Tuesday 4 May 2010

Anime REVIEW: Gundam Wing

For a long time I've always had an outside appreciation of the Gundam franchise - the mobile suits/mecha were an appeal but the numerous series (each with a significant episode number) were always a bit of a put off and left me confused about where to start. But now I've finally taken a dive into the world of Gundam and begun with the first series to be set outside the main Gundam universe - the series probably best known to the Western world due to its prominence on Toonami's anime block during the early noughties. I'm talking about the one and only Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.

The plot, which to be honest is rather difficult to summarise and so I'm going to cite wikipedia, is as follows:
In the distant future, Mankind has colonized space, and, down on the Earth, the nations have united as the United Earth Sphere Alliance. However, the city Alliance oppresses the colonies with its military power. The colonies desire a peaceful resolution to the situation, joining together in a movement headed by the pacifist Heero Yuy. In the year After Colony 175, Yuy is shot dead by an assassin, forcing the colonies to search for other paths to peace. The assassination also prompts five disaffected scientists from the Organization of the Zodiac, much more commonly referred to as OZ, to turn rogue after the completion of the mobile suit prototype Tallgeese.

The story of Gundam Wing begins in the year After Colony 195, with the start of "Operation: Meteor," the scientists' plan for revenge against the OZ military organization. The operation involves five teenaged boys who have each been chosen and trained by one of the five rogue scientists, then sent to Earth independently in extremely advanced mobile suits, one designed by each of the scientists, known as "Gundams." Their mobile suits are called Gundams because they are constructed from a rare and astonishingly durable material known as Gundanium alloy, which can only be created in outer space. Each Gundam is sent from a different colony and the pilots are initially unaware of the presence of the other pilots.

While this is the main gist of the story, it certainly doesn't remain this simple. The balance of power is forever shifting in the series - characters regularly are deposed or rendered powerless, paving the way for another character or group to become the 'main threat' for a while. One minute it'll be Treize Khushrenada (Head of Oz), next its the Romefeller Foundation, followed by rebel group White Fang, and so on. This is by no means a bad thing as it certainly creates a far better feeling of a proper ongoing war rather than have 2 straightforward sides. Arguably no character in the series has wholly bad intentions either - each side has their own beliefs and methods on how to achieve peace. Even the Gundam pilots themselves make some questionable moves at times, again making it far better viewing than just watching simply good vs evil.

However my praise for the series can also be balanced out with a fair amount of criticisms, firstly relating back to the point I made about the balance of power constantly shifting. While this is far better in terms of story telling and realism, it can make episodes drag on at times. That's not to say that there's any filler material, because there isn't - it just seems really really drawn out. You could argue that this relates to the toil of war, which is a fair assessment. This certainly isn't an all action mecha series nor does it ever pretend to be, but I felt either the series could have done with less episodes or filling the 49 episodes up with a bit better material. While the suit designs are marvellous, I can't honestly say there's one battle in the entire series that stands out in my mind. The final episode's Wing Zero vs Epyon battle fell especially flat.

My main criticism lies with lead protagonist and Wing Gundam pilot Heero Yuy. It is very rare that I out a main character for being so poorly written, but this guy really takes the cake. He's just written to be so perfect. Aside from a mishap involving killing a plane full of pacifists (his most interesting moment in the series) he's constantly presented as the centre of attention and the most effective fighter in the series. While the "cold, calculating, efficient solider" most certainly is an interesting way to present him, the series seems to completely forget the fact that he's supposed to be arguably the most human of them all. While I've been told that there is a prequel manga volume that covers a lot of his back story and explains why he is the way he is - this is barely hinted at in the series itself. Putting such important character information in expanded fiction does not make good story telling! The series is 49 episodes long, I'm sure they could have fitted it in somewhere, even if it was done very briefly. Thankfully the rest of the Gundam pilots are a much better bunch and play off of each other very well - wisecracking Duo (my personal favourite), badass Trowa, flawed Quatre and loner Wufei. The most interesting character however is most certainly Milliardo Peacecraft/Zechs Merquise. His portrayal and evolution is among the best I've witnessed in anime and I was glued to every second he was on screen.

However the review doesn't end there! Following on from the series comes the sequel movie/3-part OVA Endless Waltz. Set one year after the series' conclusion, the Gundam pilots reunite to fight a new threat from the Barton Foundation and Treize's daughter, 7 year old Mariemaia Khushrenada.

After such a disappointing end to the Gundam Wing series, Endless Waltz was a very pleasant surprise. Not only did it manage to keep the overall war tone and themes of the original series, it also managed to provide everything I felt the series was lacking. The pacing was perfect and kept my interest throughout, each pilot got (very brief - but this is good as it kept some element of mystery) flashbacks concerning their history, the battles looked fantastic (especially Wing Zero vs Altron, which trounced everything the series had offered within the first 30 seconds) and Heero finally became a respectable character in my eyes. And all it took was one little flashback about a little girl and her dog. Little references back to this in the movie really made me feel Heero WAS the most humane of the Gundam pilots, and when he "kills" Mariemaia at the very end, I was completely sold on him. If the series had that, maybe I wouldn't be so critical.

Admittedly the Gundam redesigns threw me a bit to begin with, but it wasn't long before I got used to them. The quality of them however ranges - from fantastic/better than the originals (Wing Zero, Tallgeese Mk 3) to good (Altron, Deathscythe Hell) to horrid (Heavyarms, Sandrock).

If this was just a review of Endless Waltz, it would without question be receiving a 5/5. However this is meant to review Gundam Wing as a whole, and the faults the series carries means that its going to fall just short of that. In conclusion, Gundam Wing wasn't what I expected it to be at all - the mecha play second fiddle to a group of (on the whole) well written characters embroiled in what really does feel like war. It's just a pity it has that drag factor and little fighting, because if it didn't have those it would probably be a masterpiece.

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