For those that know me in real life (and those that follow me on Twitter), it’s pretty obvious I’m a huge nerd, and I love Japanese animation. And my favorite anime of all time is Gundam Wing, has been since it was introduced to me back in the late 90s.
I’m fairly certain I caught hints of Sailor Moon when I lived in Washington and was about six or seven. But I really came to recognize anime and love the genre a couple years later when I lived in Stevensville, Michigan.
Growing up and living in mostly rural areas, being an anime fan was difficult because you typically didn’t know anyone else who watched it, and it wasn’t likely any nearby stores were going to carry any of the merchandise.
Fortunately, I had a babysitter at the time named Bethany who reintroduced me to Sailor Moon and eventually Gundam Wing. Giant robots, political intrigue, lovable characters, and fantastic action? Sign me up.
My poor parents. They had no idea what these Japanese cartoons were or why their child was obsessed with them. Pokemon they could sort of understand. It was cute, and everyone loved it. It hit America real hard in the late 90s and early 2000s. But this Gundam stuff? Dragon Ball Z? It just didn’t make any sense.
Nonetheless, as I came to watch more episodes of Gundam Wing on Cartoon Network, I pestered my parents for more stuff. I wanted VHS tapes with the episodes on them. But short of hopping over to an anime convention, where would one find Gundam Wing tapes in rural Michigan? There wasn’t really much of an Amazon for them to hop on.
And it wasn’t like there were spots to watch anime online like there are today. We had dial up, sure. But video streaming back in 2000? HA! Video streaming of anime? Double HA.
I don’t know how they came up with it, but for one birthday, my parents surprised me with a VHS tape of Gundam Wing episodes. It was Vol. 3, The Cold Battlefield, and it contained episodes 8-10 of the series. I could not WAIT to get home and pop that bad boy in. And I got to hear the full Japanese introduction theme song that didn’t play on Cartoon Network.
You’d best believe I watched the crap out of that tape. Over and over again.
The video tape was all fine and well, but as my obsession grew, I wanted a Gundam Wing action figure to play with, make my own adventures as any nine-year-old kid would. But again, what store in rural Michigan was going to carry a Gundam Wing action figure?
One fateful night, my mother and I were visiting one of the bigger towns in the area. I don’t remember which, maybe Kalamazoo. We stopped by a Walmart, and I happened to be looking through the toy aisle while Mom took care of the regular shopping. And there it was. . . a Wing Gundam action figure, the very suit Heero Yuy piloted on the show. Heero was my favorite character, strong, silent, dedicated to the mission, just all around cool.
The packaging was damaged. Someone had stolen the buster rifle (gun) from the box, but the gundam still had its beam sword and shield. I eager grabbed the package and ran up to Mom to ask for her to buy it.
Now Mom had gotten really good at telling me “No,” when I ran up with something at the store. She had to be for the sake of our budget. And I was always running up with some toy or snack. But today she sensed something was different.
When I asked, she heard the word “gundam,” and knew she was in trouble. This wasn’t some insignificant toy I wanted for the heck of it. This was a Gundam Wing action figure, something I talked about 24/7, desperate to have.
She looked disappointed at the broken package and asked if there was another one that wasn’t broken into. I informed her it was the last one. So she sighed and put it in the cart.
At the cash register, my mother talked the cashier into taking a couple dollars off since the package was broken, and it was missing a piece. My mother, the bargain shopper.
When we got the car, I was exploding with joy. I finally found a Gundam Wing figure, and it was the one my favorite character piloted. Through the years I’d come to collect more gundam figures and made them fight each other in my own adventures.
My mother eventually bought me a little stand with three shelves for all my figures, Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, Lego Bionicles, and more. They were proudly displayed right next to my bedroom door.
But they would not stay with me forever. While we lived in Dover, Arkansas, one of the neighborhood kids I sometimes played with came into our home multiple times and slowly stole all of my gundams and other figures. His name was Dillon.
The sneaky jerk knew my mother would go outside at a certain time of the morning and water her plants. She’s also leave the back door unlocked. So he waited until she became distracted and then slipped in and stole my stuff piecemeal.
She finally caught him one day, weeks after I thought I’d gone crazy because my favorite figures and video games were all going missing. My mother sent him home, and he gave another neighborhood kid a bag of things he’d stolen from other homes in the neighborhood. I guess the kid’s orders were to bury them on a nearby dirt road under some bushes, but my mother saw him leaving and followed him.
Mom called me, told me what happened, and I came home immediately. Dillon begged me not to call the police, but I was furious. So I had Mom call them. And just when I’d gotten some of my stuff back, the police took it for evidence and said I could collect it 90 days later.
You’d best believe I marked it on the calendar and on day 90 I was at the Dover Police Department, asking for my stuff. As I name dropped my anime action figures, these rural police had no idea what I was asking about. So they took me into the evidence locker, and I pointed out a few of the figures and games Dillon had stolen as mine. I signed some papers and took what I could.
But I never got all my stuff back, not even half of it. And my Wing Gundam figure remained missing.
Fast forward to tonight when I was in Target with my wife. We happened to stumble upon a little section in the toy aisle that had some anime items, mostly Gundam, Dragon Ball Super, and Sailor Moon. And there was a Wing Gundam in perfect condition. It even had the buster rifle!
There was one left, and I’m not ashamed to say I snatched it right up. What I learned growing up is sometimes you have to bring back pieces of your childhood where you can. Because life is hard. And if you see a chance for happiness, even when it involves something as seemingly insignificant as an action figure, you probably need to take advantage of it. I certainly did.