1. Char; 2. Quess; 3. Mecha; 4. Speed; 5. Conclusion?
Since really coming to appreciate Char as a character (during Zeta Gundam), I suppose I had a little underlying uneasiness about him being the out-and-out bad guy at the end of his story. After his famous Dakar speech, and his camaraderie not only with Kamille but with Bright and even Amuro, I felt Char had become not only a good guy, but the good guy.
In some ways, Char's desire to curse the Earth with never-ending winter seems understandable if viewed as the lashing-out of a very powerful man who has simply become sick and tired of the Earthnoids' poor management of affairs in space for decades. (Recall Gyunei's comment that when people like Char get angry, they destroy colonies.) Moreover, in light of Char's painful past with Haman Karn, his wish to smash Axis into Earth and see the asteroid gone forever makes a certain kind of sense. (Recall Char's utterance bidding Axis to begone down to Earth with all its terrible memories.)
Yet this action all has a childish quality to it that seems not to become Char, who has previously shown himself to be very clearly focused on his goal, be it bringing about the fall of the house of Zabi in First Gundam, or fighting against oppressors of Spacenoids in Zeta Gundam. (Granted, at this point I've not read past vol. 1 of Char's Deleted Affair, and I suspect I may discover the side of him which goes astray and makes poor decisions therein.) It's as if Char's complex character had been reduced to a flat copy of itself, and portrayed as doing little more than throwing quite a great tantrum.
With his reverence for the Earth as humanity's birthplace, I'm incredulous that he would decide not only to harm it by dropping asteroids, but moreover seek to pollute the planet as much as possible by including a nuclear payload, like some villain from Captain Planet. Additionally, with the concern he evidenced at every turn to avoid harming civilians during battle throughout Zeta Gundam, I find it similarly difficult to accept that Char would wantonly annihilate the whole population of Earth. While it seems that by the time of his rise to power as the leader of Neo Zeon Char has become truly hateful of all Earthnoids, seeing them as ignorant and selfish, his decision that the best solution would be to kill them all doesn't strike me as a consistent reflection of his character. Even if he were indeed to turn against the Earth, and his former comrades, I imagine him waging a much more precise, much more incisive war against the Earth government, no doubt with much of the same clever exploitation of their shortsightedness as we saw in the film.
In short, Char just didn't seem himself. Emblematic of this problem was his orange normal suit, which from beginning to end never looked right on him.
This girl's inclusion and inexplicably major role may be the single greatest contributor to the film's weakness. She comes out of nowhere, she's annoying as hell, spoiled rotten, a giddy, thoughtless creature who somehow becomes the love interest of the entire male primary cast. Little more need be said about her than that the story could have been much more interesting and much broader had it not been stuck revolving around her.
Perhaps the greater issue at hand in considering Quess is her role as another instance of the Lalah trope. More specifically, she appears to be (over-)used as a device to fuel the fire of Char and Amuro's contentiousness over Lalah, a score I thought had really been settled by the time the two pilots shared that drink in the corridor of the Argama. While I'll grant that their final duel still needed to happen, there should have been more to it than Lalah, even if those wounds were reopened.
Quess herself adds nothing but tragic irritation and distraction to what should have been a clearly epic, almost mythical conclusion to this part of the Gundam saga.
Why is Nu Gundam a magical girl, while the Sazabi goes down like a chump? Sazabi is a grand mobile suit, equipped with a fascinatingly wide array of weapons, the very embodiment of the Red Comet. Nu Gundam, on the other hand, while quite handsome, comes off as little more than another gundam with funnels tacked on, which happens to end up with a psychoframe because Char threw Amuro a bone. If Amuro can, apparently on account of the psychoframe, toss the ass-end of Axis away from Earth with some magical sparkles, I should think that Char could put up a bit better of a fight with his own psychoframe-equipped behemoth.
Not only did the last battle of Char and Amuro seem a bit lame, but overall what mobile suit combat there was in the film all felt quite rushed, not in that the animation had any problems — it was excellent — but in that the battles were quick, even too quick to follow. As a result, the two starring mecha hardly got a chance to showcase their abilities (though this strikes me as less the case with Nu Gundam, as the fin funnels were the only new gimmick it was packing). For instance: the Sazabi's gigantic beam tomahawk/beam bastard sword makes not a single appearance on-screen, if I'm not mistaken. (Correction: the beam tomahawk appears twice — once momentarily when Char throws it to destroy Amuro's beam rifle, and again later for a few strokes before they start throwing punches and kicks at one another.)
In a word, the battles were too few and too rapid for the potential awesomeness of Sazabi and Nu Gundam to manifest. An awful lot of time was spent on Char, Amuro, Quess, and Gyunei yelling at their funnels telling them what to do, rather than let them be a natural part of the combat, as when the Qubeley or Quin Mantha made their appearances. As such, perhaps the whole rhythm of combat in the film became wound up with the quick, jittery darting movements of the funnels, at the expense of the more character-centered fighting of previous episodes.
The rapidity of mobile suit combat reflects what may be my ultimate issue with the film: the overall pace. The viewer is thrown into the second Neo Zeon war without much of anything to give them an idea of how they got there. Exemplary of this suddenness and lack of background is Chan's line at the very beginning of the film griping about Char throwing an asteroid at Earth.
Similarly to how one finds oneself thrust into the story without orientation, events proceed quite quickly, both on the overarching level of the whole story (the wheelings and dealings of the Federation government with Char quickly moving to Char's takeover of Axis, &c.), and on the interpersonal level between characters (Quess meets Amuro once, falls in love with him, sees Chan once, hates him, and goes to fawn over Char instead). No doubt I'm not the sharpest viewer, and it may just take me awhile to get straight in my head what all has happened on-screen, but even so, the film crammed a great deal of action into a short time, both in that the story doesn't take place over a long period, and in that the film is only two hours long.
Char's Counterattack would have been immeasurably better as an OVA series. With ten-odd half-hour episodes, more background and lead-up could've been covered, more detail and development added to every turn of the story, more and better mobile suit battles could've been portrayed, perhaps showcasing more of the abilities of the Sazabi and even following the development of Amuro's incomplete Nu Gundam as it became better equipped and eventually emerged as the completed Hi-Nu Gundam, a worthy adversary to the mighty Sazabi. Even Quess may've been (relatively) tolerable if her fickle amorousness had been given more than five seconds per instance to develop, and her antics been at least somewhat confined to their own episodes.
All in all, this story would've been better served by a more extended telling.
The ambiguousness of the film's ending amplified my uncertainty about how to feel about what I'd just watched. Amuro's fairytale deflection of Axis and the apparent subsequent disappearance of he and Char (not very evident from the film itself) was profoundly dissatisfying. In coming to this part of the Gundam saga, I was hoping for some good, clean closure, a proper end-piece for the tale which began in UC 0079. Instead I found a puzzling, unconvincing fizz of a finish, from which came no sense of completion. On the contrary, the next day I find myself haunted by a searching feeling, the thought that that can't be it.
Writing down this long rant is, in a way, my act of denial, a refusal to accept that the account I've been given is a true portrayal of this all-important part of the story. In my mind the battle of Char and Amuro remains unfinished, and perhaps in building models of the Sazabi and Hi-Nu Gundam I'm trying to give the two of them an opportunity to finish their fight.