I spend all this time yammering on and on about anime and how much I love it, but I never actually told you all about why I got as into it as I am today. I’ve alluded to Sailor Moon and Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, and yes – these were some of the initial series that sparked some little bit of interest. But I’m fairly certain that the largest factor for me getting deep into anime and continuing with it for so many years is a not-praised-frequently-enough title: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.
I don’t actually care that much about giant space robots battling to the death, honestly. Not a single one of the other titles in the vastness of the Gundam franchise has ever appealed to me in the least. But I was deep into Gundam Wing starting in middle school, and it was the catalyst for me to start taking drawing and writing very seriously.
It seems strange, even to me, that a mecha series has had such a profound influence on me. The only other very science-fiction heavy anime series I can think of that’s had a least as much impact on me has perhaps been Cowboy Bebop, but that doesn’t have half as many all-out mech battles featuring lots of guitar-heavy riffs and impossible outer space explosions. But I think that one of the great strengths of Gundam Wing over its franchise brothers is that it has an extremely involved story; the political goings-on are complex and well-structured, lending a very courtroom-drama feel to the show. I’m not sure how much of the inter-faction drama I understood at twelve years old (in truth, I’m not sure how much of it I understand now), but I appreciated then as now that the series wasn’t solely an excuse to draw young boys killing each other in giant robots.
And of course, like any anime worth its salt, Gundam Wing has excellent characters. As with all the Gundam titles, GW has five male pilots and one main female love interest. But unlike the simpering love interests of all too many anime-for-boys, Relena Darlian/Peacecraft is a dynamic character who goes from being a spoiled rich girl at the outset to literal Queen of the World. And the pilots themselves – Heero, Duo, Trowa, Quatre, and Wu Fei – have personalities that range from antisocial sociopath to bubbly entrepreneur and everything in between. So much thought has been given to their backgrounds that one of them, Quatre Raberba Winner – the blue-eyed blonde Arab – has a middle name that, when pronounced in Japanese, implies that he is descended from the Berbers – a North African people known for frequently having blonde hair and blue eyes.
Another huge draw that GW had for me was that my group of friends was also really into it. This camaraderie – which I believe is a really essential part of fan culture – spawned a wealth of fan works and other, non-Gundam Wing-related creative works. I attended my first anime convention with these very same friends. Some of the first anime merchandise I ever purchased was at these conventions – and it was Gundam Wing merchandise. I have a playing card deck, a character pin, a Gundam model (Gundam Sandrock Custom, because Quatre and his double-bladed mech are the best), a poster, and more than one soundtrack. This is, of course, aside from a few DVDs, a couple VHS tapes, and several manga.
Gundam Wing was my otaku birth. It’s a series that I still get excited about and whose movie, Endless Waltz, is still one of my favorite films. Eleven-plus years or so after my initial run-through of the anime, I find that I still care about it very much. I was lucky that this particular installment of the Gundam franchise was developed in the late 90s, just in time for me, and for countless children all over Japan and the United States, to fall hard for a more complicated type of animation.
And besides, who can resist a series that ends in the most epic guitar-riddled battle sequence every week: