Gundam AGE as Healthy Failure?

I’ve been enjoying Gundam AGE quite a bit since it began airing, and I think it’s a solid show (thought not without its flaws) which successfully utilizes its main premise of a battle being fought over multiple generations. The second generation hero Asemu is a far cry from his dad Flit when they were similar ages, and through hindsight it ends up highlighting what made Flit unique in the first place. As it turns out, though, Gundam AGE isn’t doing so well in the ratings, and it apparently has failed to reach the kids demographic it was trying for in the first place. At this point, it’s pretty easy to just say that the mistake was marketing to kids, that they shouldn’t have repulsed the older fanbase through the kiddier designs and the like, and that the solution is more UC (or things similar to the Universal Century stories), but I think this would be a huge mistake.

Putting aside the fact that this is not the first time that a good Gundam series has disappointed in the ratings (see Gundam X and even the original Mobile Suit Gundam) and just assuming that nothing the show does now will turn it around, the kind of risk that Sunrise took in gearing Gundam AGE towards a younger demographic is, in my opinion, the healthiest kind of failure there is. Well, if you consider it in terms of profits lost I’m sure there would be some disagreements, but what I mean by healthy failure is that they didn’t have to do this, but saw that there is a potential market from a new generation far removed from the original 1979 anime, and made a concerted effort to appeal to it. It reminds me of Sunrise’s recent hit, Tiger & Bunny, because that show was a surprise hit to even Sunrise themselves, and I have to wonder if it encouraged them to take more risks. Obviously I don’t know if AGE was in planning before or after T&B, but there seems to be this general spirit of experimentation which I’d rather not see stifled because of this setback.

When Sunrise did research into why kids weren’t getting into AGE, they arrived at the conclusion that kids these days don’t understand or know about wars and space colonies. It seems like an odd result, but assuming that this is the problem (or perhaps more accurately that modern kids don’t care about space war by default), the thing I want to point out is that there are ways to work from this information without just abandoning it entirely. If the children of Japan today are ignorant of wars and space colonies, then perhaps one of the goals of a Gundam which targets them should be to introduce those concepts  as if they were entirely new. In other words, if it’s unfamiliar, make it familiar.

Perhaps an easier solution would be to just find out what the kids like and transform the premise to fit the current trends, but I don’t think the solution has to be an all-or-nothing endeavor, even if Gundam AGE may have toed the line too much. Heck, I think looking back at the previous alternate universe of G Gundam could provide some nice possibilities, not so much because of the martial arts aspect, but the premise of having Gundams from various nations each with their own special abilities, which isn’t that far off from the cast of a collectible card game/monster battle show.

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7 thoughts on “Gundam AGE as Healthy Failure?

  1. I enjoy Age, and enjoyed your post, but our views on this franchise differ in key ways.

    The original Gundam was notable for finding an audience slightly older than previous mecha shows. Gundam was an anime which appealed to a lot of the desires of a young audience; the nerdy youth who discovers an awesome robot, the relatable teen-angst, and even the young civilian characters like Katz. Yet in Gundam there was also an element of the ‘military-otaku’ which became prevalent in the 1980’s. Gundam was a way for the japanese to celebrate a ‘good war’ after the end of WWII, building models of fictional weapons, without the taint of WWII and the defeat of Imperial Japan. I think a good part of why 0079 succeeded was capturing these two demographics and moulding them into a cohesive whole. A show that military otaku could obsess over, learning the vital dates of the OYW and inspecting Zeon uniform, and which kids could insert themselves into, imagining themselves as a precocious young boy who falls into the cockpit of an amazing mech.

    Over the course of three decades the appeal of gundam has morphed along with its tone and style. We’ve had bishounen orientated series, super-robot esque series, post-apocalyptic series, ect. With Unicorn it seems to have come full-circle, the ‘Japanese Tom Clancy’, Harutoshi Fukui, is writing them, and the series plays heavily on nostalgia for 0079, as well as building a laborious and detailed exploration of the UC timeline. This approach seems to have paid off considering the astronomical sales of that OAV series, but I do agree with you: targeting Gundam Age to kids was a good move. The salarymen buying Unicorn blurays will not be around forever, and to keep this franchise healthy Sunrise needs to target newer generations.

    The problem with Age is that its targeting a younger generation at a younger age than they ever have before – with a main series anyway. Yet the actual content of Age is very much the oldschool Gundam flair, filled with shout-outs for UC-faithfuls; with set-pieces reminiscent of A BOA QU and the AXIS DROP. The three generation plot-line is very well handled with very consistent development for characters like Flit. Hell, by the end of the first Age the show is even dipping its toe into the murky waters of Gundam politics. This is all stuff designed to appeal to the same audience as Unicorn, yet it will be meaningless for kids, as will the significance of the X-Rounders, and their slight subversion of the newtype formula, and other things fan like us appreciate.
    Yet the promotional art for Age seems specifically designed to steer these fans clear away from Age, and only attract the pokemon crowd. Early images flaunted the Age Device, a gimmick clearly designed for toy tie-ins, and most likely inspired by recent Kamen Rider entries, which is barely seen in the show itself. Similarly, the character designs are not only steered heavily towards children, but also simply bad. Certain side characters, Dique especially, look like odd blobs with spiky hair drawn on top. The beauty of Yasuhiko’s designs were they could attract kids with the youthful designs of Amuro and Co., while still implying a certain level of austerity and maturity when it came to the Zeon higher-ups and Feddie politicians. Appealing to kids is great, but there is no need to actively push away your core fanbase.

    Age, rather than trying to mould these two audiences together is innerly divided between them; through its kiddish, pokemon-style art, and oldschool story reminiscent of the UC plotline. For that reason it was destined to fail.

    PS: The AGE-3 is an awesome design.

    PPS: G-Saviour is an ok movie, probably better than chars counterattack.

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  2. The start of the new arc in AGE has me so pleased, but I feel a bit bitter about it not being well received. I enjoy the show and really would like to spread it around more~ Among some friends they remark they won’t watch due to the ‘kiddie’ designs. Some fansub groups and others refer to it as Loli Gundam.

    I myself like most of the designs for characters, but with the robots I’m divided. Seeing animal-themed main robots, all the Vagan suits really, doesn’t make me want to buy them. I’ll sooner pick up yet another Zaku or Dom, heck maybe even a GM.
    With the characters I enjoy designs like Flit and Emily, but then there are plenty of designs that I can’t imagine appealing to anyone. Like the two faction leaders from the first arc.

    The topics are serious but the wrapping doesn’t match. I guess even though the colors are bright the quality of the design work isn’t commonly compelling.

    Agreed with the above, AGE-3 when i saw it made me swoon. The OP for that arc as well made me feel proud for enjoying the show too. Come a long way.

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  3. I suspect that Military Otakus were a 20th century pursuit. If so, no one is going to make any significant number of recruits among 21st century kids.

    During the last half of the 20th century, Big War was in. Nations strove to have the biggest and best ships, planes, and bombs, for example the impractical Tsar Bomb at 50+ megatons. With the adults obsessing about superweapons, it was easy to get kids imaginations to follow the same path. The Space Age was closely associated with Big War with the same aerospace companies competing for national prestige, and so space colonies were an easy attachment.

    Most of the wars that I see in anime or manga are the Pacific War, very infrequently Vietnam shows up. Full Metal Panic season one had a call out to Afghanistan/Iraq with a plot where Mithril threw a bunch of specialists together and sent them to steal back a Nuke in an unspecified mountainous middle-eastern country, but in my opinion it didn’t differentiate itself from classic Viet-Nam war memes. The Pacific War was the first (and God willing, the last) real Big War, with huge state of the art ships carrying the major combatant roles. That big ship meme dominates military Sci-Fi, from Yamato to Tylor to Star Trek to Galactica. Gundam has an interesting spin on it, recreating famous samurai armor with call outs to military jets, but it’s still very recognizable 20th century Big War.

    I suspect 21st century kids don’t think much about war. Unless a member of your family is involved, you can easily forget that there are even wars being fought today. In my opinion, 21st century kids think about things they can collect and carry; PSPs and Vitas, Magic Cards and Pokemon, mp3s and movie rips. Meanwhile the nations of the world are increasingly expressing their aggression with night-time assassinations from propeller powered drones, or indirectly funded terrorist cults. Dirty little proxy wars do not provide much fodder to young imaginations.

    So I suspect Gundam and Yamato will fade away, and the franchises of the future will have no call outs to Big War, but rather focus on some version of superheros, or databases of collectable widgets.

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    • Apologies for replying to this so late, but I think you make an interesting point here. Even putting aside Japan’s own experiences with fighting, War with a capital W was such a tremendous part of the world even into the 90s that it was a theme easily grasped by all. Even when war as a concept was misused or interpreted as simply gung ho good vs. evil, the idea of nations vs. nations and groups vs. groups charging onto the battlefield may have been obvious to a fault.

      While I might agree that the collectible widgets and databases approach is more prominent in the present as a result of the social-conscious receding of “big war,” I’m not sure if “dirty little proxy wars” are necessarily that bad for providing inspiration for young imaginations. What may be the problem specifically with giant robots, particularly ones as large as Gundams, is that they are big machines which exemplify big war. Sure, there have been attempts to approach giant robots as stealth units or objects of terrorism (see Gundam W, Gundam 00), but they end up in the end as large spectacles and even larger battles. In this sense, I wonder if the giant robot is effectively a relic of the 20th century, and that any consideration for how they’re used in future shows may have to undergo some major transformations (no pun intended).

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  4. Interesting thoughts on the show. I am somewhat enjoying it, but as it was pointed before AGE’s main problem for me is it’s lack of cohesiveness.

    I’m glad that the Diva now has a much more colourful crew. In two episodes this third arc show the possibility of saving the series from it’s averageness/mediocrity.

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