A series of short manga stories, revealing important background details about the five young Gundam pilots and Relena Peacecraft. Episode Zero explains such details from the series as the origin of Duo Maxwell's nickname "Shinigami" (Grim Reaper/God of Death), Quatre Raberba Winner's link with the Maganac mercenaries, and other elements that would go on to play major roles in the Gundam Wing anime and its sequel, Endless Waltz.
Before the outbreak of the colony war, forces were at work shaping the future and preparing its players for the final game. As children, each of the Gundam pilots endured hardships that would have broken the will of any normal person. Gundam pilots Duo Maxwell, Heero Yuy, Trowa Barton, Quatre Rabbera Winner and Chang Wufei have endured more pain and difficulties than most people experience in a lifetime. But not even their comrades in arms could have known about the even more tumultuous childhoods as war orphans and other hardships.
Did you know that Quatre used to be a conceited little bastard?
STORY - Episode Zero explores the childhoods and lives of various characters leading up to the events of Operation Meteor. It's worth noting that Masashi Ikeda, Gundam Wing's director, requested that Katsuyuki Sumisawa, a scriptwriter and the series' composer, write this manga and that these historical details are considered canon since they were originally supposed to make it into the series itself. The volume is split into eight chapters, an origin story for each Gundam pilot and Relena, as well as a chapter dedicated to Operation Meteor, and an extra chapter about the pilots'
lives as Preventers after the events of Endless Waltz.
The storytelling in Episode Zero is kind of choppy. Each characters' segment jumps back and forth within their history; sometimes there will be dates indicating such, but other times, the transition happens mid-page. It's really not hard to grasp though, and the stories themselves are pretty interesting. The events follow reasonably and lead in smoothly to the beginning of the anime. The Preventer 5 chapter at the end is also a nice little follow-up to Endless Waltz; it's a generic kind of plot, and probably a bit over-the-top, but if its purpose is just to give an idea of what life is like after the series' end, then it works well enough. That chapter is what makes Episode Zero both a prequel and a sequel to the anime and OAV though, so it's probably best to have seen both before reading this manga.
CHARACTERS - The primary goal of this manga is to give more insight into each characters' personalities and perspectives by fleshing out their pasts. To that end, it definitely succeeds. It's very clear from each section how the events that unfold affect the people involved. Of course, some incidents are marred by coincidence, such as Relena's meeting with a "boy that looks exactly like Heero" when they were both much younger. I also felt that Quatre's transformation and shift in ideologies happened way, way too quickly, but most of the others flow better. Duo's is probably my favorite, partially because he's my favorite character in general, but also because his story, along with Heero's, seems to have more details than say, Wufei's. You see him at much younger points and it just seems more natural.
One thing that none of the stories address is how the five pilots got their skills. It's easy to assume that most of them (except Trowa and maybe Wufei) did not have actual mobile suit training prior to their meetings with the various doctors. Some of them had developed skills in other areas, such as marksmanship for Heero, general sneakiness for Duo, and martial arts for Wufei, but if all of their combat practice happened after suddenly finding themselves involved in Operation Meteor, then I find it hard to believe that they're abilities should be better than trained soldiers, even if their mobile suits are superior. That's really my only quip though; as far as their personalities and personal creeds go, things connect pretty well.
ART - Akira Kanbe does a really terrific job with the art in Episode Zero. The younger versions of the characters are all very convincing, and I was especially impressed with less spotlighted characters like Lucrezia Noin and Treize Khushrenada. Surprisingly, I was also fond of Relena's younger design -- I like it a lot better than her older one; her eyes were much more intense and that alone made her out to be a much more interesting character. As the characters age in the story, they get closer and closer to their anime counterparts to the point where the panels just look like lineart screenshots. The style is captured very, very precisely. Kanbe also has some really awesome page layouts that make scenes more exciting to read, especially when there's lots of action going on. There isn't a lot to pick at here honestly; the art's very solid all around.
OTHER - Episode Zero was licensed and published by Viz in 2002. As such, it's in a flipped, left-to-right format with translated sound effects. Considering that, it didn't turn out so bad -- for the most part, the sound effects work okay, and the typography of the dialogue is pretty consistent. There are a lot of emphasized words in bold, making it more reminiscent of Western comics. The only text that I didn't particular like was the font for the chapter titles and the script font they used for handwriting. And once again, Viz took the liberty of inserting newspaper-like clippings in between the chapters of the book. A lot of the information in these inserts are corny and redundant, but it does address certain facts that may not be completely clear, as well as "speculative" information that may or may not actually be true, but is considered canon for the most part anyway. It's pretty nice for making sure you what's what, I guess.
A very detailed timeline of events is also included in the back of the book. It covers all major events from AC 001 to AC 196, including everything that happens in Gundam Wing and stopping when Mariameia relaunches Operation Meteor at the beginning of Endless Waltz. Additionally, there's a translated author's note by Sumisawa, and a short note and concept sketches by Kanbe.
OVERALL - I sold off all of my old Gundam Wing manga except for this one, so I guess that means something. Episode Zero is a good wealth of information, and Sumisawa considers it essential to fully appreciating Gundam Wing as a whole. The storytelling is fair, and the art is very satisfying. If you consider yourself a fan, I'd definitely recommend picking it up.