Why Is Char Aznable Popular?
I never expect an antagonist to steal the spotlight from the hero. It has happened on occasion. The Dark Knight is a good example and the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear Star Wars is Darth Vader. But before Heath Ledger’s Joker, the anime world had an answer to James Earl Jones’ masked villain. He is one of the reasons why the Gundam series became so popular. Like Darth Vader, he also wears a mask. While he never duelled with a light saber, he has flown into battle in his red Zaku to go head-to-head with the White Devil, the titular RX-78-2 Gundam piloted by Amuro Ray. Meet the Red Comet, Char Aznable.
You are not a real Gundam fan if you've never heard of him. They say people love a convincing bad guy, but he is more than that. The creators really nailed it when they introduced him as the main rival. Whether you call him the Red Comet, Quattro Bajeena, or by his real name of Casval Rem Deikun, people love him for a reason. There is a certain mystique to his character, from his outlandish attire down to the choice of color. And below are the reasons why Char Aznable is a popular character.
1. He is Unique
The reason behind the original Gundam's success is how it avoided becoming another super robot series. The super robot genre is not bad in itself, but fans were grateful to discover a breath of fresh air. The machines in this series were different from the nearly supernatural brawling machines that were common. Fans were introduced to realistic brand of piloted mechas. Mobile Suit Gundam had something new to offer, and Char Aznable is one of them.
Before Char, most villains were cartoonish overlords that hovered in their command ships as the monster they sent slugged it out with the hero robot. Yet Char was a complex, enigmatic, and charismatic leader with a deeper backstory. We will get to that in a moment but these traits distinguished him from most antagonists at that time. It made him different, a selling point to many fans.
2. He Is Visually Striking
As mentioned in one of my earlier articles, a World War I pilot partly served as an inspiration for our favourite antagonist. From the red vehicles to piloting skills, Manfred Von Richthofen is a perfect model for our titular villain. Char Aznable was created as a foil to the hero Amuro Ray, but he ended up stealing the spotlight from our hero at some point. There was nothing wrong with how Amuro was drawn. He was a good character but Char just looks much better.
The taller stature, blonde hair, and better features seem to overshadow the simple Amuro. The red uniform also strengthens his presence in the series as it made him more noticeable. Lastly, there is the mask which added an aura of danger and mystery.
3. Complex and Deep Character
Another trait that sets him apart from most villains (at that time) is his complex and deep characterization. This appealed to people for a good reason. Giving a character depth made him more human, which helped him connect to the audience. Char is not necessarily evil. He is simply blinded and misled.
Revenge is what drove him in the early series, though fans are introduced to a more violent Char in Char’s Counterattack. His habit of adopting many aliases, his tendency to shift principles, and the fact that he is capable of heroic deeds added depth to his character. The way I see it, he is a very unpredictable fellow.
4. A Dangerous and Worthy Foe
When coming up with a story, a hero is only as good as his villain. A perfect foil to the main character adds flavour to the plot. Nothing pushes the protagonist to bring out his hidden strengths more than a good antagonist. There is no doubt that Char Aznable played his villainous role well. For one thing, he is a formidable pilot who can rival Amuro in his White Devil. We saw how he took down five warships in the Battle of Loum with just his Zaku. He has a knack of using the weakness of his opponent against themselves. That’s serious piloting indeed!
And mobile suits are not just his only weapon. Being a former foot soldier, he could fight with swords, firearms, and even with explosives. With such credentials, the Red Comet is the only one that could truly take on Amuro head-on. Yes, he is defeated in Char’s Counterattack, but not before giving Amuro the fight of his life.
5. Charismatic and Honourable
The knightly antagonist was very unique among mecha anime at the time. In the age of the super robots, we got cackling megalomaniacs who scared their minions into submission. They rarely went out to battle the heroes themselves and just let their monsters do the dirty work. Char was different. For one thing, he had leadership traits. He made his forces follow him through charisma rather than fear. Then there is a fact that he led his army head-on in the battlefield.
In his red Zaku, he is on the frontline and in the heart of the battle. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty. And as a true warrior, Char will never resort to dirty tricks to get his victory. With a deep belief of knightly honour, he will fight anyone head-on in one-on-one combat.
6. He Pilots Cool Mobile Suits
Okay, we rarely saw him in a Gundam-type mobile suit. Most of his armory were customized war machines in red war paint. He did pilot a golden MSN-00100 Hyaku Shiki and a purple MSN-02 Zeong. But he is best remembered in his iconic MS-06S Zaku II Commander Type.
Now, aesthetically, his suits are hit-or-miss. I loved the Zaku Commander Type but have never been too fond of the crabby MSM-07S Z'Gok Commander Type. And I swear that the MSN-02 Zeong should have legs! Apart from that, the rest of his suits rival Amuro’s in terms of the cool factor. I’m currently saving up for the MSN-04 Sazabi Ver Ka. However, I have doubts that these suits would be remembered if others had piloted them. In the world of the real robots, it is the pilot that makes his suit. And those fiery red machines will be remembered thanks to Char Aznable.