What’s to Love about Gundam Wing

Jun 30 2009

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Note: I’ve skipped two shows. After ZZ Gundam came Victory Gundam, which I’m less than a quarter of the way into. Gundam’s overall popularity waned when the ultra-depressing Victory was released, so toy company Bandai (a long-time commercial collaborator with Sunrise) bought out Sunrise and suggested new Gundam series set in separate universes. That resulted in G Gundam, which likewise I’m about a quarter of the way into. So I’m skipping ahead to the series after that: New Mobile Report Gundam Wing.

This is a spoiler-free review, as I won’t even attempt to describe the show’s plot.

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I cannot review this show objectively.

No review is ever truly objective, of course, but one can at least hold most shows to some kind of standards, and see what most would enjoy.

The reason for my subjectivity began with the Midnight Run on Toonami. They’d show uncut episodes of Gundam Wing and Dragonball Z from midnight to one in the morning every weeknight. It’s an odd time to watch an action show; the house is quiet and still while brightly-colored people scream and gun each other down on the flickering TV screen.

I’d watch Midnight Run in my room, running an IM conversation with Saalon (and occasionally Brennen) while watching. Unfortunately, the computer screen was directly opposite the TV, so I kept whipping my head around to catch action on the TV or a message from Saalon.

We came in about halfway into Gundam Wing (and a few episodes into DBZ‘s Frieza Saga). We had no idea what was going on. We couldn’t keep track of the pilots. Characters seemed to switch sides every episode. The mecha fights often re-used the same movement and explosion animation.

And yet, Saalon and I fell completely, head-over-heels in love with the show. We loved the complexity of the storyline. We loved the intensity of the characters. The Gundams looked cool.

We later re-watched the show, finally understood what the heck was going on, and we loved it even more. I’m sure Wing has all sorts of flaws, but I literally can’t see many of them because when I watch the show I instantly enjoy myself.

So, with that little ego boost out of the way, what exactly is Gundam Wing?

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It’s a politically complicated show about terrorists sent from space colonies to soften up the Earth’s militaries, in preparation for the colonies declaring independence. Each colony sends its own pilot, under separate orders, so the pilots don’t necessarily know (or even like) each other, despite working for the same overall goal. Indeed, the pilots often come into conflict with each other. A few of the pilots are certifiable nutjobs.

As the story progresses, the pilots begin to question their goals and develop more complex opinions of the growing conflict. And some of them go even more nuts.

Gundam Wing marked the second Gundam series told in its own timeline, after the intentionally cheesy G Gundam. Wing returned to a somewhat more serious tone for the franchise, though Wing is cheesy in its own way. Whereas G is cheesy like a 70’s super robot show, Wing is cheesy like an overly-serious opera.

The show is arguably the most politically complicated show I’ve ever seen. Alliances are made and collapse, characters switch sides; if you miss an episode or two you can be completely lost upon returning to the show to discover that one character’s dead, another’s fighting for a completely different group, and heck a new political alliance has formed.

Interestingly, the five main pilots are themselves the least politically motivated. They’re given orders, which they (initially) carry out completely and without question. It’s the folks around them that are constantly jockeying for advantage or the betterment of mankind, and trying to maneuver the pilots into acting for or against their own interests. It’s a revealing moment when, fairly early into the show, the viewer realizes that one pilot’s actions play completely into the plans of one of the villains, neatly accomplishing the villain’s goal. That’s the kind of show it is.

Every character has a distinctive personality. When reviewing Baccano! for Otaku, No Video, I described the characters as having “bold” personalities. I can think of no better adjective for the characters in Wing, though the boldness is more a melodramatic intensity and distinctiveness. There are very few shy, retiring characters here.

Opera is actually an apt comparison. Wing is big, brassy, over-the-top, and melodramatic in tackling an epic story with memorable (and often insane) characters. You have to accept it for what it is, and when you do, you’d better strap yourself in for a heck of a ride.

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