Animazing: Gundam Wing

Cartoon Network’s Toonami anime block was a huge part of my childhood. I can still remember rushing through my homework to catch Dragon Ball Z every afternoon. Whenever I could, I would explore the other shows Toonami had to offer, such as Ronin Warriors, Tenchi Muyo!, and the show that would serve as my introduction to the mecha genre, Gundam Wing. Much like other kids my age, I had no idea the show was just the latest installment in a franchise that had spanned many iterations since 1979. For the first installment in this new series, I decided to take a look back at why Gundam Wing made such an impression on me.

Gundam Wing opens on a narration explaining the origin of the Earth Sphere Alliance and the conflict brewing between the Organization of the Zodiac – or OZ, for short – and the Gundams. From there, we are introduced to the first of five Gundams, teenage pilot Heero Yuy, as well as Relena Darlian – who often serves as an audience surrogate and occasional talking head – and Lieutenant Zechs Merquise aka Milardardo Peacecraft, one of the last members of the Peacecraft family of the Sanc Kingdom. As Zechs, he initially works with Treize Khushrenada to ensure that the Gundams don’t succeed. Along the way, we meet the various other Gundam pilots: Duo Maxwell, Trowa Barton, Chang Wufei, and pacifist Quatre Raberba Winner, none of whom are initially aware of each other. As the pilots come together – thanks in large part to a trap set by Treize – the battles drag on, and Relena is soon revealed to be Zechs’ long-lost sister. Amid assassinations, changing loyalties, and a variety of Gundams, the series culminates in a final battle between Heero and Zechs, which later leads to a 3-episode OVA (original video animation) called Endless Waltz.

I didn’t realize it when I first saw the series, but there are some very adult themes at play in Gundam Wing that, in retrospect, I’m a bit surprised were allowed to be shown on Cartoon Network. Save for a heady moment when Heero gets a new Gundam from Treize called Epyon, back then, I was more concerned about all the fighting robots and how badass Heero was. But this show was about so much more than that. At its core, Gundam Wing was about war, both the cost and the meaning. A great example of this comes very early on in the series when Zechs and his subordinate Noin discuss their different philosophies, with Noin feeling that risking the lives of soldiers is a result of poor planning and Zechs believing risk to be a necessary cost. These discussions abound throughout the series, some more subtle than others, particularly Relena’s naivety regarding others’ willingness to kill in order to bring about peace. This is a rightfully shocking concept, yet the fog of war permeates this series, our characters constantly having to adapt to an ever-changing and volatile situation. Upon first meeting the pilots in person, many of the supporting characters, such as Noin, look at our five heroes with a jaundiced eye, only for them to immediately prove their mettle in battle and catch their enemies off-guard.

Gundam Wing, anime

In turn, each pilot in Gundam Wing has their own reason for being a part of the conflict, their Gundams serving as an extension of themselves. For Heero, it is his singular devotion to the mission, to the point that he was initially more than willing to destroy his Gundam on multiple occasions but also to kill Relena to protect the secrets of the Gundam. This is something that, in my view, dissipates as the series goes on, and ultimately serves to showcase how deeply Relena empathizes with the stoic pilot, despite his cruelty toward her. As a result of this, the viewer completely understands that, when she takes control of things, Relena will lead with a just hand. For Duo, there always seems to be a joy to what he does, which serves as a contrast between him and Heero. Then there is Quatre, the child of a pacifist, who risked being disinherited on the belief that he had a moral imperative to fight for the colonies. This is a decision that comes back to haunt him in a big way, the loss of his father serving as a subtle albatross around his neck for the remainder of the series. Trowa shuts down to complete his missions, his circus cohort Catherine serving as his one genuine human connection throughout his various battles, a connection that is amplified after he succumbs to PTSD following a devastating loss. For Wufei, it’s all about ensuring that he gets to fight a strong enemy: self, something of which he is wont to remind the audience.

This brings me to what is probably the biggest downfall of the series: the on-the-nose dialogue. Viewing Gundam Wing as a ten-year-old, it barely registered, and any thoughts about why Releena always seemed to be talking to the air were fleeting at best. Yet when I first re-watched it a couple of years ago, I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Ultimately this is something longtime fans should chalk up to what was then a rather nascent dubbing process. By the same token, having been through multiple dubs of Dragon Ball over the years, there was something comforting about revisiting the show almost exactly as I had found it as a child and finding new things to take from the story. This has always been the mark of a great story, science fiction or otherwise.

Gundam Wing, anime

Gundam Wing will always be special to me. With complex characters and stories, this entry serves as a reminder that animation can provide deep storytelling that rewards multiple viewings, whether you’re ten or thirty. While I’ve seen other iterations of what this franchise has to offer, the adventures of Heero and co. are never far from my mind, bringing a sense of nostalgia and scope that helped to create a foundation for what I expect from sci-fi. I’ll always say “Mission Accepted” to Gundam Wing.

Comments (14)

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June 28, 2020 at 9:28 pm

This will always be my favorite Gundam series.

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June 29, 2020 at 7:31 pm

Gundam Wing was my introduction to the Gundam franchise. I fell in love with it almost immediately; from the fabulously designed mecha, to the characters, to the musical score that stays with you as though John Williams had written it. The majority of my Gundam model kits are from the Gundam Wing series and my first car had the license plate WNGZRO1.

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June 29, 2020 at 10:19 pm

Watched Wing while it was on Midnight run(cartoon Network) as a kid, it was amazing.
I know the main characters had plot protection, but this was one of the first “kids” shows where they had WAR and DEATH. The Mobile suits were so awesome, made me a MECHA fan instantly.
Not sure if this is controversial, but looking back on it. I REALLY liked Treize. He was clearly a villain, but also a hero of his times. It would be nice if there were more villains like him in other stories, he was the main character of HIS story…. his story was just filled with conquest and death when peace and prosperity was possible.

PS. if you ever liked legos, check out GUNPLA. The Wing models are amazing.

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June 30, 2020 at 11:25 pm

The interesting thing about this is that I was able to pick up some of the more darker and harsher aspects of the show considering that how these young pilots are affected by the war and their reasons for fighting slowly begin to change their viewpoint once the final fight begins. The only character that I dislike was Wu Fei. His was so simple minded (and one could say narrow minded) and it shows in the OAV during their duel.

“The War we fought is over”.

“So are you saying that soldiers who know nothing but how to fight get discarded?”

“Soldiers have fought to attain a sense of peace. Believe in the world we live in today”.

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June 30, 2020 at 11:27 pm

*I should have been more clear. Wu Fei and his duel against Heero in Endless Waltz was a good one to watch and the dialogue exchange was great.

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July 1, 2020 at 2:12 am

This was one of the best Gundam series ever made. Great stuff!!!!!!!

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July 4, 2020 at 2:39 pm

Would love to see more mesh anime. Battletech or macross or gundum… adult based n really good quality/story…. started watching iron blooded till story started to go moronic, didn’t bother going back.

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July 5, 2020 at 12:33 pm

oh yeah! coming home from school and watching Goku charge his spirit bomb for 3 weeks straight. good times.

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July 15, 2020 at 3:36 am

well, i used to have a vhs of gundam wing with deathsyche on the cover, i enjoyed it, so now, i looked at it and think “huh, its was good for the time, but they got better”, but yea, this show is what got me into gundam in the first place

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July 16, 2020 at 1:46 am

This is one of my favorite anime right here. I wish I had the series on DVD.

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July 26, 2020 at 3:36 pm

My first anime and also my first Gundam series. Ever since I’ve watched this on Toonami, I’ve been hooked ever since.

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August 21, 2020 at 6:20 am

Well japan has been producing amazing staff for years and i wish they will carry on this theme. Sunrise stories are amazing,k there are some pluses and minuses. Wing remains on of the coolest japanese anime shows i evern seen.

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