It seems like no matter how many of these I do, I keep coming back to Gundam Wing. This one is the most recent attempt yet, having debuted this year in English. Can this version improve upon its precedesors? Can it possibly make Gundam Wing's story any more coherent?
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING ENDLESS WALTZ: GLORY OF THE LOSERS (Shin Kido Senki Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz: Haisha-tachi no Eiko), written by Katsuyuki Sumizawa, art by Tomofumi Ogasawara, and based on the franchise by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino. First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2017.
In the year After Colony 195, the United Earth Sphere Alliance is at war with the space colonies orbiting Earth. To save themselves and fight back against the Alliance, a group of scientists send down five young pilots in powerful mobile suits to strike fear into the forces of OZ. As we follow the charismatic pilot Duo Maxwell, he learns that not only is he not the only Gundam pilot on earth but that their mission will force them to confront some of OZ's most skilled and dangerous pilots.
Surely if anyone could take the overstuffed and needlessly convoluted plot of Gundam Wing and revamp it for a modern audience, it would be the original series composer, right? Sadly, not even he can completely make sense of it. If anything, he only complicates it more.
How can it make it more complicated? Why, by including bits and pieces of both Endless Waltz and some of the spinoffs! It seems I was getting ahead of myself when I said that Episode Zero was completely non-canonical, as Sumizawa shows us brief glimpses of Duo's, Heero's and Relena's backstories from that manga. He also apparently incorporates details from Frozen Teardrop, a sequel novel series written by Sumizawa that was published at the same time, another work with a dubious relation to canon. Depending on how well you remember the show and what you think of those spinoffs, these additions will be baffling at best and infuriating at worst.
There is one change that does work for the better: his choice of protagonist. Duo fits the role so much better than Heero ever did, thanks to his gregarious nature, hot temper, and natural curiosity. By shifting Heero out of that role, he becomes something of a man of mystery, which gives Duo something to focus on in this early part of the story. This comes at the expense of the other main characters, as Relena's story is largely relegated to an awkward flashback and the other boys make little more than cameos. Then on top of juggling all of those stories, he has to include the simultaneous plot threads for ace OZ pilot Zechs Marquise, OZ leader Treize Kushrinada and some of the other scientists. There's simply too many stories going on all at once to keep completely straight and he doesn't so much weave them together as he does shift jarringly from one to the next with little rhyme or reason. The show had this problem too, but since this manga condenses these events somewhat, the problem is amplified. In his attempts to fix the show's problems, the writer somehow made new ones and made some pre-existing ones worse.
Ogasawara has mostly worked on shonen manga and light novel illustrations, but he does a amazingly good job at capturing the look of Gundam Wing. The characters are on-model and lovingly detailed, even if their expressions are far from the most vivid. His paneling flows splendidly, so even when things get busy it's easy to follow the chain of events. He also does a good job with the suits, which in another major change are based on Hajime Katoki's redesigns from Endless Waltz instead of the original series designs by Kunio Okawara.
Well...he does a good job when you can actually see them. He seems to have a terrible habit of obscuring the battles with an overabundance of effects: explosions, dust clouds, gunblasts, splashing water, and so on. Combine that with ever-shifting perspectives and you get a formula for some brief yet confusing fight sequences that detract from what should be the highlights of the book.
The Glory of Losers feels like a weirdly apt title for this series. It tries to take the story of Gundam Wing and make it feel new. At times, it almost works thanks to some good changes and art that is largely strong. It just makes too many changes at once while trying to give all the major characters screentime and make four different works mesh together into one whole, and the end result is a mess.
This series is published by Vertical. This series is complete in Japan with 13 volumes available. 3 volumes have been published and are currently in-print.