Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
I’m arbitrarily declaring September to be Nostalgia Month here at the Armchair Madcap, if for no other reason than to dust off those DVD copies of Gundam Wing I ordered a few months ago. And just let me say, I wasn’t disappointed with my decision! I only made it through the first season (12.5 hours, 25 episodes, all in one day), but that was more than enough to remind me why I love Gundam Wing so much and count it as one of the formative anime series of my life!
For my younger readers out there, Gundam Wing was popularized in the United States when it ran in the afternoon Toonami slot starting in March, 2000. Has it really been twelve years since I sat down after school and watched this show religiously? … (I feel particularly old now.) After more than a decade, one might be forgiven for thinking that this show wouldn’t measure up to some of the flashier series that have come out since, or that the only thing it really has going for it is the nostalgia factor, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that Gundam Wing still holds up well under scrutiny.
First and foremost, there’s the plot: Gundam Wing is the story of five young pilots from the space colonies that surround Earth, sent back down onto the planet in order to combat the growing influence of the Romefeller Foundation and its military branch, OZ. Tricked into assassinating the pacifists keeping OZ in check, the Gundam pilots must find their own paths into the future: continue fighting against OZ, even as the military organization turns the Colonies against them, or choose new targets as Earth and outer space descend into war?
This has always been one of my favorite Gundam plots. The contrasting factions that play off of one another – sometimes as allies, sometimes as enemies – keep things from feeling as cut-and-dry, good-versus-evil as some other Gundam shows are prone to do. Then there’s the fact that there are five primary protagonists (more, if you look beyond the Gundam pilots themselves) rather than the usual one. Aren’t fond of emotionless, robot-like Heero Yuy? See if bubbly Duo Maxwell isn’t more your speed! Find Chang Wufei’s intensity to be a bit much for you? Kind-hearted Quatre Raberba Winner might match your pace nicely. These aren’t static characters, either. They have ups and downs, highs and lows, and they react to events with more than the same one or two responses. It helps that they all have easily identifiable, unique designs as well. Duo’s long braid, Trowa’s ridiculous emo bangs, Zechs’ mask – it would be difficult to get these characters confused for anyone, even outside of their own properties.
There is also a surprisingly high number of strong women in this show. Lucrezia Noin, Lady Une, Sally Po: all three are military women well-respected by their male counterparts, and all enter into battle and fight on the frontlines. It’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that usually resigns women to support roles. In the second season, Dorothy Catalonia and Relena Peacecraft become forces to be reckoned with within politics, extending the influence of women within the Gundam Wing universe even further.
Now, admittedly, the art is very much in the late 90s camp (the clothing designs in particular), and you can see where they reused animation in battle sequences across episodes to save on budget. Then there are the infamous recaps at the beginning of each episode: five-minute time wasters that did actually serve a purpose when the show was only on television once a week but which get annoying during a DVD marathon. But there are little details that, even a decade after the fact, set Gundam Wing apart from other anime series. In particular, I noticed that even incidental characters that only show up for a few seconds are given their own facial features and hairstyles. I never once noticed a character model being reused (not counting crowd scenes, for obvious reasons). The designs of the military uniforms are still impressive and attractive. The fight scenes are well choreographed, and each Gundam has a distinct fighting style with their own strengths and weaknesses. Heero never fights the same as Duo never fights the same as Trowa… as Quatre… as Wufei… as Zechs… as Treize… etc.
The voice acting is pretty 90s too, now that I think about it. No one’s phoning it in, and each voice matches each character, but the performances are for the most part forgettable. Scott McNeil as Duo Maxwell, however, did a fantastic job and gave life to the character that would have otherwise been absent. (This may be the reason Duo was always my favorite Gundam pilot!) I enjoyed Brian Drummond’s performance as Zechs Merquise as well, though that might have been for entirely different reasons.
And may I just say that, even after twelve years, I still know the words to “Just Communication,” the show’s opening song. Does that mean I had too much time on my hands in middle school, or that the song is just that damn good? Probably both.
I’m willing to admit that I might be very forgiving of some of this show’s flaws because I was watching it with a friend, laughing at all the cost-cutting tricks, giggling at the voice acting flubs, and blissfully ignoring the recaps at the beginning of every episode. And the nostalgia factor is definitely there. But Gundam Wing still has its complicated story, its wildly-varying and altogether strong cast of heroes and villains, and the little details that make its animation a joy to watch even after a decade of technical advances have left it looking a little outdated. Do you remember Gundam Wing but haven’t gone back and watched it in the last dozen years? Did you get into anime after Gundam Wing’s heyday? Do yourself a favor and watch it! Please! (If you have watched Gundam Wing in the past, who was your favorite pilot? Your favorite character overall? Your favorite scene?)
I don’t know when I’ll get the chance, but I fully intend to marathon the second season, then top my Gundam Wing retrospective with the movie, Endless Waltz. I hope you’ll stick around and join me!