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The Fine Print
All text is © copyright VIZ, LLC. No reproduction without written permission. All images are © copyright their respective copyright holders as noted. No reproduction without written permission. Mobile Suit Gundam © 1988, 2002 Sotsu Agency Sunrise
Few rivalries in anime are as celebrated or as debated as the one between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable of the space epic Mobile Suit Gundam. Some might say that the personality clash between the reluctant Federation ace and the magnetic Zeon leader is the crux of the epic conflict between Earth and its separatist space colonies. (The fact that Char, the nominal antagonist, tops Amuro in the fan popularity charts year after year adds an ironic dynamic to their relationship.)
This is the decade-long rivalry that the 1988 movie Kid™ Senshi Gundam: Gyakushû no Char ("Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack") resolves in a decisive climax. This feature film not only depicts the final clash between the Earth Federation and its Zeon nemesis, but also the closing chapter on Amuro and Char's tragic tale.
The duo's intertwined saga begins in the waning months of the One-Year War. The One-Year War is the first open war between the Earth Federation and the overcrowded space colonies--and the first war waged with towering humanoid weapons called mobile suits. (This is the timeframe depicted by the first Mobile Suit Gundam television series, as broadcast in English on the Cartoon Network and released on home video by Bandai Entertainment.)
Char Aznable orders an attack on the Side 7 colony to neutralize the Federation's secret mobile suit program. Not only does Amuro Ray live in the Federation-loyalist Side 7, but his father developed the main Federation prototype mobile suit, the revolutionary RX-78 Gundam.
Char also has his own family past. "Char Aznable" is just a cover name for Casval Rem Deikun--the son of Zeon Zum Deikun, the founder of the colony independence movement that's named after him. However, the idealistic movement was co-opted by the corrupt Zabi family regime, and rumor has it that the Zabis assassinated Zeon Zum Deikun. Casval assumes the new name Char to fight for the Zeon cause and to subvert the Zabis' machinations from within.
When the Zeon attack endangers his home, Amuro jumps into the Gundam's cockpit and reluctantly joins the encompassing war. As he matures in battle and comes of age, the young teenager slowly becomes the equal of the veteran Char. The nascent psychic and empathic powers known as Newtype abilities add a unique dimension to their duels and the greater conflict dividing mankind.
The two find a focal point to their bitter rivalry in Lalah Sune, Char's young protege in Zeon's Newtype research program. In one of the last battles of the One-Year War, Lalah sacrifices her life to prevent Amuro from killing Char. Tragically, at the moment of her death, Amuro and Lalah discover that they are Newtype kindred spirits. Char and Amuro blame each other for the death of Lalah, and neither will let the other forget....
As the factions shift over the years, Amuro and Char fight against and alongside each other. The One-Year War ends with the separatist colonies' defeat, the Zabi family's massacre at the hands of both the Federation and Char, and the mysterious disappearance of Char. Char would re-emerge seven years later under yet another pseudonym ("Quattro Bageena") to wage the Gryps conflict against the Titans, the Federation's corrupt Gestapo-like military arm. Disillusioned by the Titan's mass-murdering ways, Amuro actually joins Char on the side of the AEUG and Karaba resistance.
For a brief, transient moment, it seemed as if the former foes might put their ideological and personal differences aside. Alas, Char becomes disgusted by the Federation's corruption and decides to re-hoist the Neo-Zeon flag to rid the space colonies of Earth's influence forever. Amuro reluctantly re-enlists with the Federation and the two's personal battle begins anew.
The story unfolds fourteen years after the One-Year War, in the Universal Century year of 0093. Char lays the groundwork for his final solution--the asteroid bombardment of the Earth. The resulting "nuclear winter" would annihilate life on Earth and, in Char's zealous mind, wrench humanity free from its cradle.
To check Char's aggression, Amuro joins his former captain Bright Noa and other ex-AEUG/Karaba members in forming the Londo Bell autonomous corps. He also charges mechanic Chan Agi and the weapons supplier Anaheim Electronics with the creation of the latest Gundam mobile suit, the RX-93 Nu Gundam. The Nu Gundam incorporates the Psyco-frame, a unique endoskeleton embedded with Psycommu (Psychic Communicator) chips to receive and amplify Amuro's already potent Newtype abilities.
Meanwhile, teenaged Quess Paraya is trying to escape from her aloof father on Earth. Adenauer Paraya happens to be the Earth Federation Forces vice-minister responsible for negotiating an asteroid-for-peace deal with Char. Adenauer forces his daughter to accompany him on his diplomatic mission to space.
Aboard their space shuttle, Quess meets Hathaway Noa, the brash Newtype son of Captain Bright Noa. (Few people have the pull or family ties to gain a space shuttle seat, especially with everyone wanting to flee Char's bombardment.) The shuttle gets ensnared in the ensuing battles and Quess's budding Newtype abilities come to the fore. The two teenagers become mere pawns in the deadly games being played between the two factions.
Char's apocalyptic campaign begins with the dropping of the asteroid 5th Luna on the Federation capital of Lhasa, Tibet. The Federation panics and quickly tries to accede to Char's demands, much to Amuro's distrust. Tensions rapidly escalate as promises are broken and old rivalries are renewed. The finale literally rests Earth's fate on the shoulders of two warriors lost in their own personal reverie of self-destruction.
1988 was a banner year for anime movies in Japan. Renowned master Hayao Miyazaki and Katsuhiro Otomo directed My Neighbor Totoro and Akira respectively, their first unqualified commercial anime successes. The straight-to-video market was also still in its infant stages, so the silver screen was still seen as the final destination for popular television series. That year's crop included the theatrical finales for Maison Ikkoku and Kimagure Orange Road, as well as no less than three Urusei Yatsura flicks.
The long-running Gundam franchise was no exception. After three television series, creator Yoshiyuki Tomino decided to return to the big screen with a story he'd been mulling over for years. With this ambitious feature film, Tomino wanted to offer the final resolution to the intertwined fates of Amuro and Char. (The film does leave the barest hint of an open ending, but Tomino said that was just to appease the film's jittery sponsors. Tomino has stated that he is finished with Amuro and Char's story.)
There was no shortage of animators willing to join Tomino on this landmark endeavor. Hiroyuki Kitazume jumped aboard after designing the characters for Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (Double Zeta), the third and most recent television series. He is perhaps most famous for his stylishly clean designs on such AIC works as Moldiver.
Tomino also recruited an impressive bevy of top-class mechanical designers. At first, he brought in Mamoru Nagano of Five Star Stories, Heavy Metal L.Gaim, and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam fame. After designing what he called the "Hi-S Gundam" and Char's "Nightingale" ("my proudest and most self-assured designs"), Nagano was mysteriously replaced by other Gundam veterans.
Yutaka Izubuchi then earned the enviable honor of designing Amuro's ultimate Gundam. Instead of drawing his cues from the recent Zeta Gundam and Gundam ZZ designs, Izubuchi notes that he went straight to the source and simply refined the original RX-78 Gundam's lines for modern sensibilities. He would later design the RX-78NT-1 Gundam "Alex" in Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket and the mecha in Mobile Police Patlabor as well as make his directorial debut with the recent series Rahxephon.
Backing up Izubuchi were the Gainax studio of young upstarts. Gainax is famously composed of diehard anime fans who grew up watching Space Battleship Yamato and the first Mobile Suit Gundam series. In fact, Gainax had just completed its Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise "historical" space opus the year before. Hideaki Anno, a man better known for directing Gainax's Neon Genesis Evangelion and His and Her Circumstances, contributed to the warship designs. Finally, Sunrise veteran Yoshinori Sayama (Zeta Gundam, Gundam ZZ, Mobile Police Patlabor, Rahxephon) cleaned up the others' designs and contributed some of the background mecha.
Char's Counterattack also highlighted one of the earliest attempts at computer graphics in Japanese animation. Toyo Links Corp. and Imagica animated the movie's awe-inspiring wide-angle space colony shot. It took the two companies three months to create one and a half minutes of spinning space colony footage.
In fact, the two companies created the opening animation for the 1983 movie Golgo 13, arguably the first ever use of computer graphics in any Japanese animated work. After dropping the "Toyo" prefix, Links Corp. would also create the dynamic imagery in the Macross Plus video series and movie edition. Links Corp. and Imagica would later merge to form Links DigiWorks, the company responsible for the kinetic in-game footage in Kessen, Onimusha: Warlords, and Nintendo Gamecube's Biohazard/Resident Evil.
It's been fourteen years since the Japanese debut of Char's Counter-attack, but the movie is finally reaching North American theaters this year, first with a limited North American theatrical release in selected cities (English-dubbed), and a bilingual DVD release to follow this fall.
Is the release of Char's Counter-attack the end of a Newtype era? Or is it only the beginning?