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Gundam Wing Retrospective: Part Two

Posted 19 May 2008 / By Nick Gibson / Opinion

Gundam Wing wrapped up its run on Japanese television in March of 1996, bowing out amid big explosions, memorable quotes, and a whole lot of death. And for a time it seemed like that would be the end of Wing’s alternate universe. The next spinoff series, After War Gundam X, was scheduled to hit airwaves the next month. But reception of the series had been good, model kit sales were strong, and Bandai sensed that the Wing cash cow was still alive and kicking. So less than a year later, in January of 1997, the series got a combination sequel/prequel in the form of Endless Waltz. Originally released as a three-episode miniseries, Endless Waltz provided additional backstory on the five main pilots and also introduced a new conflict in the form of Mariemaia Khushrenada, the illegitimate daughter of the TV series’ main villain.

Endless Waltz sported slick production values – some of the best of the pre-digital era, certainly the best seen in the mecha genre – revamped mecha designs, heady storyline, and balls-out action sequences. It took everything good about the television series and threw away the rest, essentially distilling the formula to its purest form. The result was not only the crown jewel of the Wing franchise but a veritable Gundam masterpiece. Waltz‘s three episodes saw a theater rerelease in 1998 as a continuous feature. Apart from the new format, the second edition changed the ending music (from Two-Mix’s White Reflection to their Last Impression single) and tossed in a considerable amount of extra footage.

The storyline is a conclusion to Wing’s original premise – which was largely forgotten during the course of the series. Madman Dekim Barton was the orchestrator of Operation Meteor, a plot that involved dropping space colonies onto Earth in retaliation for the assassination of the colonies’ top proponent of peace. His original idea was to slow a few colonies until they fell from orbit and turned the Earth into a wasteland, at which point the Gundam prototypes would be sent down to mop up the remains. This plan was foiled by the Gundam pilots themselves, who decided to protect both the Earth and the colonies in a true bid for peace.

But now Dekim is back with a reserve army and a new figurehead, Mariemaia Khushrenada. Using Mariemaia as a puppet, Dekim takes Relena Darlian hostage and blackmails the Earth governments into submission through the threat of a second Operation Meteor. At first it looks as if everything is going according to plan, but then a problem arises. More than one, actually. The Gundam pilots, plus Zechs Marquiese and his Preventer special corps, aren’t about to stand by idly and watch their hard-won peace die.

One of the most notable things about Endless Waltz is its joyfully toyetic redesign of all the major mechas. There is no in-universe explanation for why the Wing Zero suddenly has feathers, or why the Heavyarms is blue with a clown faceplate. We’re to assume they’ve always been that way. This visual overhaul was obviously intended to promote a whole new series of action figures and model kits, but thankfully the new designs are improvements over the originals in every respect. And they really are a joy to watch – Gundam Wing was already the ultimate ‘showy robot’ entry in the Gundam metaverse, but the new over-the-top lineup really drives that point home. When combined with silky-smooth animation and intricate choreography, you get some of the most jaw-dropping mecha brawls and duels in the history of the medium, making Endless Waltz a must-watch for gearheads on that basis alone.

Bust Endless Waltz still offers a lot to even the less technically obsessed viewers. The story is obtuse at times – isn’t that a requirement for Wing? – but the presentation is coherent and the writing is light ages ahead of the television series. As I said earlier, Waltz managed to take everything worthwhile about Wing’s sprawling storylines and philosophical characters and repackage it in a way that is much more palateable to the general audience. The new direction comes a bit too late, obviously, but it’s nice to see what Wing could have been (should have been) all along.

Even the dub job is much improved, offering especially rousing performances from Jim Byrnes (Dekim Barton) and Ted Cole (Chang Wufei). At last we have a reason to watch Gundam Wing in English – apart from nostalgia.

As usual, special mention must be made with regards to the OST. Ko Otani is back in force, with a more cinematic soundtrack than ever before. The score has a glistening, ice-like feel that keeps in touch with Waltz’s Christmas timeline, but often breaks into reckless synth rock during the action sequences. Two-Mix’s phenomenal ‘White Reflection’ and ‘Last Impression’ wrap up the OVA and movie releases, respectively, and join Wing’s ‘Just Communication’ and ‘Rhythm Emotion’ as some of the best accent songs in the history of anime. (‘White Reflection’ was good enough to merit a gorgeous animated music video. Watch it here.)

Overall, I think Endless Waltz offers far too much to be overlooked as merely a sequel to Gundam Wing. It stands tall on its own merits, representing both the realized extent of Wing’s dormant potential as well what mecha anime is all about. If you like giant robots, if you like sci-fi drama…heck, if you like high-budget, last-gen cel animation, you owe it to yourself to watch this. Pick up the expanded special edition off eBay and get set for a treat.

Remember, it’s not a continuation. It’s a culmination.

Next time I present the final part of this retrospective – an in-depth look at Gundam Wing’s reception around the world, from its old guard in Japan to the new fan base in America. Also included is a look at Gundam Wing’s landmark airing on our own Toonami. Don’t miss it.

Part One
Part Three

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