I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the Book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written. -- Atrus

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Gundam Wing: in Defense of Quatre

This post is not going to be related to Myst or games of any kind, and it’s really super long and may have autocorrect mistakes. This post will instead be about an anime series I encountered called Gundam Wing which aired in 1995/6, so I’m REALLY late to the party here. I recommend the series, which you can find on YouTube; watch the remastered ones with Japanese audio and turn on the English subtitles. 49 25-minute episodes.

So far I’d been introduced to only two animes that I liked: GTO and Elfen Lied. Those are absolutely excellent and I recommend. Most animes I find really weird and creepy, but occasionally my friends land on some good ones that they think I’ll approve. Gundam Wing was not recommended to me, rather I caught a clip of it on Facebook. The post was a joke about how to introduce initiates to anime and the scene used was where the main protagonist, Heero, tells the young girl he will kill her after he tears up the birthday party invite she gave him: Clip here

As with the opening scene of Elfen Lied, I was sold and needed to see the rest of the series, which ended up being a good choice! FYI, I think the Japanese audio with English subs are better and I recommend that over the English dub. I quickly became enamoured of the series, though it took me a few episodes to understand what the hell was going on. It’s a little difficult for anime initiates to get comfortable with the story haha! Naturally, with everything I’m obsessed with I had to run out and find a t-shirt depicting something from the series, and I chose this one. It features the Gundam pilot who, much to my surprise, is generally the least favorite of the five. Although Heero is hands down my favorite of the five, I feel compelled to display support for underrated Quatre. 

As a means to acquire background information on the series, I scanned through the series’ wiki where I learned Quatre was the least favorite. I found another website that presented a list of reasons why, some of which appear to be due to the macho male insecurity concerning emotion. Mega eye roll. The list includes detest for Quatre’s emotional nature and that he wears pink (seriously?), and that he seems effeminate, even to the point where he is voiced by a female actor. Some believe he is weak and has a weak Gundam. Reading these, what I believe to be, poor interpretations of his character, I was completely perplexed. However, I came to realize that the majority of Gundam Wing fans (guys, usually) watched the series as young teens and were naturally oblivious to the complexity of Quatre’s character. I had a chat last night with a male friend who watched the show as a young teen, and who shared the popular view, and delivered my analysis of Quatre and the other boys. I guess I more or less blew his mind with my analysis and I seemed to change his view, but I assured him that 1. he was just a kid when he saw it, 2. I saw it as an adult not really well-versed in anime, which means that I’ll have a different perspective, and 3. I have art history training, which I’ll explain in a bit. Poor, poor misunderstood Quatre. 

For the uninitiated, Gundam anime is a genre about giant robotic suits piloted by individuals with “a very specific set of skills” (Taken reference haha), and are used in outer space and on earth. Think Power Rangers Megazord meets Iron Man. Mind you, my sparse knowledge of this comes from Gundam Wing. The series itself features five 15-year-old boys who pilot these superior “mobile suits”, and bring them to earth to fight for space colonies’ freedom from a powermad government, and for peace in general. Each of the boys is unique, with Heero being the foremost among them. The Gundam appear—as my understanding goes—to have some form of AI capabilities, and by the way the boys seem emotionally attached to their mobile suits, the suits seem to be protective of them and even an extension of each boy’s being. Wufei seems to revere his as some sort of sacred being that he endeavors to deserve; Duo’s heart is ripped out when his dear Deathscythe is destroyed; and Trowa is completely traumatized by destroying Deathscythe while he plays the double agent. Heero is always leaving his all over the place in some form of disrepair, but he is extremely protective of it nonetheless. Quatre’s suit, Sandrock, sacrifices itself for him, which of course makes him emotional. 

With their suits the boys are killing machines, wiping out with ease and pomp all the enemy vessels and headquarters in pursuit of peace and protecting the colonies from the very moment they each arrive on earth in five different regions. They are skilled pilots but also have combat and hacker skills and are sharp at assessing dangerous situations and how to survive them. Heero and Trowa are both solem and detached individuals, with Heero being the more focused and willing to die for the cause than the rest of them. Wufei is rather wild and impetuous. Duo is cheerful and funny, and while he appears to have fun with slicing and dicing enemies, he seems to be squeamish of more intimate violence such as when Heero sets his own broken leg. Quatre is gentle and apologetic about slaying enemies and tries to be merciful when he can, but he still kills when necessary. It’s his guilt and kindness and frequent crying that have made people consider him weak. But this is an gross misinterpretation of his character and indeed the series’ theme that explores the nature of humanity. 

Quatre is probably the strongest of them, and if you don’t believe ME, then you must believe Heero, because he’s the one that explicitly and emphatically acknowledges this. Quatre’s strongest quality is his leadership skills, which is revealed at the beginning. The kid leads an entire army. Cute little gentle-natured blond-haired boy leads an entire army of grown men prepared to die for him. The others do not. Because of this superior quality, Heero selects him to lead the Gundams, which he does with success, despite his initial doubt in himself—more in that in a bit. I don’t think I can speak about his suit’s capabilities, as I’m not well-versed in the genre to know what’s bad, but regardless of whatever his suit’s shortcomings are, that kid can clear a base! When he meets Trowa—good Lord, the romantic tension between them could be cut with a knife—he decimated the rest of the enemies after Troea runs out of ammunition. Sure he may have been saying “sorry” left, right, and center because he had a steadfast conscious, but he was still getting the job done with great efficiency. People have complained that he talks too much to his enemies, but it’s his leadership qualities coming to the fore again in an effort to solve things diplomatically rather than shedding blood unnecessarily. 

His emotional nature seems to be what disenchants most people because it makes him “girly”—macho culture example right there. In fact, emotions are a large subject of discussion among the boys and it’s what they admire most about Quatre. Several times his emotional expressions are encouraged by both Heero and Trowa, specifically in the tragic battle between the three of them. Quatre obtains the Zero Wing suit that is outfitted with the Zero System—a programming that alters the state of one’s conscious (or something like that) and shows visions of the future and enhances combat skills, but also clouds judgment in a drastic way. It takes great skill to master the Zero System which only three seem to do to some extent or another, Quatre being one of them, and Heero and Milliardo (OMG heartthrob). Unfortunately, Quatre’s first use of the Zero System failed: after his father is killed he goes into revenge mode, and with the Zero System altering his better judgment he massacres entire populations of people! Trowa and Heero are sent in brand new suits by the enemy to stop him, and both are gambling on his sweet disposition to get all of them out of there alive and well. Quatre’s special connection to Trowa is exploited here, with sincerity, not as manipulation. Unfortunately, Quatre is so compromised that he attacks Trowa with intent to kill and damages him quite badly. Heero and Trowa both use this to their advantage, to shake Quatre from the Zero System’s influence by triggering in the most powerful way his emotions. When Quatre sees what he’s done and sees Trowa headed in the direction of death by blowing up into a million pieces, he wants to go save him, but Heero puns him down and forces him to watch the results of his actions. Quatre is desperate to stop the disaster, begging Heero to rescue him, but Trowa and Heero followed their plan to the end. Essentially, in my opinion, Trowa sacrificed himself to rescue Quatre’s conscience, depending on Heero to make sure the plan is carried out. Heero is spectacular at burying his emotions, but I think we can guess that it pained him to do that. 

And then we see that amazingly adorable scene on the beach where Heero is playing with dogs and then encourages the dejected Quatre to indulge in his kindness and emotions and go play with the dogs, which he does with gusto. 

Back to Trowa, he’s finally recovered from space and back in the circus where he began before joining the other boys in battle, though he suffers from amnesia. Trowa is also emotional, as he acted on his emotions of affection when he protected Katherine that first time, when she slapped him in the face (haha!). Heero justifies this emotional “outburst” even though he himself struggles with controlling this—how many times did he threaten to kill Relena? When Duo finds Trowa at the circus, Katherine pushes him away to protect Trowa from further trauma caused by his military past. Trowa is confused, but not triggered. But when Quatre comes into the picture, well that’s a different story. When Quatre learns where Trowa is, he races to find him, eyes brimming with tears. Again, Katherine protects him, but Quatre’s emotions succeed in triggering Trowa. He has a moment of despair as he tries to remember who Quatre is. He finally joins the other boys, even though he isn’t fully recovered. But I think we owe a lot to Quatre for bringing back one of the best of the pilots. 

Let’s skip ahead to the end of the series where Heero goes off to do stuff with the Libra ship and rigs Quatre’s suit with the Zero System before they go off into battle. Quatre, whose first experience led to a disastrous end, is largely dismayed and insists on his inability to master it. The fact that Heero put this system in Quatre’s suit and not the others’ can, superficially, be interpreted as Heero’s lack of faith in Quatre’s abilities as a fighter, since the Zero System improves skills exponentially. This is an incorrect interpretation. The Zero System messed up Trowa pretty good, and Wufei was also affected. I can’t remember if Duo ever jumped in the Zero Wing suit. It’s stated in the series that only a superhuman could master it. So why would Heero insist that Quatre use the system if he’s supposedly the weakest of them? Heero is implying that Quatre is the strongest, and Quatre’s previous traumatic experience coupled with his compassionate nature will help him to completely master the Zero System and lead the other three.  Which he does with expertly ease, lightning speed moves and superior strategies that overcome the enemy despite the immense danger they were in. Quatre was able to get the three other boys to fight as a unit rather than alone as they were used to doing. Then, wisely, after the battle he disengages the Zero System with an apparent understanding that it is addictive and he couldn’t risk compromising his nature again. 

In the end, in the showdown with that Dorothy chick who I hoped would die a terrible death, she and he have a philosophical discussion on the importance of kindness and it’s essential place in humanity, and ultimately the conclusion is kindness is more powerful than war. Quatre explains Trowa helped him to see that his kindness was not a shortcoming, but his greatest strength. And then he proceeds to fight in his Gundam with an abdominal stab wound—I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty badass. 

Lastly, a few words on appearances. The characters’ eyes stood out to me because they’re all different sizes. Quatre and Duo have gigantic eyes; Heero and Trowa have big eyes, but not like the aforementioned two boys. Adults, and especially villains, have narrow elongated eyes. There are specific reasons for this. Big eyes are used to denote youth—the boys are all 15 years old. Wufei has narrow eyes which seem to have been used to specify he is Chinese. Heero and Trowa are both reserved indivuals, whereas Quatre and Duo are the kinder and cheerier of the group. Big eyes reflect innocence and gentle natures, which those two boys possess. Quatre’s charitably is further emphasized by his younger-sounding voice, achieved by a female voice actor. This has no bearing on masculinity, rather it exposes the primary character traits. And these primary character traits indicate each character’s greatest strength which make them superior warriors capable of piloting superior Gundam suits. 

Quatre weak? He’s pretty much represented as one of the strongest characters in the series. 

If you’ve read this far, congratulations! You get an imaginary cookie and a participation ribbon!


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