AGE of Despair

There have been a lot of Gundam announcements of late, but it seems like no matter what the internet lights up with as many negative nancys as can be mustered. Perhaps the classic case of people not actually knowing what they want? If they want to do something new, if they want to broaden the audience, if they want to remake the classic, or if they want to add to the continuity, it seems nothing will satisfy the established fanbase.

It was a perfect storm of announcements recently. On June 13 Bandai announced that the newest Gundam series would be Mobile Suit Gundam AGE. Almost immediately after the announcement there was an overwhelmingly negative outcry from the Gundam fan community. The show was instantly panned for being immature and nothing more than a toy and game tie in for children. It was clearly too far from the franchise’s legacy. Then on the 22nd they announced that they were also adapting the Gundam: The Origin manga as well. This lead to an equal but opposite outcry from the fan base that they were just rehashing the original series and that Gundam had nothing new left in it. I noticed quite a few outsiders on Twitter questioning what did the Gundam fanbase want as it seemed that absolutely nothing made them happy. As someone who considers himself part of the Gundam fandom it is still puzzling to me. It almost seems that no one hates Gundam more than Gundam fans. What do you have to do to make them happy? Is there anything you can give them that does not cause a hissy fit?

 The most important thing about discussing these problems with Gundam AGE is that only a handful of details and a couple of pictures have been released about the series. But that in itself is relevant. The “immaturity” angle is really only supported by the merchandising plans outside the series. The plot and characters sound interesting, as does telling the story on three timelines. Randomly, you can buy bathing suit figures of most Gundam girls, not sure I’d call that “mature.” Anyway, considering that I can only name a handful of protagonists in robot series that aren’t teenagers, or younger, I’m not sure what we are freaking out over. 13, 14, 15 seems pretty standard fare that everyone should be used to and I might point out that each character description has the qualifier “at the beginning” after their ages.

I think Bandai has realized that Otaku are not immortal mystics monks whose magical parana is kept eternally youthful due to their virginity. Therefore the current Gunpla builders who drive the Gundam franchise need to have new blood enter their ranks. Therefore marketing to a younger fanbase might be better for them over the long haul. I don’t mind them doing a kids series on occasion to reinvigorate the fan base as long as it is well executed. Nothing says that Gundam is now only going to market itself towards 10 year olds for eternity. I know people are going to counter that they can market at kids all they want but they should do so outside of the main pieces of the franchise. But I think sometimes you have to go all out if your want to really shake up a fan base. Also who says that just because a show has young protagonists it has to be either garbage or dumbed down. I thought that one of the reasons most of us got into anime was that it was a medium that could make very intelligent and challenging kids cartoons as well as cartoon for adults. Plus the mecha fandom has embraced shows with young protagonists in the past like Zambot 3, GaoGaiGar, and even Gundam 0080. Why must they be contrary now? As Adam aka SoulBroRyu said so well in a recent article for Gundamn, Victory Gundam had an extremely young cast and the youngest Gundam protagonist ever but it has a plot that was as dark as pitch. There is a good amount of potential to tell a generational tale in which we see the prolonged effects of war on a population from its bloody beginnings to its protracted conclusion. You think by now mehca fans would be able to look past initial appearances considering their love of the Brave Series. Plus when has Gundam NOT been about selling toys and related merchandise. Perhaps everyone else has been watching a different Gundam series but the one I remember is carefully designed machine to sell merchandise hand over fist. As soon as video games and card games became common place they were added to formula of what a mecha series can make money off of. There are some Gundam titles that got made more to tell a story because the franchise had grown large enough to support that style of storytelling but don’t believe for a second Tomino was not given mandates on the beloved Zeta Gundam to sell more toys to kids.

They are trying to expand the reach of the Gundam franchise. This seems like a positive if you ask me, the last thing we need is a situation that superhero comics have been going through for the last decade with no signs of stopping. If you aren’t familiar with superhero comics, their fanbase has been rapidly shrinking because of creators writing for the adult who are already fans. And don’t we hear so often people complaining that anime is pandering to otaku too much? Following the aging fanbase down the rabbit hole would be a mistake and so far they have stayed solidly in the middle. TV series with broad market appeal have been the standard because that is the way to reach new people, say it with me new fans are born from this. You can’t get that with an OVA or movie. But there is no way you could say they dismissed the long time fans with the addition of more fandom centric OVAs like Gundam Unicorn and the announcement of Gundam The Origin.

This article was original only going to talk about Gundam AGE but then the announcement of an animated Gundam: The Origin brought into picture perfect clarity the insanity of the fanbase. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin was considered an amazing adaption of the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the original character designer of Mobile Suit Gundam, was able to retell the story he worked on to create something just as good if not better than the original. Gundam: The Origin is able to take many of the ideas that had to be scrapped from the original TV series when it was cancelled while letting Yasuhiko take advantage of the expanded story telling boundaries of manga and the wisdom on hindsight. So the ability to tell an updated version of the orignal Gundam story with modern graphics seems like something that would please the old fans while helping to bring in new fans at the same time. But all I hear is people complaining about how Bandai is merely going back to the well and they can’t create anything new.

Beyond the fact that I’m personally very excited for Gundam The Origin, I think it has the potential to bridge a gap. I’ve always said that Original Gundam is a timeless story only held back from appealing to newer fans by the dated animation (yes it is sad, but it is reality). Gundam The Origin could change that and get new fans interested in the UC timeline. Despite what some say, every iteration of Gundam is not retelling the original. Is it inspired by? Is it taking themes and pieces? Sure, of course. But it is a mistake to ignore all the differences, too. New, yet familiar, is actually a good and realistic goal.

So you can’t give the Gundam fanbase a series with an original premise because then they feel cheated that you are not giving them the Gundam they love. You can’t give them more of what they liked because they claim you are just regurgitating the same story again and again. So apparently you have to toe the line on an incredibly narrow path to give them a show that is radically new and different while giving them exactly all the things they loved in the past. While you can make a show like that it is so amazingly hard to do and you will only do so on rare occasion. If everyone could easily make something radically revolutionary but still solidly enjoyable then the entertainment industry would be a much easier field to work in. But don’t believe the lies the Gundam fans tell you as well. First off all the radical Gundam series have been universally hated when they came out. G Gundam, Turn A, and Gundam X were all panned harshly by the fandom when they first came out (heck X was cancelled) but only with many years of reflection has random realized why those were great additions to the Gundam Universe. If I was Bandai I would be gun-shy about innovating as well if that is the reaction I am going to get. Recognition 10 years down the line does not pay the bills today. At the same time if you are too close the formula they complain as well. I can’t remember how many times in the last month heard people state that  Gundam is pretty much the same story again and again. The fan base has even begun to turn against Gundam Unicorn which I would have assumed was an impossibility years ago. But they seem to now even hate anything that is an amazingly crafted part of the Universal Century. It seems nothing makes them happy.

Despite what nostalgia glasses might tell you, original Gundam was aimed at children, with toy and model kit tie-ins. It built a teen audience which included women, believe it! No matter how many times you watch Zeta Gundam, Kamile is still a teenager and acts like one. They added in transforming Gundams because they wanted to sell toys, it is true. I don’t know if Gundam AGE or Gundam The Origin is going to be great, average, or terrible but I’m going to judge it based on actually watching some of the show.

Overall I think that everything I said before is actually based on lies. The fans don’t want a new show that is amazingly innovate or a show exactly like the show they loved. Gundam fans want to dwell eternally in the feeling of the first Gundam show they truly loved. It does not matter if it was Zeta, SEED, or anything else in the franchise. They want that first feeling they fell in love with. They wish to recapture that lightening in a bottle. They want the Gundam show that will have them reborn as Gundam virgins. This is not only a self-defeating attitude for the fandom but also for their own personal enjoyment. I’m not saying that fandom has to accept any slop that is thrown on their plate. For all I know Gundam AGE might be a wretched abomination worse than the lovechild of Double Zeta and 0083. Gundam: The Origin might be a worse adaption than The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But I believe that you should give these shows a chance to prove themselves. I will give these shows a few episodes to prove what they are made of. But the fanbase has already judged for themselves based on a few scraps of information which I think points to their unhealthy attitudes toward their fandom more than anything else could have.


10 thoughts on “AGE of Despair

  1. kiddtic says:

    Just wanted to point out Gundam UC made me a fan of Gundam and the Universal Timeline in general. Its true new animation does help as pathetic a reason that is. I saw the entire first season of Gundam OO too and I really loved it. Im gonna get the original MSG when it is released here in a few months so I consider myself a fan, a new one atleast. Im gonna watch AGE because its different and daring and could be more tragic than we assume. The fact that 11 year olds are piloting these things is a little over the top and if the writers are smart about it could make a really traumatic viewing experience.

    Im on the fence when it comes to the Origins adaptation. I think Unicorn is doing just that and spending more money on a remake is….well just spending more money.

    • reversethieves says:

      You got in through Unicorn. How interesting. I wonder how true that is for other fans just getting on board. I’m curious what made you watch Unicorn in the first place and what drew you in. What (if anything) kept you away from the franchise beforehand.

      I think the idea with adapting Gundam:The Origin is two fold. You can draw in the new fans like yourself who might be hesitant to delve into the Universal Century since a good deal of its foundation material looks old and insurmountable. And lets face it while original Gundam is a brilliant series it has many flaws due to low budget, crazy executive demands, a reduced overall episode count, and just the pitfalls of trying something untested. Something that has the polish of hindsight might appeal more to new viewers. At the same time it also caters to old fans who just want to relive the origins of the Universal Century. Theoretically this can appeal to new fans and old fans.

      We shall see how it turns out.

      – Hisui

  2. schneider says:

    One big problem with Gundam fandom is that it’s so large, it’s become its own beast altogether. Just being a “Gundam fan” isn’t enough–do you watch UC? How did you like Gundam SEED? What’s your stance on Gundam 00? A Gundam fan must prove his individuality by listing the shows he likes (and dislikes), and to assert that individuality he has to step on others who don’t share the same opinions.

    It’s like…
    – Hate Origin / Like AGE
    – Hate AGE / Like Origin
    – Like both
    – Hate both

    And I know enough fans to fill up all 4 slots!

    As for Origin, I’m of the opinion that old TV anime can always be remade–there are plenty of anime fans who can’t stand anything made before [insert arbitrary date line here]. As the years go by, the original Mobile Suit Gundam will only get older and older, and as more people get introduced to anime, the bigger the gap there will be. Gundam: The Origin must not only be good, it must also reach out to non-fans of the franchise. I don’t want it to fail. Because it can’t.

    • reversethieves says:

      Very true. The interaction rivalries and alliances inside of Gundam fandom truly make it the Japanese Star Trek. I just wish there could be a little more live and let live (or even live and let die) in the fandom.

      I think Bandai’s whole plan is to try and draw in some new blood this year. Like I said the current Gundam Otaku are not immortal. They need news fans of UC and new fans of Gundam in general. This year could be a defining moment or a colossal failure. I think it would be VERY hard for them to utterly botch The Origin but companies have done worse with better material so lets keep our fingers crossed.

      – Hisui

  3. KING OF NIGERIA says:

    ITT: Overgeneralizations.

    Just because some people hate AGE doesn’t mean that they all hate Origin as well and vice versa. What one person says isn’t representative of the entire fandom. In fact, it seems that a lot of the hate seems to be coming from people who don’t give a shit about Gundam either way or are part of the ‘I ONLY WATCHED SEED/00 BUT I’M TOTALLY A GUNDAM FAN ANYWAY’ camp.

    • reversethieves says:

      Really? I know that that are people on all ends of the spectrum. But the people who seem OK with these announcements don’t seem to pipe up a lot. Maybe it is just the people I follow in blogs and twitter but all I see in negative reaction to each show. Not all of them are from the same people but when all you hear is negative comments it makes it seem like the fanbase is just filled with hate. I mean the thing I saw for the last two weeks were one of three things: People complaining Gundam AGE is for babies, people complaining Gundam: The Origin is lazy, and people outside the hardcore mecha fandom thinking that Gundam fans hate everything.

      I know SoulBroRyu from Gundamn was cautiously optimistic as were a few others but they were drowned out by the negative negative reaction from others. Can you name me a place were people are not climbing over themselves to slam the new Gundam announcements? You can say that is just part of modern Internet culture but it does not help that the Gundam fan base plays exactly into this stereotype.

      – Hisui

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