MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING (Shin Kido Senki Gandamu Wingu), based on the story by Hajime Yadate & Yoshiyuki Tomino with art by Koichi Tokita. First published in 1995 and first published in North America in 2000.
In the year After Colony 195, humanity has spread from earth to space, but those in the space colonies are suppressed by the Earth Allied Forces and OZ, the secret society that guides their every move. To fight them, five young men with powerful mobile suits are separately sent to Earth to fight them...that is, if they can stop fighting amongst themselves and the mysterious Zechs Marquise long enough to do so.
I'm going to be upfront: I did not grow up with Gundam Wing. I didn't have any experience with Gundam until I met my husband, so aside from some of the OVAs, one of the original series movies, and the manga I will be reviewing this month, most of my knowledge is second hand. That can be a problem with manga like this, which presume you watched the show and can fill in the blanks. On the other hand, it means that I don't have the haze of nostalgia clouding any judgment. That's a good thing because oh lord, are there plenty of issues to be found here.
Don't bother reading this for the story because it simply has no time for story. Based on a quick scan of episode summaries on Wikipedia, this single volume covers the equivalent of the first 10 episodes. That's a lot of information to cram into a single tankobon, and this manga handles that problem by skimming over everything but the barest minimum of information. Plot points and character moments alike are rushed to the extreme. Mecha battles and sword fights alike end in just two or three panels. Characters are lucky if they have enough time to establish a quirk or two. My favorite was the moment where resident
That's still better than most of the cast gets as far as backstory, and that includes our leads. The only thing I got from series protagonist Heero Yuy is that he's a enormous pill. The rest of the boys make little to no impression at all. I got a stronger impression of who Relena was, for god's sake, and she spends most of her time stalking Heero and begging him to kill her. The villains mostly stand around and announce their oh-so-evil plans to no one at particular. I guess that's useful because otherwise it would be easy to forget why everyone is fighting in the first place. That's not even getting into the flaws baked into the very premise, such as 'let's gather five mecha-wielding freedom fighters, but then make sure that they are all unaware of each other's existence so that they can waste time fighting amongst themselves as well as OZ.' I know that this manga was targeted towards elementary-aged boys in a magazine that mostly existed for the sake of tie-in manga, but certainly they could have tried just a little harder to communicate who was who, what was what, and why any of it matters.
While my knowledge may be second hand, I will say that even to this outsider Gundam Wing had some really nice design work. The character models are handsome, eschewing the angular excesses that were all too common to mid-90s anime. They strike a fine balance between anime-appropriate weirdness and the sort of gravity that the story demands. That goes for everyone in the cast, not just the pretty boys on the front cover. I like the aristocratic flair OZ brings to what would otherwise be ordinary military uniforms. This goes double for Zechs, as his stately uniform and sleek helmet easily make him the least ridiculous-looking Char wannabe in all of the continuities.
The mech designs are nice too, even if in the larger scheme of things they've been abandoned for those from the Endless Waltz movie. They all have very distinct designs but retain enough of the classic Gundam look to fit in nicely into the franchise as a whole. I especially like that they took a completely different take on the opposing side's mobile suits. We don't see a lot of them in this first volume, but they're far more minimalist and stylish than the stocky Zakus and Doms of old.
The problem is that this manga doesn't do any of that design work the least bit credit. The characters and mobile suits alike are drawn in the most half-assed manner. There's just enough effort (for the most part) that everything is on-model, but the details are glossed over entirely. That means that the characters are horrendously stiff and inexpressive and the mobile suits are mostly obscured with muddy screentones and inking. Just as the story glosses over all the important story and character beats, the artwork glosses over all the big fancy fights. Most of the fights are over in four panels or less. The rest of the manga isn't laid out any better. All of the paneling is mundane and inelegant that does little to convey the exotic locales or the scale of the mecha battles. I thought the whole point of this manga was to sell kids on the show (and associated merchandise), so the overall lack of quality is downright disappointing.
The final insult doesn't come from Koichi Tokita's lack of talent, but from the mishandling of the material by the folks at Mixx, the once and future Tokyopop. The company always had a reputation for cheap-looking books, but nothing I've seen thus far compares to the poor quality found here. The pages are poorly scanned which only adds to the muddiness of the images. The translation is crude, stilted, and loaded with its fair share of typos. The font choice is weird, being both too big to comfortably fit in the bubbles and too formal for a comic format. It looks for all the world like a bad scanlation, and it's shocking that even in the far-off days of 2000 that someone thought that this was good enough for release.
There's one last bit of WTF to be found at the end: a 4-koma crossover with G Gundam! Now in Japan, this would have made perfect sense. The two shows were made back-to-back, and it more than a few jokes are had at the radically different tone between the two shows. When this manga first came out in the US, G Gundam had yet to air on TV, so I can only imagine how confused fans were by the whole thing. There's also a lot of jokes referencing Relena's popularity with the show's original audience. If you know anything about Gundam Wing fandom in the States, this becomes kind of funny in a horribly ironic fashion.
The Gundam Wing manga betrays its roots as a quick cash-in for kids at every turn. It doesn't care about the story, the characters, or the art. Not even the publisher could be bothered to give it much effort, and neither should you.
This series was published by Tokyopop. The series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available. All 3 were published and are currently out of print.