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"Gundam Wing" Sweet, Beautiful Altron

Ah, Gundam Wing. After nostalgia (and premieres five days a week) rendered your beginning good, one wonders if this is yet another old time series that was good and now sucks royally in this day and age. Does the inclusion of newer, cooler Gundams make the series worth watching? Or is it more of the same?

The year is After Colony 195. As OZ completes its conquest of outer space, things start going terribly wrong. A new Gundam, code-named Wing Zero, has appeared, destroying colonies and resource satellites. Treize Khrushrenada, the head of OZ, hates the direction the world is going in so much that he resigns. A new faction known as the Treize Faction rises up to take on Trieze’s ideal, but their Leos are obsolete compared to the Mobile Doll Virgo suits. Duo and Wu Fei, after grabbing their incomplete-but-still-working upgraded Gundams, escape the Lunar Base. Trowa is thrown out of the Vayate after being blasted by Wing Zero and is currently MIA. Heero struggles with the Zero System inside both Wing Zero and a strange new suit called the Epyon. Relena rebuilds the Sanc Kingdom and provides strong opposition against the Romefeller Foundation. And Zechs Merquise, now known as Milliardo Peacecraft, joins up with a new colony rebel group known as White Fang. Yes, After Colony 195 is going to be a very turbulent year…

And that turbulence allows the series to actually get good. One of the problems the beginning had was its blandness, thanks in part to the style, the power of the Gundams, and the storyline. Now, with more interesting Gundams, more powerful enemies, and new characters thrown in to mix things up, the story is allowed to expand and is all the better for it. The Sanc Kingdom arc, which occurs relatively early in this set, offers us a chance to see both the pros and cons of total pacifism, and forces Relena to realize just how much power she has. This is all enhanced by the presence of Dorothy Catalonia (or as she’s become known in the fandom, “Freaky Eyebrows Girl”), who adds some much needed spice to the series, though she starts to crumble near the end. All the pilots also go through their own struggles, which are mostly resolved conveniently thanks to Wing Zero, and they’re all rather interesting, especially Wu Fei. Yea, he’s not the most popular Gundam pilot, but his story is interesting, and his confusion about what to do just makes me like him so much more.

Of course, the real reason Wu Fei’s my favorite Wing character is his Gundam. My favorite Gundam, Altron, is on this set, and that easily bumps the final score of this at least one letter grade. Sure, it’s about as anti-realistic as you can get (and I’ve knocked the series for that many, many times), but I just like it. Sure, there are other cool Mobile Suits that make their real debut on this set, including Wing Zero, Deathscythe Hell, and Tallgeese II, but Altron’s still my favorite. Too bad Wu Fei doesn’t get as much screen time as Duo, Quatre, or Heero. The two different Virgo suits are decently cool, but I’m not a big fan of the upgraded Virgo, it just looks rather plain. Epyon may not be all that practical, what with it not having any long-distance weapons whatsoever, but it’s still cool in its own right. I mean, come on, how can you not love the scene where Epyon slices Barge in half?

However, not everything is filled with goodness in this series. The first three episodes on this set are rather lackluster, with a convoluted episode focusing on the Zero System followed by two clip shows (one of which focuses on the Heero/Relena relationship, which automatically makes it suck). And despite the increase in quality, the series overall still lacks an edge compared to other Gundam series. I don’t know if that’s because the only Mobile Suit pilots that can really oppose the Gundams are Trieze and Zechs or because the final few episodes leading up to the big battle are pretty much “Gundams fight wave after wave of White Fang’s Virgo II’s while something else goes on to divert the viewer’s attention.” Whatever the reason, the series still feels bland, even near the end. And while the final 10 episodes are better than certain other Gundam series’ last 10 episodes, the finale is about as non-conclusive as you can get. True, this problem is solved by Endless Waltz, but that is not a part of this set.

The animation is a bit better this time around. There’s a distinct lack of stock footage, which instantly makes things much more tolerable. Yea, there’s still some stock footage, especially in regards to Wing Zero, Deathscythe Hell, and Altron, but it’s not as bad as it was during the first dozen episodes of the series, which is good. And at points, such as Duo’s battle against a rebuilt Mercurius and Vayeate and Heero’s final battle with Zechs, there is some really, really good animation. However, I don’t know if they’re too complicated in design or what, but Altron and Deathscythe Hell are almost always off-model, especially during fights, and Deathscythe’s beam scythe seems to be made out of rubber, as it’s able to bend extremely easily. Overall, the animation is a lot better than the first set, but in this day and age, it doesn’t even compare to its predecessor Zeta Gundam. A real shame, too.

Sound has gotten better as well. All of the English voices have gotten into their roles and have become their respective characters. I especially love Ted Cole’s Wu Fei, Brian Drummond’s Zechs, Scott McNeil’s Duo, and Brad Swaile’s Quatre (Too bad Brad can’t seem to act this good in non-Gundam roles). Unfortunately, the voice actor for Quinze just cannot act whatsoever, making him out to be a joke and making the dub worse as a whole. It’s not as bad as Septum’s voice in the first set, but still bad. The Japanese cast is a toss-up for me. I like Duo’s and Quatre’s voices alright, but Wu Fei’s just doesn’t work for me at all. It seems like for every voice that sounds good, there’s another that sounds completely mis-matched, though I may just be far too used to the English dub by now. There are some new music tracks to be had on this set, and they properly enhance the scenes, though it’s not as memorable as other Gundam series. Unfortunately, the second opening theme, Rhythm Emotion, doesn’t show up officially until Episode 41 (though it appears as an insert song a few episodes before), and I wish it came about earlier. What’s worse is that Zechs, for some reason, still has his mask on, and the new Gundams don’t get any new animation until the final episode.

The extras are mostly the same as the first set, with trailers and brief bios across all the discs except for the final one. The final disc not only has trailers, but also complete specs for each and every Gundam (that’s actually readable on a TV screen), as well as clean versions of the two openings (unfortunately, not the second version of Rhythm Emotion) and the ending. Thankfully, Bandai has ditched their horrible, horrible Wing Gundam cockpit menu screen with Volume 7 and replaced it with a much more visually acceptable Wing Zero cockpit design. If not for the awesomeness of SEED Destiny‘s menus, I’d say that these were the best DVD menus a Gundam series has had. Then again, with most of the other menus ranging from “blah” to “ugh,” that’s not too hard to do.

Overall, it’s difficult to recommend this set. If you enjoyed the final 7 or so episodes of the first Gundam Wing set, then you’ll love this second half. If you enjoy Gundam and don’t mind not having realism, this is also a good buy. But if you want an actual future war simulation, stay far, far away.

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