Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack is a defining anime for me. It cemented Gundam in my head as this incredible thing, and its aesthetics (especially its main mobile suits) remain among my favorite ever. That’s why, even though I’d seen the movie plenty of times in my youth and I own a physical copy, I still decided to attend the recent Fathom Events screening. It also didn’t hurt that there was an exclusive new interview with director Tomino Yoshiyuki.
There was one big mishap at my screening, which was that the theater played the wrong audio for about the first ten minutes or so. They eventually fixed it, but were not allowed to restart the movie because it was a Fathom Event. Thankfully, they gave us a free voucher for a future showing.
That mess-up aside, watching the film at my current age made for a significantly different experience compared to when I was a teen in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just that I was older, but that the current circumstances of the world make clear the failure of the story’s adults all around.
Char’s Counterattack is the finale to the ongoing rivalry between the original Mobile Suit Gundam protagonist, Amuro Ray, and his greatest rival, Char Aznable. Both older and in different positions after two different wars—the second of which they fought side by side—it’s a bookend to their ongoing personal, political, and philosophical differences.
One notorious character in the film is Quess Paraya, a young and talented Newtype (essentially a psychic) who willingly gets wrapped up in the conflict. She’s infamous in the fandom as a character nearly everyone hates because she gets in other characters’ ways and acts like a know-it-all despite her age. However, when I watched this time, I could only pity her.
It’s true that Quess can be infuriatingly impetuous and overconfident, but I realize now that her side plot is less about her screwing things up due to arrogance and more about the adults who fail her at every turn. She’s the classic case of a teenager with very real talent and insight but who doesn’t realize how her lack of experience and first-hand understanding of the world limits her. Quess thinks she’s figured it all out but she hasn’t, and when she interacts with Amuro, Char, and even her dad, they all brush her off in different ways or enable her in the worst ways possible. She’s someone who could be guided and mentored, but no one has the time or desire. Even those closer to her in age, who are romantically interested, lack the maturity to be good partners.
There’s a point at which Amuro and Char are fist-fighting while arguing, and Char says that humankind is ruining the Earth and something must be done about it, which prompts Quess to immediately join his side despite ostensibly being with the Earth Federation due to her dad. The way Quess thinks she’s on the same wavelength as Char, even though she knows so little about him, brings to mind a teen on YouTube watching an extreme political video and thinking, “Yeah, I get it!” without realizing how much they’re being manipulated.
But it’s not just Quess who suffers from being a half-broken machine—this is a recurring theme throughout the entire cast. Amuro is trying to be a mature adult who’s both a good soldier but also independent-minded, but can’t shake the ghosts of the past. Char is trying to be a real leader and successor to his dad’s legacy but also can’t come to terms with how things played out with Amuro all those years ago. Gyunei, a soldier under Char, is so close to figuring everything out, but actually thinks that scoring the figurative winning point in the big game will turn everyone to his side. They’re all in shambles, and the film takes away some of their mystique even as it showcases them in gorgeously animated space combat.
In the Tomino interview afterwards, the director described Char in Char’s Counterattack as someone whose star quickly rise in his youth as a pilot, but who finds himself inadequate as a leader partially because he still desires to settle things personally. It positions Char as not the enigmatic rival, and instead a man frustrated by his own limitations but refusing to directly them. It might be no wonder why my teenage self didn’t quite get it.
The main takeaway I got from the rewatch is that Quess’s story is NOT a side plot. It’s the MAIN plot. THAT is the problem. It’s supposed to be a story about the final battle between Char and Amuro, but that’s actually the side plot. Instead, the person with the most scenes and the most screen time is a brand new character whose interactions with Char and Amuro reveal nothing new about either of them or the world. We know that Char is manipulative. We know the Federation has corrupt politicians. We know that Newtypes, particularly Cyber Newtypes, are unstable but can pilot robots good. And yet, the story of Quess/Hathaway/Gyunei (all brand new characters) takes up the lion’s share of the first 100 minutes of a 120 minute movie, such that the scenes that people remember which get referenced time and again in sequels, side stories, games etc are the scenes OTHER than that.
Maybe I would feel pity for Quess if only her story actually were a side plot to the main narrative. But the reality is that she’s a rapping cartoon dog in shades on a skateboard preventing our battling heroes from getting to the fireworks factory.
Amazing & accurate perspective on CA i’m glad that are some western fans who “get” why char Counter attack is amazing. Buut Here’s another one who’s attempting to crap on it again….
Daryl that’s where your wrong gundam as a series & especially CA was always about how war has such a profound & tragic impact on the human condition not just through out human nature but on the individual basis like a young & innocent teenage girl, quess is not annoying she’s a sensitive & confused teenage girl without ether a mentor figure or a genuine role model she’s as realistic as she can be & i love her inclusion in CA because she drives the overall essential theme of war & its horrible psychological effects on not just people but children/young people as well, tomino conveys this much throughout his works on gundam that i’m confused how so many western fans don’t see that. Now that’s where i find a huge cringe inducing issue with your comment saying:
“The main takeaway I got from the rewatch is that Quess’s story is NOT a side plot. It’s the MAIN plot. THAT is the problem. It’s supposed to be a story about the final battle between Char and Amuro, but that’s actually the side plot.”
That’s bullcrap because you talk as if Gundam & mainly char’s counter attack is dragonball z or a shonen, gundam was never & never will be just about amuro and char’s rivalry your looking at the film through a small-minded vacuum your basically watching a deep & complex seinen but interpreting like its a shonen like dragon ball or naruto when gundam as a franchise is nothing like that, the rivalry has nothing to do with CA’s themes or purpose, the amuro vs char was nothing more than just marketing.
Like i said before CA & Gundam in general is about war, conflict & its negative psychological effects on human nature, quess’s overall existence in CA is literally part of & i dare say essential to the overarching theme of war that the gundam franchise has been the conveying message for the last 40 damn years on different variances of success.
This is why it annoys & frustrate the hell out of me when i see western fans blabbering non-sense about CA that they clearly didn’t understand while watching it or having a hard time comprehending, its not hard at all to see what the movie is ultimately about that’s why i had to post this long-winded ass post because i could no longer stand how misrepresentative & ignorantly bullcrap yours is daryl.
Anyway great post sdshamshel i love reading your thoughts on anything gundam related keep up the good work.
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