The great Gundam franchise has many faces. Since the 80s, there's been numerous iterations of the series and, if you're familiar with them, you'll have your favorites. It's a nice pool to choose from, but one has stood out as not only a fan favorite but as the grandfather of the Mecha anime genre, if not anime in general. I remember watching this series as a youngin, in awe of the beautifully crafted and colored giant robots wrecking havoc amongst the stars. The series was new and bold and complex, something I had never seen. It was dark, gritty, and I didn't know what the fuck was going on, cause I was 10, but it looked so cool. It's name was Gundam Wing.
Fast-forward to now. While this version is still one of the more popular series in the franchise, in the "Gundam community" it's often seen as overrated in comparison to the many other iterations of the series. I needed to see for myself if my dear memory had betrayed me, so I decided to go back and re-watch the series as a socially damaged adult.
What immediately stood out to me was how censored the version I originally watched on Toonami must have been at the time. This series is 15x more gruesome than I remember. First aired in North America on Toonami in the year 2000, Gundam Wing tells the story of Heero Yuy, a 16 year old assassin/freedom fighter sent to Earth from a space colony, along with 4 other teen Gundam pilots, to fight for its freedom in a battle with the forces on Earth. The root of this series lies in the conflicts between one faction and another sprinkled in with the standard twisted bad guy ideologies here and there. Occasionally, the sub par dialogue does a bad job of actually explaining the plot, but the intense action and drama is enough to keep you engaged.
When introducing the main characters, the pace of the show is so fast that it leads to concepts that grow beyond the standard formula: Backstory, training, and finally using their Gundams. All 5 pilots and their Gundams are immediately introduced and are death clouds of carnage and hellfire wrapped in teenage bodies, causing havok in the name of justice and freedom on behalf of the ruled colonies in space. As the series progresses, all of the main Gundam pilots go through varied experiences that push their ideologies to the edge and makes them question their involvement in various conflicts that usually result in a lot of folks dying, even a few you won't see coming in true Gundam fashion. Whether it's the faction they're fighting for betraying them out of fear or their enemy going through their own internal civil war, for its time and place on American television this show told the story of these kids while also painting a symphonic space drama.
The visuals are a perfect representation of classic 90's animation, with designs as detailed and intricate as I remember. From your first time watching Gundam Zero 1, you can appreciate the amount of detail paid to the science of what makes the Gundams tick(And mobile suits in general for that matter) as well as what makes each Gundam unique. That showing of mecha brilliance with 01-05 (the various Gundams) is what you'd expect from the father of the giant robot genre, and this iteration furthered that and much more. Coupled with a dramatic tune and theme, the space and land combat is fluid whether the Gundams are fighting 1 mobile suit or 100 of them.
Although there are better Gundam series out there, Gundam Wing was perfect to introduce a new, young American audience to a genre that continues to deliver such high quality content. The nostalgia might carry the load for a bit when the story falters but the action, drama, and political chess that's played, combined with an outstanding second half and OVA, makes Gundam Wing more than worth another look. Take one and see what made this Gundam series really standout out West-Mars