Double Feature Review: Zeta Gundam (1985-86) and Char’s Counterattack (1988)

**Note: I wrote this post some time ago and somehow neglected to publish it.  Finally got around to it, put in some minor updates.**

Continuing with my recent trend of Gundam-shows-by-Tomino/Universal Century Gundam shows, I immediately started watching Zeta (the direct, 5-years-later sequel to MS Gundam) and followed up with Char’s Counterattack.
*note for nerds: I realize that I’m not being totally chronological here: Double Zeta review possibly to come later, I’m in the middle of that one now*

If this review had to be one word: Wow.  If this review had to be one sentence: Zeta has everything that MS Gundam has…times 3.

First, and least importantly, there is at least 3 times the face slapping and punching.  There was enough to base a whole drinking game on.  Amuro got his fair share of the “Bright slap” back in MS Gundam and now Kamille gets his.  Kamille is initially even more of a whiny little bastard than Amuro was, so I can’t say that he didn’t deserve some of them, but I started feeling sorry for him when he gets the crap beat out of him by Wong-san, especially because that was partially motivated by Haro.  Haro gets too much abuse in this show.

3 times the drama. At least:  the Newtype emotional drama, which really only played into the final episodes of MS Gundam, takes center stage here.  There are more Newtypes…and many female Newtypes.  You can see what’s coming.

This brings me to another point.  Gundam series have become increasingly derivative of Zeta and MS Gundam since those shows aired, even if the new series are “alternate universe” affairs.  And sadly, even Zeta jumps on that train a little.  The first time we had newtype love + tragic death in a 3-person fight (via Lalah/Amuro/Char) it was sad.  This time, Amuro/Char (can’t remember which) even points out that “gee, it’s just like that OTHER SERIES.”  But they do it again.  And it’s still sad.  But it happens again in Char’s Counterattack…which I’ll get to.

The Song: I LOVE the first opening, Zeta: Toki o Koete.  I love that it is the Neil Sedaka song “Better Days Are Coming” with Tomino-penned spacey lyrics and funky ’80s electronic instruments.  I’ve learned to play it on my ukulele and I play and sing it bossa nova style all the friggin’ time now.  It has become my favorite anime opening of all time.  Interesting note: the ending theme and second opening are also both Japanese-lyrics versions of Neil Sedaka (which is why they are not on the US DVDs).

Character Development:  Seeing so many characters return from the last series was fantastic, and I loved most of the “new guys” just as much.  Here’s some impressions:

  • Kai Shiden is a total badass now, not just a snarky teen.  What they did with this character was great, even though he didn’t show up much.
  • What happened to Sayla?  She only appears for a second, and doesn’t even talk.  I love Sayla and I wish that she had played more of a role in the sequels.  Apparently she and Amuro had more of a romance in the novels of MS Gundam and they even had sexy time on the White Base.  Whhaaaaat.  Does Bright Noa allow sexy time on the White Base?  Or does he overlook it because he is too busy checking out Miss Mirai Yashima.  You KNOW that staring at her backside for months had to be one of the motivating factors behind that sudden “Hey girl, Mirai, I can be that guy for you” confession (so cute) in the latter part of MS Gundam.  But I digress.  (Keep it together!!!)
  • Amuro is a lot cooler now.  It is really interesting to see an emotional teenage boy grow up into someone struggling with his past and reluctant to go back to fighting.
  • Four Murasame: I can’t. I’ll start crying.  FOUUUURRRRR….you were so ’80s-tastic.
  • Rosamia Badam I could do without.  She’s another anime “Onii-chan”-ing clinger.  This has basically become a trope by now, and–big surprise–it happens again in other Gundam series.
  • I loved the return of all the MS Gundam characters.  It was fantastic.  Even though Mirai Yashima, er, Mirai Noa is a housewife now.
  • I’m going to stop now before I start ranting again.

This is all really disorganized, but I’ll sum it up: See this series, especially if you’ve seen the original MS Gundam.  It’s amazing.  I’d rather urge you to see it than fill in my likely-to-be-novel-length list of opinions on Zeta.

Char’s Counterattack

Don’t get me wrong, this is a really good movie.  But I have some issues with it.  Warning: serious spoiler alerts, because I want to discuss this one fully.

Another time-jump in Universal Century brings us into a situation where Char and Amuro are on opposite sides of the battlefield again.  And the old Lalah situation comes back to haunt them.  Ironically (of course), there’s a new love triangle….er….polygon brewing with our new characters, Hathaway Noa (obligatory kid-of-chara-from-original-series), resident Char fangirl Quess, Char’s lady friend Nanai, Char, Amuro, Chen Agi (substitute Beltorchika-san for the movie), and Char’s assistant Gyunei.  So maybe it’s not so derivative.  Char’s cooking up a plan to attack the earth and Amuro has to stop him.  That’s the plot, basically.

New characters.  Quite a few of them.  Here’s my take on a couple:

  • Quess Paraya: if you didn’t already notice from my assessment of Quess as the “resident Char fangirl,” I don’t particularly like this character.  I think she’s interesting, but her execution veers into Mary Sue territory.  As if somebody said “Oh boy, I’m gonna write a fanfic where I’m a super cute girl who’s the BEST PILOT EVAR and I fall in love with Char Aznable and Amuro and they fight over meeee.”  That being said, Tomino writes believable teenagers, and I’ve known a few girls like this.  Still, I would’ve liked to have seen her not blatantly state her motivations and feelings all the time.  Show don’t tell, geez.  But we’re working with a two hour movie, so I can forgive the filmmakers on this one.  Lalah is how a character like this should be written, Quess is not.  But we’re dealing with 20 years of separation, and cute plucky girl had become more of an anime trope by the early ’90s.  And I guess Gundam was missing a Lolita type character aside from Elpeo Puru in ZZ (who I would trade for Quess any day).
  • Hathaway: Basically, Hathaway is like the Katz Kobayashi of this movie.  Kid-from-older-series-returns-and-repeats-mistakes-of-older-generation.  But I don’t have any complaints.  He has a Haro, and you all know that I LOVE HARO.
  • Gyunei: I liked this one.  He was interesting, given that he is really loyal to Char but also intensely wants Quess for himself.  I also don’t think we’ve seen a volunteer artificial Newtype yet (i.e. not all messed up in the head), so that was interesting.
  • Haro (just kidding): Seriously, though, I love Haro and I wish he had more screen time in every single Gundam series, if only to say “HARO. HARO AMURO” and tell everybody when they are emotionally stressed.  Everybody should have a Haro.  I want a Haro.  The closest I have is the Haro alarm clock I got for Christmas, which keeps calling me “Amuro” for some reason.
  • Nanai: I love that Char has a love interest who is not Lalah.  Especially after Amuro got one/two (Beltorchika/Chen).  And the fact that (uh, spoiler) Char is really just manipulating all of these love interests and others makes it all so interesting.  That being said, it was kind of inevitable that the film ends the way it does, because I don’t think he could have kept up the double-crossing.

It’s that very double-crossing and manipulation that, along with his crazy plan, turned Char into a “bad guy” again (for me at least).  Char/Quattro is still sympathetic but he is not Quattro anymore.  He’s not the cool mentor that he was in Zeta.  This is a brilliant turn of events and really makes the film “work” for me, especially because Amuro and Char made so much headway towards forgiving each other (or at least tolerating each other) in Zeta.  The only one who was totally unforgiving of Char then seemed to be Kai Shiden, and we know how he rolls.  Snark snark.

Admittedly, Char’s whole drop-colony-on-Earth plan starts the fight, though.  And that’s another thing – Char wants to save the earth, and even though his colony drop would make everybody evacuate, a nuclear winter isn’t the most environmentally friendly of methods for doing that.  So the whole idea seems a little forced.  What made Char change so much between Zeta and here?  Was it the fact that the Argama replaced its emotionally laden teens and badass women with a plucky group of scavenger kiddies and that the show got all cartoony?  But I digress.

Anyhow, as I said before, Newtype love triangles are getting old at this point.  It’s hard to get emotionally invested in this one, because we only just met the new characters.  Well, OK, we “knew” Hathaway as a child, but he had no lines and didn’t do anything.  And literally, the original Newtype love triangle is at the root of this entire movie.  The one sentence summary for this one is “Two grown men are still fighting about the same thing and keep fighting about it till they die fighting about it.”  It’s kind of funny that they just keep going at it until the end.

However we got into this Amuro-Char standoff, though, it’s happening.  So what do I think of it?  Like I said, the movie itself is on par with Zeta in terms of quality in storytelling and characters.  But the movie format compresses everything, which can make characters’ actions make less sense.  It also gives us less time to learn about the new batch (Quess, Hathaway, Chen, Char’s love interest, etc.) – as a new series, this film could have been fantastic.  I probably would have liked it better.  But what we get is still great and a good “makeup” for the goofiness of Double Zeta, which I’m sure most fans appreciated.  (I myself have yet to form a solid opinion of ZZ because I’m still watching it).

Some additional notes of the humor variety:

  • I love that Gyunei straight up says that Char  has “lolicon” (Lolita complex).  I figure somebody might have noticed that over the years.  I guess he never got over Lalah and, like Humbert Humbert, is forever chasing the memory of preteen love.  How old is Quess again? 13? Er, uncomfortable.  Although at the end of the film it seems that they didn’t really have a “thing” after all.
  • I was shocked that Beltorchika-san was not around (wasn’t she Amuro’s “girlfriend” or whatever?), only to find out that Beltorchika literally replaces Chen’s role in Tomino’s novelization of the movie.  That makes sense.  Why not use Beltorchika, though?
  • It was nice to see Mirai Noa again.  Will she ever get into space to see her husband?  Has she been trying since Zeta?  That’s so sad….
  • Amuro has literally been wearing the same kind of underwear since the space ’70s.  No, I’m serious, it’s in the movie.  Ha ha ha.  Let’s hope it’s not the same set, although if Fraw Bow was the only thing that got Amuro into the shower back in MS Gundam, maybe he’s still that much of a slob.  Gross.
  • Speaking of which, Boyfriend and I had a running joke that Bright Noa only owns two outfits: (1) Earth Federation uniform; and (2) space suit.  Evidenced by the fact that even when he joined the AEUG in Zeta, he kept wearing the Earth Federation (the enemy’s!) uniform.  And I’m pretty sure that he’s been wearing THE SAME uniform the whole time because you can’t get new clothes in space.
  • Who the hell gave Bright Noa EYEBALLS?  He looks so weird.  I know the ’70s style characters didn’t necessarily mesh with all the others, but I liked them that way.  I lost faith in humanity when Bright Noa got whites in his eyes.  Now I should really get that tattoo back piece of Bright Noa bitch-slapping Amuro Ray with Japanese ukiyo-e waves in the background and a Haro flying through the sky….but I digress.

A Conclusion

After these two, I started up Double Zeta (the direct sequel to Zeta), which I’ll cover in another review when I finish it.  It’s a huge, sudden, and extremely awkward tone shift after Zeta’s depressing drama bomb ending, and I’ve got mixed feelings at the moment.

And I just felt like I wanted more.  There are still so many unanswered questions and untold stories about the White Base and Argama crews.  I couldn’t help but long for a “third” series – a series that could be to Zeta what Zeta was to MS Gundam.  But at the same time, I could see that Char’s Counterattack was starting to get derivative.  Even the alternate universe Gundam shows are mostly derivative now, so would we really want rehash after rehash of the same old stories and Newtype drama with Bright Noa’s children and all the others?  Perhaps it’s for the best.  Often, shows that people wanted to keep going but ended instead are the most fondly remembered.

I know that Gundam Unicorn tried to pick up the Universal Century story recently, but I haven’t watched it so I can’t speak to the quality of that show.  I figure that if it was a truly good sequel, I probably would have heard more about it, and Tomino wasn’t involved.  My next steps are to watch all of the Tomino Gundam series, Space Runaway Ideon, and perhaps Gundam Unicorn (despite its silly name).  I’ll be reporting back here, maybe, after I do that (if I do).

As always,

Recca

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