Mobile Suit Gundam AGE

Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 49
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 2011-2012
Date of Review: March 10, 2014

Here we have an epic tale stretching across a century, focusing on a multigenerational fight against a seemingly unstoppable enemy force. The story begins as we’re introduced to teenager Flit Asuno, whose parents were tragically killed years ago during an attack by an Unknown Enemy. (Yes, they capitalize it.) When the UE strikes again, he jumps into the pilot seat of the Gundam AGE-1, a mobile suit he and his family helped design. Will the Asuno family’s legendary skill with mobile suits be enough to save the Earth Sphere?

With Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, Sunrise teamed up with seasoned video game developers Level 5, creators of such fantastic works as recent Dragon Quest games and the Professor Layton series. (And, of course, they made Gundam AGE tie-in video games.) As such, the story feels much like a video game plot at times, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Unlike most other Gundam series where the tale takes place over a few years at most, Gundam AGE ups the stakes by playing out over nearly a hundred years. This was an ambitious step, and for the most part, it worked. The first arc deals with Flit, the second with his son Asemu, the third with his son Kio, and the final act ties them all together as the Asuno family wages the final battle. The plot is fairly consistent throughout all four arcs, with the second arc being the strongest. On a few occasions, though, subplots seemed to end rather abruptly as we move into the next arc. The characters overall are great; all three Asunos are quite different from one another, and seeing Flit in particular go from a happy teenager with a sad past into a grown man with a dangerous chip on his shoulder made for a great recurring theme. Gundam AGE also had a solid supporting cast, though many of them aren’t developed as well in later arcs. At least we still got Woolf Enneacle, a hotshot mobile suit pilot who turned out to be my favorite character in the series.

The crisp, high-definition animation features a bold, bright color palette, and the art style is much more “cartoony” than in most other Gundam works. Ostensibly, this was done in order to draw in a younger audience; Gundam AGE as a whole definitely skews a bit towards the smaller set. Much of the tie-in merchandise reflects this. There’s still plenty of appeal for older fans, though, and there are some more violent scenes that keep Gundam AGE out of the kids-only camp. And, of course, in keeping with Gundam tradition, not every character is going to make it out alive.

Gundam AGE‘s mechanical design is another strong point. Multiple Gundams are featured, and this time each one is a new iteration of its predecessor as time goes on. (Fun fact: the three primary Gundams in AGE are meant to resemble those in the first three television series: Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, respectively.) The various upgrades given to each unit also help expand the story a bit rather than just throwing a new machine in there, though Gundam AGE has its share of excellent support mobile suits (especially the G-Exes and its variants). The UE mobile suit designs are a point of contention for some fans, but I appreciate that they look vastly different than the enemy mobile suits we’re used to from other series. Last but not least, even the spacecraft in Gundam AGE look impressive. Like the main Gundams, most ships are clearly nods towards previous series, but there’s a few that break the mold and offer some interesting takes on what a space battleship should look like.

Finally, I really dug the computer system design in Gundam AGE. It’s got a clean, functional look based almost entirely on touchscreens with an icon-driven interface. It’s clear that the show creators did their homework, essentially creating a working operating system. No random button pressing here! It reminds me of the attention to detail seen in Mobile Suit Gundam 00; those computer displays had black text on white backgrounds, much like paper, whereas Gundam AGE goes for a more traditional bright blue, yellow, and green glow. In both cases, the computers look useful and real, rather than just set dressing. That’s some stellar design work!

How about the music? Level 5’s video game developer credit shines through, as the Gundam AGE soundtrack often ranges from dancehall music to what sounds like video game boss fights. Nothing really stands out as a particular theme, but the score still fits the series well. Beyond music, background audio was more impressive, especially onboard ships. Plenty of electronic effects and other background noise was inserted into the soundtrack, making the environments much more realistic. Little touches like that really made Gundam AGE feel like a living, breathing universe.

All of this greatness comes at a steep price: Gundam AGE falls apart at the end. As I stated earlier, the final arc unites all three Asuno generations in the ultimate battle against the enemy. This would be fine, except that it’s rife with problems. There are three antagonists in the last arc that appear for only a few episodes each, yet are trumped up to be major threats. (One of whom gets almost no backstory and development at all!) Another character’s massive personality and philosophical shifts seem to come out of nowhere; granted, the change was required for the series to resolve itself without a planet full of dead bodies, but a little more advance plotting would’ve made a lot more sense. Even the epilogue feels rushed!

For all its flaws towards the end, I still found Gundam AGE to be quite enjoyable. It was a brave experiment in storytelling, backed up by excellent design and animation. Give it a try.

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