Mobile Suit Gundam Wing

One cannot linger too long in the anime world without hearing mention of Gundam. Gundam is, of course, one of the pillars of Japanese animation, with over two decades worth of material spanning from TV shows and books to movies and toys. For those who are completely unfamiliar with the Gundam concept, suffice it to say that every Gundam show involves a conflict between forces allied with Earth and forces from colonies surrounding Earth that were created many decades (if not centuries) ago. These wars involve not only huge mobile suits and lots of action, but the mobile suit pilots are an integral part of the show, and the stories usually revolve around the relationships that develop between friend and foe. What has kept Gundam going over so long a period of time is not only its combination of meaningful characters and intense action, but also a unique view of war and politics rarely seen in Western programs. Gundam Wing is the first major attempt to launch a Gundam show in the US, and so far it has succeeded through a series of broadcasts on the Cartoon Network. So far, it is also the first Gundam show to hit DVD.

One brief note about the show: Gundam Wing is actually set in an alternate universe from the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. Thus, although it has similar elements familiar to other Gundam shows, the timelines and parties involved are completely different. It helps if you put out of your head everything you've ever known or seen about Gundam, because likely it will only serve to confuse you.

In the five episodes that comprise the first DVD, we meet five young men from the colonies who have secretly piloted Gundams to Earth. Gundams themselves are incredibly powerful robotic armor suits that can easily destroy most standard kinds of weaponry, including inferior armor suits. Gundam suits are very rare because the metal involved in making them can only be refined outside the Earth's atmosphere. Each of the young men is working for a different colony, and they do not know of each other's existence, but they all are planning to sabotage the Alliance. The Alliance initially started as a project to unify Earth's governmental structure, but the Alliance eventually attempted to control the outer space colonies by force. At first, the show revolves around Heero, a brash young man whose only goal is to complete his missions of destruction against the Alliance. When his Gundam is shot down, he escapes and takes on the identity of a student to hide his true purposes. However, the daughter of a diplomat--Relena--knows who Heero really is, which puts her in peril and leads her to finding out her true identity. Meanwhile, the other Gundam pilots themselves may stand a chance to truly damage the Alliance...if they don't wind up offing each other in the meantime. If all that's not enough, there's a secret society called OZ that could be the cause of all the conflict in the first place.

The start of Gundam Wing is good, but not quite as impressive as I'd hoped. There is plenty of action here, but things are incredibly confusing at the start. Because we aren't familiar with the universe at the start, it is unclear why the mobile suit pilots don't know each other and even start fighting with each other. The characters are almost deliberately kept a mystery, which is fine for a little while but starts to become oppressive after a couple of hours. Thankfully, if you can make it through to episode five with little exposition, things start becoming clearer. There's certainly plenty of action to watch here--things explode at an impressive rate throughout all five episodes on the disc--but don't be surprised if you don't catch on to the plot right away. I wound up looking up a few guides on the Internet and found that there are a surprising number of Gundam resources, so if you feel too lost, help is nearby.

The art style itself is very nice, but there are a few embarrassingly bad shots in a couple of episodes where the animation itself falls apart. The mobile suit designs are interesting, but they still retain that look from the 70s where robots had ornamentation just for the look of it. Personally, I prefer the designs used through the Macross shows, which seem to me a bit more refined and truly useful. Nevertheless, if you're used to seeing what Gundam robots look like, they look good.

What the show has done in spades, so far, is present some interesting characters and intrigues. One facet of Gundam is that neither side has an absolute stranglehold on love, honor, justice, etc., and so characters on both sides of the conflict can be noble yet flawed. So far, frankly, the mobile pilots for the colonies (whom we assume we are supposed to be rooting for) have proven to be egotistical brats at best and misogynistic terrorists at worst. Meanwhile, the Earth forces have proven to be cretins save for one noble warrior by the name of Zechs and a few of his associates. Zechs is actually quite impressive so far. Relena also appears to be someone the audience can actually appreciate. I'm enjoying very much the fact that the relationships are realistic on both sides of the conflict. I would hope in the next few episodes, though, that the colony's Gundam pilots turn out to be more likable, or this might wind up being an extremely annoying show.

I liked what I saw of Gundam Wing, and I hope that it continues to improve. With each episode, I did feel like I was getting more and more drawn in to this unique world. On one hand, I find myself wishing that there was a stronger hero figure, and at the same time the ensemble feel is very entertaining. Perhaps it just takes time--and with 49 episodes total, I'm sure there will be more than adequate space to deliver the goods.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Operation 1 -- violence, mild language -- B