Monday, April 26, 2010

Anime review: Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack

In bringing the Char Aznable/Amuro Ray story to a close, Tomino and his team decided to go ahead with a full-length theatrical finale. The film was called Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, and took place six years after the conclusion of Zeta Gundam and fourteen years after the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Unlike Zeta Gundam – wherein Amuro and Char fought side-by-side for the AEUG – Char’s Counterattack pitted the two against each other, much like their relationship during the One Year War. While this was completely new material, the film was – to an extent – a tribute to the fans as well.

The film opens up with a rather quick description of what has been occurring in recent days, as Char has ushered a Neo Zeon movement in hopes of opening the eyes of those humans living on Earth to the way they are living day to day. Much of Char’s time spent onscreen during the first half of the film, showing how he has changed and delving into his personal life. Amuro, however, is spending a lot of time trying to figure out what Char is trying to prove by dropping so many colonies/asteroids onto Earth. As he fights through various squadrons of Neo Zeon forces, it becomes very clear to viewers that Amuro has matured a great deal since his days as pilot of the RX-78 Gundam.

Plenty of other characters make returns as well, from Bright Noa (former commander of the White Base) to Astonaige Medoz (mechanic onboard the Argama and collaborator on the Zeta Gundam). While some of these characters are more prominent than others, it certainly brings a feel of nostalgia about the film.

The newcomers, however, are a mixed bag. Hathaway Noa and Quess Paraya act out the stereotypical troublesome children in the series, with Quess inevitably defecting to Char’s cause and Hathaway believing he is truly in love with Quess, going so far as to hijack a Londo Bell mobile suit in order to win her heart. Gyunei Guss serves as Neo Zeon’s ace pilot and brings back the debate between Newtypes and average humans as a cyber-Newtype. Rezin Schnyder is the head of Neo Zeon’s Geara Doga squadrons, and a hot-headed pilot with plenty to prove to Char. Chan Agi serves as Amuro’s love interest during the film, and though she did not appear in any Gundam series prior to Char’s Counterattack, her involvement is not as distracting as I thought it might be. Rather, her realtionship with Amuro keeps the story flowing right along as she too engages in combat on the side of Londo Bell.

The mobile suit designs are sleek and flashy but still practical, echoing their predecessors from days long-gone. Of significant prominence in the film are the psycommu systems incorporated into many mobile suits, as well as the experimental psycho-frame, which comes into major play late in the film. The cockpits now provide a complete 360-degree view of the space surrounding the mobile suits, and as such this adds a whole new level of depth to the fight sequences, particularly those between Amuro and Char. A few inclusions, such as the inflatable ‘dummy ships’ are a tad silly and haven’t aged as well as most of the other tech included in the film.

For the time of its release, the animation in Char's Counterattack still looks quite good, even by today's standards. The soundtrack is one of the more impressive Gundam scores, with its emphasis on brass and string instruments echoing the sounds of Star Wars. The Japanese voice actors are obviously the first to perform their respective roles, and will be the only voices fitting of their characters in the eyes of some viewers. I, however, feel that the English voice actors did a fantastic job with Char's Counterattack, with a few minor exceptions including Quess and Hathaway.

The film clocks in at just over two hours in length, and while this is far more fitting than many anime films which average an hour and a half long, it still feels rushed. The biggest issue with the timing lies in the middle of the film, as Londo Bell and Neo Zeon fight back and forth and the characters deal with their various stances on the conflict. These events fall one after another and it’s difficult as a viewer to gauge their exact time frame. As a whole, the film does a good job of explaining the story of Char’s Counterattack in detail, with plenty of characters to fuel the conflict. But with so much going on during the second half of the film, it almost would have made more sense for Tomino to expand the project from a standalone film to a short OVA series. Despite its shortcomings, the film accomplishes what it set out to do – provide a fitting end to an age-old rivalry.

My rating: 8 (out of 10)

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