Drop It Like It’s Hot: Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

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…


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.

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I can see why the Zabis fought for independence.

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.


Good girl.

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.


Amuro, I’m doing something extremely wicked.

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

Lalah Sune was a woman who may have become a mother to me.

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.

15 Comments

  1. This is actually more or less how I came out of the film when I watched it a few years ago.

    However, I intend to watch it again in the context of First and Zeta just to see how it works out.

  2. The idea of Char’s Sazabi “flashing its well-defined gunmetal viscera like skanky schoolgirl underpants” had me giggling for a while. Thanks

  3. wah: Really, I think CCA tries to do what both 0079 and Zeta did in two hours and stumbles all over itself in the process.

    There’s little problem with the basic structure of events (Londo Bell shows up at x space landmark just too late to stop Char’s various strategic maneuver and takes it all the way down to the wire trying to stop the Axis drop), but Tomino confuses the hell out of it/weighs it down by trying to develop relatively complex characters like Quess, Gyunei, hell, even Rezin the oldtype Geara Doga ace by “hitting the highlights” and thus making everything involved with them seem abrupt, awkward, and unnecessary. This is a real shame, because I think they could have done much better if fleshed out in something like an OAV.

    CCA should have all rights been a thriller, but Tomino once again tries to do absolutely EVERYTHING he usually does with UC Gundam and finds out that that’s an awfully tall order when you’ve got only two hours to play with.

    Stuff like the dialogue only adds to the general crowded/rushed structure of CCA. The exposition is probably most painful because it strikes you as very unnecessary; pretty much nobody who actually wants to watch CCA will be unfamiliar with at least the general synopses of 0079 and Zeta…must we really ruin scenes like Quess and Hathaway viewing the colony with awe by making such innocent(ish) children into wooden exposition vehicles?

  4. I’m sorry but this movie is indeed an epic in every sense, I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. I would marry Char’s Counterattack.

  5. Apparently I missed the memo where suddenly every single person I talk to or read stuff from on the Internet hates this movie. I’ve been subject to a lot of “CCA blows”-related posts and opining as of late, and all I have to say is that you are all wrong. For despite the fact that Quess Paraya is the worst character ever–EVER–the greatness of the Sazabi and Nu Gundam combined with CHAR AZNABLE SPACE HEINO (whose behavior is NOT out of character, so suck it Trebek) outweigh it.

    Char’s Counterattack is basically the Yoshiyuki Tomino-est cartoon ever made. Everything he does is on display at its maximum here, for good or for ill. That’s probably precisely WHY so many people have been declaring it to be un-good lately.

  6. Daryl: I initially thought that Char’s misanthropic turn seemed out of character, too, but upon reviewing Gundam canon for my research (I only ever got as far as episode 12 in Zeta before getting distracted by something else; everything I know about Zeta, I know either through Wikipedia or DYNASTY WARRIORS: GUNDAM), I realized that I was wrong and took care not to assert that notion. I still think, however, that it’s way too hard to take seriously, if only for the notion that while I’d buy that Char has real contempt for the people on Earth, I’m not convinced that he’d actually care enough about them to go as far as he did with Axis drop. I personally always thought it more likely he’d be quite content to annex the Sudetenland kick the Feddies decisively out of space and call it a day. From all indications, it’s not like that would be particularly hard; isn’t the whole point of UC canon by the point of CCA that the Feddies — aside from their pet Newtypes at Londo Bell — are more pathetic and ineffectual than ever before?

    Actually, I would argue the opposite on Quess; I personally think she’s the BEST part of the film she’s in because she seems like the MOST insightful exploration of Newtype angst in all of UC Gundam. Her Newtype crap isn’t merely a means to space Spider-Sense to evade a zillion funnels at once, nor is she just another mobile suit pilot whose only real merit over a seasoned oldtype pilot is that she HAS said space Spider-Sense. She is an honest-to-God psychic with all the baggage that implies, a real freak who scares the SHIT out of the people she encounters, and she forces the people around her to deal with (or mostly fail to deal with) the fact that she is something new entirely. I really, REALLY like the fact that she’s had to put up with (or fail to put up with) being a freak rather than everybody being all smiles and hellos going “Welcome, ubermensch!” like with the White Base crew.

    So what IS Quess’s problem? She’s in the wrong movie. She’s ineteresting and pronounced enough to be the MAIN character of a Gundam property, but in this movie she mostly serves to make Char and Amuro seem infinitely less interesting. (Well, mostly Amuro. I feel like pretty much everything that needed to be said with Amuro was said in the original Gundam, which was basically about a petulant but gifted child who GROWS THE FUCK UP by piloting his dad’s brightly colored robot in a massive space war. She DOES work well with Char, though, although there is some slight redundancy with the Char-Kamille dynamic in Zeta.) But then again, I don’t think the movie would have been significantly improved by her omission; I feel like pretty much everything Tomino had to say about Char vs. Amuro was already said in the original MSG.

    Come to think of it, that might be another key to why I don’t like CCA. Tomino tends to do well when he’s got kids as his focus, but many of his adult characters seem like they exist mostly to be sounding boards for the troubled (or in his lighter fare like King Gainer, perpetually annoyed) youthful protagonists to reverberate off of. Very few of them seem to have well-developed roles beyond either being fatherly/motherly to (insert Tomino youth here) (see: Bright, Emma, Ranba motherfuckin’ Ral and his hot wife), to be somewhat colorful expositional talking heads for x faction’s motivations (Gihren, Kycilia, Bask Om) or to be mobile suit pilots, usually with some form of amusing psychosis (good old Yazan).

    As for saying the film “blows”…I for one would not go that far with CCA. To be honest, I would have a hard time saying that I don’t even like it; I find bits of it very amusing in a snarky kind of way. The main issue I take with it is that I think the film is really not likeable unless you’re already enamored with Gundam lore on at least an ironic level (read: you smirk at 3x faster/NO ZAKU, MY BOY gags). I know the name of the blog is COLONY DROP and all, but I personally don’t believe in approaching the stuff I review purely from the perspective of the robot-geek crowd. I like to think we have the potential to appeal to everybody, even the non-robot geeks, and I, at least, try to approach the stuff I review with those folks in mind.

    I forget, are you guys going to be at AFO this year?

  7. When Char’s Counterattack wasn’t filling every single minute of the film with slight nods or little pieces of dialogue back to older Gundam shows and the evolving technology, it was slowly circling around a much larger conflict that had people had been waiting to come to a full boil for a while… Char versus Amuro… that’s probably what the writer(s) put on the whiteboard, however what sprawled out from there was definitely a bit more complicated, but all-in-all it still comes off slightly boring.

    So much of the film is waiting… waiting for Char to make his final move and all the meanwhile getting a firm grasp on the character development of both Char and Amuro and how the world has shaped them, and that’s what I like about it. If anything, Counterattack feels much more like a send-off to Zeta then to the original gundam. Most Gundam shows are usually filled with an uncanny amount of teenage angst but that is what makes this film so different from any other Gundam show. It leaves behinds any need to entertain the audience and instead just tells the epic space drama story. This film is incredibly tangled, sure, however it’s still totally comprehensible and each time I watch it… usually after watching a gundam series I hadn’t watched before (like Zeta)… I like it more. I’m glad they didn’t make this into a series or a OVA…. just look at Stardust Memory. A horridly drawn out 3 hours of plot that had filler “jokes” and killer end-fight scene animation. CCA was much better as a movie, which is what all gundam shows are condensed to at some point.

    Quess seemed to be a sendoff to Double Zeta. She was such a whiney brat. Her voice actress for the english dub is particularly annoying but I felt like it matched the character. It almost seemed like Tomino put her in as a joke…

  8. To Daryl: I agree with you on the point that there’s a deluge of “CCA sucks (add whatever body part you choose)!!” posts on the web now. Don’t know why it’s become vogue to bash the film (hell, where did these folks come from?), but it seems like the web is only about tearing a strip of things these days.

    I dunno…the first time I saw CCA it was no subs, no dubs Nth-generation VHS…and it blew me away. Then again, I had read a synopsis of it and sort of got what was going on. And I remember when it was shown at Otakon some years back and the crowd went nuts, loving every minute of the film.

    Perhaps it’s the fact that CCA depends on the viewer being _familiar_ with First Gundam and Zeta Gundam, and not in a peripheral way. Plus, the finished film is not the story that Tomino originally started with; there were at least three different takes on CCA in the forms of novels and treatments that Tomino wrote.

    Look at it this way–in two hours, Tomino was able to make the “final story” about Amuro and Char (well, maybe not Char if you count GAIA GEAR….). Some people will like it, some won’t. Same as it ever was.

    But if you’re just jumping on the “CCA sucks!!” bandwagon just to look cool, then you’re a jerk.

  9. The rush of webposts is no surprise, Daryl – any passionately held, prominently positioned opinion can turn perfectly reasonable people into fashion-conscious sheep rushing to follow the nearest strong-minded bellwether. You see this in politics and acadaemia, where people are supposed to be clever in serious, real-world ways: how much more evident it must be in a world-wide, consequence-free community of wannabes in search of an identity.

    I love CCA. I accept that its structural weaknesses can be argued over, but I don’t mind them. It’s like a best friend or significant other whose character flaws are obvious (hi Quess, hi Char!) but whose place in your heart is secure for all those reasons that have nothing to do with being perfect. Sometimes you just have to let go of lit crit, film studies and your mother’s advice, and be true to your heart.

  10. Helen: I can assure you, my criticism of CCA is in no way rooted in any instinct to follow the herd, particularly not here at CD, where CCA is held in generally high regard. (Well, maybe “high regard” is a bit much, but the majority of CD contributors tend to like it.)

    And to be brutally frank, I’m really offended to be associated with a “bandwagon” of CCA hate. To be honest, I really don’t follow that many anime podcasts and blogs besides what I’m linked to in IRC, so when I wrote this post, I wasn’t really aware there WAS a CCA hate bandwagon (aside from the incoherent babble of robot fetishists on 4chan’s mecha board). I know this blog loves polemics, but I can assure you our polemics — or at the very least, my polemics — are most certainly not random contrarianism. I don’t pick my targets because they’re fashionable, but because I have a genuine interest in them.

    For proper historical context, I watched this movie once on TV when I was, like, fifteen and I seem to recall enjoying it, probably because I couldn’t follow anything in the plot that wasn’t a robot fight, and therefore concluded that it was a fairly smart film. I revisited it much later, with a natural change in sensibilities (robots WERE awesome when I was fifteen) and a greater inclination to pay attention when watching movies, and I found that, well, the film has its moments, but for the most part I was tapping my foot waiting for something to happen. And since I’m a hard man to impress when it comes to robot fights, I even ended up tapping my foot through most of the space battles.

    Having gone back and started actually watching Zeta Gundam, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the significant thematic stuff CCA touches on (the stuff that actually interests and entertains me, moreso than the stuff that would earn me blogosphere cred) — things like Newtypes as pawns in wargames, the associated psychic/medium supersensitivity-related headaches, the exploitation of women and children by a sexist infrastructure, and the troubles of revolutionary celebrity a la Char — are fleshed out much better in Zeta Gundam than in CCA. I just don’t think Tomino works when you try to vacuum-pack his craziness into two hours. (The 0079 movies are an exception to this because, obviously, there’s three of them.)

  11. you fucking gay bastard, how dare you fucking insult THE best gundam movie created. go take your gundam seed/00/fagism franchises and royally shove it up your ass. and nice pink layout on the website homo, it suits the SHIT that spews out of the vagina you call a mouth.

  12. While I’ve always enjoyed CCA since that adolescent night watching it premiere on Adult Swim after watching 0079, the flaws you point out are hard to ignore. In a lot of ways, CCA only works for the UC fan or someone enamored with giant fighting robots, and even with experience with the lore, it’s not as satisfying a climax and resolution as it could have been for such a long built up conflict. I don’t think there’s any better way to put it than that last line: “I just don’t think Tomino works when you try to vacuum-pack his craziness into two hours.”

    But you don’t need me to agree with you, especially almost a year after this was posted. I’m mostly posting to say that I’m disappointed to share the internet and a fandom with people like Lo.

  13. Lo,when we don’t have anything meaningful to say we confirm our weakness by blowing up in angst and anger right?

    Seriously,immature morons have leaked into UC fandom and contaminated it with their teen angst.

  14. I agree with you so much on that one, 79/zeta/zz were great and did set the stage for so much much than the nonsence CCA turned about to be. It nearly ruin the original saga to me. I prefer to imagine Char was in ZZ and it ended there, it’s less painfull 😀

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