Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack
Although I'd been a casual devotee of anime since the advent of Robotech, the summer of 1988 was when I truly was indoctrinated into fandom. Back at that time, the fan base was ablaze with talk of two titles: Akira and Char's Counterattack. Though Akira was by far the runaway hit worldwide, Char's Counterattack was just as important to Mobile Suit Gundam fans. The film promised to resolve a storyline ten years in the making, bringing together the heroic Amuro Ray and his noble yet flawed archrival Char Aznable together for one final conflict that would end the saga. Of course, that didn't exactly happen, as sidestories, alternate universes, and far-flung futures have continued the Gundam legacy. But does Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack deliver? Yes and no. It does work as an epic conclusion to one of the greatest sci-fi wars ever imagined, but it lacks finesse in character emotion, a problem that appeared in the original Mobile Suit Gundam films.
Char's Counterattack is set in U.C. 0093, 13 years after the events of the original movie trilogy. Back then, a group of orbital colonies (referred to as Sides) tried to break free of the Earth's Federation government, calling themselves the Zeon Principality. Char Aznable, the Red Comet, was the hero of the Zeon forces, and his only match in battle was the young but brilliant Amuro Ray. Eventually, the Zeon Principality was defeated. Different power plays caused different alliances to form during those thirteen years, and at one point Char and Amuro fought side by side as allies. However, in the years previous to the start of the movie, Char creates a Neo Zeon coalition that wants to be free of the Earth's government. He's decided that there is no hope to a peaceful treaty that will keep the Federation from controlling the Neo Zeon Sides, and thus he plans to hit the Earth with two devastating meteor attacks which will make the planet uninhabitable. The film opens with the first of these meteors actually hitting its target.
Amuro and the former members of the White Base are attempting to handle the challenge, but they are not sure how they can possibly succeed. Meanwhile, Char gets ahold of a diplomat's powerful Newtype daughter, Quess. She lusts for power and is overjoyed at the possibility of fighting with Char at her side, despite the fact that she's far too young for him (and that her father works for the Federation government). Her friend Hathaway, son of the legendary White Base commander Bright Noah, is possibly the only one that can reel her back in before her blossoming powers become too great for her to handle. As final treaties are broken and destruction looms, an ultimate clash of wills between Amuro and Char will determine whether or not the Earth becomes a barren wasteland.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack is animated the way I wish the rest of the films in the series had been done. Though certainly not an outstanding feature in terms of its look, it is completely competent and often wonderful, something that couldn't be said for the other features. Although there are some issues with the character design changes that happened during the course of the two television series that followed the original, Z Gundam and ZZ Gundam, the viewer will quickly become familiar with the new looks. The music is also thankfully updated from the awful 70s tunes in the earlier films.
Meanwhile, those who want to see gigantic mobile suit fights will be happy, as this film has scores of them. What's impressive too is that the combatants have 370 degree viewscreens, making it appear that they are floating with their cockpit in space. This makes for some really awesome looking battle sequences that still maintain an intimate character. This is a mecha fan's paradise.
However, despite all this, I can only recommend Char's Counterattack at the B+ level, the same as the other films in the series. Why is this, even though this one looks so much better and plays well? It's because the finale of a grand series like this deserves more emotional weight. The deaths here are of characters that some of us have followed for years, and yet there's virtually no mourning, no time for grief. In fact, the only character mourned is someone we barely even know. Mobile Suit Gundam has always been characterized as a realistic show, and it is to an extent in that good people do die and that good and evil are not clearly delineated. However, because there is no outlet for the emotion, the film feels sterile and forced when confronted with character deaths. It simply doesn't deal with them, making it a lesser film.
I strongly recommend you see at least the original Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy set before watching this movie; without it, not much will make any sense. (I would also recommend Z Gundam in order to get a thorough background; however, it's not yet available in the US.) If you've followed these folks through their various conflicts, you simply have to see this film to reach the inevitable conclusion. Is it masterful work? No. But as a finale to the most well known rivalry in all of anime history, it's not half bad.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack -- violence -- B+