sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)September 2002
2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack
(Bandai Entertainment, 1988)
Review by Amy Harlib

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Created, Directed and Written by: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Art Direction by Shigemi Ikeda. Music by Shigeaki Saegura. Running time: 124 minutes. Not Rated.  (In Japanese with English subtitles. Dubbed version available).

The 2002 Big Apple Anime Festival included a very special event - a screening of a major production from creator, writer, director Yoshiyuki Tomino who, with years of experience in the anime field, achieved his greatest success with his epic series belonging to the science-fiction sub-genre called "mecha" - titles featuring giant, humanoid-shaped, space-going, robot-like constructions with human operators inside. A saga on a grand scale with a timeline rivaling that of Star Trek, the influential Mobile Suit Gundam stories (spawning countless imitators), can be found in manga (comics), as cartoon TV programs, and as several feature films (or direct-to-video/DVD) covering different segments of the "future history". Folks in the mainstream USA society, at long last taking notice of this Gundam Universe phenomenon, both the 1979 original series and the 1995 Gundam Wing spin-off, have made it a huge success on cable TV and through video/DVD purchases. Widely popular still, after over 20 years, the Gundam influence can also be seen in the endless onslaught of toys and model kits based on its concepts that fill stores in Japan, America and around the world. The reason why so many people, especially youngsters, love this Gundam stuff can be attributed to its blending of exciting science fiction settings and space adventure and conflict with appealing gadget designs, interesting characters and plots with enough emotional angst and political intrigue to enthrall audiences everywhere.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack (1988 and only now getting widely released on video/DVD and in limited theatrical distribution), represents the final chapter that follows up to the original Gundam trilogy, the narrative thread throughout this epic futuristic space opera concerning the wars between Earth and its space colonies. The whole shebang began in the initial trio of tales when the smart, energetic and mercurial teenager Amuro Ray discovered his Newtype nature - representing the next phase of human evolution gifted with psychic powers - just in time to save a damaged space ship from the conflict between Earth's Federation and the rebellious Zeon space-dwellers. During this incident, Amuro first met his nemesis-to-be, Zeon Commander Char Aznable. Later Gundam features would find Amuro and Char working together when the multi-sided struggles necessitated it in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ.

In Char's Counterattack set in Universal Century year 0093, 13 years since the events in the first Gundam movies, the once-fallen Zeon has been resurrected as Neo Zeon under Char's (Shuichi Ikeda) leadership while Amuro (Toru Furuya) serves the Federation space force Londo Bell. The film opens with Char in the midst of destroying the Federation's terrestrial capital with a gigantic asteroid, the beginning of a plan to drop even larger masses onto Earth in order to render it uninhabitable. Char's motivations for this destruction involve punishing Earthlings for polluting their world and for the suffering they have inflicted on the off-planet "spacenoids" who will be free to evolve once the domination of the Federation ends. Not surprisingly, Amuro and his compatriots will do anything to try and save their Terran home in frequently exciting skirmishes deploying the latest versions of Gundam mecha and a variety of spacecrafts.

This movie, like its predecessors, features a large ensemble of vivid characters and several intriguing side plots all having to do with the Federation and Neo Zeon factions engaging in political manipulation, negotiation and betrayal punctuated by some seemingly noble but actually cynical pontificating and a few failed romances. The most important sub-plot concerns the obnoxious, spoiled-brat teen-aged daughter of the Federation Vice-Minister Adenauer Paraya (Shusuke Shima) on a secret mission to negotiate with Neo Zeon. Quess Paraya (Maria Kawamura), a childishly impulsive Newtype, meets Amuro, gets momentarily infatuated with him and then, when he fails to respond in kind, quickly turns her attentions to the admittedly charismatic, striking-looking Char, throwing her lot in with him and joining him in his quest to obliterate Earth. Quess's hateful, disruptive behavior, a result of hyper-careerist, neglectful parenting, underscores a subtext about the need for genuine caring in the midst of a crisis and illustrates a subtle point about how Newtypes get drawn to each other and how they feel emotions and perceive their surroundings with more intensity than "normal" people.

Intense is the word, for Char's Counterattack crams so many characters and narrative asides into its purview that it can be hard to follow, especially for newcomers unfamiliar with the whole Gundam back-story. The movie does however, manage to find a balance between the zooming spacecraft, explosions and the spectacle of the giant mecha suits in action and between enough development of the characters to make them compelling and interesting. The visuals offer plenty of dazzle-factor with thrilling space battles, intricate background designs and the believable depictions of people and crafts maneuvering in zero-gravity, not to mention the magnificent space station Londenion that rivals Babylon-5 in immensity and scale, a backdrop for certain crucial scenes.

Char's Counterattack represents essential viewing for fans of the Gundam series for it does bring all the political/military machinations to a climax and offers a closure to all the numerous plot strands while it further explores the emotionally gripping portrayals of characters torn between vengeance, duty and love. Aficionados will be delighted, the uninitiated will be bewildered, but all will still be entertained by the film's excellent, richly-textured, symphonic score; the elaborate and colorful imagery; and the motley individuals (including ship crews of equally competent members of both sexes) that people this energetic, archetypal space opera. It's grand fun and it's easy to see why Tomino's concepts and creations became such an enduring pop-cultural force. Slated for a first time ever in the USA limited theatrical rollout (in addition to its availability on video/DVD), Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack deserves to be enjoyed on a big screen with an enthusiastic, responsive audience all appreciating this rousing romp.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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