A direct sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam, and a prequel to Gundam 0083 and Zeta/ZZ Gundam, CDA tells the story of Colonel Char Aznable directly after the One Year War. He heads toward Axis after the battle of A Baoa Qu with the remaining Zeon forces, where he meets a 14-year-old Haman Karn, who begins to fall in love with Char. Char must also deal with Colonel Enzo, who plans to restart the war with the EFSF.
Some anon once said, "CDA is just shameless charwanking," and I think there's definitely some truth in that statement. Char's Deleted Affair, or CDA, was one of the first titles published in the monthly Gundam ACE magazine, and it stayed in publication for the better part of a decade alongside Gundam: The Origin. In addition to introducing us to Haman Karn and showing the massive political transitions taking place, CDA fills in the mysterious transition Char Aznable undergoes between the original Mobile Suit Gundam and its sequel Zeta Gundam, and paints him in many glorious combat situations while being groomed as a dignified political leader.
While I don't think the story itself was overrun with Char fan service, the story has its fair share of problems, and I was overall unimpressed with the quality of the manga used to tell it.
(Warning: This review assumes familiarity with the Gundam franchise, so I use several abbreviations and reference events from different anime entries.)
I really wish I had more positive things to say about the art, but I was honestly let down for the most part. The best praise I can give to Kitazume-sensei's art is that it is very consistent. If you peep the first and last volume you can see a slight improvement in the character illustrations, but page-to-page all the characters and MS are on model and look just fine. The color pages at the beginning of most chapters are also nicely textured with excellent color palettes. I think most of the issues I have come down to Kitazume-sensei having a long career as an animation director/key animator, where he may not have had to put as much work into drawing backgrounds and got to focus on the character illustrations. The main reason I believe this is because the backgrounds throughout CDA are very sparsely detailed, and in nearly half the panels are supplanted with a simple gradient. In fact, he uses gradients for just about everything: walls, floors, clothing, and even hair--all gradients. Whether or not the use of so many gradients is in fact easier or quicker than other methods I can't say for sure, but to me it gave most of the pages a very cheap feeling.
Be they attributable to his key animation career or not, I had yet other problems with the art. For one, the page layouts are decently varied, but are certainly nothing to write home about. For some reason, almost every female face that he draws looks identical; I'm pretty sure you could cut and paste the faces of different female characters onto different pages and fail to notice a difference. Lastly, the MS battles, which are part of the main draw of the Gundam series, are severely underwhelming. Most of the time I don't feel like they capture the sense of motion you get from the classic anime series. It isn't until nearly 3/4 through the series that I began to notice battles illustrated in a way that actually succeeded in this, thus proving that Kitazume-sensei is capable of evoking that feeling, but he does not always implement it.
Even though the battles may lack the fluidity I would like, the still MS illustrations are done very well. As we follow the Zeon remnants to Axis, we are treated to plenty of classic Gelgoogs and Zakus with a few interesting prototypes here and there. The Federation still shows up with mostly GMs from the OYW, but slowly begins to roll out some new, more sleek models. Without giving away too much, we are also treated to Char piloting several iconic mobile weapons, including updated versions of some he has piloted previously and others that are only seen in OVA or MSV entries.
The story of CDA follows the journey of Char Aznable starting in the climactic Battle of A Baoa Qu from the original Gundam series, and ending inside the first episode of Zeta Gundam. Thus, we see not only how Char came to be Lt. Quattro Bajeena in Zeta, but also how the political situation inside of Zeon and the Earth Federation evolved after the OYW. That said, this is a political drama first and a war story second. It is very slow paced. So little happens in each chapter that there is no way I could have read this as it was publishing monthly. Of course, I can't expect action all the time when this is not a full on war period, but I am conditioned on Gundam anime with MS battles every episode, and here we could go several chapters with no more than a few pages of MS training exercises. All of this makes it feel somewhat out of place as a Gundam story, and I honestly found most of it pretty boring. The whole reason (Or the main reason, at least) that the anime skipped from the OYW to the Gryps conflict is because the stuff in between wasn't as exciting, so it jumped straight to the good part when Zeta starts. However, we do get to see the political turmoil inside of Axis build up over the course of the entire manga and pay off in one large, final conflict, as well as witness some of the events that led to the formation of the Titans and the AEUG.
Char Aznable, being the main character, does undergo some important character development. At the beginning of the story he has just accomplished his life's goal of eliminating the Zabi family, and has to find a new purpose to commit himself to. His new purpose comes largely from his interactions with the leader of Axis and father of Haman, Admiral Maharaja Karn. I will say that while reading the series it can be hard to notice any significant change in his character, because he maintains his usual calm and cool demeanor not only for the people around him, but also for us, the audience. While we do receive occasional glimpses into his thoughts, much of his character development I only realized after completing the manga and reflecting on where he started in 0079 and where he ends up at the start of Zeta. Even though this period is not the most formative or dramatic time in Char's life, it does seem to me that Kitazume-sensei (Or whatever writing team was behind him) did a fine job of keeping Char's character consistent and believable.
The other main character, Haman Karn, actually receives a lot of character development over the years that the manga covers. She starts the story as an innocent girl who has undergone traumatic Newtype testing as a child, and thus trusts very few people. Char very quickly becomes someone that she admires and trusts, and a desire to be like him and gain his approval drives many of her choices. Through a series of tragedies in the last quarter of the manga, Haman is shaped into the cold and ruthless leader that we see her as when she appears in Zeta Gundam. Unfortunately, a lot of Haman's moments of development are undercut by the manga's incessant objectification of her, which I will further detail later.
Most of the other characters are pretty flat, and serve only as pieces to move around for the plot. Some exceptions are Maharaja, Natalie, and Enzo, who are all pretty important to the conflicts in the story. As a general trend in this manga, the more one dimensional a character is, the less important they are to the plot--and there are a lot of one dimensional characters present. We also have some very brief cameos of ZZ Gundam antagonists Mashymyre and Chara that don't do much to enhance their later appearances.
So, keep in mind that Haman is 14 years old at the start of this series. It felt like nearly every other chapter towards the beginning had a few pages dedicated to showing Haman bathing or in various states of undress for no good reason other than to illicit nosebleeds. It happened so frequently that I really began to feel uncomfortable and annoyed every time it came up. One of the moments that she has to declare things that she has come to believe and state who she is as a person takes place in an onsen where the illustrations are constantly drawing our attention away from her words and to her body. Luckily this does slow down and stop altogether in later volumes, but it rubs me the wrong way that all of this objectification happened when she was closer to 14 and stopped as she approached 18.
Let me come back to that onsen scene for a moment, because it highlights another huge problem that I have with CDA. This scene was done with roughly 6 full color pages, which was one of the highest color page counts we had seen in a single chapter up to that point. "Alright," you may think, "they're just using the color pages to show us some really hot stuff!" Except they don't. Apparently in Gundam ACE where it was published you are allowed to draw a fully nude breast, but you can only give the very faintest impression of a nipple upon it, leaving any such illustrations looking eerily featureless. Thus, we have excessive color pages dedicated to watered down fan service rather than what we're all here for: the robots. That's right. Even these onsen pages are not the first instance, for several times before and after this a chapter will use all of its color pages for the same watered down fan service and objectification of Haman rather than the true spectacle that Gundam is based around. Sure there have always been bath scenes in Gundam, but they are always infrequent and often do not frame the subjects in a sexual manner because Gundam has never needed to resort to that to entertain its audience.
So who should read Char's Deleted Affair? This one is really only for hardcore Gundam fans who are itching to know how we got from UC 0079 to 0087, and find out the origins of Char and Haman's relationship. It's kind of lengthy, and not very exciting most of the the time. If all you want is a good story about Char, check out the Gundam Origin OVA series. It is much more telling about his character with some of the best production value I've ever seen in the Gundam franchise.