[This is a guest post by my friend and mentor, ghostlightning.]
The primary problem that befell the latter Gundam shows is the failure to reconcile the war aspect of the show with the youthful audience.
It cannot help but glorify violence, since the amazing Mobile Suits are war machines designed to destroy other war machines.
These are not police forces, like the Labors of Patlabor. These are suits of armor for futuristic fighters. Death is very likely, especially if the fighting is done in the vacuum of space.
But how does one make an action show featuring war machines without killing soldiers? How does one make a dominant fighter hero without having him kill enemy pilots in large numbers.
It is easier to spare the life, narrative wise, of an important antagonist character, than it is to spare multitudes of other combatants. Unless you’re willing to forego all sense of verisimilitude, as the G.I. Joe cartoon of the 1980s portray pitched battles with lots of gunfire, missiles, and explosions with nary a human casualty.
I remember how Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt sent up The Transformers cartoon in the same context.
Gundam has done something similar for the past 2 decades, only with forced narrative moralizing, usually leveled by the saint-like child hero: Kira Yamato, Setsuna F. Seiei, then Kio Asuno (and perhaps Banagher Links).
This method made for terrible shows; hypocritical and poorly executed (jury is out on Gundam Unicorn as of this writing). Gundam AGE is the most recent, and perhaps the worst.
To me at least, it has become impossible to make an acceptable Gundam show. But this was until Gundam Build Fighters.
After seven episodes, and especially after the most recent pair, this show has delivered the most exciting Gundam battles in made for television Gundam. It feels so full of possibility having been liberated from the context of war entirely.
The show is about the Gundam hobby and the lifestyle, fantasized as a tournament culture similar to video games like Street Fighter and Tekken. People build Gundam model kits, which in turn become “video game” avatars in a battle context. The power of the model kit is respective of the skill of the builder and the parts used.
This, allows for incredible violent fighting, with no human life at stake. In this sense it is less violent than Pokémon since no one ever gets hurt. At most, the model kit is destroyed.
The story, is not remarkable. But it is remarkable how insignificant this is relative to the capacity of the show to provide enjoyment for people who like Gundams.