The final arc begins with a rousing, action-packed episode that introduces the third-generation hero and his surrounding cast. I’m pretty much working under the assumption that the series is going to end with the Spring season, which would give them about 9-10 episodes to wrap things up. That hasn’t officially been announced, but it seems most likely at this point as BD/DVD sales have certainly not been what Sunrise was hoping for. This has been a pretty good show most of the time, nothing spectacular, but it was probably doomed by the negative fan reaction before the first episode ever aired.
They certainly didn’t want any time with the plot developments, giving Asemu not one but two massive death flags (“We’ll be together forever” to his newborn son, and “I’m going on my last mission”) and then announcing that he went missing on that mission and hasn’t been heard from since. Cue 13 years later, and we meet 13 year-old Kio (Yamamoto Kazutomil, most recently Mochizuki in Another). In true Gundam fashion we also meet his love interest immediately, the electric yellow-haired Wendy Hertz (Ise Mariya) and Mobile Suit Commander Selic Abis (Takemoto Eiji, very, very good as usual) who lends a dignified gravity to his short scenes. There are a couple of friends in Kio’s peer group who don’t really make an impression as of yet.
In plot terms this is pretty much a continuation of the last arc, as we pick up the story just as the Vagan, secretly hidden on Earth since the end of the Asemu arc, finally launch Ezelcant’s master plan under the direction of the newly awakened Zaeheart – with mobile suits that have evolved into something like little Mechagodzillas. Kio for his part seems like a fairly confident, kind-hearted lad (though he dresses like an Italian lawyer on his night off for some reason) and his grandfather Flit has seemingly been much more of a presence in his life than he was in his own son’s (though he was of course absent at Kio’s birth). Yamamoto seems like a good fit for the role, bringing convincing fragility to the 13 year-old budding soldier.
I think Flit’s role here is certainly going to split the viewership. For my part, I think there’s something a little sinister in the way he seemingly played the loving Grandpa, giving his Grandson a flight simulator as a gift, spinning tales of the Gundam – then pounced when his chance came, and thrust Kio into the middle of the battle. I don’t rejoice in seeing a seemingly kind 13 year-old boy killing people, even in combat, and it would be a stretch to say he’s really in this by choice considering the way it played out. To some extent this could be argued to be one of the most important recurring themes in Gundam – the story of kids too young to be killing people forced to go to war and do just that. And by making the hero of this arc their youngest ever (tied with one other) Sunrise have opened the series up to very interesting debate.
One problem I have with AGE is that there really isn’t anyone to root for. Asesmu was a nice kid and so is Kio – heck, so was Flit until the whole Yurin tragedy – but in the larger battle, I dislike both sides. The Vagans are victims initially, but think nothing of mass murder and certainly started this fight. The Earth Federation is corrupt and idiotic, and Flit has openly stated that he desires the genocide of the Vagan people. Poor Kio – Flit probably had no choice but to hide the Gundam close by knowing the Vagan would come looking some day, and the Vagan invaded his peaceful home. But now he’s 13 and in the middle of a war, and his revenge-driven Grandpa’s genocidal secret weapon pointed at the heart of the Vagan race. Like all of the protagonists in this series, he deserves better than way fate has given him – but maybe that’s the point.
I confess I’m not at all sure where this series is going to end up, nine remaining eps or not. I sincerely hope we’re not building up to a vindication of everything Flit has done and everything he believes, but the Vagan and their Dear Leader don’t seem at all interested in a peaceful settlement. Despite its reputation Gundam isn’t a purely an anti-war franchise, but traditionally it does at least indirectly ponder the question of children at war – not with the incisive and pitiless hand of an Evangelion or Ender’s Game, but at least it asks the questions. Still, I can’t believe a vindication of Flit is consistent with Gundam’s 33-year track record, and that makes me wonder if we’re headed for some sort of Deux ex Asemu ending. At the very least I expect to see him again (“missing” almost surely means “alive”) and he’s stated his desire to see his son grow up in a world free of war. So does Flit, but their means of getting there are very different – and I’ve long speculated that we might end up with Asemu at one philosophical extreme and Flit the other, with Kio forced to choose. I believe that possibility is still very much in the cards.
ED3: “WHITE justice” by faylan