let's not even mention how everyone on the colony nearly died anyway if it weren't for the human military putting a nutter sort of plan into motion. You Vagan are so full of yourselves, honest to God. Am I seriously supposed to sympathize with these guys?
Compounding these problems is the weakest damn female cast in decades. It's practically unbeatable. I'm not some feminist or extreme equal opportunist, but this show seems to only have women characters so the girl can pop out the next protagonist with the previous one. It's just sad. Considering how I thought this show would've been the the perfect place for a female Gundam protagonist, this is even more grating.
There's really not much to Gundam AGE at the end of the day. Each arc follows the same basic formula (guy protagonist introduced, first-girl always wins love interest comes next, Vagan attack ensues, Gundam introduced, stuff happens) and it suffers for it tremendously.
Like I said, this was the perfect series to mess with the Gundam formula and introduce subversions, aversions, and inversions on their usual tropes by using the three generations as a way to explore the conflict and the toll it takes on both humanity and the Asuno family. Instead, we got a series that was heavy on action, broken Aesops, and repetition. It took what I was expecting it to do and did none of it. Not a single thing.
Gundam AGE was a show with tons of potential and, in my opinion, squandered literally all of it it with poor characterization, baffling plot decisions, and ridiculous repetition. What else is there really to say past that the plot was mixed at best and the characters fluctuated between terrible and average.
Despite being in a prime position to do things like have a female protagonist, Gundam AGE plays it boringly safe by having three young male protagonists. As if to mock me further, the entire female cast is very weak. Even the strongest ones either get no screen time or poor characterization. The main females are the childhood friends of each respective protagonist and they seem to exist solely to give the show an excuse to have another protagonist after this one. It's just sad, it really is.
I consider Gundam AGE to be the worst Gundam show I've seen. Having seen at least a few episodes of most UC shows (Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta, Victory) and more recent ones like Gundam SEED Destiny, I think I can say that with confidence. It's made all the worse by the fact that I can see Gundam AGE's premise being one of the better Gundam shows if the execution matches it. Unfortunately, it's not and we're left with this broken thing.
Please note that as of earlier this year, Gundam.info redacted their Gundam AGE streaming videos. I'm not aware of why this happened and I'm not really that interested in finding out as you can tell.
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images herein.
This is part of Anime Marathon 2014, a continuation of Anime Marathon 2013 by popular demand. I'm on a mission to review every anime I can for the TAY community and anyone else that wants to read it. I can never guarantee when these reviews will be posted, but I'll do my best to keep it consistent.
You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner.