This Week in Anime - There's Gundam on the Wing!

1 week ago 27

There are plenty of ways to get your Gundam fix nowadays, but one generation's introduction was none other than Toonami. Gundam Wing brought to teen viewers a world of intrigue, high-intensity battles, and of course, an attractive cast.

This series is streaming on Funimation

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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Jean-Karlo
Alright Steve, I'm ready to try this column again. Just cleared rehab, and I regained my pilot's license (insurance was a real "B" on that one, lemme tell you). Time for us to sit down and enjoy some... Hang on, got a proximity alarm on the radar, something's gaining on my 3 o'clock. Moving too fast to be a hatchback, too big to be Sonic the Hedgehog, the heck is—

IT'S A GUNDA—

Steve
I know it looks bad, but let's not be hasty! There are lots of very large robots out there, and this could be any one of them. Allow me to quick Zoom call this mysterious masked man, because he's obviously an expert.

Well gun-dammit.

Just so folks know: the news that Funimation had put up the entirety of 1995's Gundam Wing broke two weeks ago while we were getting ready to cover the Reconguista in G movies. Do I mind having to handle double dose of mecha action getting put onto my plate? No. No, I do not. Even if it isn't G-Gundam.

Me, I'm waiting for those cowards to finally add Turn A so we can talk about important stuff, like mustaches and crossdressing. But yeah, for now, I suppose this is as good a time as any to revisit the series that more or less introduced Gundam to my generation.

Testify! Gundam Wing was part of the original lineup for Cartoon Network's seminal Toonami animation block, introducing an entire generation of fans to the series and more-or-less the franchise as a fixture on Cartoon Network for years to come. The Wing Gundam is a striking design that to this day captures the hearts of mecha enthusiasts everywhere. And like it or not, much of Wing's writing decisions would go on to inform later Gundam, like SEED or 00.

Now, full disclosure: I do think that a lot of the reputation for some of those old Toonami shows has more to do with being the first serialized action show that many kids who grew up on Looney Tunes saw that had guns and digitally-painted-over boobs as opposed to being, y'know, good (looking at you, Tenchi Muyo!). But Wing became a landmark title for a lot of reasons, foibles be damned, and the reputation it has among some purists as being the "normie" Gundam gives me a knee-jerk reaction—that, and you just know it's because they resent Wing for being really beloved by women over the hunky male cast. To that, I say: quit whining, because even Tomino thinks that fujoshi were instrumental to Gundam's enduring fame, and Gundam has never not had a veritable cavalcade of hunky, hunky dudes. Just because you didn't watch Zeta Gundam until years after the fact doesn't mean that the likes of Amuro or Char weren't always meant to be heartthrobs. Especially that man among men, Kamille Bidan. All this to say: if this show has problems, cute boys ain't one of them.

God, that Kamille "photoshoot" never gets old. And I actually missed this first Gundam wave myself! I might have caught the odd episode here or there, but for whatever reason it never stuck with me, and it would be years before I'd watch a series from the franchise to completion. Point being, watching Wing now was a delightfully fresh experience. I know the series has a lot of the aforementioned baggage, but like all good iterations of Gundam, nothing beats being able to languish in how fundamentally unhinged it is.

Gundam has positively loomed over Toonami's reputation in its early years. Dragon Ball Z was the mission statement, but Gundam Wing was the hype-man. Every Toonami bumper was guaranteed to have clips of it, and the mystique of unedited Gundam episodes airing during the Midnight Run were alluring. But I wouldn't get into Gundam until G-Gundam, so the most I knew about Wing was, uh, that one of the Gundam had wings on it. And I don't feel comfortable calling out Wing for being particularly clownshoes because, uh, G-Gundam had a bit where the robots literally strapped themselves to rockets to go to outer space. In fact, all of Gundam can come off like a giant shitpost if you look at it right (refer to our aforementioned Reconguista in G column for more examples). But Wing can be intensely heavy on the pathos when it wants to. Just gotta be ready with that.

I think if you know a single scene from Wing, it's probably this one. Or at least that was the case for me. It's the premiere's mic drop, and it's honestly a big part of what sold me on Wing's approach to the franchise. Like, I love the way the introduction weaves from standard Gundam fare—space battles, military conspiracy, child soldiers—into this snooty private boarding school setting straight out of Dear Brother.

And if you watch this scene in motion, it even kinda feels like an absurdly melodramatic shojo anime. It's so good.

Never having seen Wing, as a teen I always deeply hated how Code Geass was such a bizarre-o mishmash of giant robots, pretentious Micky Mouse politicking and highschool drama. Turns out, they were birds of a feather all along! Code Geass is Gundam Wing with pizza.

I honestly wish Wing had more of that! The story soon balloons well past the walls of this school, but I could've watched an entire series about Heero moonlighting as a mobile suit secret agent in between equestrian lessons and fencing practice...

We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves, so let's let the folks at home know what the set-up is. Peter Cullen recorded the perfect primer for Gundam Wing back in 1997, I think it's fair if he handles this one. Peter?

"In the distant future, mankind has reached the stars but the galaxy is troubled. ("What do you think you're doing?" [explosion]) The Earth Sphere Alliance has ruled the colonies with an iron fist. (pew pew pew) Those who oppose them? Die. Battles are waged with mobile suits, the key to military dominance. The only hope for the colonies: five elite soldiers and their legendary mobile suits called 'Gundams'. Now, these pilots will shake the foundations of the Alliance and change the course of history—if they can stay alive! Weekdays at 5:30. Suit up."

I mean it's a very traditionally Gundam set-up. Space colonization, initially a dream meant to transcend the boundaries—physical and otherwise—of Earth, quickly becomes just another stage on which the same petty power struggles play out. Like, it's funny there was that recent headline about Tomino being skeptical of space exploration. He wasn't directly involved in Wing, but that attitude is forever the essence of Gundam.

I watched and finished Gundam 00 before Wing and it was curious to see the, ahem, "SEED"s of Celestial Being in the five Gundam Meisters. Gundam is all about how its various archetypes and concepts get used, reused and reimagined. It just isn't a Gundam without a masked demagogue, something representing the next phase of human evolution, and lots and lots of space colonies.

I will say that Wing's version of Char is extremely Char. Like, it's hard to look more Char than this, excepting the original Char. Although he hasn't completely and utterly owned a close friend yet, so the jury's still out.

He also has his work cut out for him, since Wing has not one Gundam, but

That is Zechs Merquise, who currently works for the OZ group, a shadow organization that has been infiltrating and manipulating the United Earth Sphere Alliance. When the show begins, five Gundams are sent to Earth to sabotage OZ's machinations.

And five Gundams means we need five Gundam pilots. And five Gundam pilots means we need five teens with attitude—ideally ones with extremely on-the-nose code names too.


Perfect.

The, ahem, hero of this act is Heero Yuy, a scrappy-looking child soldier who is not afraid to mess stuff up. Don't take his determined driving pose lightly: this guy takes birthday invitations very seriously.

Our other main character is Relena, who's not a pilot, but a daughter of a space colony diplomat. However, after Heero crash lands his mobile suit and washes ashore, she finds him and gets dragged into this grand galactic struggle. And let's just say she's not quite the same after that.

Relena is a fascinating and tragic case, in a meta-case. She's very important to the show, being a central figure in the show's political war in ways that would later inspire Lacus Clyne in Gundam Seed and Marina Ismail from Gundam 00. But fandom was absolutely dreadful to her for ages and ages. Much of the fandom especially loved shipping Heero and Duo, and for many young fans Relena "got in the way". This manifested in a lot of vitriol towads her. And like, sure, Relena can be a bit of a space cadet. Many moments that I'm sure are supposed to be dramatic or wistful just come off as being... weird, on her behalf. But of all the things Relena may be, a useless idiot isn't one of them. At least her politicking makes some kind of sense, unlike Lacus.

Gundam also just generally doesn't have the greatest track record with its female characters, but as of episode seven at least, Relena rules. Like, the way her and Heero's mutual fascination for each other gets sublimated into this constant death wish refrain is both a) hilarious, and b) a genuine reflection of what larger-than-life teenage emotions feel like (which adds to the hilarity).

This is the apotheosis of ship dynamics.

Contrast to Heero and Duo just sniping at each other, which shippers take as "chemistry" in ways that make my neurodivergent brain fold in on itself. And the "sniping" part is literal at times!

I mean that scene is also extremely good from start to finish. Relena tries to stop Heero. Heero is about to shoot Relena. Duo shoots Heero. Duo shoots Heero twice. Relena protects Heero. Heero falls face-down into the ocean. I watch Gundam because I want to see compelling characters behave like weird aliens, and Wing drops a cornucopia of that on my desk.

I wonder if growing up Latinx basically makes me immune to bizarre-o melodrama? Telenovelas, and all that.

Definitely cut from the same cloth.

The other four Gundam pilots are varying degrees of eccentric, and this opening acts follows their individual missions to varying degrees of success. They're not all slam dunks yet, but there are glimmers of Gundam brilliance. Trowa, for instance, chooses the most cliché cover story in the book and joins a traveling circus.

And, once again, TWIA is perennially haunted by clowns.

I don't know why, but I always figured Duo was the pilot of the Heavyarms Gundam and not Trowa, but oh well. Trowa is pretty much the strong, silent-type and according to the cute circus girl he works with he's apparently got a death wish.

He also keeps crossing paths with Quatre, pilot of the Sandrock, and they kinda-sorta hit it off in an actually tangible way, not like in a "You need goggles to see the subtext" way with Duo and Heero.

This brings up an important point too: given the show's introduction, you might assume, as I did, that the five Gundam pilots would be working together to help the colonies. Not so! They all apparently get assigned missions from the same place, but they each work independently, which can lead to them working together, as with Trowa and Quatre, or exchanging bullets, as with Heero and Duo.

This can lead to a lot of drama; none of the Meisters know who each other are when the series begins. We were only going to cover the first six episodes of the show—thankfully, we were convinced to also cover episode 7, as not only does 7 represent a major spanner being thrown into the show's status quo, it also has all 5 Meisters meeting up for the first time.

Also, Wu Fei is there in his Shenlong Gundam. He was stuck on his lonesome for a while.

To be fair, it looks like he can handle things pretty well on his own.

God, I love Gundam. I'm also just saying, if I were a group of rebels trying to take down the Earth's military a peg in order to give the colonies some breathing room, I'd probably try to find a way to get my five ace pilots on the same page (i.e. not sniping each other), but what do I know.

That's a thing that keeps escaping me—these are all kids. Like, barely 16 at most. In Heero's case, we know he's been raised to be a child soldier, hence his cold demeanor. Gundam 00 did a good job of illustrating how being forced to take part in a holy war you don't really understand can just ruin a person, which works in a show about finding ways to reach out to people across borders. Wing...is a little harder to pin down in terms of its themes, so more time would be needed to see what Heero's traumatic youth means.

Heero's just not really a character yet. He's an automaton that follows orders and pilots his Gundam really well. It's no coincidence that those times are when he appears most relaxed. He only begins to show some depth when he can't bring himself to actually kill Relena.


The absurdity of the situation aside, this is another authentic reflection of the adolescent experience: doing shit without at all understanding why.

A bunch of teenagers inherit a messed-up world that a bunch of adults are willing to make worse just for that last fucking percentage, and somehow have to make lemons out of lemonade and salvage a ruined world when they don't even know where they stand in the wider world. What a concept.

This is also, incidentally, why I'd kill for more boarding school shenanigans. Yes, it'd be dumb, but seeing Heero try to balance a normal school life with his nightly Gundam alarms would be a great opportunity to flesh out his character more, while driving home the fact that these are just kids.

But this early in the series, I guess it's understandable we don't get much to go on for Heero besides second-hand accounts.

And, yep, that seems accurate.

This is why Relena is such an important character in the beginning of the show, shippers be damned. She is that teenager. She's far from a vapid teen; she shows plenty of initiative in rescuing an unconscious Heero in the first episode. But that first episode also has her planning her birthday party. By episode 6, Relena is diving head-first into a bombed-out building to rescue her father, and is not afraid to wage a one-woman war against OZ.

Girl's got ice in her veins, that's for sure. Heero holds her at gunpoint, and she just calmly asks him down to the school dance. Incredible energy.

Like I said earlier, Relena can be read as either a very dramatic, firm, emotional and high-minded individual, or as a galaxy-brained loon. The line rides thin. But purely on its face? Yeah, like I also said, she's leagues above the likes of Lacus Clyne.

On the opposite side of the moral spectrum, Lady Une is an amazing character in her own way. Just unapologetically evil and loving every minute of it.

Also, Lady isn't her title—she's a Colonel. Her first name is "Lady".

Gundam's gonna Gundam.

She's also a big fan of Goldfinger, it seems, and a crack shot to boot.

I know we watched episode seven because it makes for a natural dramatic stopping point, but I'm glad we watched episode seven specifically so I could see this scene. The absolute indignity of not only jettisoning your patsy at cruising altitude, but showing off your marksmanship by blasting his brains with a midair noscope headshot. One of the most goddamn badass things I've seen out of any Gundam.

I don't know how the rest of the show can top that, if it even does.

Well, I know I said I can't call out Gundam Wing for being particularly clownshoes, but it is still chockablock with shenanigans. When we stopped watching, OZ had just tricked the Meisters into shooting down a shuttle of Alliance pacifists who were totally open into spearheading peace talks with the colonies.

To Wing, though, even the Alliance are ineffectual and hypocritical, just waiting for the OZ's coup to happen. Like, the opening of this speech is basically bone dry political satire.


Even Relena, earlier, calls out the inherent hypocrisy of trying to achieve peace through war, but of course that's not an easy problem to solve. Otherwise there'd be no need for dozens of Gundam anime.

I keep bringing up Gundam 00, but it's the closest example within Gundam to how a lot of this was handled. And honestly, 00 probably handles this stuff better, especially since it has much more visceral on-the-nose metaphors inspired by the War on Terror and the addition of emphasizing communication as a theme. Wing seems to just care about peace at all costs, in a weird and vague way. More to the point: it's later revealed that Relena is the survivor of the Peacecraft family, which espoused unilateral peace at all costs. Which sounds good on paper, except for how the other Peacecraft in this show is Zechs and he's sure as heck not afraid to muck stuff up.

Setting aside how funny that line of dialogue is, Wing at least seems cognizant that Relena's viewpoint is too naive, and that empty platitudes calling for peace will never overcome organized power grabs by bad actors. Treize might be cartoonishly villainous, but he's honest about what he wants and how he wants to get it.

This conversely is part of why SEED fails: Lacus has nothing but empty platitudes to go off of, and she was also the one hanging onto the souped-up Strike Freedom Gundam. Your pacifist figureheads don't work if they keep a war mech in their garage!

That's why we need these messed up murder teens to clean up after the ineffectual adults. Even if they need to learn a thing or two about not falling for obvious traps.

Bless this mess. And I do mean mess.

There's a lot of other stuff I really enjoy about Wing. Like that lovely Jazz-inspired soundtrack, the long atmospheric bits that are just shuttles docking onto colonies, or that lovely early-90s anime look and design the show has. Nothing quite like it. Also, this show cast a pre-DIO-post-Tekkaman-Evil Takehito Koyasu as Zechs. Turns out, it wasn't even the first time he was in a Gundam show: he was Liole Sabat in Victory, and voiced some bit characters in G.

Always a good time hearing his velvety dulcet tones in pretty much anything. Wing is also a font of traditional mech animation. If you're bummed about Hathaway embracing the CG menace, why not revisit a classic and enjoy some large 2D lads of yore?

It's kind of amazing how good those Gundams animate. Sure, the show makes up for it with a lot of talking bits but even those scenes are packed with atmosphere. Even if the story is a bit off, it's easy to see how the art for Gundam Wing drew in an entire generation of fans back in '97.

Yeah, we might be about 25 years removed now, but I'm definitely riveted by the show so far. Probably in a much different way than I would have been in the late '90s/early '00s, mind you, but riveted nonetheless. And I genuinely want to make time to continue the series and find out where these boys and their pseudo-sociopathic qualities take them next. Will they save the colonies from OZ? Will we ever see Zech's face? Will Relena ever fulfill her dream and die at the hands of Heero? I want to know!

I enjoyed visiting Gundam Wing, and I too feel some interest to keep watching. It can be deeply nuts, but what Gundam isn't? I don't know how much younger anime fans will care for Wing, but I do hope the Code Geass similarities are enough to make some people interested because even if it's not conventionally good, Gundam Wing is still one of the more-standout anime of the 90s. Definitely worth a look so you can get a taste of that JUST WILD BEAT, COMMUNICATION

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