With Gundam AGE wrapping up in the next six weeks or so and the mysterious Gundam: The Origin just off the horizon (I'm not sure Bandai has revealed how they're going to do the adaption yet) I thought it would be a good time to sit down and discuss just what we want from one of our favorite franchises.
Below are some of my personal ramblings about what the series has been lacking as of late along with what it needs moving forward.
Make the story the most important aspect
Every series strives for something, whether it be to tell a story, comment on society, showcase animation, etc. Typically the shows which stick with us though the years focused on the story, the characters, and did so in a quality way (e.g. Cowboy Bebop, Planetes). Over the years Gundam as a franchise has shifted more from that dynamic to a vehicle to drive product sales. It's a case most evident by how Bandai treated Gundam AGE. Products accompanying the series were announced early and many of the new designs to show up in the series were revealed on screen, but as merchandise. Save for a huge twist at the end many will likely remember the series as having a strong premise, some good designs, but a below average with every other facet.
If Bandai wants to recapture their core audience they need to focus on crafting a story that keeps people hungering for more. Currently airing along with AGE is a sequel to the much loved Eureka Seven, Eureka Seven: AO. Now AO is not a perfect series, like any show it has its critics. Yet each week it draws in egar viewers. I don't know the numbers enough to say whether it's more or less than AGE but the viewers a lot more enthusiastic about the program. It's easy to complain about AO's somewhat confusing and non-straightforward plot but that is what keeps people coming back. Throw in some good animation along with characters whom have various and sometimes complex motives and you got yourself a hit.
Gundam likes to fall back on its core concepts, mainly people from space v. people from Earth. At this point it seems tired, rundown, generic. Gundam 00 tried to bring some new concepts to town and, for the most part, they worked. Unfortunately during the second season things fell apart. And that's not including the introduction of aliens in Trailblazer.
Make characters the second most important aspect
This should go without saying but I feel the need to comment on it just the same. Let's get some real, relate-able, complex, and interesting characters. I know I'm referencing Gundam AGE quite a bit but the series is full of random, relatively unimportant characters, who show up and disappear a few episodes later. Gundam AGE has zero memorable characters, 00 has maybe three (one for wanting to be a Gundam, one for being apart of Team Rocket, and another who went full retard in the second season) and SEED felt like watching a MTV reality show.
Oh, and as was suggested on r/Gundam, why not a female protagonist? Or at least strong willed love interest whom doesn't bitch and moan the whole time. In general it would be nice to see a return of a well rounded protagonist. Bandai sure loves to focus on pilots who don't want to fight for half the series.
Step up the maturity
Remember when important characters died meaningful deaths? Or when an important character died a fruitless death 'cause that's how shit is sometimes? Those were the good ol' days.
Things have become too sanitized. I'm not sure if it's just because Bandai is trying for a younger demographic or whether they've completely forgotten that the core of the franchise is people in mecha fighting in a war. I'm not calling for blood and guts all over the place, maybe just the occasional woman getting bonked by a casing. At the very least treat conflict as it harsh as it can be, no more trying to save every grunt on the battlefield.
Don't skimp on the animation
Though the Gundam Unicorn story has some weak edges the Gundam community as a whole eagerly looks forward to each episode, if only for the spectacular animation. The attention to detail is fantastic, from control interfaces to how weapons interact with various surfaces. Okay, I admit, that's rather impractical for a television series. Yet Bandai should strive for that compared to the often simplistic CGI and, at times, horrid hand drawn animation we've been seeing lately.
Gundam AGE is guilty of some horrible animation at times. The screenshot below is from the debut of one of the best designed suits in the series. Though, you wouldn't be able to tell that from watching the action sequences in that episode. And yes, I know that animating action sometimes requires odd things to be done but this horribleness was apparently immediately...
Now compare to that to an action shot from Gundam 0083...
(via Gundam Gallery)
Yes, it is going to cost more to produce and take more time but a series that's well done stays with relevant longer and has a much bigger impact.
Compose a strong soundtrack
This should also go without saying and effects a lot of shows, not just Gundam. So much forgettable music these days.
Keep things relatively realistic
No more magic space dust.
A lot of people like to credit Mobile Suit Gundam as being the first realistic mecha show. When you watch it under that guise in modern times it quickly becomes quite apparently how unrealistic it really is. Part of that is due Minovsky particles, the original magic space dust, that not only prevents effective battlefield communication (an important limiting factor for the series) but provides for abundant power and a conduit for newtype hijinks. As silly as it might be, it's generally been handled with a certain level of rationality and has quite the support structure. On the other hand you have Gundam 00 which has become somewhat infamous due to its deus ex machina use of GN particles.
Keeping things somewhat realistic will help shift the franchise back away from questionable anti-gravity physics and nonsensical space ship design. Personally I'm a lot more interested in a show when the supporting mechanical elements are not only well designed but practical.
Universal Century has the largest committed Gundam fan base and has one of the richest most expanded universes in Anime. Unfortunately it's also become one of the most convoluted continuities with shoehorned sub stories and content of questionable cannon. Within the time frame we all know there's not a whole lot of meat left on the bone. That's why it's time to expand the universe beyond Earth Sphere. No, I'm not talking about jumping between galaxies pitting the Earth Federation against Zeon aliens. No, there's plenty to work with within our own solar system.
While generally focused on Earth and the surrounding area the franchise has featured armies hanging around the asteroid belt, expeditions to Jupiter, and most recently attempted colonization of Mars. Instead of letting it just be an interesting plot point the series should embrace this possibility of humanity's future and explore the consequences. Doing so would allow a series to start off without having to recreate the whole universe from scratch and build upon the work of authors past.
Set the series in UC 200 or so. Humans have colonized Mars (and no stupid Mars cancer this time) have colonies and mining facilities around Jupiter and Venus. Expeditions have been launched to Saturn and the our reaches. Imagine a character who grew up on a Jovian facility who finds himself in in the middle of a power struggle over Mars? Not only is there room to implement the future of Zeon and the Earth Federation but it also opens the door for a much larger political conflict. The concerns of Earthlings and spacenoids still exist but are muddied by being Martian, Earthling, Jovian, etc.
Of course this is going to mean knocking some things from the UC timeline, most notably Victory Gundam. A small price to pay so that the future of the universe doesn't feature space tires. If need be just consider Gundam: The Origin the start of a new continuity. Start there, jump to the future, leave room to incorporate the events post One Year War through Unicorn. Hell, it would even allow for someone to back and rework Gundam ZZ.
The biggest concern would be how to handle newtypes. At the rate things are going by UC 200, with a significant portion of the Human population living in space, you'd think newtypes would be everywhere. Maybe there are, maybe there's a conflict with oldtypes, there are a lot of different ways to handle it. While it's an important part of the franchise I don't think anyone wants it to become overloaded with crazy newtype powers.
I've had more thoughts over the past few months but that's all I can recall right now. I'm sure someone will swoop in shortly and post a much more eloquent piece on the future of the franchise and make me look silly. As you should though. With any luck positive feedback will one day make it back to the folks in charge of the franchise and let things head in a different direction.