Like a maelstrom, Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack arrives in a rush of noise and activity. A space battle is in full swing five minutes in with Amuro Ray and Char Aznable enemies once more. Char wants to send the Earth into a nuclear winter to preserve it at the cost of human lives; Amuro, understandably, cannot fathom a more horrific plot. Below, on Earth, people are scrambling to escape on a limited number of shuttles with limited seats.
Thus, Yoshiyuki Tomino rounds off the themes he developed through ninety-three episodes of television and brings them to a punchy conclusion. While previous Gundam series pore inconclusively over humanity's boundless stupidity, selfishness, and shortsightedness, Char's Counterattack is the much-needed affirmation that it doesn't matter. It attempts to assert the real value of the human race despite all its vices, which is as brave an approach as it is fascinating. Debate usually revolves around the human potential to evolve and the common sense of letting the race progress organically rather than engineering it through conflict.
I only wish the framing of said philosophies were subtler. In a reversal of Zeta Gundam's approach of implying absolutely everything, the characters in Char's Counterattack engage in obvious discussions that leave little unsaid. Fans may forgive Tomino's 'THIS IS WHAT I FEEL' approach as they remember that his strengths have never included dialogue. Moreover, this is a movie focused on bringing things to a definite end rather than revisiting old debates in detail. Its bluntness could be viewed through rose-tinted glasses as a convenient tool to shortcut fluff - a triumph of functionality over flare. Even if not, the movie is still essentially an evocative and fulfilling finale worthy of the Universal Century shows.
Char's Counterattack has aged noticeably. For its time, this was an admirable effort of fluid, dazzlingly choreographed action and plenty of environmental detail. However, I'm surprised by how toy-like the mecha look these days despite the higher budget. The movie somehow regresses the hard, mechanical look of Zeta Gundam to a more rounded, colourful appearance. For example, the Nu-Gundam's brown/white/black combination looks tacky rather than imposing.
Michael Kopsa reprises his role as Char Aznable and he moved me. Also, viewers fond of orchestra will find a glut of it in Shigeaki Saegusa's emotive score.
I'll begin with the bad. Some of the secondary characters such as Amuro's assistant Chan Agi feel roughly conceptualised, probably because this presents their only appearance in the franchise. Even worse, others develop in such artificial leaps as to actually border on the insane. Consider Quess Paraya, a special new recruit to Char's army who becomes infatuated with him with bewildering haste. She takes every opportunity to act the spoiled, petulant bunny-boiler, often soiling the mature narrative with offensive stupidity. Generally, there's something incongruous about the secondary cast, who play their parts frantically without leaving any kind of impression.
Luckily, the staple cast of Amuro, Char, Mr. Bright and the like deliver masterful performances to cover up the cracks. Char, for instance, has undergone a cyclical transformation: a vengeful man in MS Gundam who sneeringly sent his best friend to die for political gain, he nonetheless puzzled all by turning into a silent, observant godfather figure in Zeta Gundam. Well, the Char in this movie has reverted to his former self as a shameless manipulator brimming with superiority and is undoubtedly the single strongest element of the movie. He reaches a level of mesmerising that almost puts him in a class with some other ruthlessly ambitious blond guys I know - Reinhard von Lohengramm (Legend of the Galactic Heroes) and Griffith (Berserk).
Amuro, on the other hand, returns like Batman - minus the cape and rumbling voice but with all the grit. The fearful novice has faded, leaving in its place a man with grim determination and a lust for justice; he has dispensed with questions and is ready to deliver answers. I once empathised with his traumas and admired his courage, but in this movie I might have experienced one or two moments of awe.
Mobile Suit Gundam began as a tale of unlikely heroes and eventually became an analysis of Amuro and Char as opposing ideologues. Later, these two came to represent Gundam's potential for subtlety and intelligence (until watching MS Gundam I didn't know the franchise had either). Zeta Gundam took a different tack, putting a microscope to the conflict in order to focus on the nitty-gritty motives of the actors. Despite its superior narrative approach, Zeta Gundam also felt stiff and distant. Char's Counterattack returns Char and Amuro to their juxtapositional roles in an action-packed debate about the future of humanity - here, thrills collide with intellect to elevate Tomino's UC works to the status of an epic.
It is Universal Century 0093. Char Aznable believes humanity is being held down by Earth’s gravity and seeks to end their suffering. With the help of his Neo-Zeon forces, he seeks to drop the asteroid Axis down, leaving the Earth uninhabitable by creating an apocalyptic winter; doing so will force humanity into space, the only way to truly evolve. The only one standing in his way is his rival Amuro Ray and his Londo Bell forces. Amuro must use the full power of his Nu Gundam in order to have a chance in stopping Char. History is in the making as the two rivals battle it out one last time.
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