How many anime characters can be said to be more iconic than Char Aznable? I’m sure you could name a few, but there aren’t many. Char is the most recognizable character of one of anime’s biggest franchises, a franchise that made all of the shows we watch possible. Char spans generations, carrying with him a mix of lofty ideals and heinous crimes, wondrous battles and deep depressions. Char is one of the best written characters in anime, a stand-out amongst Gundam characters as well as amongst anime in general. Char Aznable, the Red Comet, is one of my favorite characters, and his legacy is one worth examining.
Part 1: Char as Son
It can’t have been easy to be Char. Born Casval Rem Deikun, Char was the son of Zeon Zum Deikun, leader of the Republic of Zeon. Occupying the cluster of space colonies known as Side 3, Zeon was a young nation of its own, declaring autonomy from the Earth Federation. Char’s father preached that Earth was sacred and should be left as a nature preserve, while also preaching that humanity was on the path to evolve into Newtypes, beings capable of truly understanding their environments and each other.
Unfortunately, Zeon was soon assassinated by the Zabi family in a successful attempt to take control of Side 3. Left without a father, Char devoted his life to one thing: eliminating the Zabi clan. He put his entirety into this, working his way up the Zeon military in order to become trusted enough to kill them. He discarded all of his other emotions, as we can see in the speed with which he abandoned his friend, Garma Zabi, solely due to his lineage. Char’s obsession with killing the Zabis was all-encompassing, and he showed little ambition outside of this goal.
During his time in the Zabi military Char had almost no interest in forming connections with other human beings, save for two people: Lalah Sune and Amuro Ray. Char was himself a Newtype, and so he was able to quickly form a meaningful connection to these two. His feelings for Lalah were undoubtedly romantic, while his feelings for Amuro were quite a bit more complex, with clear signs of love and hate. Still, his interest in these two hardly halted his obsession. He was perfectly willing to use his beloved Lalah to fight the Zabis, and he was constantly trying to defeat Amuro in their battles. Char was so devoted to the cause of revenge that he became incapable of acting the way his father truly would’ve wanted: as a being capable of truly understanding others. Even from this early point we can see the ironic tragedy so central to his character.
And this tragedy only grew after the worst possible thing happened in the form of Lalah’s death. This truly destroyed Char, and he lashed out against everyone, incapable of seeing anyone as innocent in his death. It was his fault for putting her into the fight for his own selfish reasons, it was Amuro’s fault for delivering the blow that killed her, and it was the Zabis fault for starting this whole thing in the first place. Char only turned within himself to a deeper degree here, totally abandoning any task that wouldn’t help him kill the Zabis. At this point, he truly had nothing else to live for.
And then he was successful in his goal. In the final days of the OYW he was able to kill off the last surviving adults in the Zabi family, finally achieving a goal that had cost him everything. Left without anything else he was forced to reconsider life and his role as son of Zeon Zum Deikun. He finally had to look at what it was that his father truly wanted, and this helped him realize what he now had to do: he had to help achieve his father’s dreams of protecting the Earth, promoting space colonization, and helping to achieve a future in which humanity became Newtypes.
It is only here that Char finally fit his role as son of Zeon, made ironic by the fact that he was soon to abandon his past. For a time he is tasked with leading a group of Zeon remnants, but he eventually leaves to work on his own goals, trying to achieve his father’s dreams. It is here that Char began the next phase of his life: an activist, pilot, and member of the Anti Earth-Union Group under the name of Quattro Bajeena.
Part 2: Char as Mentor
In becoming Quattro, Char has finally managed to escape his past. Abandoning the Zeonic remnants, he has decided to forge his own path outside of Zeon, searching for a way to benefit humanity and Newtypes. It is in this situation that he becomes the mentor to one Kamille Bidan, a young Newtype who offers hope to Char and many others. Char is able to help raise Kamille while avoiding the limelight that he possessed during his time with Zeon.
And he does a pretty good job at this. Kamille came into the AEUG as an angry teenager, and during his time in it he matures greatly, as a Newtype, as a pilot, and as a person. He has some setbacks, experiencing an event similar to that of Lalah’s death, but overall he grows during his time in the AEUG. Char makes many mistakes here, especially in regards to his relationships with women and Amuro, but he is always trying to help Kamille grow, seeing him as a spearhead for the generation which will lead humanity into its next epoch.
Unfortunately, Char isn’t able to stay out of the limelight forever. The death of the AEUG leader forces him to reveal himself to the world, becoming the leader of an organization he only wanted to help. At the same time, Neo-Zeon enters the scene, becoming a notable presence, further tying Char to his past baggage. He’s forced back into his role as Char, something which is very bad for him. Char may frequently act as a leader, and he may be a very good orator, but it’s clear that leadership is bad for his personal well-being. His relationship with Haman is a great example of the harm that Neo-Zeon’s entrance causes him, forcing him to relive painful parts of his life.
Still, he’s able to keep fighting for humanity and Newtypes even when he’s forced to be the leader of the AEUG. Kamille is still there, still representative of how far humanity can go. The tragedy of Char is returning, but he has not fully become a tragic character once again. Char can’t give up hope, and he doesn’t.
Or at least, he doesn’t until Kamille is lost. After Scirocco’s mind attack, Kamille is left in a vegetative state, as most of the AEUG lies dead. Neo-Zeon becomes the strongest force in the Earth Sphere, intimidating the weak-willed Earth Federation leaders, and all hope seems lost. Once again, Char has lost the person closest to him, and once again he is left only with Amuro. This time however, it’s too much. With the absence of the Zabi family Char is unable to return to his past state as a being of vengeance; his ideals and goals must be met, no matter what the cost. For a while he has to lie low, but Char isn’t ready to depart from the world stage after this. His hope in humanity is lost, but his dreams of the future are not, and that leads to a dangerous combination. Char is once again tragic, embracing the rage that filled him in his youth, despite holding a dream which can only be fulfilled through understanding, not vengeance.
Part 3: Char as Radical
Following the events of Zeta, Char has abandoned all hope, returning to his role as leader of Zeon. Faced with the question of how to achieve Newtype evolution, he has opted for the most immediate and radical way possible: an asteroid drop on Earth, which would cause such severe climate change that all humans would be forced into space, accelerating Newtype evolution. Of course, Char is aware that these are the actions of a villain, but he is willing to take up that mantle in order to push humanity forward before it destroys itself. It’s simply sad that this too is a form of tragic irony, as he is destroying the Earth and the people he claims to love in order to enact his goals.
Perhaps unfortunately, Char is still a human, and he still cares deeply about one individual: Amuro Ray. Char is legitimately interested in the success of his plan and the evolution of the human race, but it’s pretty clear that he cares far more about finishing things with Amuro. It’s for this reason that he leaks the plans for his Mobile Suit, ensuring a fair fight during their final battle with one another. Amuro is the only person to stick by Char over the years, the only person he can connect with on the level of Lalah and Kamille, and it’s fitting that they end their lives fighting one another.
Of course in the end, Char is defeated. He fought to win, but he knew this was a possibility when he leaked the plans, so he can’t be having major regrets here. What stands out is that his defeat is done in such a way that it proves him wrong. Humanity does have the power to evolve on its own accord, and for a split second it does so, when it prevents Axis from crashing into Earth. In the end Char and Amuro are left to burn up, their spirits escaping to finally reunite with Lalah.
But alas, in the end Char is vindicated. Humanity might have the power to evolve into Newtypes, but they never do. The Zeonic conflicts end shortly, but they only give rise to more conflicts in the Universal Century, eventually culminating in the birth of new calendars and new wars, all leading up to the Correct Century. I can’t say that Char was right; his plan would have killed billions. But it’s clear that where Char had too little faith in humanity, Amuro had too much. And so we’re left with the question of where Char left us.
Part 4: The Legacy of Char
Ultimately, Char Aznable was never able to escape his past. Even where he tried, the legacy left by his father trapped him his entire life, tying him to his grief and preventing him from evolving into a healthy person. Like many Newtypes he faced tragedy from every direction, but unlike our protagonists Char was driven by his past and his ideals back into conflict at every step, preventing him from settling down and grieving on his own.
If there is one moment that doomed Char to his fate, it would be the death of Lalah. It is this that set his path in stone, guaranteeing he would eventually die in a fight with Amuro. The mind break of Kamille was only an additive factor, something which accelerated his descent into extremism, but it wasn’t the cause. Char’s focus on Zeonic ideology was always dangerous, and with the loss of those he cared for, he lost all hope, dooming him to his ultimate fate. It’s ironic, but the closer he was to his past, the further he was from his ideals.
Even past his death, Char could not move on. His clone in the form of Full Frontal was equally unable to move forward. Char’s spirit had departed to be with Amuro and Lalah at this point, but Full Frontal was intentionally infused with the memories of Char during his attempted Axis drop, leaving him just as stuck in the past as the real Char. The message here is clear: if we stay stuck in the past, consuming only the early UC series focused on the Zeonic conflicts, we won’t be able to move on anymore than Char is able to. It’s only with his true and final death as Full Frontal that we can truly move on, with no major Zeonic conflicts to be seen again.
While Char may have been proven right by the future trajectory of the Universal Century, but I don’t think we can say that Char did nothing wrong. He was in fact wrong about humanity’s potential, he just happened to be right about humanity’s trajectory. Would the Universal Century be an ultimately better place if the Axis drop had succeeded? I don’t think we can really say. But what is clear is that Char was destined to attempt it, and it’s very understandable why he did. Faced with the belief that humans would destroy themselves, it was easy for him to take matters into his own hands and become the villain, and Char was predisposed to doing that.
Char’s past led his life to burn out far too early for a man of his caliber, but his path was unavoidable, and it was certainly beautiful. Char’s effects on the Universal Century are far-reaching, extending much further than any of the various Zeon off-shoots. I wouldn’t be shocked to find some reference to him in some Correct Century material; he was just that important. Say whatever you want about him: Char Aznable, the Red Comet, is a man who belongs in the history books.