Review: Gundam Special Wing (2000)

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Doing this review I have realised something about myself – something that is in fact rather shameful.

I actually like Mecha anime.

I don’t know how it happened. Once upon a time I could say quite confidently that it wasn’t my kind of thing, that I wasn’t into it at all. Oh that is except for the Invid Robotech series. Ah…and Evangelion, but then I could hardly be blamed for that. Um…and of course Gasaraki, but you know, there are all those really interesting Noh references… And Patlabor, but the characterisation in those movies was very mature…

And then I saw Gundam Wing and realised that there probably wasn’t any point in denying it any longer.

Which is funny, because what impressed me most about this first volume wasn’t actually the mecha. If you’ve seen one mobile/TA/EVA/Labor you’ve seen them all right? Well there’s a lot of people out there that would rather beg to differ. Gundam Wing, if you’ve been living in an anime-free zone for the last few years is Cult Status anime i.e. big; real big. Personally I’m not entirely sure if the reasons why everyone else likes it are the same reasons I liked it, and maybe in the end its popularity can be attributed to marketing as much as anything else. But for a show aimed at increasing toy sales and impressing teenage boys (well you know, mostly teenage) it’s surprisingly complex.

Not only do most of the main characters start the series as not particularly likeable people, they are in fact prepared to do some fairly reprehensible things in thier struggle against the tyrranical United Earth Sphere Alliance. Shooting down civillian space shuttles (merely because they are in the way) and killing annoyingly nosy, spoilt private school girls because they are asking the wrong questions (ok well no problem with that per se) are the least of the issues.

And these are the people that are supposed to be liberating the colonies. Heroes don’t do things like that.

Myself, I was under the impression heroes didn’t do things like that. I was also under the impression that your average cartoon TV series doesn’t tend to feature a political climate that might have given Machiavelli ideas. Factor in a distinctly sympathetic angle when it comes to the ‘so-called’ bad guys, who at times exhibit more compassion than some of the Gundam team seem to be capable of and you’re looking at one surprisingly atypical, standard mecha anime series.

I say standard because there is still something about the series that does make it look like any other mechanical suit anime series. The animation is good, and direction by Masashi Ikeda (Ronin Warriors, Inu Yasha) is strong, especially in the action stakes, as well as sensitive to the emotive aspects of the story. The format within the episodes, although the narrative does span the entire first 5 episodes of the Operation One volume, is a little Robotech (the original series) as is the music. Not being a mecha fan, I can’t really speak with any authority on the mechanical design, but I do like the fact that OZ’s mobile suits are named after signs of the zodiac, if that’s any consolation. Character design, by Shukou Murase (who is also responsible for character design in Final Fantasy IX and Gasaraki), achieves a nice balance between polished and edgy and is visually distinct.

Solid in many respects, surprising in others, the narrative established in Gundam Wing Operation One is interesting enough to be worth a watch, and has the potential to become gripping as the story progresses into subsequent operations. Relationships between characters look to become as complex as personalities already are and I couldn’t help but feel that this could be a series that is only going to get better with time.

So watch yourself. Like me, you might find yourself actually liking something you thought you wouldn’t, appreciating something you thought you couldn’t, and consequently confessing a shameful addiction to the nation.

I dig Gundam Wing. Say it loud. Say it Proud.

7 Shining Wing Gundams out of 10.
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