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"Gundam Wing" Its Time Has Passed

by on March 31, 2006
 

How many Toonami faithful remember that day way back in 2000 when Gundam Wing first aired? It was the first Gundam show to officially air in the United States, it was one of the biggest shows to hit Cartoon Network, it had both a cut and uncut run, it ushered in the Midnight Run (which would eventually give way to Adult Swim) and it had one of the greatest promos ever created. The series is now back in the limelight, but does it still hold up?

The year is After Colony 195. The United Earth Sphere Alliance rules the colonies with an iron fist. To retaliate, five specialized Mobile Suits called Gundams were sent down to Earth disguised as shooting stars. These Gundams, much more powerful than the Alliance’s Leo Mobile Suits, began to irk the bigwigs plenty. But waiting in the wings is one Treize Khrushrenada, leader of the Specials group and head of the secret militant group known as OZ. His friend, Zechs Merquise, is an extremely talented pilot and the only one who has fought the Gundams and survived. As the Alliance, OZ, and the Gundams all come head to head, who will emerge the victor? And what exactly is the whole purpose of these battles anyway? Is it the will to fight, or the will to conquer? Why did mankind go into outer space? Since when did saying “I’ll kill you” mean “I love you very much?” What is the purpose of life? And why is it Sonic restaurants won’t come to the Northern East Coast, despite advertisements run constantly here? These thought-provoking questions will shape the future.

When this series premiered on Toonami, I was hooked. I loved every single minute of it, from Heero’s arrival on Earth to the final battle aboard Libra. However, I haven’t seen the series since it left the block, and when it comes to Gundam, I have since fed myself a steady supply of Universal Century and Cosmic Era series (mainly 08th MS Team, Zeta, SEED, and SEED Destiny). Looking back, Gundam Wing is very…bland. The show started out rather horribly, with the plots meandering from point to point, with standard Mobile Suit battles and repeated animation along the way to help break up all the talks about why it is people fight. Looking back on it now, it’s amazing how enamored I was with this series, especially since most of the other Gundam series that have been released in the U.S. are so much better overall.

Let’s start with the story. The basic storyline is classic Earth vs. colonies, a staple among Gundam series, so I won’t complain about that. However, we are given several politicians who we are told play important parts in the story and whose decisions will affect the world, but the viewer has no emotional resonance when something happens to them. A prime example is the death of Marshall Noventa. He is one of the Alliance’s main pacifists, and is killed early on. Well, this decision rocks Heero for the next half-dozen episodes or so, but it does little to affect the storyline except give Relena an excuse to be hated on yet again. This is compounded by the fact that we never even see Noventa until the episode in which he dies. Then there is the takeover by OZ. The Alliance lasts all of 7 episodes until it falls before OZ, but the viewer doesn’t feel a thing because, except a 2 minute prologue, we are shown little in regards to why the Alliance is evil. Instead of leaving the background up to the various manga, the writers should have shown us the Alliance takeover, either as another series or as a prequel OAV, but we don’t get any of that. As a result, the audience can’t really tell the difference between OZ and the Alliance aside from the uniforms.

The lack of story could be helped somewhat by the battles, but even those are lame, mainly because of the Gundams’ invulnerability. Instead of having the Gundam damaged during every grueling fight, these Gundams plow through Leos and Aries like paper (unless they’re piloted by a main character, then Leos are remarkably strong and capable of at least immobilizing a Gundam). Even though the characters say the Gundams are damaged, there’s no actual signs of it being damaged unless it self-destructs, which happens twice. Even later on, when the Gundams finally start getting outmatched, the battles are nowhere near that of 0079, Zeta, SEED/Destiny, or even its predecessor G. It just gets repetitive after a while.

There are some good points to the series. It does get better once the series gets into double digits, especially when the focus starts to shift into outer space. Seeing the pilots struggle against the suddenly-powerful OZ is pretty entertaining, especially what happens to Quatre after he returns home. Several characters start becoming interesting, such as Zechs and Lady Une, and many change their names about every three or four episodes. And it is rather fun to watch Trowa and Heero work for OZ, though OZ still doesn’t know Trowa’s a Gundam pilot. The emergence of Wing Zero also adds a layer of danger and bleakness to the situation, and allows the story to leave off at a nice cliffhanger for the next set (though if they had stopped at Episode 24 it would have been an even better cliffhanger). While the series never does reach the high point of Gundam, it does get a lot better as the story moves along and more factors enter the picture.

Wow, I didn’t realize Wing was just so dark. Perhaps I’m just too used to the two SEED series, but the colors in Wing are so very bland, since there’s a LOT of browns and greens on Earth and lots of black and navy blues in outer space. Aside from that, the animation is pretty unremarkable. There is almost as much repeated animation as in SEED, and the series tries to make up for its rather crappy explosions and limited budget by featuring lots of sharp movements. However, because the battles are often massacres and usually one-sided, the animation doesn’t get to do much. Though I did like the animation during the final two episodes as well as during parts of Heero and Zechs’ battle in the Antarctic. Overall, the animation ranges from substandard to average most of the time, especially since the animators seemed to have trouble animating the clunky MS designs (though since Sandrock, Wing, and the Tauruses are the main good designs, I guess that makes the animation even worse).

This and Beast Wars were many anime fans introduction to the core Ocean Group cast, and it shows. Almost all the various voice actors struggle during the first few episodes, mostly underacting their lines, but they all improve greatly as the series moves on and the actors get comfortable in their roles. The only voices I didn’t like were General Septum, who doesn’t last long, and Sally Po (Originally Monica Stori, aka the voice of Kagome in InuYasha), but she gets recast later in the series to a much more suitable voice. The stand out voices are probably Ted Cole as Wu Fei, Brad Swaile as Quatre, and definitely Scott McNeil as Duo. I particularly liked Brad’s acting during Episode 21. The Japanese dub is also here, and pretty entertaining as well, but since this is an early DVD release, there is no song & sign subtitle track, meaning you’ll need to turn on the Japanese subtitles if you want to hear the song translations. Speaking of the songs, the opening theme is very catchy, the ending theme will anger all Relena haters, and the background music is actually pretty fun to listen to.

The only extras on these DVDs are crappy character/Mobile Suit bios and trailers. No commentaries, no interviews, not even the awesome 2-minute Toonami promo (but that’s what Toonami Digital Arsenal is for). Because the extras aren’t worth talking about, I’ll talk about the packaging. Ever since the 08th MS Team and Stardust Memory sets, Bandai has been consistently using a new type of packaging in its Anime Legends sets. It’s kind of like a variant of the book-style casing (such as the kind used on the Dai-Guard, Nadesico, or Steel Angel Kurumi box sets) and whoever designed these deserves a really big pay raise, because this packaging is so completely awesome. The case itself holds all five DVDs, but is the size of two regular Amaray cases, which is a godsend for those running out of shelf space. The only complaints are a typing error on the back of this case (the colonies are mistakenly called Sides, which is what they’re called in the Universal Century Gundam series) and the fact that empty versions aren’t sold in stores. C’mon Bandai, you could make some serious dough if you sold empty versions, even online!

Overall, I can only recommend this to Gundam completionists and those who want something Gundam that isn’t set in the Universal Century or doesn’t have SEED in the name. Nostalgia backfires on many old series, and this is yet another one to add to the collection.

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