Gundam AGE had a lot of very neat ideas and tried to do something different for a change for a Gundam series. It failed, very badly. For the first time, I have to agree with the haters but AGE did not fail because of the kiddy character designs, it failed because it blew (almost) every chance it had to do something, anything right.
AGE will likely be forgotten and get the “There is no [x] anime” treatment like a certain Type-Moon series, but had it just streamlined some basic elements of its plot, It wouldn’t have been so bad in the long run. First of all, I never imagined I’d use the word “rushed” to describe a 49 episode series, but sadly AGE just couldn’t get the pacing right, like a certain anime did before. Things were introduced and discarded at around the same time, usually a couple episodes if even that. There was hardly any cohesive storytelling and if there was (Asemu arc), it was handled poorly. I’ll break this review down by generation:
Generation 1 – Flit:
Tied for first with generation 2, though I feel it’s slightly weaker given how it tried to find its footing and thus stumbled (hello, Fardain arc). But this arc is what started it all, and gave us pretty much 90% of the best characters and why they’re better is because they had TIME to develop, in some cases lasting all three generations. It started off quite well, and I had wanted to prove the haters wrong but alas I guess I’m not the only critic of character designs. Honestly, this is where the technical merits shined: the animation was impressive (but still didn’t hold a candle to 00), the MS designs were incredibly diverse and well designed and the music was in line with the Gundam franchise. No complaints, but then once I realized just how many episodes each arc was going to likely get (no more than 25-26 definitely), I knew AGE encountered a problem that had no remedy for and indeed, it ended up being an odd 49 episodes thanks to the useless Olympics (sorry, not a fan of it at all) due to scheduling. Somehow the ending, the battle of Ambat, managed to work but only barely. It did a good job by uncovering the real identity of the U.E., Vagan, but many loose ends were left like the major but predictable time skip. I finished playing the Gundam AGE PSP game (in Japanese) and it actually filled in some holes by showing Flit before generation 2 but after the fall of Ambat and wow, the way it was handled on a small handheld console makes me embarrassed to think who was behind the anime, because the game actually did a better job than the anime in my opinion (and it’s fun as hell to play). Which leaves this: Had AGE just been a game, it would have been a mild success: still not the mega popular hits of SEED, 00 and Unicorn but it wouldn’t have been inducted into the Gundam anime hall of fame (or shame in this case). Overall score for gen 1 – 6.5/10
Generation – 2 Asemu:
The messages of generation 2 were one I had hoped would lead the series: instead of relying on flashy powers, can there be a character who uses sheer power to kick ass? Yes there can. That was the one aspect I loved about the second arc: It had a clear goal, to show that the son of the legendary X-Rounder could handle his own weight in combat and it set up the relationship with him, Zeheart and Romary in a way that would have been very interesting had the arc gotten more episodes. But no, generation 2 was the shortest of the three: a painfully small 13 episodes, nowhere near enough to do any of the above plot ideas in a way that would logically make sense. But AGE screwed this one up: instead of using every available resource to at least try and reach that goal, they spent useless episodes on a boring school setting that ended up backfiring in their faces when it was painfully obvious it was meant to reel in more younger viewers. And just when the arc was finally getting ready for the ending, it was completely rushed. Introducing some federation commander dude only to be revealed as a spy, then having Flit take all the glory. That was just plain dumb. Oh well, Woolf went out like a boss and the second generation had the best battle theme song of the series, so there’s some redeemable things about the second arc but it stands as a painful reminder and symbolizes the potential of this series bogged by awful scriptwriters. Overall score for gen 2 – 6.5/10
Generation 3 – Kio & Final Arc
Good lord, this show jumped the shark with Kio. He’s so utterly annoying and preachy I’d rather listen to Haru from Accel World wallow in self-pity. I guess part of why he turned out the way he did was because his dad (Asemu) totally disappeared from his last mission and never came back home even when he had every chance to. Gee, super pilot/pirate but not super father eh Asemu? Still, when his only influence is a grandpa who lost his family, mentor (Bruzar), girlfriend, second mentor (Grodek), third mentor (Woolf) and believed to lose his son, I feel really bad for Kio being influenced by such a emotionally distraught person. This arc had a lot of more promising characters than past arcs, but because we’re already near the end the chance of them receiving decent development hovered around 0%. I liked the captain, Natora, but she quickly just became another fatality: being a female in Gundam AGE is akin to being a male in a harem series (Rito from To Love-Ru or Ichika from Infinite Stratos), aka being treated like a bumbling moron or being forgotten. But what irked me the most about this arc and what ended up being the major negative (in my opinion) in this series is the “peace and harmony” solution, aka the understanding end/route which started when Kio got captured by the Vagans, got to live the Vagan life, meet some girl we were supposed to care about who dies in like two episodes and her death becomes Kio’s rallying cry for peace to the world. I was hoping, even praying that it wouldn’t end like the 00 movie which was chalk full of sappy preachiness and shares one very similar element with AGE: the rise and fall of the final boss. Both the 00 movie and AGE introduced the final boss at the wrong time and they both ended up being completely forgettable and I question why they were villains in the first place. Still amidst the awful and rushed ending, Kio’s obsessive preachy attitude and prolonged neglect of any female character not named Fram, AGE-3 had some good points to it, once again the mecha designs were stylish and creative even if they weren’t given the best animation to compliment such nice designs and it also had some nice things like the death scenes of a few key characters including the Diva itself which may sound weird, but I felt the Diva’s destruction was the saddest death in AGE because it did truly last longer than everyone else and carried a lot of memories. Generation 3 gets a 4/10 including the ending.
I truly held hope for AGE for the longest time until the fourth and final arc started and it just became “okay, only a few more episodes left”. The reason this post is long is because I spent so much time with AGE, time I can’t get back so I might as well write my disappointment into this post. AGE could have been at least a lot better than it turned out to be, still not as good as Gundam 00 but slightly better than 00’s second season, but now I find it to be just barely above Destiny (the worst) and the 00 movie (the second worst), which isn’t good even still. AGE will likely end up forgotten and it pains me to say this, and rightfully so. The wasted potential and bad execution can’t be overlooked just because a few characters shined or some scenes were really solid or the soundtrack was great. AGE truly ended up liked by no one: instead of just focusing on one demographic or heck just one idea, it tried to do it all and that is never, ever a good choice to make…ever.
Animation – 5/10: Would be a 4 but thankfully the MS fights were well animated for the most part and not blatantly reused like SEED and it’s bastard child sequel. Still everything else, it was painfully obvious that being the lowest selling series (average of 1,500 Blu-ray copies versus some 300,000 for Unicorn and 100,000 for the 00 Movie) would play a part in a drastically reduced budget.
Story – 6/15: Very interesting ideas, awful execution. I never thought I’d be using the words “rushed” in a 49 episode series, but yes because there was three arcs there was less time for character development except for our protagonists. But even rushed shows can still be quite decent, but AGE was in the hands of the people that brought you Inazuma Eleven…in the hands of morons. First it tried to be kid friendly, that didn’t work so it tried to appeal to the older fans by adhering to typical Gundam cliches but the damage was already done. Honestly, I feel like writing a fanfic (and I usually hate those) because AGE had so much potential and blew it, though the second generation was my favorite of them all. The ending was more rushed than anything I’ve seen before.
Characters – 12/20: Flit ended up being the most developed character, he had all 49 episodes! While some may have not liked his genocidal tendencies, Flit was remarkably consistent in this show. Asemu was the underdog: he didn’t have any special powers, but still managed to kick ass with sheer power and some time later…he becomes a pirate and leaves his family behind. Uhm, okay? I don’t want to talk about Kio, his sheer ignorance of the situations he faces just makes me want to curl up in a ball. Yurin, Woolf, Grodek and Flit were the best characters who all really contributed something to the messy plot of AGE. I did find Girard Spriggan a little interesting, only because she totally looked like Hilling Care/Ribbons Almark from Gundam 00.
Sound – 7/10: Solid soundtrack, but nowhere near as amazing as SEED’s…and Destiny’s, not even close to 00’s either but still a very pleasant OST to listen to. Lots of A-list voice actors, almost all of them voice characters with one or two lines…really Sunrise? I could name a dozen names off the top of my head, but frankly it’s not worth the effort because Sunrise and/or Level 5 didn’t either.
Enjoyment – 25/45: A 55 is still ‘average’, but average could be the result of many many great things that are almost equally cancelled out by many many awful things. AGE falls into this category, because there was a lot to like but those things were in the hand of utter morons who’s past experiences include kiddie series (real, kiddie series). AGE was a failed experiment, one I hope Sunrise will never attempt again unless it’s an in-house work and not given to a company known for kiddie franchises: heck I’d love to see a Pokemon/Gundam crossover, that would be awesome especially if the people who animated that Black/White 2 commercial animated the series, now that would be every 90’s child’s (and older) wet dream. Oh sorry, about AGE…Umm, yeah. That’s all folks!