REVIEW: DVD Release: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing – Complete Collection 1/2

Series: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing – Complete Collection 1/2
Release date: 2nd August 2010
Certificate: PG
Running time: 625 mins
Director: Masashi Ikeda
Starring: Ai Orikasa, Akiko Yajima, Hikaru Midorikawa
Genre: Anime
Studio: Beez
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

This release includes the first 25 episodes (of 49) of this series of the Gundam franchise, originally shown in Japan in 1995. Falling into the mecha genre of anime, featuring gigantic fighting machines, it tells the story of five young warriors battling against aggressive military powers that are attempting to gain control of the colonies of outer space.

Following the assassination of a pacifist leader of the colonies, five pilots are trained by disaffected scientists to combat the sinister United Earth Sphere Alliance using the advanced technology of virtually indestructible ‘mobile suits’. Made of a resilient alloy known as Gundanium, and hence known as Gundams, these monumental fighting machines are controlled by a pilot who sits within each mobile suit, and are able to navigate space as well as earth’s atmosphere to battle their enemies.

The five pilots are sent to earth in order to rearm its inhabitants against the dominant power of the Alliance, and the military organisation known as OZ (the Organisation of the Zodiac), which possesses its own, inferior mobile suits together with specially trained forces to operate them. The five pilots – Heero Yuy, Chang Wufei, Quatre Raberba Winner, Trowa Barton and Duo Maxwell – are initially unaware of each other’s presence, and must find and learn to trust each other in order to maximise their strength against OZ and the Alliance.

The pilots receive help from surprising quarters in their journey. The crash landing of Heero’s mobile suit into the sea is witnessed by a schoolgirl, Relena Darlian, daughter of the Vice Foreign Minister of the Alliance. Despite the fact that her father represents the Alliance, it transpires that he sympathises with the pacifist philosophy of the colonies, and that Relena has a secret identity that unexpectedly aligns her with the cause of the Gundams.

The finest fighter among OZ’s mobile suit forces, Zechs Merquise, would seem to be the Gundams’ most daunting foe, but again the discovery of his true identity reveals that his mission is in fact allied to that of the Gundams. Even amongst the highest echelons of OZ, a distaste for the brutal destruction of mechanised warfare is expressed. OZ’s leader, Treize Kushrenada, has a strong philosophical ethos concerning the role of the warrior, displaying a spiritual rather than purely militaristic character.

Allegiances change during the series, and the Gundams’ eventual discovery that the colonies have accepted OZ and now denounce the Gundams as rebels causes a crisis among their ranks…

This shifting of loyalties between various factions lends some complexity to the plot. There is obviously an ambition to explore the nature of what it means to fight, how a soldier should honourably conduct himself, and the psychological consequences when characters trained purely for battle suddenly find that their sole purpose has become redundant.

The characterisation of the Gundam pilots seems intended to show the different ways this military quest impacts on different personalities. Heero’s apparent coldness masks a compassion for the plight of the oppressed colonies. Duo and Quatre’s warmer personalities demonstrate the importance of humour and kindness in forging bonds between the Gundams, while Wufei’s harsh judgement of weak opponents is linked to a strong sense of his spiritual duty as a warrior.

Despite this, there’s little here to distinguish the characterisation from standard bishounen fare. Gundam’s rabid fan base indicates that there’s a strong enough appeal to spark off a mass of fanfic, much of it falling into the yaoi category, using the strong bonds between the Gundam pilots as the inspiration for homoerotic fantasy. The angst of the Gundams’ semi-suicidal quest and lack of any clear romantic links to the female characters may well be the source of this. That, and their standard big-eyed, spikily coiffed, lean-hipped appearance – but like Jessica Rabbit, they can’t help that, they’re just drawn that way.

Far better design is shown in the mobile suits themselves, whose severe and angular faces suggest the stylisation of Samurai helmets, while their chunkiness, primary colours and completely unsubtle big-bang destruction techniques fully demonstrate why there’s a highly successful merchandising spinoff from the Gundam franchise. The animation of the series overall is poor, with many cels being reused while only small elements of foreground action are actually animated. There’s nothing visually striking about the series overall, but somehow the appealing mobile suit designs manage to give the frequent fight scenes an air of retro charm.

The dialogue can sometimes seem pitifully ill-matched to the visuals. When Treize meditates upon the nature of being a soldier in the last episode of this release (“the emotions of those who are thought to be beautiful are always full of sorrow”), the impact of this is completely undermined by the poor quality of the images and animation. And however much the characters may bang on about their belief in peace and their hatred for the evil militarism of the Alliance and OZ, this is contradicted by the fact that every one of them is busy blowing up military bases, blasting space stations, annihilating mobile suit pilots and, should all more advanced technology fail, taking a good old fashioned potshot at someone with a pistol. Dress it up how you like with some superficial hand wringing, the odd crisis of conscience and the occasional bout of insanity, it’s still just a bunch of unfeasibly young pretty boys, possessing wish-fulfilling levels of strength and indestructibility, in possession of mega cool toys enabling them to be really heroic on a universal stage.

The plot’s pleasingly twisty, the mobile suits are transformer-tastic, and there’s some good J-pop to sandwich each episode, but the animation’s rubbish and the characters aren’t distinctive enough. If you want Gundam, you’re better off with one of the classic 1980s series such as 08th MS Team or 0083: Stardust Memory. KR

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