As my recent article on Eureka Seven‘s antagonist suggested, the film Char’s Counterattack serves as the thematic culmination of the Gundam timeline. It takes the ideas and motivations of the defining characters of the story and pits them in a final confrontation which arguably ends with the total end of the matter, with both sides reduced to nothing. Yet perhaps equally interesting is how it calls back to past series in its new characters – most notably the highly divisive Quess Paraya. The dynamic within Char’s forces between her and rival ace pilot Gyunei Guss is seemingly a straight inversion of the usual; it is the woman who is the “natural” pilot and the man who is the “weaker”, enhanced soldier. Yet in this inversion, and the sexually-fraught interactions it creates, Quess is presented as a character more reminiscent of the enhanced soldier Elpeo Ple from ZZ Gundam.
Note: This article contains significant discussion of the plots of Char’s Counterattack and ZZ Gundam.
In ZZ, Ple is introduced as the ward of Haman Karn, the series’ main antagonist; from the way in which Haman introduces her via subordinate Glemy Toto and the promise of a new Newtype-specific machine to pilot the immediate association is of Rosamia Badam or Four Murasame from Zeta Gundam. That her first interactions with the heroes are as a faceless enemy machine of tremendous power (introducing once again the concept of remote weapons to the timeline) and then as an apparently likeable, if unpredictable, child sets up a very predictable story; she will help Judau find his missing sister and then die tragically. This is what is expected, because it is what has happened for two series previously. As Ple defies her superiors to apparently “help” Judau (in a slightly unco-operative way), they become close but this itself is undermined; Judau, not being the predictably selfless protagonist that the viewer expects, is not averse to using people to achieve his own aims. However, in the end – in a move quite unexpected – his humanity wins through and he is able to save her. Ple becomes one of the Argama’s crew (which in a series as resigned to defying tradition as ZZ is). What this creates is a new source of tension; she is immature and impetuous in a way which was quaint when it was indulged by Haman and Glemy, and comic when it led to Judau being run rings around on Axis. Yet by the time she is interacting with Elle and Roux, the immaturity has become possessive. She wants Judau as a filial figure in the absence of those she has left behind from Axis, and her amusing unhelpfulness is presented as a way of bringing her closer to him by manipulating his one-track mind. As the action progresses, and Ple does help Judau find his sister Leina – even to the point of fighting alongside the Argama against her former commanders – there is a quite unsettling sense of looming threat. She has lived too long, and become too sympathetic, since by this point ZZ has become far more serious. Something will go wrong; the viewer expects Judau to prevail, and from Gundam knowledge expects this to be at the expense of Ple.
What actually happens is the opposite; Judau rescues Leina, and this creates breaking point with Ple. Now the “real” sister is present, the surrogate sister fears isolation and immediately attempts to kill Leina. From there, the situation worsens and after the apparent death of Leina in a tragic accident Ple immediately steps in as the voice of consolation for Judau. Her motivation seems to work – she gets Judau out of his grief and into the Double Zeta to fight again – but now she has destroyed the audience’s sympathy. The audience has seen her try to kill Leina and knows her “sympathy” is just a way of ingratiating herself with Judau – and a very effective one. When, in episode 27 of ZZ, she claims “from today, I can be your little sister” this is not the words of a sympathetic character – it is exactly the same manipulative character who tried to kill profiting from a tragic death. Herein is the comparison with Quess Paraya. In Char’s Counterattack, Quess is presented as precocious, impulsive and immature – almost exactly the same as Ple. She defies the “authority figures” (in this case her parents rather than surrogate parents) and pursues – with murderous force – her aims of ingratiating herself with others. This is first made clear when Char and Amuro fight early in the film; while their scrapping in a field is ungainly, with Amuro emerging victorious in a fashion, all through the fight Char is winning the battle of ideologies and it is this that motivates Quess. As soon as Amuro wins with force, she is moved enough by Char’s words to join him and deny Amuro his victory. From there she pursues – with the same vehemence and immature reasoning as Ple – Char as Ple does Judau, trying to alienate him from others. There is the same sycophancy – Quess whines constantly about how “unfair” Char’s subordinates Gyunei and Nanai are to play on his emotions, and he reciprocates because it is useful to him. It is similar to how Ple creates conflict with Elle and Roux and then portrays herself as a victim to others – except in Quess’ case this ends up reflecting on the entire battle. Her efforts towards alienation and sycophancy ends up causing her death, and that of Chan among others – and come the end of her own life as she rants about hating children and adults she betrays her own ideals to claim that it was Amuro she did everything for. All through the film she believes herself to be in control of those she manipulates, and justifies her manipulations with childish logic.
Ple’s motivations in ZZ begin well-meaning, if selfishly-executed (looking for a “normal” life and trying to counteract militarisation and conditioning) and intersect with characters who are themselves well-meaning but selfish. It is a series predicated on the idea that in a world that has been devastated by almost endless war, all that remains is a chaotic band of idealists tirelessly pursuing their ideals at crossed purposes, where trust is inevitably broken as soon as anyone disagrees. It begins humorously as capitalism and profiteering collide with military discipline, and then becomes a complex web of friendships and rivalries as some characters compromise their ideals and others’ ideals are compromised (for example Judau realising that his desire to protect Leina intersects well with Bright’s fighting for the greater good, compared with Beecha and Mondo’s efforts to remain “true” to their capitalist junk-dealer ways by selling out the Argama, and in turn getting used by Mashmyre and Glemy). Ple sits within this as a character whose motivations are simple, and whose upbringing has left her without the moral compass to know what is appropriate – in many ways her trying to kill Leina and then profiting from Leina’s accidental death are her tragedy as much as Lalah’s death in Mobile Suit Gundam. By contrast, Quess in Char’s Counterattack seeks to use others in the way Ple does – but in turn she herself is manipulated to her own death by Char’s ability to lead sycophants along with fine words and pretend respect.
What makes these two characters so interesting as comparison points is how similar their mannerisms and dialogue are; Ple’s accusations to Leina that she “can’t stay with Judau” and would “get in his way” (and thus must die) are really no different to Quess pulling a gun on Amuro to protect a man she has known for hardly any time, or trying to turn Char against Nanai. The most telling quote from ZZ is this, from episode 26; “I don’t have parents or siblings, so that’s why I want Judau! Now it’s my turn to be happy!” In many ways Quess is in the same situation; her parents are presented from the start as duplicitous and neglectful, she does not fit in within Londo Bell and Char offers her – at first – happiness which she then fights to preserve.