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Review: “Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway”: Gundam Proves Its Relevance

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Although Gundam is largely known for stories told in animation, like other large franchises it has expanded into other media. This of course includes novels, which often tell alternate or expanded stories. One of these by original creator Yoshiyuki Tomino is ‘Hathaway’s Flash’, a sequel of sorts to Char’s Counterattack (or at least Tomino’s alternate novelisation version of it). As the title suggests it focuses on Hathaway Noa, the son of popular recurring character Bright Noa. Hathaway had a subplot in Char’s Counterattack but this received little focus in the face of resolving Amuro and Char’s rivalry. With Sunrise/Bandai actively attempting to revive Gundam’s founding Universal Century and make it newly relevant to modern audiences the decision was made to adapt the novels into a trilogy of animated films.

As several individuals such as Tomino himself (who is not involved with this project save having penned the story it’s adapting) have pointed out it really is the ideal time to adapt Hathaway’s Flash (shortened to just Hathaway for these films) as the social themes they explore are sadly relevant to our society in the 2020s. 12 years have passed since the second Neo-Zeon war, with the Federation proving corrupt as ever. The latest opposition to their regime is Mafty, an apparent terrorist cell who release pirate broadcasts and engage in hit and run operations with Federation ministers in their sights. It is one such attack that opens the movie when a space shuttle transporting VIPs, on which Hathaway himself is a passenger, is attacked by hijackers claiming to be Mafty. In a very James Bond inspired cold opening our titular character helps take the terrorists down, leading him to be hailed a hero. Only fellow passenger Gigi Andalucia, an apparent Newtype, clocks the truth- Hathaway is Mafty, the same named leader of the resistance group.

Focusing on rebellions/terrorists is nothing new for Gundam. It essentially goes back to the second Gundam series ever Zeta Gundam, where many of the returning characters from the original series were forced to become rebels against the brutal excess of the Federation, and many other Gundam stories have explored it since. But I’m really not sure that any have tackled it with the depth Hathaway does. Upon realising that Gigi has sussed his dual identity, he spends time with her maintaining his cover whilst wondering if she’s a Federation agent herself and if she’ll reveal his secret. This runs alongside Hathaway wondering if he truly has the heart to enact the violence he’ll need to achieve the revolution he’s seeking and if the public even support Mafty at all. Gundam has given us no shortage of irate philosophers and would be tyrants but it’s arguably unheard of to see one soul search this much out of genuine desire to do what’s best. Hathaway subtly questions various individuals over what they think about Mafty across the film, including a brilliant scene with a taxi driver where our protagonist’s vision for the beneficial wider future of humanity is deflated by the realisation most people will only think in seven-day cycles, never mind centuries after their death.

Gigi is a more awkward character. An intentional allusion to Quess, whose death in Counterattack caused much of Hathaway’s trauma, the character is infantile and inconsistent. It’s implied early on she’s some kind of Newtype prodigy and fairly eccentric but the film is very inconsistent with her, implying she holds some kind of attraction to Hathaway and playing him off against eager suitor Kenneth Sleg when he doesn’t reciprocate. Kenneth is the third part of the film’s lead trinity, a newly promoted Federation commander who is in charge of pursuing the Mafty faction. He’s the personification of the Federation’s corruption in the story, employing brutal tactics against enemy combatants and prisoners. Indeed this is where the aforementioned contemporary relevance appears, with the Federation as a police state that brutalises its own population. Given the clashes in recent years in countries including America, Hong Kong and the UK, it’s sadly not hard to find relevance in Hathaway’s story. Likewise, with more and more grassroots movements standing up to oppose such brutality worldwide it’s easy to relate to Hathaway’s pontificating over the correct response to remove such a regime.

Although at most you will have benefited from seeing the original series, or at least its movie trilogy compilation, and Char’s Counterattack (both of which are also available on Netflix, thankfully), I’m intrigued that the film seems to have no acknowledgement of Gundam Unicorn which occurs between Counterattack and this. Though for my tastes that’s arguably for the best as some of the retcons and controversial answers Unicorn has brought to the Universal Century aren’t exactly my cup of tea.

Visually the film is gorgeous. I’ve opined before that sadly the money Gundam makes is rarely properly pumped back into the animation but that doesn’t feel like the case here at all.  Admittedly a lot of the impact here is due to the direction choices of Shukou Murase. A Gundam veteran who even worked under Tomino for both Gundam F91 and Victory Gundam, Murase’s style employs a number of intense close ups which create an intense intimacy between the viewer and the film. One of the highlights of this choice can be found in a sequence in which Hathaway and Gigi find themselves amongst panicked crowds desperately attempting to escape an intense mobile suit battle between Mafty and the Federation. Again, this is an area where the film pushes that bit deeper with a Gundam concept by really showing us the terror of getting caught in between a clash of metal titans. F91 kind of did this with its opening act but where the focus there was on the brutality here it very much is on the terror, adding further weight to Hathaway’s ruminations about the path he’s walking.

Indeed even if the majority of the film is focused on the human drama it wouldn’t be a Gundam story without mobile suits. The aforementioned fight scene showcases the likes of the Gustav Karl and the Messer, further evolutions of the GM and Zaku aesthetics respectively. However, the finale sees a clash between the colossal Xi and Penelope Gundams. Arguably the swansong of the classic UC aesthetic before F91 began the trend of miniaturisation, both are familiar as Gundams but carry aesthetic choices that breakaway from the iconic look. It’s very similar to the divide between the initial 4 unit team of Gundam 00 and the later Gundam Thrones.

Although Netflix are offering the film with a range of dub and subtitle options, I watched the film in English subtitled Japanese for this review. This is a top notch cast who manage to do very well. Kensho Ono is perfect as Hathaway, even if there has been some mild controversy over the role being recast from long-time actor Nozomu Sasaki (Sasaki appears in the film himself in a different supporting role). I have to imagine someone watched SSSS.Gridman when making the choice to cast Reina Ueda, as her portrayal of Gigi carries the same flirtatious energy she brought to Akane Shinjo. Soma Saito does well as Lane Aim, the honourable pilot of the Penelope. Indeed it’s a strong enough performance that I hope both character and actor receive more to do in the remaining films opposed to their tiny role here.

There’s a lot riding on Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway, so I’m happy to give it a positive recommendation. In the time I’ve been a Gundam fan I’ve seen Sunrise/Bandai make some absolute blunders with their handling of the franchise on the global stage but it’s clear they’re now much better focused at this goal. This is a film that whilst respectful of the productions that came before it it is very much trying to make Gundam relevant to modern audiences and indeed those who have never watched it before. I’d definitely recommend watching the Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy and Char’s Counterattack first but regardless this is a must watch. It’s definitely got this veteran fan excited for the franchise in a way I haven’t been in ages.

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is available to stream on Netflix.