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.