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Yo dwag, we heard you liek Psychoframes, so…

August 9, 2010

I see… the same humans who are capable of such warmth, can also be so cruel…

Char Aznable, Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack


Oooooook. Char’s Counterattack, considered by many to be the holy grail of UC Gundam.

I’m a bit lost.

It’s not that the movie isn’t good, in fact it’s quite the jaw-dropper, even two decades after its time. Mobile Suit combat pre-1990s has never been portrayed more realistically than Char’s Counterattack (tying with 8th MS Team and putting 0080 and 0083 to second and third respectively). The clash of the corrupt and totalitarian Earth Federation, defended by the just anti-terrorist task force Londo Bell (at least while Bright Noah was still their leader), against the idealistic and radical Neo Zeon led by a revived Char Aznable (aka. Casval Rem Deikun), crashing upon the Earth Forces with a fury not matched since the One Year War, has been repeated in various ways and guises since the first Gundam series, but none can truly match Char’s Counterattack, as Amuro, representing human hope and intelligence, fights against Char, who is convinced that humanity needs a harsh lesson on their true nature and isn’t unwilling to kill entire cities’ worth of people to do so.

There is, however, one small part that could have been better elaborated; the start of the Second Neo-Zeon War (with the First occurring during the events of Gundam ZZ). The movie drops viewers straight into the heat of things like a Halo ODST, with the movie starting out with Char in the Sazabi leading Neo Zeon as they engineer a small-scale meteorite drop onto Earth, and fighting to stop it, Londo Bell and Amuro in the Re-GZ. The drop is the drive and revelations for many events in the movie, including Char’s eventual loli pilot Quess Paraya’s joining of Neo Zeon, the creation of the customary angst boy Hathaway Bright (that’s Bright Noah’s son), as well as Char’s motivations for beginning the drop in the first place (In Gundam Zeta, Char fought as a member of the AEUG, and many of their members later went on to become Londo Bell’s core group of soldiers).

Char’s Counterattack can be taken as a sharper focus on the ideology of  total rule from Earth against mankind’ desire to split and be independent even when not given the chance, and just like Amuro and Char’s long-lasting rivalry, heated to beyond boiling point in this movie (actually, this was touched upon right from Mobile Suit Gundam). While this does give rest to the matter of two great opposing aces, it sidelines the development of other characters somewhat; Quess’ out-of-left-field change of sides can be explained by her poor upbringing and Char’s charming looks, but Hathaway’s near-vertical descent into the depths of angst hell was a bit of a shock.

And that’s not counting the Neo Zeon and Londo Bell characters, whose roles in the movies were limited to being speech companions to other characters (at least the Neo Zeon ace got to off a few Jegan pilots, which is more than I can say for the other…)  Various other little holes exist, as to how did Char come back (you can attribute it to his resourcefulness and the fact that he is not only a CHAR, he is THE CHAR; unfortunately there’s no way to ask anyone in Neo Zeon as to how he managed to crawl away in a crippled Hyaku Shiki); Neo Zeon’s revival, the backdoor dealing which saw Anaheim electronics get their hands on the Neo-Zeon-developed psychoframe, among other things.

Maybe it’s just me, but after all the comments from Gundam fans that Char’s Counterattack was the greatest animated mecha thing since Astro Boy I feel that the pacing of the movie was too fast, way too fast to provide proper closure (and a decade later there was Overman King Gainer…). The AEUG’s transition to Londo Bell was shown off-screen, which can be taken that the Earth Federation was only looking for scapegoats and figureheads even after the harsh lesson of the First Neo Zeon War; nevertheless, I would have liked a bit of elaboration.

It probably would have been better to have given Char’s Counterattack a trilogy treatment so that Tomino can tie things up from Gundam ZZ, which was only half-connected to the Gundamverse right from the start; or at least split it into two movies, so that the entirety of the Second Neo Zeon conflict, from the day Char approached Neo Zeon to the showdown with Amuro, would be made clear to the audience. Then again, the Mobile Suit Gundam compilation trilogy was only possible because Tomino had already established a name with the anime series; to suggest a two or three-parter movie in that day and age without an establishing series (an episodic series, mind you, and not just the brand name) must have been tantamount to financial suicide to the firms involved (Sunrise and Tomino not included).

Even with the speed run tendencies so common to movies with deep plots regardless of whether they were original concepts or adaptations, Char’s Counterattack remains a gem in the history of Gundam; indeed, in the history of mecha movies; this is all I can say without spoiling you all. Never before, and it will take a lot to top it, will another Gundam movie come close to delivering such a powerful message about the human spirit.

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