Despite my personal bias, Gundam Wing is actually very enjoyable, despite its flaws.
Yup, it’s time for yet another anime review that you never really asked for… well, to be fair, judging by what gets the most views, I’d say you actually kind of are asking for it. My “review” of G Gundam is one of my more popular posts. So if you’ve been waiting for me to review another anime then you’re in luck because I’ve got an additional two in the pipeline!
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing began airing in 1995 in Japan and ended one year later. It was the third Gundam timeline launched by Sunrise, labeling it “After Colony”. Though it was a decent success in Japan, its true legacy came five years later, in 2000, when it was brought over to America and shown on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. I never had Cartoon Network and thus not Toonami but even I know of the legacy Toonami created and it’d be wrong not to highlight just how important Toonami was to spreading of anime and popularizing it.
I say ‘was’ but, of course, the block was revived three years ago and again offers a pretty impressive schedule of shows for the anime inclined.
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing takes place in the year After Colony 195. The colonies live under the rule of Earth, policed by the United Earth Sphere Alliance. Though the colonies have tried to break free, they’ve been unsuccessful due to sheer military might and covert assassinations. But when five unidentified objects fall to Earth, each from a separate colony, few understand the change this heralds. But when the objects are revealed to be five Gundams, mobile suits with unparalleled powers, the torch of revolution has begun and one of the most violent times in mankind’s history is about to begin.
The story circulates around the five Gundam pilots that fell to Earth to begin a guerrilla fight against the UESA, wanting to force them to give up their weapons or destroy it all. All five of the pilots are teenagers who were raised for this exact purpose though unaware of each other. The lead character of the five is Heero Yuy, the silent type who has a single goal in life: complete the mission no matter the cost. He’s kind of the tropiest of the pilots as there’s nothing really unique about his character. Though one might argue he, among with a few others, started the trend so perhaps one shouldn’t be so harsh on him?
But then again, it’s not like the silent, strong type is all that rare before 1995, even in anime so… eh. Ultimately he does evolve but out of the five pilots he’s probably the second to last in terms of actual growth as a character. Who he is at the beginning is kind of who he remains. It’s less about Heero as a character and more about him as medium through which we’re told the story as he’s the one who drives it forward the most, mostly because of Relena Peacecraft/Darlian, a girl he meets when landing on Earth. She in turn goes on to have a huge impact on the series itself and a lot of the drama centers around her and her actions.
That said, Relena isn’t really all that much of a character, despite her prominent role. It’s only together that Heero and Relena create anything resembling something of a character as they’re deeply connected with each other. One journey mirrors the other one so some degree. She starts out like a spoiled bimbo and gradually changes as she encounters the mysterious Heero whom she knows is up to no good and despite his constant threats on her life, the two obviously fall in love.
It’s less “love” and more affection as they never really act on it, circumstances forbidding them. And that’s kind of the biggest problem with Relena, she’s too driven by circumstances and not enough of a proactive character. It’s a problem with her character but it’s not the character’s fault so I’ll get into this more later.
The third character of note, completing the story-driving trio of characters, is Zechs Merquise, the right hand man of the immediate villain though he eventually outgrows this role in favor of a much more important one. He’s probably the most proactive character in the series, less victim of others’ scheming and more likely to act on his own accord.
His past intertwines with Relena’s and him and Heero develop a strange kind of friendship on the battlefield, growing from mutual respect to that of understanding. Though they inevitably want the same thing, their methods differ as does their ideology, forcing confrontations between the two on more than occasion.
It’s pretty obvious from early on that he’s destined to become more than just a general in someone else’s war and the show doesn’t really surprise you much with his direction. All three main characters have a very obvious evolution that truly could’ve benefited from a slightly altered series but again, I’ll get to that.
Finally we must talk about the four additional Gundam pilots.
I won’t discuss any of the other four in any great detail as we’d be here all day. But in my opinion, they’re the ones that make the show really stand out. G Gundam may have been the first with several pilots in the spotlight but Gundam Wing is really the one that made it work. Though extremely tropey, some of them manage to grow more as characters than others. Wufei is definitely the one of all five to get the least time and evolution, starting already with a very strong sense of self.
Out of the five to get the most growth is easily Quatre, the youngest of the bunch. He starts out very differently from where he ends up and has the rockiest path of the five, not quite sure what he has to offer and is easily the kindest and most naive of the five. The war leaves a much deeper scar on him than the others though he eventually manages to overcome his fears and find the place where he’s most needed.
Second of the five is Trowa who took a card out of Heero’s book and says very little. Despite that he’s probably my favorite because he, together with Quatre, walks a rocky path. The two team up early on and develop a friendship that lasts the entire series, a relationship very similar to Heero and Relena though without the unspoken word of love entering the mix. Call it a bromance, if you will.
Last but not least is Duo Maxwell, probably the Gundam pilot who gets the most exposure after Heero as he’s the first of the other four to meet and befriend Heero, however catastrophic their first meeting may be. He’s easily the most laid back and relaxed of the five though one might argue he’s also the most competent of the group, only held back by his own inability to be serious. He gets a lot of exposure but sadly sort of disappears into the background the closer to the end you get as his narrative arc comes to an end much sooner than the other.
And this kind of leads me into the part I liked the least about it: the story. Not the story in itself but rather how it’s written. The story is pretty basic in everything that it does, perhaps even unnecessarily so, but it works at the base which is more than you can say about a lot of anime. But where the show falls apart is in things like pacing and structure and… well, risk.
For a show about war, it’s very naive in how it portrays it. Characters often speak about honor and justice and of the great war to end them all (as if we haven’t heard such talk in real life enough) and yet never really seem to face the consequences of war. The five main pilots are disturbingly safe behind thick layers of plot armor which hinders the show from taking the next step. There are many opportunities for the show to make the drama better simply by taking a few more risks which leaves me feeling kind of disappointed.
The fact that all five pilots emerge virtually unscathed speak volumes to me and even the supporting cast barely take a dent, minor characters at best being the worst off. Oh, they pretend to kill off several people but everyone keeps coming back from what seemed like certain death it’s almost a joke at the end. I kept scratching my head, going “Didn’t s/he die like… twenty episodes ago? How is s/he back?” A few character go off the deep end but they’re never more than a rousing speech away from being brought back to the light. Gundams are destroyed but they’re never more than a few episodes away from being given a new one that they just plot-convenienced into existence at the right time. What’s that? Your Gundam was left half-destroyed back on Earth? Don’t worry, Heero just happens to run into the person that has you suit right before blasting off into space. How did that backup that we last saw on Earth just happen to be up in space at that exact spot at that right time? PLOT CONVENIENCE!
It’s true that this kind of thinking has a snowball effect, once you notice one thing then you’re more likely to notice others. After all, we’ve been writing fiction for thousands of years, it’s hard to come up with all new ideas but still, it kinda of bothered me. I can be convinced to ignore it but your answer to “Why?” must be better than “Because I wrote it that way.”
In this sense the plot is kind of meh as it seems to lack direction in the middle. Characters go back and forth, allegiances shift and people are presumed dead but… ultimately they don’t accomplish much of anything. One moment we’re on Earth and the next we’re out in Space and where Gundam series before this often treated travel to and from Earth as a big thing, here the heroes kind of just… do as they please. Earth basically has a revolving door which… is fine but it also mean it doesn’t matter where they are. If travel is that easy then it’s not really of importance to the plot if you assault and take over a base to launch yourselves into space, now is it?
But my blurb did say I liked it, right? And if I have that much to complain about when it comes to the story then… how can I still like it? Well, part of it is definitely the mecha designs though I’m not sure who designed the most or who was the lead. I guess it could be Hajime Katoki who went on to be lead designer on the sequel OVA but honestly, I have no idea.
Either way, they look gorgeous. One of my biggest fears when going into this series was that it would be too “super robot” and not enough “real robot”. But I honestly think it walked a fine line between the two, allowing the series to be very action filled without worrying too much about how. It never strayed into “G Gundam” territory though it was not quite as real the original Gundam was.
The robots weren’t the only thing that got a new design, though. When making this series there was much more of a focus on appealing to a female audience and this is most easily seen in the five pilots themselves. Though pilots have always been young, here they’re not just young but they’re very handsome or cute and embody traits that a female audience would be more attracted to. The wider ranger of main characters also means they could design a dream boy for all types out there, more so if you including Treize and Zechs. Heero in particular seems to have broken a lot of hearts, men and women’s alike.
They still managed to portray them as characters, though, which is what counts and their different personalities and ways of doing things do balance out some of the flaws of the story itself. The action helps a lot too even if it does consist of a lot of reused animation, especially in space but that’s to be expected from a mecha show set in space, it’s practically unavoidable. It’s often fast paced without making you feel lost though it could’ve definitely cut some of it out, especially when you consider how poorly paced the middle was, going from battle to battle without any real investment.
The series is well known for focusing on drama over action so it’s a shame they felt the need to cram in so much conflict where it really wasn’t needed. Especially not in the middle where they had the most time for character growth and evolution. Battles instead felt very formulaic and by the numbers so no matter how good they might have been, eventually they just felt tired.
I also felt that the animation seemed to suffer from time to time as some shots are downright gorgeous while others feel like they come from any mecha show in the eighties. I do realize that an anime series can’t really uphold a supreme quality across almost fifty episodes, that’d be too expensive, but sometimes it was just really obvious where the effort simply hadn’t been put in or where there wasn’t enough money.
However, all of that said, I still enjoyed Gundam Wing, ugly bumps and everything. It’s hard to say exactly what it is I enjoyed about it when on paper it’s nothing all that special. Perhaps I just got drawn into the hype or it defies reviewing but despite any complaints I may have, I’ll probably rewatch it again at some point down the line. Not immediately, I have so much else I need to watch but once I’m all caught up on Gundam and start rewatching the stuff I like, well, it’s definitely going on the list.
And I can definitely see why this caught on in America the way that it did. Straddling the line between cheesy action and meaningful drama, it hit at just the right time when people wanted the world to take anime more seriously… at least rate it slightly higher than “animated children’s shows from Japan” which was the norm up until then, Robotech or no Robotech.
I have yet to see Endless Waltz, the sequel OVA so expect a review of that down the line. For the record I watched the remastered edition with Japanese audio and English subtitles. Call me a weeaboo, I don’t care, but that’s the way I like it.
If you’re at all interested in mecha anime than Gundam Wing is definitely not one to shy away from. It may not be the best mecha anime ever but it definitely deserves a place around the table. If nothing else it’s worth checking out simply because of what it meant for anime and mecha in particular. Check out the movies if you don’t want to sit through the whole series, they’re probably a substantial improvement but that’s not for me to know, at least not for a while.
Next time on Anime Aba… I mean, next anime I review is a strange beast, both in terms of what it is and who stars. Snikt, baby, snikt all the way.