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Mobile Suit Gundam - Char's Counterattack (1988)

It has been 13 years since the end of the One Year War. In UC 0093 the fragile peace brokered between the Earth Federation and the Republic of Zeon is under threat. Char Aznable, the Red Comet, a man with a singular vision for the fate of humanity has returned as leader of Neo Zeon. A clever strategist, Char plays the needs of his adversaries to his advantage so that he may achieve his aim. He wants to plunge the Earth into a nuclear winter of his initiation.

Amuro Ray is serving in the Earth Federation forces and is still coming to terms with the actions and events that took place during the One Year War. With the return of Char, with their rivalry rekindled memories of Lalah Sune fill his dreams. As Char is on manoeuvres only those who have faced him before are aware of his capabilities. Amuro and Bright need to learn Char's endgame and disrupt it before it's too late for the Earth.

Char is back. After his escape in Mobile Suit Gundam, fighting the Titans and Haman Karn as part of the AEUG in Zeta Gundam he's back with a new plan for humanity. To bring about his vision for the evolution of the human race he plans to trigger a nuclear winter on Earth. All he needs are some large space-based objects that he can direct. As one such item is dropped on Earth panic sets in and members of the population with the means try to escape to space. Quess, the daughter of a senior Federation official and Hathaway, the oldest son of Captain Bright, brought together by the availability of seats on the shuttle are two such individuals. Through a series of events both end up being rescued by a Federation battleship captained by Bright. They get to see everything on the battleship and even try out the mobile suit simulators. Both teens display innate skills but a chance encounter with Char draws Quess into his machinations. Hathaway's feelings for Quess puts him at odds with his father's wishes and those around him as a new conflict which may decide the fate of the Earth approaches. 

Amuro who serves under Bright, is working on a new Gundam equipped with elements of the psycho-frame (referencing Zeta and ZZ Gundam). But where did the research and technology for this come from? As soon as he crosses paths with Char he knows something is up. His obsession with Char helped him resolve the One Year War and now it needs to help him save the Earth. As both he and Bright are some of the few remaining in the Federation who have survived encounters with Char they are keenly aware of what he is capable of. They'll need to manage both the politics and battlefield if they are to come out on top.

Char's Counterattack is a Gundam show and is part of the UC timeline so it does bring its own baggage from a story and history perspective. As this was a theatrical release you can see the improved quality in the animation. The film also comes almost 10 years after the release of the original series and very shortly after Zeta and ZZ were aired on television. The shortcuts or minor filler elements used to make the available TV budgets go further are not present here. We are spared transformation sequences and multiple launches which work fine (to a point) in episodic TV but here would have just felt wrong. Instead Yoshiyuki Tomino has directed a solid sci-fi action film that is well paced that mixes up action with the political elements. It is a formula that worked well for other Gundam and here works exceptionally well for a 2 hour feature.

It maintains a good visual continuity with the mechanical developments from Zeta onwards. As it is a sci-fi actioner it doesn't make any real plays in the mecha-fan-service department. There are no loving gazes across mobile suits or exposed servos. Here that would have derailed the flow of the feature. Of course there are new mobile suits and armour introduced (for some new kits and toys) but they each get sufficient time on screen and have a purpose other than to be destroyed (as in the anime). If there is a criticism of the mecha elements it would be in not taking some of the really cool design elements from Zeta and improvements from ZZ and taking them further. This would be for both Federation and Zeon forces.

There is a sense of visual substance to the characters (human and machine) that is hard to put your finger on. Maybe the colours appear more intense or the lines defining the characters are more substantial. A part of me misses the slightly sketchy moments from the TV anime, the moments where characters and machines went off model. It feels as though this is how they wanted the original Mobile Suit Gundam to look ... if they had the time and budget. You can't help but be impressed by quality of the work on display. It is certainly a more polished production. The animation is smooth, clean and on-model throughout. It also retains the visual elements of the world that impressed in previous installments in the Gundam universe. The view of the colonies from outside are marvelous, their interiors allow creativity and play in their appearance (wild-west, urban, grand castles all in one location!) and space feels so big. 

We get a mix of the personal duels in mobile suits, squad battles and then larger force engagements. Sunrise has always done a great job with their Gundam creative teams to balance these conflicts and make them impactful. Char's Counterattack is no exception. As the feature builds to a crescendo it weaves these levels together in a great set-piece battle that brings it right back to a personal level.

Visually Char's Couterattack is great but the story just didn't grab me. I think this was due to it feeling like it has taken snippets from other UC-based Gundam shows and taped them together. I felt like I had seen most of it before with characters of different names. I think I would have enjoyed it more had it focused on Char, Amuro and drawn in the Lalah Sune angle more. It could still have touched on threads including teenage love, infatuation, obsession, revenge and grief only seen through a reduced set of characters. We actually spent far too much time with a set of characters who felt more like spoiled brats than those involved in a serious conflict. They were more interested in dates than their imminent peril and that for me struck the wrong tone. It would go from serious to silly very quickly. 

Char has lot of charisma and power in the UC world and also in our world. Fans of the original would have been in their 20s (maybe late teens) but the film doesn't feel like they are the audience. The hyped-up emotions feel more like it's aimed at teens. If Char's Counterattack was trying to hook those who had just finished ZZ Gundam and those who had seen the original series it would explain the shift in tone.

For Char's Counterattack to make sense I think you *do* need to have seen the original Mobile Suit Gundam series (not so much Zeta and ZZ). It would certainly give you all of the history, background and language for it to make sense. Whilst Counterattack *tries* to show you the rivalry of Char and Amuro it is not as effective as the series. Plus the whole thing with Lalah Sune does not make sense without the TV anime . It also makes references to events from the original series which make more sense when you have seen it. Whilst I'm sure the audience knows that large masses smashing into Earth is bad for the planet, in Char's Counterattack this didn't seem to carry any weight (sorry, no pun intended) it seemed to rely on our prior knowledge of this within the UC to understand just how bad.

If you want to be entertained by a good sci-fi action feature then Char's Counterattack fits the bill nicely. Solid character designs, vivid colours and smooth animation runs throughout. We are not bombarded by new mobile suits and the creative team at Sunrise know that Char is the main draw by putting him front and centre of the story. The tonal shifts took me out of the story and at times it was juggling too many elements for a successful payoff. I'm really glad to have seen it and to see it looking so good, it just wish they had focused more on Char and Amuro.

FORMAT: Blu-Ray  FROM: Anime Limited RATING:PG RUNNING TIME : 1hr 59m 

IN A NUTSHELL: One of the best looking UC Gundam shows with Char our charismatic antagonist. A solid sci-fi action film that, with a bit more focus could have been great.