Note: This review contains spoilers. I don’t give away the entire series, but I do reveal major plot points.
“The Gundams will soon come to rectify your mistakes.”
The early days of anime on Cartoon Network were exciting. There was the feel that behind the scenes, geeks and fanboys were free to do anything they could to prove their network knew what was up. The shows they chose weren’t restricted to Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z. They got Peter Cullen – yes, Optimus Prime – to do narration over the commercials. And their advertisements rocked.
I still rattle off Gundam Wing quotes stuck in my head from these advertisements.
Ok, a warning: Part of my love of the show is wrapped up in the experience of watching it, of discovering what Gundam and mecha were all about. I’m not sure I have an objective view of Gundam Wing. This review, of all my Gundam reviews, will probably be the least focused.
The world of Gundam Wing is set in the After Colony era; as in, it’s been 175 years since space colonization began. Since that time, the Earth Sphere Alliance has come to oppress the colonies, treating the people in space as little more than laborers. The five colonies, sick of mistreatment, launch Operation Meteor. Five mobile suits of immense power are created, one by each of the colonies, and sent down to Earth to wage a guerrilla war against its nations.
The Gundam pilots know of each others’ existence, but are neither allies nor friends. Though their mission is the same, the pilots themselves have very different reasons for fighting. But, as Earth unites against them, they’re forced to join together to free their homes.
And that’s just the first 13 episodes.
The plot is a mess, but it makes a fun kind of sense when you watch it play out. The centerpiece for the show isn’t the Rube Goldberg political machine, though. It’s the five Gundams and their pilots.
“Come and get me you monsters!”
In any Gundam show, the primary weapon of war is the mobile suit, which rules the battlefield until some scientist wheels out the ultimate weapon of war: the Gundam. The power of the Gundam, and the source of said power, changes from show to show, but they’re always an order of magnitude stronger than anything else on the field. In Gundam Wing, the Gundams are full-on beasts, capable of slaughtering entire armies on their own. They’re apparently made of something called “Gundanium”, an alloy from which they take their names. Whatever. They’re basically indestructible and armed to the teeth.
Where early Gundam shows strove for realism of a sort, the Gundams of Wing are the mecha equivalent of superheros.
For instance, Deathscythe is a black Gundam with stealth capabilities and a beam-scythe. Its pilot, Duo Maxwell, shouts things like “The god of death has returned!” as he kills multiple enemies with one swing. Heavyarms, piloted by Flock of Seagulls reject Trowa Barton, has a Gatlng gun for an arm and carries more missiles than could fit in all the Gundams. Quatre Rababba Winner, the blond, boyish, overly sensitive psychic pilot runs around in Sandrock, whose primary weapons are two giant Khopeshs. Chang Wufei is a dick and pilots Voltron Shenlong, a lion-armed Gundam which I ignore as much as possible.
Then there’s Heero Yuy. Every Gundam series has, at its center, a teenage boy with emotional problems who has to, you know, conquer them and save the world. Gundam Wing, rather than go with the stock whining pacifist pilot of other entries, gives us a sociopath in a giant energy rifle wielding Transformer. Where most shows would give us a love interest, Gundam Wing has Heero Yuy spend most of the series threatening to kill his romantic interest, Relena Peacecraft. Dissatisfied with subtlety, the writers hand us a primary character arc of a murderous terrorist’s troubled romance with the queen of a pacifist kingdom.
Heero’s Gundam is Wing 01, the only mecha in the series to sport the classic Red/Yellow/Blue color theme of a true Gundam. It’s also the only one, at first, to use the classic beam saber. In case you hadn’t realized, a mecha with a beam saber is your clue the Gundam franchise started right after the release of Star Wars.
These five pilots – all teenagers, of course – end up in combat with the pilots of Earth – also mostly teenagers – and occasionally each other. The Gundams are so powerful that only other ace pilots in super-suits can threaten them, leading to the typical Gundam arms race that we get in most series. By the end, everyone’s gotten an upgrade to increase their armament from unrealistic to batshit. That’s how Gundam rolls.
“We’re from outer space! Every one of us!”
Somehow, despite all of the silliness, Gundam Wing is an affecting series. I doubt I’d like it as much if I hadn’t seen it first, but I also doubt I’d have hated it. The show plays out like a teenager’s overly complicated political drama, with constant betrayals, impassioned speeches about the purpose of war and a group of outsiders becoming the heroes of the world. It also displays the emotional stuntedness of said teenagers: in lieu of an actual romance, Heero and Relena spend most of the end of the series looking out into space and saying each others’ names. A lot.
Though it’s nearly impossible to keep track of when people have switched from villain to hero and back, the characters somehow stay consistent through it all. Like Treize Kushrenada, who begins the series as the political villain manipulating the Earth Sphere Alliance into total domination of the colonies. Until OZ debuts its newest weapon: the Mobile Doll. Unmanned, AI controlled mecha whose reaction times far exceed that of a normal pilot. Though the mobile dolls are strong enough to even overpower the Gundams, they lead Treize to forsake his masters and become a sort of anti hero.
Why? Because war should be carried out by people. A war fought by soulless dolls has no honor. Treize, through all the machinations of the plot, maintains himself as a throwback to the warriors of Homeric epics, even if that kind of thing makes no sense in a series about scythe-wielding super-mecha. By the end, he’s in a mecha with a head plume like a Greek warrior, in case you didn’t get the hint.
Watching Gundam Wing is a bit like watching the original Star Trek. It’s not that you like it in spite of its cheesiness. You like it because it’s so strange and unrealistic. I don’t overlook the overwrought speeches of the characters in Gundam Wing. I look forward to them.
It also helps that Gundam Wing has some of the most fun technology of the franchise. Like the Zero System. Pure awesome. Where early Gundam had a race of psychic-ish Newtypes who could use their power to become dominant pilots, Gundam Wing introduced the experimental Zero System. Using probability calculations and a lot of technological hand waving, it allowed its pilot to see into the possible future, giving him not just an advantage in battle but the power to ramble on about what the point of any of his actions were. Unfortunately, the Zero System tended to overpower its user, driving them mad with visions of the future. In the end, only Heero and Zechs are able to master it. In case you’re wondering, in a Gundam series that means “They’re going to fight at the end.”
Also, we get to hear Heero talk to his upgraded Gundam, Wing Zero, all the time. Which is more fun than it sounds.
“I will survive!”
Like most Gundam series, the show comes down to a fight between the two best pilots in the two most powerful mechas, and though Gundam Wing‘s animation is subpar compared to its peers (and uses a disturbing amount of recycled animation), the end duel brings it when it comes to the drama. So does the climatic effort against a falling battleship, whose impact will wipe out all life on Earth. Despite juggling far too many plot threads for their own good, the writers remembered that at its core the series hinged on its strange but sympathetic cast of characters and built a finale that used them all.
If I had to be objective, I’d say Gundam Wing is an above average show. A “B” effort, at best. But I can’t. Not at all.
When it comes to Gundam Wing, I have nothing but love.