Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 49
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Date of Review: April 7, 2015
In the year After Colony 195, the United Earth Sphere Alliance has taken over the space colonies via military means. However, five young pilots take their powerful Gundams to Earth as part of Operation Meteor to attack the occupiers on their own soil and restore freedom to the colonies. Of course, things aren’t nearly as clear-cut as they seem, and the quintet are soon embroiled in political and martial conflicts alike. Making matters worse is that they initially aren’t even aware of each other’s existence! Will the Gundam pilots form a united front against their enemies, or will they be too busy fighting each other instead?
Before we begin, let me explain that I’m not trying to overshadow Ryo-Ohki’s excellent review from ten(!) years ago. Sure, this will be my own review, but I’m going to structure it more as a rambling personal commentary on the series. That’s why I’ve also titled this post after its original Japanese name, New Mobile Report Gundam Wing. (Mobile Suit Gundam Wing was used overseas, and both series names are indeed correct.) Wing remains my favorite Gundam series, and seeing as today marks the show’s twentieth anniversary, it seemed only fitting to talk about it at length. Unlike the other reviews here, this one contains minor spoilers, just to give you a heads-up; don’t worry, I won’t ruin the main plots for those of you who have yet to watch Wing in all its glory. Now suit up and get ready for a Libra-sized wall of text!
I need to offer up my personal history with Wing first, as it has a profound effect on how I feel about both the series and Gundam as a whole. My first proper exposure to Gundam was, like most Americans, through the Cartoon Network airings of Wing as part of their Toonami block in the spring of 2000. I was finishing up college at the time, and the Peter Cullen-narrated ads for this cool giant robot show in space just caught my eye. I saw the first few episodes and was hooked; I’d sometimes watch them if I was home later in the afternoon, but I more often caught the “Midnight Run” broadcasts at night. I absolutely adored the show, and even convinced a bunch of my friends to enjoy it as well. I bought a few plastic model kits, but I never picked up the Wing DVDs as they were outrageously expensive upon release.
After graduation, I was busy trying to gain employment and otherwise get my life in order, and unfortunately my interest in the Gundam franchise as a whole petered out. When I was working full time, I was either still at work or on my way home during the afternoon Toonami broadcasts, and asleep during the “Midnight Run” airings. Thus, I slowly lost my interest in Gundam. In retrospect, it’s a pretty dumb reason to lose interest in something I loved, but given that my rapidly changing life at that point in time — literally starting the rest of my life, so to speak — that’s the best defense I can offer.
It wasn’t until 2012 when I came across some broken model kit parts while doing some spring cleaning that things took a turn. When I unearthed a shattered Epyon limb…the memories truly came surging back. I was able to nab the “Anime Legends” DVD boxsets of Wing on the cheap, and rewatched the show for the first time in twelve years. (I’ve since rewatched it again for the purposes of this review, of course.) That initial Wing rewatch got me into Gundam all over again, and I’m much more of a hardcore fan now than I ever was before. I have Wing to thank for all of this. But…does the series hold up? Did I enjoy it as much now as I did way back then?
Yes on both counts, my friends. Now before you start shouting at me, I know that Wing is certainly not perfect — we’ll get to that later — but it still takes the top spot in my book among the various full Gundam series. (Let’s be fair, OVAs and movies belong in their own class.) Nostalgia is definitely a huge part of it, and I won’t deny that. Despite its problems, Wing is still a fun show to watch with some great character and mobile suit design, music, and plot. Time to dig in!
Instead of a single Gundam pilot protagonist, Wing gives us five: Heero Yuy, a grumbling loner who won’t let anything stand in the way of his mission; Duo Maxwell, your cocky Han Solo type (Solo? Duo? Get it?); Quatre Raberba Winner, naïve scion of the rich Winner family; Trowa Barton, a quiet, mysterious pilot with an even more mysterious past; and Chang Wufei, a somewhat misogynist jerk with a strong sense of honor. Granted, Heero becomes our lead character almost by default, but the other guys are just as important. None of ’em play second fiddle, and each ends up being absolutely critical to the plot in different ways. Even the three who just seem to be loners at first end up striking notably different paths, and their backstories are unveiled at a measured pace as the series progresses. Of the five, Duo ended up being my favorite, mainly due to his more outgoing nature. He seemed the most believable of the group, along with Quatre; the other three were just solemn loners in their own way. Don’t get me wrong, there’s things I like about all of the pilots, but Duo just struck me as the most interesting.
Wing features a rich assortment of characters beyond our Gundam pilots, and first and foremost is our female lead, Relena Darlian. At first you’d think she’s nothing but a love interest for Heero, but it doesn’t turn out that way. It’s also notable that she’s one of the few main female characters in Gundam who is not a mobile suit pilot. Relena becomes supremely important in the show’s rapidly shifiting political landscape, and she’s a stronger character than most realize. For crying out loud, Heero flat-out tells Relena that he’s going to kill her, but she doesn’t stop pursuing him to demand answers. As a side note, I never understood the Relena hate from much of the Gundam fanbase. (I figured more folks would be creeped out by Dorothy Catalonia’s weird-ass eyebrows.) Relena may be written inconsistently at times, but she’s a far cry from the usual female character stereotype.
Outside of our immediate supporting cast, we’ve got the five scientists who built the Gundams and seem to be following their own mysterious path, as well as Organization of the Zodiac (OZ) soldiers who shift alliances over the course of the series. In particular, Lucrezia Noin has a great character arc that crosses paths with our protagonists in very different ways. Hers and others whose fates are cast into the whirlwind make for an intriguing show all the way through.
Moving on to the Gundam pilots’ primary opponents, Wing has some memorable antagonists in the form of enemy ace Zechs Merquise, political mastermind Treize Khushrenada, and his aide-de-camp Lady Une, one of the most merciless women in Gundam. But, as with the other characters, their motives are never black and white. Heero’s eventual rival Zechs has his own demons to fight as he works his way through the turbulent landscape. The ace pilots won’t always be on opposing sides! The ultimate antagonist, Treize, is refreshingly cultured and articulate rather than a evil madman. Sure, Treize is plotting world domination, but under the guise of eventual peace rather than crushing it under his boot heel. As for Lady Une, she’s got a bit of a tragic tale of her own that was most unexpected.
When it comes to the visuals, we must mention something very important about Wing: it represented a noticeable change in the character art style in that it had a very bishōnen look. This new appearance may have been divisive for some, but it was also a selling point: quite a few women I knew watched the show and freely admitted that the character design was what drew them to Wing. They loved them some Gundam boys! Personally, the new art style had no effect on me; like I said, Wing was my first Gundam show anyway, so I had no point of comparison. Furthermore, the character design fits Wing perfectly, so in retrospect it was definitely the correct choice. (I don’t recall any Gundam show having bad art, to be honest.)
Something else that really stands out with the character art is the clothing, particularly the school uniforms and the garb worn by members of the Romefeller Foundation. They were clearly patterned after fashions from real-world 18th and 19th century European aristocracy; the Foundation’s members often acted in such an elitist manner, as well. The costume design is just one more thing that really makes Wing stand out amongst its peers.
There’s a lot of political intrigue in Wing to back up the mecha battles, and I found myself enjoying that. The constantly changing allegiances keeps the Gundam pilots (and the audience) on their toes, and there’s just as many skirmishes across the meeting table as there are on the battlefield. This helps in worldbuilding and crafting drama instead of just focusing on constant fights and explosions. That’s always been the Gundam saga’s strength, and Wing is no different.
“Enough of this character and political crap!” you’re saying. “What about the damned mobile suits?” There, like any Gundam show worth its salt, Wing pays off in spades. Right off the bat, we’ve got five Gundams, each with their own specific fighting styles and weapons. They’re all based around a core concept (and the progenitor of that concept shows up later on), but they’re different enough that their pilots must use different tactics in order to succeed. I mentioned earlier that Duo was my favorite Wing character, so it should come as no surprise that the mobile suit I like best from the series is his Gundam, the Deathscythe. It’s practically a giant metal Grim Reaper, and Duo certainly used it to live up to his nickname, “The God of Death.” (Especially with its cloaked Hell upgrade later in the series.)
Like I said before, I rewatched Wing for the first time three years ago and it really got me back into Gundam as a whole. Since then, I’ve watched most of the other Gundam shows, almost all of which I’d never seen before. Thus, when I rewatched Wing once more for the purposes of this review, I was finally able to catch the references and homages to Gundam series past. Most obvious are the focus on a conflict between Earth and its colonies, the basic design of the Gundams (the signature faceplate, V-fin, et cetera), Zechs being the latest in a long line of masked antagonists, and green monoeyed grunt mobile suits. There’s plenty more beyond that, but you get the idea.
There’s also some notable ways in which Wing deliberately differs from the usual Gundam clichés. First and foremost: there’s no Newtypes or other enhanced or evolved humans. Sure, Heero’s an ace pilot and one of the few people able to handle the ZERO System, but that doesn’t make him some new offshoot of humanity! Which brings us to our second example: all five Gundam pilots are aces right off the bat and absolutely ready for war. That’s in stark contrast to the usual tale of a kid getting swept into a conflict by circumstance and ending up in a Gundam’s cockpit with minimal (if any) mobile suit pilot training. Yet another example is the use of artificial intelligence to create legions of unmanned mobile suits with faster reaction times, rather than relying on mere human pilots. (Later Gundam series would use this concept on occasion; perhaps Wing started a minor trend?)
Let’s move on to the music. Wing‘s score remains my favorite from the entire Gundam franchise by a wide margin, and not just because it’s from my top series. Even those who hate Wing must agree: Ko Otani’s work is nothing short of stunning. His expertise in mixing so many different styles of music into a cohesive whole is on full display here. A significant portion of the score is comprised of a powerful brass section blended with electric guitars, which is no easy task. Otani not only pulls it off, but it fits Wing surprisingly well. It’s not all fanfare and bombast, though; there’s some use of saxophone that sounds deliberately evocative of the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam score and other series from that era. Slowing things down, we’ve got soft flutes and oboes often heard when Relena is onscreen, and majestic orchestral arrangements reflect the aristocratic motif found elsewhere in the series. No matter the scene, Otani’s musical accompaniment is perfectly appropriate.
In retrospect, I can hear things in Otani’s Wing score that seemed to be a starting point for his later work on the video game Shadow of the Colossus, which may very well be his finest composition. (Not to mention the best game soundtrack that I’ve ever heard.) “Treize Khushrenada, The Man Who Makes History” in particular sounds like “Monstrous People” from the game. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether Treize was a monster himself.
I’m usually not a big fan of anime opening and ending songs, but I’ll admit that Two-Mix’s theme for Wing, “Just Communication,” isn’t too bad. What sticks with me more is the instrumental version, which was played over the end credits during the Toonami broadcasts. I acquired the Wing soundtracks shortly before my 2012 rewatch, and hearing that song gave me flashbacks!
I mentioned earlier that Wing has its flaws. Well, it certainly does! For starters, the series is notorious for its extensive use of stock footage. I guess there’s only so many ways to show a Leo betting blasted apart by the Wing Gundam’s beam rifle, but there’s no need for the same exact shot countless times with just a different background thrown in. It happens far too often, and it’s very noticeable in a weekly show like this.
Relena’s mission of total pacifism is ludicrous, as is the belief of the Sanc Kingdom, given the political and martial climate of the series. (Not to mention basic human nature.) Some of the political maneuvering gets a little tedious at times, and Relena can be remarkably thickheaded at times in sharp contrast to her keen intellect elsewhere. It doesn’t quite fit. Nor does her very brief appointment as a worldwide political leader; what was the point, and why would the populace all of a sudden follow this person they barely knew, if at all?
I know action heroes should be larger than life and much more resistant to damage than the average Joe, but Wing takes it to extremes when pilots become practically explosion-proof. Heero blows up his own damned Gundam while standing in the cockpit, and he gets away with just a few cuts and bruises. Meanwhile, Trowa’s mobile suit explodes around him in space…resulting in him temporarily losing his memory. Come on!
Finally, while Wing has it’s fair share of interesting characters, there are plenty of others that are boring at best and annoying at worst. Some are clearly designed for the audience to hate, but there’s more that would’ve been better if they stayed off-screen. A perfect example is Quinze, the irritating White Fang leader. It was bad enough that he just shows up out of the blue, but his personality sucks.
As you can see, Wing‘s issues are numerous, and some are rather severe. When stacked up against classics such as Zeta Gundamor later masterpieces like Turn A Gundam, I’m sorry to say that Wing just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Let’s get back to the good stuff. Aside from multiple manga spinoffs and tie-ins, Wing would go on to spawn a proper OVA/film sequel, New Mobile Report Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, which picks up on the After Colony world a year later. (You can read Ryo-Ohki’s review right now; my own will come later.) Believe it or not, Wing wasn’t all that popular in Japan during its release…but was a massive hit here in America five years later. Who knew? As a result, we got a lot more merchandise than expected. Plenty of manga spinoffs were translated, and you could buy Gundam model kits and action figures at Wal-Mart, for crying out loud. The Gundam craze in American crashed and burned a few years later due to varying factors, but the fact remains that Wing was responsible for bringing those classic giant robots into many folks’ minds.
Wing seems to be making a bit of a comeback in time for its twenty-year anniversary. Starting in 2010, the serialized novel New Mobile Report Gundam Wing: Frozen Teardrop continued the Wing saga many years later. Meanwhile, the ongoing manga New Mobile Report Gundam Wing Endless Waltz: The Glory of Losers seeks to tell the complete Wing story by incorporating as much side story and spinoff information into the tale as possible. Bandai’s really been on point lately, having released new High Grade kits of the Wing Gundam and Zero, not to mention a Real Grade Wing Gundam Zero Custom from Endless Waltz. (The other EW-style Gundams are soon to follow!) The DVDs are sadly out of print, but we can only hope that with RightStuf acquiring the domestic Gundam distribution rights, they’ll go back into production. Perhaps the excellent Wing Blu-ray Disc collections will even find their way stateside…without breaking the bank, of course.
The more I think about it, Wing might even be one of my favorite television shows. It’s not the best or most memorable Gundam series, but as my introduction to the the franchise and a strong mecha showcase with its own unique flavor, Wing is still a classic in my eyes.