It’s been several days since I got to watch Char’s Counterattack in an American theater as part of the 40th Anniversary of Mobile Suit Gundam. I’m still processing the experience. I mean I’ve had it on various home formats in the many years I’ve been collecting anime. But this was indeed different. I actually got to have a mainstream movie experience with other paying moviegoers and longtime friends. The first time I’d learned of the movie was in the late 80s while reading issues of Animag which was giving great writeups of the Mobile Suit Gundam film trilogy and Zeta Gundam. Just reading these got me hooked on the story even before I could start collecting hand-me down VHS tapes via trade from extra-generous fellow fans.
The set up for this film was relatively simple. 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam featured a world where people who lived in space colonies developed psychic abilities that made them ‘newtypes’. The Earth government had to fight off a seemingly cruel organization called the Republic of Zeon in what’s called the One Year War, where soldiers fought in giant war mecha. One of the leading members was a man named Char Aznable who wanted to exact his own revenge against the Zavi family who killed his father and took over the Zeons. However into this came a young Earth Federation pilot named Amuro Ray who piloted the mecha Gundam and often fought Char to a standstill. Several years later, in the ‘85 series Zeta Gundam, a faction of the Earth Government called The Titans enacted fascistic moves against the colonies so Char becomes leader of a movement called AEUG (Anti Earth Union Government) and one of the lead protagonists this time instead of a villain. Amuro meanwhile is a backup character who won’t go into space due to a fatal incident involving Char’s girlfriend Lalah Sune. At the end of Zeta Gundam, Char disappears while another series called Gundam ZZ starts as most of the focus is on younger characters and Earth military fighting the Neo-Zeons, who are based on a large asteroid called Axcis. Eventually they are defeated and scattered seemingly.
Gundam ZZ ended in 1987 and was replaced the Gundam-esque series Metal Armor Dragonar (right down to a Char-clone no less.) Soon after there were promos for Char’s Counterattack, touted as the final battle between Char and Amuro saying ‘You still have not seen the real Gundam yet”. Taking place several years later still, Char has re-emerged having collected all Zeon forces he could find, and has threatened to drop an asteroid on Earth. Amuro leads a poorly equipped Earth Unit called Londo Bell alongside his friend and captain from the One Year War and Titans war, Bright Noah. Bright’s son Hathaway comes to see him in space alongside a high-ranking Earth representative named Adenauer Paraya and his rebellious, susceptible daughter Quess. Amuro focuses much of his time trying to build a new Gundam that can compete with Char’s latest mecha and occasional quiet times with his girlfriend Chein Agi. Char meanwhile is working hard to manipulate the conflict, holding on to his girlfriend and second in command Nanai Miguel, and looking after his protege, an enhanced newtype named Gyunei Guss. In 2 hours time, we see a sci-fi epic unfold as all rivalries, betrayals and mech fights play out to their fullest.
The biggest strength visually is not necessarily in the design of the characters or mecha but the immense amount of key animation by over 30 animators which has everything move fluidly and turn with really good depth against the detailed backdrops (especially the asteroids). The general direction by Yoshiyuki Tomino keeps the action and drama in proper balance. The script by Tomino and his writing team Hajime Yatate feels a little weird in seeing Char return to such villainous tactics after Zeta. Also, Quess is made into the single most annoying character in the entire movie, like you really want to smack this girl (and one character does, so there’s that at least.) For a long time, the ending to one of the greatest rivalries remained shrouded in mystery. (More on this later.)
So the universe expanded in other ways. In 1989 we saw the first OAVs of the franchise, Gundam 0080: War In the Pocket, which focused on the horrors of war affecting an innocent little boy, without the focus on overpowered newtypes and their mecha. It became a critical success leading to other series and movies, though Tomino stopped being involved with a large part of these projects until Recongissta in G, a series that did not do well initially but has been revitalized with a new film adaptation. Tomino hosted this Anime NYC recently, where he was given the proclamation of Gundam Day by the city of New York. Tomino consented to answer various questions about Reconguista In G, Char’s Counterattack and Gundam in general during a couple fan panels and press conferences.
-I’m still depressed about Recongista In G not doing well. Which is why I’m remaking it now so I’m hoping that you’ll support it. The only difficulty is that the story of r in g is that is that it’s aimed toward kids so you’re not the demographic.
-Every time I make I try to make a sure mega hit it fails, so I want you to tell me what you think is good.
-One thing I can do now with new technology is create new types of space colonies and bases. I really want to create a donut shaped base. Rotation creates artificial gravity in space so that’s why I’d want to make a donut-shaped station to emulate to the shape of the international space station.
-Favorite medium to create: film, TV or books? I started in TV but personally prefer working in film. I couldn’t do licensing so I started working on novels and that’s when people came to know me as original creator of Gundam.
-How have you evolved as a storyteller in 40 years? I have to look at how humans evolving in a good direction and have to hold on to hope so I can bring good stories. I want teens to be like adults shouldn’t be down. So go home and have less negative examples of things. Hoping to help be part of an experience and teach you to make new animation that tackles real problems and make ones that create real solutions as well.
-One theme you enjoy writing? That we all aim to become Newtypes.
-Any future themes? None. Think Gundam covered them all but if you have any I’d love to hear them. Because people people didn’t evolve and learn from the U.C. era.
-Any chance for a prequel to Turn A Gundam? I hadn’t thought about it. I can’t think one up. Turn A is fulfilled. Sorry.
-Will we see a Crossbone Gundam anime? I think there will be.
-Were there any Gundam projects that have the most special meaning for you? I make a policy not to have a specific favorite.
-You’re credited for writing lyrics for various intros. Did this come from necessity or did you have a musical background? Overall started as necessity. I asked others but didn’t get back most of what I wanted so I started doing them but relied mostly on professional music makers.
-Very challenging process to come up with names. I like to come up with unique names and don’t like existing ones. So it’s very difficult.
-Did you expect Gundam’s world wide popularity? It was always the master plan.
-I was quite involved in building real life Gundam in beginning but no one would listen to my ideas so I’m not sure if I’ll get to like it.
-F-91 originally a series but became a film. Any chance you will go back and re-do. It? No
-Which of your non-Gundam shows hasn’t gotten enough recognition? If a creator tries to pitch a given project, it’s already failed.
-Any inspiration from Star Trek or other space-oriented fare? Sadly no. I had not time to watch any of them because I was writing so much.
-How do you feel about Char’s Counterattack being released in U.S. theaters? I don’t feel particular special now because it’s 20 years too late.
-I’m not surprised that it took off 20 years ago in U.S. because I can tell others ‘see I was right!”
-I couldn’t depict happy endings because that’s not what happens in real life. When the giant robot genre came into being in japan, it was initially meant for kids. I had 5 years working on stuff before Gundam I didn’t want to make anymore of war shows for kids.
-Sponsorship dictated initial Gundam’s colors. Must have red blue and white. Doesn’t make for good cinematography if all suits are white. So Star Wars gets around this by having ships be different shapes and sizes. We used different colors to tell stories in space.
-Why can’t we live in world with no borders? We’re all terrans all of Earth.
-How did Gundam day come about? The councilman is a Gundam fan so that may have had something to do with it. Had a chance to chat with him.
-I’ve left decisions on the fate of Char and Amuro to others since I haven’t been working really with Gundam since Turn A. Even I am beholden to the company and their decisions. I am the birthparent but others have control. I’m not angry or bitter about it. It’s a business. If the company can make a buck off this I’m fine with that.
-I did Gundam 30 years then took break for 10. The rock behind Gundam is Bandai. I don’t think I have the capacity to explore new universe since I’ve been at this so long. Other investors think if they come to me with ideas there’ll be this big budget automatically. You have separate animators for characters, separate staff for ships. If I went to another company besides sunrise to do a non-Gundam show, I probably couldn’t work
-I don’t take into consideration how fans and social marketing feel about product when making a story.
-I do acknowledge internet ability to access product. It is also important to try and create children’s content. I with increase practical common sense content to upload and create social responsibility. When I say common sense it might be opposite stance to populism.
During his long anime career, Yoshiyuki Tomino became famous for many mecha anime with serious and brutal war stories. Outside of the Gundam franchise, they include Invincible Super Man Zambot 3, Space Runaway Ideon, Aura Battler Dunbine, and Combat Mecha Xabungle. Within the Gundam franchise, Tomino had some success after Char’s Counterattack, expanding the U.C. era up through Gundam Victory and Turn A Gundam, but he stopped soon after those titles. In recent years, Sunrise has been expanding the U.C. era with series such as Gundam Unicorn, Gundam Narrative and Gundam Thunderbolt. Their next project will be the first film of a trilogy based on the Hathaway Flash novels written by Tomino, slated to be released in Winter 2020.