To give you an idea of how highly I was anticipating Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, I sat through all 50 episodes of Zeta Gundam (hardly a chore though!) just so that I could prepare myself for this movie with the best possible understanding of these characters; after all, this is Yoshiyuki Tomino’s curtain call on the forever-enduring Universal Century timeline, a larger than life story I have grown to love over this last year.
With this in mind if you are a newcomer to the whole Gundam phenomenon Char’s Counterattack is possibly the worst place for you to start; with this movie you are catching the final moments of a story line and a rivalry that has endured for 15 long years and claimed thousands of human lives (and upset more than a few love interests too)- if you are at all interested in Gundam, I urge you to start with the original movie trilogy, get in on the ground floor and discover the motivation behind this culmination of ambition, lost love and philosophy gone awry. I can only assure you that it is worth the effort.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack is set in the year U.C. 0093, 14 years after the events of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and 6 years after Zeta Gundam. The Earth Federation is still an unreliable mess when it comes to dealing with the space colonies and now none other than Char Aznable has risen to lead the forces of Neo-Zeon in war against the Federation.
Char’s ambitions aren’t simply to claim independence from the Federation but to “liberate’ Earth of all human life. Having grown tired of seeing mankind repeatedly abuse the planet with pollution, he has decided that the future of humanity lies in space; a place where everyone can realize their true potential and become “Newtypes’ (people with fabled psychic abilities).
By dropping the Axis asteroid on Earth, Char and Neo-Zeon will bring about another ice-age, murdering millions in the process. The compassionate Amuro Ray, Char’s greatest enemy and a Newtype himself, can’t stand for such reckless destruction and so joins the fight against Neo-Zeon, a fight that could spell the end for everyone.
Coming off the various vintage Gundam TV series, the higher quality animation used in Char’s Counterattack is immediately apparent; with this being the first Gundam movie based on original content, the animation is fresh and indicative of the high standards set during the late 80s. The intense mobile suit battles have an added detail and fluidity about them, giving battles a whole new sense of speed and intensity while the character designs retain that familiar retro magic but now when the wind blows, hair is ruffled. I suspect this is Mobile Suit Gundam as Tomino always pictured in is mind; it is a sight to behold.
Keeping in mind that Char’s Counterattack premiered in Japan during early 1988, it is surprising just how well Tomino slots back into these characters and starts moving everything along at a great pace. There is no lip-service paid to people who are unfamiliar with the Gundam universe, we are thrown straight back into the story as an unstoppable asteroid blisters its way through Earth’s atmosphere. It is to Tomino’s credit that we don’t know how things will pan out; we can usually relax in the knowledge that a titular hero will save the planet in a last ditch moment of self sacrifice but given the low mortality rate of Gundam pilots, you can take nothing for granted; from the first frame onwards, this is edge of your seat stuff.
It is also worth saying that Char’s Counterattack depicts a war happening, not one on the verge of happening. There is little time to collect your thoughts and reflect on various philosophies or to question why characters like Char feel the way they do; for the most part, politics are out of the window.
By now you should know that Char’s Counterattack delivers when it comes to this franchise’s typically epic scale of action but many (who include myself) will also be following the on-going tussles between Char and Amuro. I won’t spoil it for you but I will say that the movie ends in a satisfying way, bringing to a close one of the greatest rivalries seen in Japanese animation and in uniquely Eastern fashion, leaves certain aspects open to viewer interpretation. Char and Amuro’s final exchange of words perfectly concludes Gundam’s battle of philosophies and indeed, the series in general; it ends in stalemate, no one is perfect and no one has the right to shape the fate of another.
Although it would have been nice to have seen the movie reunite a few of the older Gundam characters, I can hardly complain about what is essentially an exciting, compelling movie from start to finish; this is a perfect space opera, weaving dramatic tales of personal tragedy while sweeping across futuristic battles of gigantic proportions. As a rather obsessed Gundam fan more in love with the characters than the mobile suits, this is a fittingly emotional end to such a powerful story.