Does It Hold Up?: Gundam Wing

[Does It Hold Up is a feature in which I look back to anime I watched as a child. The caveat for this is I have to watch them as close to the original productions that were available back then.]

Twenty years ago on April 7, 1995, Japan saw the debut of an offshoot of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, New Mobile Report Gundam Wing. It was not as big of a success as previous iterations of the Gundam series in Japan, but that is not where Gundam Wing would find its biggest success. Cartoon Network’s Toonami brand had begun in 1997 where it showcased various action animation shows. It was a mixed bag of older cartoons mixed in with a few anime series, such as the original dub of Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and Ronin Warriors/Yoriden Samurai Troopers. On March 6, 2000, the newly rebranded Mobile Suit Gundam Wing debuted on Toonami and became a staple of the program block.

Thanks to Toonami’s five day schedule, the initial run of Gundam Wing only lasted from March 6 to May 11, 2000. During this short time, the show would become one of the most popular anime series in North America and was the top rated series in its timeslot for younger audiences. Due to the success of Gundam Wing in the afternoon Toonami block and its Midnight Run block, Toonami would bring over three additional Mobile Suit Gundam series the following year. The success of Gundam Wing is what many believe to have helped the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise as a whole find its footing in North America after attempting to prior. 

The cast of Gundam Wing. Credit to Sunrise.

The cast of Gundam WingCredit to Sunrise.

Due to it being shown in two different timeslots, Gundam Wing was able to help bridge the gap between American anime censorship. The version that aired in the afternoon on Toonami was a censored and cut down version to maintain a TV-Y7 rating. Details like blood, religion, profanity, and references to killing were all edited out. The most notable was changing kill into destroy which also changed Duo’s nickname from “The God of Death” to the “The Great Destroyer”.  With Toonami’s Midnight Run block, they were able to promote uncensored versions of Gundam Wing that aired at 12:00 AM with a TV-PG rating. This added back in everything that was cut out of the afternoon airing of the show.

With Gundam Wing being in its own universe, it is not bogged down with the viewer having to know the history of previous series in the Mobile Suit Gundam universe. This is also why it is not labeled with the Mobile Suit Gundam tag in Japan. In its original run in Japan, the show ran consecutively from April 7, 1995 to March 29, 1996. In a sense, it is one long season, so we will look at the show in that nature.

The story begins in the year After Colony 195 with five Gundams being sent from the colonies to Earth. This is titled Operation Meteor and is a way to fight back at the Earth’s ever growing militaristic expansion. Their target is an ever growing military regime known as the Organization of the Zodiac or OZ. The five scientists that built the Gundams send five teenagers as well to pilot them and bring havoc to OZ. This plan never comes to fruition as OZ out maneuvers the Gundam pilots in a variety of ways to make their regime more powerful and expansive.

Cover art for the first Gundam Wing North American DVD. Credit to Sunrise/BANDAI.

Cover art for the first Gundam Wing North American DVD. Credit to Sunrise/BANDAI.

A lot of Gundam Wing’s story could be seen through a series of coup d’état’s. In the beginning of the series, the United Earth Spehere Alliance is in charge before being usurped by OZ. OZ would later be taken over by the Romefeller Foundation who themselves force out to make way for a new Romefeller led by Treize Kushrenada, the former leader of OZ. All of this happens while near the end of the series a group of rebel colonists calling themselves the White Fang immerge and independent of all of this is the Gundam pilots. It can get rather confusing at times, but for the most part, it’s everyone else against the Gundams.

The story as a whole is fine, but probably won’t blow you away unless you are like me when I was ten years old and seeing it for the very first time. There is a lot of drama and militaristic intrigue sprinkled throughout the 49 episode run. One thing I do have to say about the story is that it is hampered by being stopped dead in its tracks during the middle of the series by two recap episodes. Why this wasn’t edited into just one recap episode or why there was a need for any recap episodes is baffling. The two episodes do feature new footage, but the only thing worth noting is of Treize building the Epyon Gundam. This also does bring forth a huge continuity error as Lady Une is shown with Treize in this episode, but then near the end, she is shown still in a coma after being shot. For a show with very little continuity issues, this is a glaring and hard to miss one.

Another part of the story that is not well done, especially now, is the way that women are used. Most, if not all of the women in Gundam Wing are just used as either fodder or plot points for the men in the show. Sure, some of the women are written as strong and independent, such as Noin, Sally Po, and Relena later on, but their stories end up having to deal with either being damsels in distress or having to help the men at any time. This show doesn’t feature any female Gundam pilots, the only two you see regularly pilot is Noin and sometimes Hilde, though neither character is leading troops prominently or a direct leader in any of the ultimate battles. Even when Relena gets absolute power as the queen of the Romefeller Foundation, she is ousted a few episodes later by Treize. Lady Une is the closest to being a good written female character, but even so, she also can be stripped down to only doing what is needed for Treize. 

Wing, Deathscythe, and Sandrock Gundams from an episode of Gundam Wing. Credit to Sunrise.

Wing, Deathscythe, and Sandrock Gundams from an episode of Gundam WingCredit to Sunrise.

It’s one of the worst things looking back at this series just to see how lazy the writing for female characters was. You can make the excuse that it was twenty years ago and writing has changed, but has it really? We do see more prominent female characters that aren’t reduced to terrible stereotypes, but this still pops up from time to time. It kind of makes me think that writing like this is probably a reason I never gave shows like Sailor Moon a chance when I was younger. Partly because of being raised with the notion of gender roles, but also, how would I as a kid understood strong female characters when the shows I was watching didn’t understand them or knew how to write them?

Going back to shows that are now twenty years old gives one an interesting look at the animation of the time. To say that Gundam Wing’s animation holds up in 2015 would be false. Now, I did watch this show on the DVDs that came out around the time of the shows original airing in North America, so they aren’t the best in terms of quality. The show has been released on Blu Ray in Japan and does look better in terms of quality, but the animation is still not great. For a show that ran for almost a full year with little breaks, it makes sense that shortcuts were used in the animation. Quite often you will see scenes be reused in a multitude of episodes where mobile suits are destroyed. Even the last half of the series takes place mostly in space which makes me wonder if this was a way to get out of painting new backgrounds for the show.

The soundtrack of the show is very well done and adds the right amount of tension or excitement to various scenes. There are songs that add the right amount of drama right before a battle, gets the viewer excited while a battle is occurring, and then makes them feel anxious when something is about to happen. This is one of the best parts of this show that still does hold up well. The music team did an excellent job in the songs they crafted for the show and while a lot of the songs are used constantly throughout, you never really tire of them.

Gundam Wing Zero in flight mode. Credit to Sunrise.

Gundam Wing Zero in flight mode. Credit to Sunrise.

For most young viewers of anime in North America when Gundam Wing debuted, this was probably either a first instance or one of the few English dubs they had heard for an anime. Fifteen years later, it seems like a mixed bag. The performances for the main characters seem solid with no real points of a drop in quality. This however does show how small the dubbing crew of Gundam Wing was as most of the side or minor characters are also voiced by actors of the main characters. It’s not too hard to discern this as some of the actors don’t change their voices for a minor character. It can become somewhat distracting hearing a voice you know as someone else, only to realize it’s just Solider B in this one scene. Anime dubbing in 1999/2000 isn’t nearly what it is today, so I can’t knock this too hard, but it does get jarring at times. It would have been better for the actors to at least alter their voice slightly when playing a minor character, than just using the same voice for one of the major characters.

Gundam Wing was a show that defined my childhood in the year 2000. It and Dragon Ball Z were what I remember waiting for with anticipation every day after school. This is why I think that in terms of Gundam Wing holding up in 2015, nostalgia plays a huge role in it. There is also the idea that this was one of the first anime series I watched so of course I’d hold it in high regard. Looking at Gundam Wing in 2015, it’s clear that there are some glaring issues with it in terms of the storytelling, dated animation, and a small dub cast. For people that grew up with it, Gundam Wing will still be that show you saw as a kid and was fantastic to grow up with. To others who are only seeing this show today, it won’t have as much of an impact on you. Because of this, for people who are new to Gundam Wing, I do not think this show holds up in 2015, but if you grew up on it, you will still probably think it is a fun show to watch and behold.