A 20-year-long cultural phenomenon in Japan, the Gundam franchise of multiple series had yet to make a real dent in North America. With the exception of scattered VHS video releases (including the original series’ movie), no full-scale “roll out” had been attempted. It was beginning to look like one of the East’s runaway successes would never truly land on the United States’ shores. . .until Bandai’s American division met with Turner’s Cartoon Network, and they agreed to televise a Gundam that was a perfect introduction to the sprawling property.
Originally airing in 1995 and 1996, Gundam Wing had been a hit, even in comparison to the original Gundam series. In a bold move sure to please parents and more mature anime fans, Bandai and the Cartoon Network chose to broadcast each episode twice a day: showing a dubbed and edited version during the weekday afternoon “Toonami” block, while presenting the uncut dub during the late-night “Toonami Midnight Run.” High ratings and strong model sales, in addition to an explosion of fan-created web pages, indicate the strategy was a success.
Why “Gundam Wing”?
In many ways, Gundam Wing was the perfect way to introduce the series to a North American audience with very limited knowledge about the long-running epic. The 49-episode television series ran on Japanese TV, from April 1995 to March 1996, and was followed by an OAV sequel, Endless Waltz. It featured many key ingredients that are hallmarks of the Gundam franchise: thrilling battle sequences, engaging characters and a heavy dose of ideology. In addition to these “givens,” several other key factors came into play.
The series is set in an alternate timeline; that is, it incorporates specific elements and technology from the previous Gundam incarnations, but it is not a direct sequel or prequel to any other Gundam installment. (Someone who has never seen any of the previous Gundam movies or television series can jump right into the action.)
The target audience for most “mecha” anime (action-oriented animation featuring robots) is primarily male. However, the creators of Gundam Wing went out of their way to extend its reach to a female audience. The story is centered around a loosely-organized team of teen-aged, Gundam pilots. The character design of each prominent cast member is intentionally attractive, from the pilots to their chief rivals. In addition, the women of Gundam Wing are not relegated to the typical “cheerleading” and “girlfriend” roles. They are strong, attractive and very capable characters who propel the plot forward in significant ways.
Finally, Gundam Wing’s mix of action and character-based storytelling allows it to straddle several generations of anime fans, from kids just getting into Dragonball Z to those who are. . . “longer term” aficionados.