Two weeks ago I talked about the visuals of Gundam Wing. Today I’ll conclude with my thoughts on the plot, themes, gender stuff, and characterization (my favorite parts). This post will be long, so brace yourself. Also, there will be major spoilers!
If you’d like to refresh your memory about the complicated events of GW, you can go to Gundam Wing Revolution. I sure did! I feel like I need to watch it a third time, really.
Is the plot complicated or what? If you’ve seen it, you know this. There are several different organizations at work in the GW universe: the Alliance, the Romenfeller Foundation, Treize Faction, White Fang, etc. etc. Characters switch sides constantly, team up with some people and then others, travel from space to Earth and back again. I can’t believe I kept track of it all when I was a teen. The narrator helps out a lot with this – pay attention to him!
I find this anime surprisingly cerebral for a series that aired on Toonami. I’d say the characters talk about war as much as they fight in it. (And that’s why I like it.) Many perspectives on war are presented, which range from Relena’s unconditional pacifism to Dorothy’s view that humans can only desire peace after devastating conflict – with Noin’s “let’s hope for peace through diplomacy but back it up with defensive weapons” stance in the middle. During the 49 episodes, we hear the thoughts, fears, and passions of soldiers and those who love them, military commanders, scientists, politicians, and civilians.
Several of the characters express the view that soldiers and those “tainted with blood” have no real place in a peaceful world – that either they don’t deserve happiness because of their past deeds or that they just aren’t capable of fitting into a society that doesn’t understand their experiences.
The mobile dolls present a rather interesting moral conundrum, similar to the U.S. drones that kill people in other countries. The mobile dolls in GW are mecha suits that have no people inside – they are controlled by a computer program, and can also be controlled remotely by a human (which is what Dorothy does when she joins White Fang). Treize is adamantly against the use of these machines because he believes soldiers sacrificing themselves is important to war – that without death, war is meaningless.
Now, I feel like Treize misses the point a little: war is meaningless only for those who posses the doll technology. People continue to die – they are the ones who don’t have the mobile dolls. And, you know, civilians. The show makes it crystal clear that mobile dolls aren’t fair. The dolls are just merciless death machines, and possessing them encourages their owners to be merciless as well.
Speaking of computer programs… the Zero System. This computer system enhances the pilots’ reaction times, combat abilities, and shows them possible futures, but also makes them go crazy – they end up hallucinating and thinking everyone is their enemy. Each of the boys, plus Zechs, tries it out, and they have a really hard time not getting taken over by the system.
The Zero System’s role in GW is kind of weird. On the one hand, it’s another “computers are bad” tale, since it drives the pilots nuts and causes them to kill indiscriminately. But once they “master” the system – the exact method for this isn’t made clear – they’re (somehow) able to come up with strategies and triumph over the opposition. However, I distinctly remember in episode 44 that all that needed to happen was for the boys to listen to Quatre – no Zero System can make people listen to you!
Probably the sanest hallucination is Wu Fei’s in episode 42, when the Zero System shows him that both Treize and Zechs as his enemies. As I watched the show, I became increasingly dissatisfied with these two characters’ actions and rhetoric, and I wholeheartedly agreed with the Zero System then. Just boot those two narcissists out!
The system is almost a godlike entity. I forget which episode it is when Heero pilots with it and these two giant eyes appear behind him. These eyes don’t belong to anyone else in the series. In Endless Waltz, he says, “Zero won’t tell me anything” almost as if Zero is a silent god who won’t answer his prayers. It’s an odd thing.
Another thing that attracted me to this series (and many anime) is that there are a large number of female characters, and they do stuff. Women are integral to the events of Gundam Wing. Relena is an active agent and makes real impact as Queen of the Cinq Kingdom and later, Earth; Noin brings the five Gundam pilots together, protects Relena, and generally gets stuff done; Une gets a lot of stuff done – good and bad; Sally joins the rebels and helps out the pilots and Noin; Hilde risks her life bringing tactical information about White Fang; Catherine shelters some of the pilots and shows Trowa his life isn’t worthless; and Dorothy commands the mobile dolls and is Relena’s ideological opponent.
The women philosophize just as much as the men about war and human nature, and talk with each other. Women talking with each other is very important! And their conversations advance the plot and elaborate on GW‘s themes. I feel as though the women characters are just as important as the men, which is not something I can say for very many shows.
At the end of the series, with Zechs apparently dead and Treize actually dead, it is the women who pick up the pieces of the world. And as we find out in Endless Waltz, they do a pretty good job of putting it back together. They shouldn’t have to, but they do.
What’s so important is that, while some of these women do fight, they also act in other ways. They don’t believe that fighting is the only worthwhile activity or the only solution to everything (except Dorothy). I can’t emphasize this enough – they, and the show, value things other than fighting and dominance. Things we think of as feminine – pacifism, diplomacy, talking, healing, emotions – these have value in real life, and they have value in Gundam Wing. Dorothy and Wu Fei, the two characters that scoff at pacifism (Wu Fei scoffs at women, too), eventually come to realize this as part of their development.
For these reasons I think it’s an especially good show for girls and women to watch.
I want to remind you that the five pilots are no older than 16, and the OZ officers are 19 and 20. These are all very young people making life-and-death decisions and thinking about very serious subjects. On the one hand, it’s painful to watch them struggle with situations they shouldn’t be in; on the other hand, it’s great to watch them smash the stereotypes of teen characters. Each relate to conflict in a different way and their views change in response to certain events. They’d be remarkable characters even as adults.
There are also no straight-up villains and heroes in this anime, and I think watching this as a teen made me aware of how many movies and tv shows lack nuance in this respect.
Another thing GW avoids very well is the Five Man Band, or just a general team of five guys who are super duper best friends. The five young pilots don’t know each other until they happen to meet, and when they do meet, they fight. They work alone, they work in pairs, and sometimes in trios, but for most of the series they don’t fight together at the same time. When they do, it’s really Quatre (not Heero) who is the leader – he leads the group when they fight together, and he shines in this role.
Below are several characters that made an impression on me.
Relena: She is the one about whom I changed my opinion the most when I watched GW again. As a young teen, I thought she was super annoying and dumb and whatever, since she’s always chasing Heero around. But this time, I understood why she wants to be around him: after Une murders her father, Relena feels angry and confused and reckless, and Heero reflects these feelings, especially when he’s blowing himself up all the time.
I was really impressed with how much influence and real power she had – being a pacifist, a teen girl, and an implied romantic interest… well, in the U.S. she would not have become Queen of the World, and would not have been making influential speeches to world leaders. She’s really admirable – not only because of her strong commitment to pacifism, but because she goes through some very tough things and changes as a result; her relationship with Une, who killed her father, demonstrates this the best. Finally, she’s not naive – she questions her own actions and is aware of how idealistic total pacifism is.
Dorothy: She’s another character that I found to have much more depth than my first viewing. I had previously dismissed her as just a war-hungry nutjob, but she’s actually a really interesting character. She has real reasons for her views, and she masks her pain by wrapping herself up in ideas about noble sacrifice when she actually just wants everyone to stop fighting. Like Zechs, she believes that humans will only want peace once they’ve seen the most horrible, destructive carnage ever. (I explain why that’s really stupid below.)
Noin: Noin has always been my favorite character on the show, and she remains so, but I feel differently about her now, more complicated. I like her because she’s an excellent pilot and flying instructor, she loves space, she brings the pilots together, she’s practical, and she makes her own decisions. And she looks cool.
Her relationship with Zechs can seem like an unrequited love situation, but there are many indications that Zechs cares about her – entrusting Relena’s safety to her is a pretty good sign: not only is Relena his sister, he also believes Relena is the only suitable leader for the Cinq Kingdom and the only hope for peace. It’s also clear that Noin does things because she believes in them and isn’t just blindly carrying out his wishes. When Zechs goes off the deep end, she does not follow him.
However, in episode 48, she asks to stay with him while the epic battle between Earth and White Fang is going on in space – just floating around, I guess, since she doesn’t fight for White Fang. I disagree with that decision, because it’s a situation in which not fighting against White Fang is actually helping them out. It makes her look a little on the pathetic side, but it’s also a time when they’re both probably expecting to die, and so wanting to spend their last hours together isn’t such a terrible thing.
If there’s anyone in the series that deserves even more attention and further exploration into their character, it’s Noin.
Zechs: I used to be very much into him. I was very fangirly, spending hours reading Noin-Zechs fanfic and even more hours writing it. I liked his tragic past, his piloting skills, his dramatic looks, his kick-ass Epyon, and I shared his frustration and anger at authority as well as the need to hide one’s true self.
As an adult, however, I found myself disturbed by his decisions and attitudes when he leads White Fang. His goal to achieve peace by showing people just how horrible war can be – well, obviously he’s never cracked open a history book, because that approach is pathetically naive. There is no amount of destruction and death that would eradicate war forever (since, like, people die and new people are born), and it’s a pretty negative way to go about it, too.
He also uses rhetoric that reminds me of the Nazis – saying that there are mental and biological differences between people who live on Earth and who live in the space colonies, that the colonists are better, and that Earth is the cause of all conflict. At the end of the series he wants to plunge Earth into the equivalent of a nuclear winter – I’m like, “Humans are the cause of all conflict, son!” And he’s got a jesus complex to beat the band – even Noin comments on it. He wants to be a savior, and honestly I don’t care about his tragic past when he’s willing to sacrifice an entire planet of people.
Treize: On that same note, I think Treize also has a savior complex. His tears over the deaths of his soldiers isn’t endearing to me at all – it’s disturbing. I find him so wrapped up in ideals of nobility and honor that he makes things 20 times worse than they would have been. It’s like he never read All Quiet on the Western Front – he just keeps on believing in the glory of war till the end. I think he lets Wu Fei kill him because here is no such bloody glory in peacetime, and of all the characters, he really wouldn’t be able to cope.
Lady Une: I had also previously dismissed her as a nutjob, but wow, on second watch, she is fascinating. She starts off as ruthlessly murdering people according to Treize’s orders, and then adopts a gentle persona, usually called Saint Une, to deal with the colonists (also on Treize’s orders). She then has problems when she actually starts believing the peaceful words she says as Saint Une. This struggle with her two personalities contributes to GW’s theme of war and peace. And at no point does this situation resemble the Madonna Whore Complex, which is so, so refreshing.
At the end of the series, Une successfully incorporates the two personalities – Colonel Une and Saint Une – to become a strong, decisive, and compassionate believer in peace.
Heero: He came off much more human this time. I can’t say exactly why; perhaps I noticed more cues as an adult.
Quatre: Like I said, he shines when he leads the group. He also goes through many bad things and that he still manages to be a compassionate and kind person at the end says a lot about his strength of character. I consider him the strongest pilot.
Wu Fei: The misogynist of the group, but the show makes it obvious that this is a flaw. He’s obsessed with weakness and honor, and he comes across as selfish; he quits fighting at one point because he thinks he’s too weak – which doesn’t help anyone. He has some growing to do, and although he makes progress, it’s only at the end of Endless Waltz that he seems to have matured.
Hilde: I completely forgot the episode when she captures Duo! That’s an awesome episode. In it, Duo tells her what’s wrong with OZ, and she quickly, but not in an unrealistic way, comes to see that OZ is a bad organization. I also forgot about her infiltrating Libra, stealing tactical info, and almost dying trying to get it to the Gundam pilots. I wanted to see more of her in Endless Waltz and definitely do not like her character’s treatment in Frozen Teardrop – it’s just dumb.
That’s the end of my post! If you made it this far, I congratulate you. I still feel that my analysis is incomplete, but I think I need to just walk away lest I spend the rest of my life writing GW reviews!