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Gundam Wing-Episode Zero: A Literary Hero

When the popular Gundam Wing anime ended, it left viewers with more than a few questions including the mysterious pasts of the pilots. Endless Waltz revealed just how the five leads ended up hurtling towards Earth but their lives and motivations prior to Operation Meteor were still unclear. For that, we’d need to go all the way back to zero.

Released as part of the promotion for Endless Waltz, Episode Zero is a prequel manga by original series writer Katsuyuki Sumisawa. According to Sumisawa, originally the pasts of the five Gundam pilots were to be revealed in what instead became two mid-series clip shows due to bad scheduling. Realising that without these stories a relevant portion of the overall Gundam Wing story is missing (and no doubt wanting a piece of a cash cow), Sumisawa took the chance to finally present these stories in manga format.

The book opens with a brief retrospective narration on the events of the TV show, posing the question of why the five young pilots were in those roles. Things then quickly kick off as we go through six different stories that fill us in on a critical event from the pasts of each of the Gundam pilots and Relena.

Duo’s tale is first and in my opinion the best. The story explains just why Duo uses the ‘God of Death’ title. In the show, I always found Duo a bit of a one note character so it’s nice to see a story which actually makes him more human. His religious discussions with Father Maxwell (his namesake) are interesting scenes and feel like actual philosophy, unlike what would be spewed in the show.

Next we have Heero’s story. If Duo’s was well done, then this leaves much to be desired. It’s based around an amazing set of coincidences, revealing just who did kill the original Heero Yuy and how Mariemaia came to be. Heero himself isn’t much changed from what he’d later become, he just shows a tiny bit more concern and emotion.

Trowa was probably my favourite of the five pilots, so any background on him was sure to be appreciated. Endless Waltz revealed that Trowa used to be part of a band of Earth based mercenaries and that gives us the setting for this story. At times the story kinda feels like a fanfic, being an angst ridden romance which is basically an updating of the Miharu plotline from Mobile Suit Gundam. The story also gingerly handles the issue of the true relationship between Trowa and Catherine Bloom, which other sources have more definitively spelt out.

Next comes Relena, with a story that feels almost like a shoujo manga. The story apparently tries to explain her obsession with Heero, showing that she once meant a young boy who may very well have been him. Much like Heero’s story it feels like it’s relying on a set of amazing coincidences, especially since the story seems more to imply that the boy wasn’t Heero and so only makes Relena look more like the crazy stalker a good chunk of fans claim her to be. Zechs also appears, saving Relena’s life early in his career when he isn’t wearing a mask yet and instead relying on a pair of Quattro Bajeena-like shades. The ultimate theme of the story is Relena’s dislike of the conservative ideals of her peers and that’s probably the story’s strength in that it shows Relena was already less than pleased with harsh society before the Gundam pilots entered her life.

If Relena wasn’t enough blonde haired protestor for you, Quatre’s story follows. The story details how Quatre earned the loyalty of the Maganac Corps. Personally, the story feels padded and awkward. Set just 2 years before the series, the younger Quatre despises life due to his believed status as a test tube baby. The explanation that Rashid, a legitimate test tube baby, was able to make him do a 180 on his stance feels forced given that in the show Quatre acts like he’s always cherished life whilst here he’s sulky and decides to take a nap when his own shuttle is hijacked. Perhaps even worse is when Quatre is allowed to pilot Rashid’s personal MS and completely dominates a battle. Ultimately, Quatre’s story feels like it’s just there because the concept meant they had to tell some kind of story with him.

The last flashback story and perhaps one of the most effective belongs to Wufei. His apparent contempt for women and pet name for his Gundam are explained as well as an explanation for why Zechs and Treize discussed Gundams with such familiarity early in the show. Others feel that this story clashes more than Quatres but I don’t think so. Rather, I see Wufei’s arrogance in the show being a mix of his existing attitude and the tragedy he experiences in this story.

Each story is followed by a one page article which discusses how the events shown have importance in the character’s actions in the TV show and Endless Waltz. These are pretty handy little notes which also cover some brief factors that the stories don’t.

With everyone’s stories told, the final flashback chapter ultimately ties all the stories into the flashbacks seen in Endless Waltz and the first episode of the show. I think this is one of the most interesting parts, especially since it answers questions like just what Heero was attempting to do when he pushed the button on his space suit on the beach in the first episode. This is exactly the kind of resolution I was hoping for and I’m glad to see the book pay up. It’s worth noting that in Japan however this chapter was also covered by brief journal entries from the five pilots which on a personal level tied in their Episode Zero motivations with Operation Meteor. These are sadly absent from the English language release. The story concludes with the opening moments of the first episode and a note to look there for the continuation. Everything comes full circle.

But that isn’t the end! As an extra treat, we get a final story which is set after Endless Waltz. Slightly more light hearted the rest of the book, the story involves Sally Po and Wufei gathering up the other four Gundam pilots for a special Preventer mission. Whilst I’m against those who say Bandai should ignore Endless Waltz closing statement and find a way to bring MS back for an AC continuation, I think this story is perfectly in the spirit of the series. Whilst the Wing boys can now settle into a more peaceful life they don’t need MS to protect the peace and can quite easily come out of retirement if needed. The story doesn’t have a true end, rather we are shown what will apparently happen as it as planned and the story ends with the boys heading off into action. Sumisawa covers this ending perfectly in his thank you note afterwards, stating he believes if you’ve seen the TV show and Endless Waltz you know how the bonus chapter will end. He also explains the history of the Episode Zero project. There’s also a similar note by the artist Akira Kanbe. Kanbe’s style works well for the book, sticking close to the art style of the show. He talks about troubles drawing a mecha manga but I believe he does an excellent job. Being an art and design student myself I know just how difficult it can be to switch between the styles of organic and mechanical. The remaining extra features are a four page After Colony timeline and one page of character sketches which shows how some of the original characters evolved.

In all, if you’re a Gundam Wing fan then you need this book. The final critical piece of the puzzle which is Wing’s story can be found here and even if you have misgivings about the show like myself you’re likely to be impressed. Definetly recommended.

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