Mobile Suit Gundam: A Char For All Seasonsby Lauren Orsini,
Sometimes it's not the hero that makes a story great—it's the villain. This is especially true for the Gundam franchise. Each of these space opera stories focuses on the tireless rivalry between the protagonist and antagonist, and with so many variably relatable protagonists, it's often the bad guy who makes the show worth watching.
Ever since the first such antagonist, Char Aznable, in 1979's Mobile Suit Gundam, part of the Gundam formula has been to have an anti-hero worth rooting for despite his role as a thorn in the protagonist's side. These “Char” characters are recognizable for their skilled fighting, unique custom mobile suits, and of course, masks. Let's review the most iconic Chars of all time:
Char Aznable, Mobile Suit Gundam
Of course we have to start the list off with the Char that started it all. Char Aznable is a charismatic, cocky lieutenant who has the skills to back up his bravado. At age 20, he's already a war hero with a penchant for painting his personal mobile suit red, earning him the nickname “the Red Comet” because his opponents swear that red suit moves “three times faster.” With wavy blonde hair and mischievous eyes that glimmer when he's scheming, Char is certainly more handsome than Mobile Suit Gundam’s awkward teen hero, Amuro.
In the late ‘70s, when cartoons were usually targeted at kids, good and evil didn't ordinarily overlap. This is what made Char a revolutionary and conflicting figure—even as he battles Amuro, it's hard not to want to root for him. Char is out for revenge and at times his methods seem harsh, but as the story progresses, this ruthless antihero seems increasingly justified.
Harry Ord, Turn A Gundam
Harry Ord isn't just a main antagonist; he's a style icon. Who else would choose to wear loud plaid sweaters undercover, or bumblebee-stripe formal wear, or bug-eyed red sunglasses which, when paired with a fluffy haircut, give him the exact appearance of a Venonat?
But while his fashion sense is all over the place, Harry's demeanor is always rational and calm. He approaches setbacks like a philosopher. As head of the Royal Guard, he defends the Queen of the Moon in a metallic gold mobile suit. Here, he's able to make a trademark loud sartorial statement and show off his tactical military fighting style at the same time.
Zechs Marquise, Gundam Wing
Here's an antagonist as angsty as his foil. Like Heero Yuy, Zechs hides his emotions with fighting—and of course, a big silver mask. Nobody can ever learn that he's secretly Milliardo Peacecraft, the scion to a pacifist family. He'd much rather be known by the nickname he earned on the battlefield, the Lightning Count.
In the tradition of Char clones, Zechs becomes a different person when he has his mask on. He's either a peace-loving politician or a bloodthirsty war hero—nothing in between. His struggle throughout Gundam Wing is to resolve both sides of his conflicted personality into one.
Casval Rem Deikun, Gundam: The Origin
Before Char became Char, he was a little boy named Casval. Casval never had an easy life of it. As the son of iconic but erratic statesman Zeon Zum Deikun, he was roped into political turmoil before he was out of short pants. Casval needed to steel himself against adult adversaries in the Zabi family, for whom it would be better if he and his father were both dead. Casval was never able to have a childhood, instead fighting in a Guntank, the clunky precursor to the Gundam, for his and his sister's survival. As a teen, Casval took his first of many pseudonyms, Édouard Mass, to protect himself from Zabi assassins.
Casval's past was shrouded in mystery until Gundam: The Origin uncovered the events that forced this anti-hero to become a ruthless, self-sufficient soldier—or die.
Schwarz Bruder, Mobile Fighter G-Gundam
Schwarz wears a reverse mask. While most of these antagonists cover their eyes with a mask, Schwarz covers everything but, donning a ninja mask depicting a German flag for his Gundam fights. Likewise, he flips the script in which the average Char character attempts to hide his identity from everyone else—he only seeks to conceal himself from the protagonist, Domon Kasshu. Run his name through a German translator and (spoiler alert) you'll immediately see why.
Schwarz is considerably more helpful than your average antagonist, serving as a mentor and offering advice to Domon. It's almost enough to forgive that weird stocking cap.
Quattro Bajeena, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
After Casval changed his name to Édouard and then Char, he settled on his fourth pseudonym, Quattro. (Get it?) In the dark sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam, Quattro makes the leap from antagonist to protagonist as a mentor and father figure to the rebellious Kamille Bidan. Quattro has traded in Char's masks for a pair of shades, and torn the sleeves off his trademark red uniform for the ultimate ‘80s Cool Guy look. Now that Zeon has become a fringe group, he's going incognito with seemingly the least amount of effort possible.
What's more, Quattro is absolutely beyond caring if his recklessness gets him in danger with lines like “Assume for a moment, that I was Char.” And honestly, it's not like somebody this flashy can hide for long, as evidenced by a bit of quick sleuthing from the Gundam universe's original journalist, Kai, and his timeless Engrish observation, “He is a Char.” It's from here, the second Gundam show ever, that Char is elevated from just one character to an entire archetype.
Jamil Neate, After War Gundam X
Wearing only a pair of shades to conceal his scarred face rather than a mask, Jamil is often considered a “Quattro clone” rather than a Char clone, and there's some support for that. For example, we meet Jamil after the bulk of his fighting days are behind him. Once a promising and talented young soldier, the Jamil of Gundam X is weighed down by “cockpit phobia,” a sort of mental fatigue resulting from the pressure he was under as a prodigy.
Like Quattro with Kamille before him, Jamil is a dependable mentor to hotheaded Gundam pilot Garrod Ran. As Garrod struggles to make sense of a post-apocalyptic world turned on its head, Jamil offers occasional, cryptic hints about the global framework that stood before. Though far more melancholy than Quattro, Jamil has got his enigmatic personality down pat.
Rau Le Creuset, Gundam Seed
Ah, my favorite Char clone named after my favorite kitchenware. With wavy blonde hair and a white mask that hides his expression, he looks like Char drawn in an 00's pretty-boy style. When we first meet him in Gundam Seed, his obvious accomplishments as a skilled tactician echo the original Char personality as well. But when the mask comes off (literally and figuratively), we're forced to face the homicidal maniac that lies beneath. Rau is not a good guy, people.
Rau justifies a lot of his bad behavior on the fact that he isn't an organic human, but a clone—and you and I know that the meta implication here is astounding. There's so much about Rau that is just the original Char gone bad. Unlike the persuasive charm of the original Char, it doesn't take much to crack Rau's smiling blonde veneer to reveal a monster.
Meijin Kawaguchi, Gundam Build Fighters
He's charming, talented, enigmatic, and he's a definite thorn in our protagonist's side. However, Meijin Kawaguchi has never actually piloted a Gundam. In the Build Fighters universe, he is instead a whiz at turning Gunpla, that is, Gundam plastic models, into tiny works of art which he uses to engage in lifelike digital battles with Iori Sei. Kawaguchi is theatrical, and his fighting is like choreography, set to the flamboyant tones of his flamenco-inspired theme music. In Gundam Build Fighters Try, he has recently been joined by Lady Kawaguchi, his female counterpart with an equally bombastic fighting style.
You might not expect that this Char clone, with his wild hair and flair for drama, is also the only such character that is an homage to an actual real person. Katsumi “Meijin” Kawaguchi is a Bandai Hobby employee and Gunpla builder, though certainly nowhere near as flashy as his on-screen counterpart.
McGillis Fareed, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Mari Okada certainly did her homework when conceiving anti-hero McGillis Fareed.The way Fareed plays both sides off of one another in pure self-interest with seemingly no remorse—and yet continues to be charismatic—follows the Char script to a T. Like Char with Garma before him, McGillis thinks nothing of deceiving his pedigreed, purple-haired friend. He acts like a gentleman while covertly exploiting everyone around him. And yet, there are details, like his playful jokes and soft spot for children, that make him endearing in spite of it all.
Iron-Blooded Orphans isn't over yet, so it's hard to say where Fareed's arc will take him. Will he take a backseat and redeem himself like Quattro, as a levelheaded mentor? Or will he dissolve into monstrosity like Rau Le Creuset? A lot of Chars have come before him, offering clues to what might become of this latest Gundam masked man.
These ten notable men don't even make up the entire Char collection, but in my opinion they are the most memorable. Feel free to share your favorite Char in the comments.
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