Imagine, if you will, sitting in the park for luncheon with two best friends. Wistfully, you think aloud, ‘What would be the best way to eradicate war?' Friend One, a keen dabbler in philosophy, offers her expert opinion, ‘Total pacifism,’ at which Friend Two, who has just returned from a six-month tour of Afghanistan, scoffs, ‘Impossible!’ Thus begins a long theoretical battle for THE TRUTH by way of fuzzy terminology and inconsistent definitions – in fact, their argument is so fraught with pompous bullshit that you wish you’d just kept your mouth shut. The beer is getting warm, the flies have claimed your beef sandwich, and your afternoon is unmistakably ruined.
This, in a nutshell, is what it’s like to watch Gundam Wing.
The series begins with the nervous simmering excitement expected of a grand political mecha show. In fact, the military-political intrigue within the first few episodes is inspired, as a harrowing twist kick-starts the story. Startlingly, everything that follows turns out to be utter garbage. Bad guys will sermonise about creating a new world order and grabbing the future of humanity without ever explaining why. The good guys then add their chant of ‘We don’t wanna fight!’ whilst doing their best Rambo-in-space impression. In between, there will be entire conversations consisting of nothing but impenetrable philosophies, such as the following exchange:
Treize: My ideal is nothing more than the fantasy of a single individual. History is an accumulation of daily events. I have no interest in an individual’s future.
Lady Une: Your future’s already been determined. Your future is destined to be right here in outer space.
Treize: Lady Une, I’m not as strong as you think I am. Zechs and the Gundam pilots are making an effort to construct a new future as we speak. There’s no need to hurry. History will repeat itself.
Underscoring all this stupidity in bold red lines is the inherent contradiction of Wing’s pacifist theme. Relena Peacecraft, a paragon of passivity, is glorified as a righteous young woman with messianic ideas about international relations; at the same time, the people of the world are all simple folk with a wholehearted desire for peace; and everyone’s constantly blathering on about how great life would be without conflict. Fair enough. But how curious that the pacifists always turn out to be the victims who are foiled at every turn by cunning warmongers and – here comes the ironic part – need to be saved by trigger-happy boy soldiers.
The bitterest blow, however, is the lack of engaging action to compensate for the abysmal narrative. Most of the fights lack tension for the simple fact that the Gundams are totally invincible. For instance, as expected, minions often explode at the merest touch of a laser beam; but when the Deathscythe suffers roughly twenty direct hits in space, the force of said lasers only serves to PROPEL IT out of harm’s way. Besides this, the Gundams can also survive marching through a hail of missiles and, my all-time favourite, having bombs, which are attached to their bodies, detonated.
As a whole, Wing is about as stimulating an experience as being the designated driver at a drunken debate.
For those who like their explosions hard, fast, and gratuitous, Wing will prove a reliable supplier. Alas, with explosions being the only thing on offer, anyone requiring a certain level of realism and smooth, believable motion will need to look elsewhere. Even for an anime of the mid-nineties, Wing looks completely average, with disproportionate limbs, still shots, and repeated frames being a staple during action sequences. Some of the juiciest farce, however, includes Heero Yui bending metal bars with his bare hands like noodles and one mobile suit shoulder-ramming another to make it explode without exploding itself.
Only one aspect of the entire viewing experience is worth staying for, and that would be the soundtrack. Granted, many of the sound effects seem lifted straight from the old Battlestar Galactica, but the musical score is incredibly fun and emotive. There’s an engaging mix of rocky riffs, majestic orchestral pieces, and catchy pop theme tunes to tickle the cheese lovers.
As for the voice acting, I stress opting for the Japanese over the American dub. Not because the Japanese dub is in any way remarkable (which it isn’t), but because the American version will positively grate after the first ten minutes. If there is an ounce of emotional subtlety or even appropriate pacing in the American acting, then it must have occurred whilst I was blanking out the dialogue to enjoy the music.
I have never heard the words ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ so overused in an anime before, nor do I think I will ever again. The characters define themselves and each other entirely in these terms. Unfortunately, the definition of strong and weak is vague and changes depending on who is speaking. Seemingly, Heero is strong for fighting and Relena is strong for not fighting. Conversely, Zechs Marquis is weak for defeating every enemy he comes across and Wu Fei is weak even when he’s smashing up enemy mecha. Needless to say, taking any of them seriously after forty-nine episodes of this becomes impossible.
Another major problem, aside from their incomprehensibility, is that a lot of them feel superfluous. Heero has a real personal story integral to the theme (it’s poorly developed but it’s certainly there), but the other Gundam pilots seem tacked on just to fill archetypal gaps in the cast. In particular, I fail to see the relevance of Trowa Barton’s circus background, which appears more like a bizarre metaphorical afterthought than a meaningful part of the moral.
The only pleasant surprise is that Wing has not one, not two, but three gung-ho female characters, Lady Une, Sally Po, and Noin. Unfortunately, despite being interesting in their own right, their roles are mostly incidental; rather than having a valuable stake in the conflict, they merely exist to adore and support their higher-ranked, higher-profile male officers.
Elsewhere, I compare Gundam SEED to cheap but tasty fast food. That being the case, Wing must be the ruined onion soufflé – some excellent basic ingredients went in, and a deflated scrap of irrelevance came out. I get the feeling I would really like these characters and care for their struggles if only they made sense. As it turns out, for all the philosophical hot air pumped into Wing, it still fails to rise to the occasion.
The year is After Colony 195, and mankind is in the midst of a seemingly endless ongoing war between the Space Colonies and the ones who created them: the people of Earth. To give the Colonies the advantage, five mobile suits called Gundams were created. Equipped with enhanced technology and extremely talented young pilots, these are the ultimate machines of war. While Relena Peacecraft pleads for peace, Heero Yui leads the Gundams into the battle with Earth to attain it. As their personalities and visions clash, their goal is the same: freedom for all and peace at last.
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