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February 8, 2012 / Bradley

Sunrise Loves the Little Children: Mobile Suit Gundam AGE 1 – 15

Over the weekend I surprised myself by quickly watching the first arc of Gundam AGE in several lengthy sessions over a matter of days. I don’t think of myself as a Gundam fan- though I adore the original movie trilogy- and hadn’t planned to watch it until I had ordered some gunpla a couple weeks back. One of those gunpla is the new AGE 01 model, and I thought it might be good to get some more background on the robot I would be building before I snap it together in the coming weeks. (Now I understand how Bandai gets ya – you buy the cartoons for the robot toys, and you buy the robot toys for the cartoons). Now that I’ve finished the first story arc I’ve got several thoughts roiling in my head, waiting to come out. And that’s what this blog is for, right? Let’s see if we can organize these disparate observations I’ve been mulling over for the past day.

I appreciate a robot who carries a gun as big as his leg in one hand.

It’s hard to talk about Gundam AGE without talking about its audience: children. And something about an anime primarily for children rankles anime fans. We like to hold up our hobby- or more accurately, justify to skeptical family and friends- as something mature, with its emphasis on characters and themes and symbolism and other words we kind of remember from 7th Grade English Literature. Anime for children- even though many beloved series are for children- seems to fly in the face of that. The initial reaction to this series was either irritation from fans who thought Sunrise was lowballing a new series’ potential or the equally annoying set of folks who condescendingly reminded those fans that there’s nothing wrong with a series for children. I’d like to think I understand where both of these views are coming from. I’m convinced anime for children is not just “fine” but a good thing, and is often a source for some of the medium’s most inspired work. And a brighter, more colorful series may be just what Gundam needs right now after a long stretch of dour, serious anime. But being dour and serious is part of Gundam‘s appeal. It may be hypocritical, but its gritty message of war’s hellish consequences while profiting off of how cool it looks is core to what makes Gundam appealing. That doesn’t really belong in a children’s series, though, or at least in our American conception of what a children’s series should be. And I think Sunrise knows this to some extent.

Because what we’ve gotten so far is a series that isn’t comfortably either of these things. It superficially has the look and feel of a children’s show, but its story has the grim heart of something more adult, something that understands how complicated war and the political allegiances of those who soldier in it are. This is an uncomfortable middle to reside in, and sometimes it makes the show do odd things, like when the captain of the ship explains his fairly complicated rationale for rebelling against and nearly murdering his superiors in the hopes of saving a colony to a little girl demanding some explanations. Children are always given the same authoritative weight- and perhaps more so- as adults in shows for children, but that grimness doesn’t mesh well here.

These fists are made for punching.

But trying to have it both ways has an upside- writing for children means creating a direct and simple story, where simple characters have simple motivations. And this is a relief- after how bloated Gundam 00 and SEED‘s story were, being able to easily understand everything quickly makes for an easy watch. Things happen quickly without any need for a narrative pause. Sometimes this contributes to the unintentional silliness I mentioned earlier, but if you have a problem with something, don’t worry- the series will quickly move on to something else. That usually includes giant robot fights, and giant robot fights do the soul good, whether you’re nine or twenty-nine years old. This might also be a consequence of its ambitious story that will cover a war that lasts a hundred years from the perspective of three generations of pilots. Either way, it’s a strong plus.

The first arc ends up showcasing, but never exemplifying, Gundam‘s virtues. I’m not sure if this will continue to be a problem in the next two story arcs, but if it is, I can’t say that I mind. AGE resides in that weird but common area where it’s something I enjoyed but wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend. But it’s sturdy, since it’s built on a three decade legacy and, as We Remember Love documents, shamelessly draws inspiration from many of the Gundam property’s landmark anime. In the end, this feels like it shouldn’t be anything special, but is so entertaining that it can’t pass without comment. And yes, I can’t wait to watch more, but I will probably wait until the next arc is over. Perhaps it’s time to watch War in the Pocket in the hopes of sating my new thirst for more robot action.

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3 Comments

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  1. Animanachronism / Mar 20 2012 4:53 pm

    War on the Pocket is good, but it’s not really a robot action thing.

    • Bradley / Mar 20 2012 5:34 pm

      It wasn’t, it was much more sublime than that. Really enjoyed it.

  2. r042 / Jun 22 2012 4:09 pm

    Great article; AGE is interesting because some of its biggest flaws (the slightly dull Fardain arc, the wallowing in nostalgia arc 2 skirts) are also glimpses of good ideas. Fardain came iirc at the time of Unicorn 4, a real love letter to UC weirdness and the remnants of remnants of pals of the Zabis attempts to jam the UC setting with STUFF. It was a send up of that – two old not-UC factions fighting a silly war for scraps of ground.

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