As a contributor to a blog with a great love of robots and a Gundam-themed name, I am well aware that what I will say next will be nothing less than blasphemy: when it comes to anime, I am not really that big on robots. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy PLENTY of mecha-intensive titles, but the robots they involve very rarely fascinate me in and of themselves. In the series’ and movies involving robots that I most enjoy, the mecha are more or less complemented or overshadowed by other elements of the show, be it a surprisingly authentic love triangle, old-school melodramatic bombast, a memorable parade of dysfunctional head cases, or an emasculated little brown boy who looks good in a dress.
Without an interesting hook, it’s very hard for me to enjoy such anime simply for the mechanical eye candy, which is perhaps the main reason why I find it so hard to praise Char’s Counterattack. Brace yourself, because this is going to get brutal.
As the title suggests, Char’s Counterattack reunites titular antagonist Char Aznable with his old enemy Amuro Ray to finally settle their feud from the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV series. After years of shifting allegiances, copious backstabbing and countless pairs of dark sunglasses, Char has finally tired of playing around in the background of various space wars and assumed open leadership of a revitalized Zeon movement.
Having taken a turn for the misanthropic after his experiences in the original Gundam and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Char has finally decided that the best way to move humanity forward is to chuck huge rocks at Earth until everyone moves into space and becomes
For all the apocalyptic stakes and the storied fight card Char’s Counterattack promises, it is an oppressively ponderous two hours of viewing, even for those well-versed in Gundam lore. The premise suggests a reasonably enthralling cat-and-mouse thriller, but in many ways the film’s tension is greatly slackened by the trappings of creator Yoshiyuki Tomino’s directorial style.
Tomino’s Gundam functions well in long form as a war drama, where his musings about futurism and human potential make a lot more sense, but CCA is not a war drama. It is more of a thriller than anything else, a heated race between two old enemies to save or destroy the planet, but instead of emphasizing this intimacy to generate more heat, the movie bogs itself down in whimsical tangents about misunderstood teenage Newtypes and the human condition, all ill-suited to the confines of a two-hour movie.
Perhaps the biggest hindrance is the very Tomino dialog, dry as a bone and leaving nothing to suggestion, even in what are supposedly the most emotionally charged scenes. (Tomino seems to at least partially share screenwriting luminary Garth Marenghi’s assertion that subtext is the domain of cowards.) None of the cast are above awkwardly interjected and wooden Indian medium-girl they both had the hots for. Moreso than in even other Tomino works, the characters seem less like they’re speaking lines of dialog and more like they’re explaining Tomino’s production notes on character motivations. The near-total transparency of almost every character in the film is awfully hard to swallow without cracking up.
In many ways, aside from a few standouts, the character development seems to be almost totally perfunctory, moreso than even previous Gundam titles. Most of the supporting cast, including big names like Bright — poor Bright! — are reduced to an almost totally instrumental role, little more than foreplay for the robot porn sprinkled throughout. (Come to think of it, when one thinks of the robot scenes as sex scenes it adds some very interesting color to the scenes involving Quess!) Aside from his spaceship captaining, poor Bright gets to do practically nothing but sigh at Federation ineptitude and describe the next set piece in which Londo Bell plans to confront Char.
Most of the other Londo Bell fellows are similarly forgettable, among them the punk-haired female Newtype pilot killed off to induce grief in her mechanic boyfriend and Amuro’s ill-fated sham girlfriend, presumably mandated by the studio to make Amuro seem a bit less un-marriageable (Nobody’s buying it). The villains (well, antagonists) generally tend to be more fully defined than the mostly forgettable Londo Bell members, a collection of believable misfits united as much by Char’s charisma as his gift for manipulation. A reasonable jealousy triangle arises between Char’s three principal underlings as they compete for Char’s recognition and/or affections.
The most entertaining of these underlings, and easily the standout character of the film, would be Char’s latest impressionable protegé, the young Newtype prodigy Quess Paraya. Bursting with energy and desperate for attention, Quess playfully defects to Char’s side to bask in what is supposedly his affection, thereby giving Char his most entertaining underage plaything in years (Char’s jealous bodyguard Gyunei damn near ruins the joke by explaining the already-quite-visible pedophilic subtext). Her rampaging precociousness is a bit hard to swallow at first, but this seems to be mostly a function of the ludicrously dry storytelling structure she inhabits. At the very least, her almost-absurd outbursts keep the viewer awake, which is more than can be said for much of the film.
The aesthetic merits of Char’s Counterattack tend to fare better much better than any of its storytelling elements. The film’s character and mechanical animation is fairly nice, particularly in the Blu-Ray remaster/re-transfer. The copious primary colors are goofy as always, but crisp and well contrasted nonetheless. The film’s Sweetwater segment and the final battle between Amuro’s Nu Gundam and Char’s Sazabi are particular visual highlights, simple in composition but choreographed well and reasonably fluid. Beneath their silly toy-ish colors, the mechanical designs are well defined and well animated throughout, as one would expect of a film that lives or dies by the promise of robots shooting at each other. Considered purely on the merits of animation, Char’s chunky red Sazabi is the real standout, flashing its well-defined gunmetal viscera like skanky schoolgirl underpants as it flits, weaves, charges and delivers the Red Comet’s signature kick during the final battle; the sword-swinging, shotgun-blasting spectacle almost redeems the two hours of tedium leading up to it.
This fight is also perhaps the best of the robot fights in the film, as it features a wide variety of meaty, clever maneuvers rather than flash-cuts of missile barrages, funnel flitting and those obnoxious corner cutaways to allow the pilots to spew some nonsensical Tomino-ism. If nothing else, Char’s Counterattack is certainly a good-looking film, at least whenever there’s a robot onscreen.
For what it’s worth, I must admit that Char’s Counterattack certainly isn’t
In general, CCA is just a LOT less epic than it ought to be, and, for me at least, it’s a very hard film to enjoy in an un-ironic “oh Gundam, you so crazy” capacity. It’s not a particularly ugly film, but with its goofy delivery and ponderous exposition diluting the significance of its premise, it’s difficult to see what it ultimately adds to the Universal Century experience beyond slightly sexier space battles and a couple of giggles from the sillier Tomino-isms. Its most significant hook — the final clash between Amuro and Char — just didn’t quite snag me. For those who wish to burn me at the stake for my heresy, the comment box awaits below.