What do you do when you’re sent to foreign soil with the mission to liberate your home all alone and you have no idea if you can trust your comrades? Then what do you do when that same home betrays you? How do you react when you feel there is only one way to achieve your ideal, the bloodiest way? You enter desperation. If there’s one word to describe the pilots in Gundam Wing, it’s that.
Hey folks, the Inverseman here for Gundam Week with an old classic: Gundam Wing. Now I only have cursory common knowledge of the Gundam series (Okay, barring my half-hearted viewing of Seed), so this little blast from the past is more like visitation in a whole new way. So let’s jump in!
In the After Colony timeline, the United Earth Sphere Alliance has oppressed the space colonies. Spearheading this oppression is the Order of the Zodiac, OZ, a special weapons interest group with its own forces. In response, five scientists vowing revenge separately and independently manufacture five Gundams for five pilots of their choosing. This is the story of the war these five boys will be sucked into.
The story was what captivated me through and through for Wing. Seeing the story come together and the lens of absolute chaos and confusion to where sometimes the viewer doesn’t know who to side with, much like the boys, creates a special distance between audience and story. You’re like a bird overlooking this war and of all the shiny giant mecha, you have no idea which one you want to last on the battlefield, so you just perch there, puzzled yet enamored.
Yes, many times the Gundam pilots seem to be at the end of their rope. Outside of the expected “horrors of war”, youthful idealisms, and “mark of a true soldier” themes I was expecting, overcoming desperation seems to be a major theme. Frequently, the pilots are ready to self-destruct or surrender to the enemy if it means the safety of another or that the options for retaliation are literally nil. In fact, the pilots are neither immediate best friends nor old classmates from some academy. No, the five are complete strangers to each other, stubborn, mistrustful, and mostly loners on the surface. And it’s that same grasping at the straws that slowly turns into strength, unexpected allies, and teamwork as the series progresses. A will to live, a hope for the future, these things are born out of those pushed to their limits with seemingly no hope to survive, and Wing does a fantastic job throwing its heroes into the jaws of the enemy to achieve just that.
Other questions that come up that seem special to Gundam Wing include the point of tradition and valor in conflict. When OZ’s Mobile Doll system is completed, objections are raised to how people could simply kill each other from safety with the push of a button, turning war into a game. OZ, a group of the gentry that lauds tradition, eschews it for this power, leaving viewers to judge those individuals that really do see the value of chivalry and honor. Moreover, those soldiers that will hold their honor until the very end, in spite of those bleak conditions.
While watching Gundam Wing, you’ll initially loathe some antagonists or severely underestimate some characters, but let’s just say that as the series progresses, you may see yourself rooting for the other team or just maybe that character you wrote off is a lot deeper then you’d expect. I won’t spoil certain antagonists that made surprising turns, but let’s just say you may find yourself rooting for the other team as well. And as for characters that exceeded expectations, I was honestly expecting Relena to fulfill the “shallow love interest-y” role for Heero, but she proves to be a lot stronger than I gave her credit for. You’ll just have to watch and see.
The animation has that lovely vintage feel you can only get when you watch it seventeen years later. And the art is still a pleasure, especially for the Mobile Suits. The five Gundams are distinct and full of personality, qualities only driven higher by the art. Enemy Mobile Suits range from the run-of-the-mill Leo to much more menacing models like the Virgo, to give some kind of evolving threat. It’s also a stage of character design that I feel more relaxing and is very telling of the time it was animated, (and then I draw a heavy contrast to when my cousin showed me Seed a few years later). There’s something to be said for hand-drawn animation.
Personally, the soundtrack was alright, while I know the opening is stuck in my head for good reason. No real complaints, sometimes a bit repetitive for my taste, like the panic theme. As for the voice acting, I can’t speak too well for the Japanese voice work, but it’s rather solid and won’t let you down. As for the English dub, this can go many ways. There’s a nostalgia to an Ocean Group dub, how back in 2000 when Wing aired on Cartoon Network, and uncut during the later times too! However, after stripping away the memories, the voice acting I’d say was rather good for its time, back when most English dubs previously were laughable and now just becoming passable. To today’s standards it wouldn’t match up well. Keep in mind at the time, the anime industry was young here in the US and just entering its explosive growth, but these still great actors like Scott McNeil and Brad Swaile would become heralds for a generation’s finest, no doubt.
I must say, Gundam Wing took me for a ride and then some. While I could never make it as a kid whose Asian-style parents sought to keep me studying when all the anime was on, I loved the better look I got to take at a classic Gundam series. The plot is engrossing and you can really sympathize with many of the characters, blurring the sides of war as the series accelerates to its end. Thanks to Sunrise for a great series, and also thanks to Bandai Entertainment for bringing it to us. Earlier in the week, Bandai Entertainment announced a massive downsizing and how they will no longer be involved in DVD and manga releases, just licensing. Thanks for your memorable dub of Gundam Wing and other titles that helped introduce and spread anime along our shores. Join me next time when I will tell you how Wolverine actually became one of my servants.
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