This post contains spoilers for Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Char’s Counterattack, and Fruits Basket.
In honor of Mobile Suit Gundam‘s 40th anniversary, the 1988 feature film Char’s Counterattack from the Universal Century timeline had a limited theatrical run in the United States. Char’s Counterattack is many things: a spectacle of animation, the end of an era, a divisive film. It brought a close to the story of Amuro Ray that began with 1979’s classic Mobile Suit Gundam, at least until more continuations came along. Amuro survives the One Year War piloting the first Gundam, albeit traumatized by war. His inadvertent murder of Lalah Sune, an enemy soldier he nonetheless emotionally connected to, haunts him in particular. He lives on to fight in the Gyrps Conflict featured in the 1985 sequel Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Alongside him is Char Aznable, the commander and mentor of Lalah, whether as an enemy in year 0079 or ally in 0087.
Lalah loves both Char and Amuro, devoting herself to the former and regretting she met the latter “too late” to truly connect to him. At first, this “love triangle” seems resolved through Lalah’s demise. She cannot choose between them if she’s dead. However, she lingers in their minds, in memory as well as a literal ghost. The loss of Lalah fans the flames of Amuro and Char’s rivalry, which continues to evolve.
The rest of this post contains discussion of sexual content and child grooming.
In Char’s Counterattack, Amuro and Char once again stand on opposite sides of a war. Char devises a plan with Neo Zeon to smash an asteroid into the Earth and cause nuclear winter, for revenge against humankind’s pollution of the planet. He purposefully plays the part of a villain: psychically enticing Amuro to confront him, taking a young defector named Quess under his wing, and planting technology on the Federations’s side to heighten their battle. Amuro responds with resolve to defeat Char once and for all.
While Char plays the villain, in a dream Lalah’s spirit tells Amuro that Char is actually “pure.” Amuro rejects her nudge to understand Char, as well as her request for the three of them to be together. He not only fights Char in their respective mobile suits, but even attacks him barehanded and tussles with him to the ground as they shout about their ideals. Amuro eventually defeats and captures Char in a space battle, and drags him down with him to prevent the asteroid from falling to Earth.
When Amuro accuses Char of failing Quess as a mentor, he infamously responds with, “Lalah Sune was a woman who may have become a mother to me. You took her life, so don’t you judge me.” Char still resents Amuro for killing Lalah, just like Amuro lost Quess. Char’s Counterattack ends on the revelation that Char did not love Lalah romantically, as Amuro did. All this time, the “love triangle” foundation of their rivalry over both being unable to carry out their feelings was actually one-sided. This kind of reveal can be found in other fiction, such as Fruits Basket when Yuki realizes he looks for a motherly figure in Tohru rather than a potential girlfriend.
Of course, Char’s Counterattack can be considered a retcon of the events of Mobile Suit Gundam on the level of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa being revealed siblings in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. In the original series, Char is intimate with Lalah and even kisses her at one point. In Char’s Counterattack, Gyunei argues that Char is “into little girls” such as Lalah and Quess, and only keeps a grown woman like Nanai around for appearances. Indeed, glimpses at Char and Nanai’s private life are not sexual. He leaves without having sex with her on one occasion, and simply rests his head on her chest in another.
However, their relationship is not superficial as Gyunei believes, but rather one of “support.” Considering Char longs for Lalah to have been a “mother” to him, she was also meant to be supportive of him. In retrospect, Char’s moments with Nanai may be what he imagined for Lalah, rather than a sexual or romantic relationship. As Char puts it when reminiscing, “I wanted you to guide me.” Although not for sexual gratification, Char grooms Lalah and takes advantage of her affection for him. The “retcon” downplays any sensuality between them, specifically any sexual interest from Char. It’s still sleazy, but a different kind of sleazy.
In Char’s mind, the difference between Nanai and Lalah is the latter’s youth, which allows her to be groomed. The same goes for Haman Karn from Zeta Gundam, Quess, and possibly more young girls. Adult women like Nanai and Reccoa of Zeta Gundam have greater awareness of their wants and needs, though their relationships with Char are still unhealthy. Nanai clearly resents Char’s intimate distance, and Reccoa feels so unfulfilled with him she goes as far as defecting to the Titans. A child like Quess clings to Char believing it’s best for her, which leads to her demise.
In Star Wars and Fruits Basket, the reveal of platonic and familial feelings from one third of a love triangle is enough to push the remaining two characters together. However, Amuro can’t be with Lalah because she’s long dead. Despite taking place in space where Lalah’s consciousness lingers, her spirit doesn’t even appear during their final confrontation. Instead, Lalah’s absence leaves Amuro and Char to have a “lover’s suicide” together. While they lose or move on from people throughout their lives, Char and Amuro always have each other.
Char can’t project his longing for a mother onto Amuro because he’s not a woman. Their connection is something else–love, hate, and everything between keeps them important to each other and propels them together. Director Yoshiyuki Tomino knows Amuro and Char’s resilient bond is the heart of the Universal Century. In the 1993 fanbook for Char’s Counterattack where the staff discuss making the film, he explains:
I tried to close the curtain on the subject of Char and Amuro. If I had one thing to say about the way I did, it’s that in order for me to develop as a writer, instead of concluding a war story… that is, yes, yes, yes. I thought it would be good if, maybe, I could highlight the sensuous elements… to the point that you’d think, “Could Char and Amuro be gay?”
The answer is yes. With Lalah gone, the more Char looks at Amuro as a person rather than her killer or the pilot of the Gundam. Explaining Char’s feelings for Lalah–and by extension all the women he’s had relationships with–as platonic, leaves room for different romance and sexuality. All he does in Char’s Counterattack is for Amuro’s attention to craft the ideal end together, and they’re so compatible Amuro fulfills that vision in turn. On Amuro’s side, his grudge against Char grows from one regarding Lalah and the One Year War to one of personal betrayal from working together in the Anti Earth Union Group. After learning the truth about Char and Lalah at the last minute, he has to re-evaluate his relationship with Char from beyond the grave. Their connection transcends the sides of war, but could not surpass them. In death, they finally belong to each other.
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