REVIEW: Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway Isn’t Your Typical Gundam Show

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is the latest in a long line of Gundam anime set in the Universal Century setting, but it’s also very different from what came before. AT writer Melvyn Tan and guest writer Gavin Au weigh-in on the new movie, which is the first of a planned trilogy.

What’s it about?

The year is U.C. 105; 12 years have passed since Char Aznable’s rebellion against the Earth Federation. Now, the Federation, which is facing discontent for forcibly deporting ordinary citizens with no Earth residency permits to the space colonies, finds its cabinet ministers being targeted by the terrorist organization Mafty.

Secretly leading Mafty is Hathaway Noa (Kensho Ono), the son of famous Federation commander Bright Noa. Mafty’s ultimate goal is to convince the population on Earth to emigrate to space for the environment’s sake. However, Hathaway’s plans are complicated when he crosses paths with military officer Kenneth Sleg (Junichi Suwabe) and the mysterious Gigi Andalucia (Reina Ueda).

How’s the plot?

Ah yes, Gundam Hathaway, the long-awaited adaptation of a story that I’m surprised wasn’t animated sooner. For a movie with “Gundam” in its title, the movie actually feels very un-Gundam-like as it opts to focus more on the main characters, their motivations, and the politics surrounding them. At no point does the story feel like it’s going to turn into a cool and over-the-top mecha show with traditional heroes and villains. 

Painting both sides of a conflict in shades of grey and/or showing both viewpoints is not a new thing for the Gundam franchise, but Hathaway’s on-the-ground perspective provides a fresh take on this. For instance, there’s a scene where Federation forces suddenly show up to look for people to deport to space, and among these forces is a mobile suit that casts a threatening presence over the city of Davao, where much of the movie is set in, by boldly stomping around in broad daylight.

Meanwhile, the mid-movie mecha battle shows how the civilian population easily becomes collateral damage as a result of the conflict between Mafty and the Federation, with neither side caring much for the loss of lives. People die when they are killed, and just because you’re correct (in terms of Mafty’s main goal) doesn’t mean that you’re right in letting that happen.

While Hathaway has some mecha battles, including a climatic Gundam versus Gundam duel at the end, the film is mostly focused on what Hathaway is doing outside of the cockpit. I like epic mobile suit battles, but I also find Hathaway’s ground-level premise to be very appealing in concept. However, my feelings are a little mixed when it comes to the content we get. 

On one hand, I like Hathaway’s interactions with Gigi, who’s almost certainly one of the UC setting’s psychic-like NewTypes, and Kenneth. Gigi is whimsical, mysterious, and sharp enough to figure out Hathaway’s secret identity as Mafty’s leader Mafty Navue Erin (what a name!) early in the film. Her playful and inquisitive conversations with Hathaway are magnetizing as a result, even if one or two lines flew past my head. Kenneth’s character requires less deciphering, but his genuine amiability towards Hathaway establishes a sense of camaraderie that promises enticing friction in the future as he begins to suspect Hathaway’s role in Mafty.

On the other hand, I’m underwhelmed by the worldbuilding and sociopolitical elements. On paper, it’s all very juicy, as there are scenes that cover the oppressiveness of the Federation’s “Man Hunters,” Mafty’s goal of convincing people to move into space for the environment’s sake, the questionable deeds done by both sides, and the population’s reaction to both factions. There’s also a good bit where Hathaway converses with a taxi driver and discovers that Mafty’s grand goal of mass space emigration isn’t resonating with everyone, especially when everyday people like the taxi driver are preoccupied with making ends meet.

Yet, even as all these weigh on Hathaway during a couple of moments, there’s not enough focus on these elements to make them feel like something I can chew on. The movie doesn’t even properly explain something as major as the reason for the Federation’s deportations. While it’s possible to piece together some context from scattered bits of information, the lack of an explicit explanation makes it hard for me to feel invested in Hathaway’s conflict, despite being aware of the Federation’s previous transgressions and dirty history. 

I also frequently wondered why and how Hathaway changed from the brash teenager of 1988’s Char’s Counterattack to this anti-Federation terrorist leader. It’s clear that he’s haunted by Char’s Rebellion and the death of his crush Quess Paraya, who became a pilot on the rebellion’s side, but there’s ultimately insufficient explanation on his motivations and evolution. Hopefully, the sequels will provide the answers.

Well, 10 years of despair at the lack of change from the Federation in spite of the events of Char’s Counterattack can do a lot to the haunted teenage son of a famous captain who has access to funds, time, and training.

True, but the lack of concrete details makes it hard to empathize with Hathaway at this stage. 

Speaking of Char’s Counterattack, I’m not sure if Hathaway follows the continuity of that movie, in which Hathaway witnesses Quess’s death and avenges her by team-killing protagonist Amuro Ray’s girlfriend, or the Beltorchika’s Children novel, where he is the one who kills Quess. I assume it’s the latter, though.

How are the visuals and animation?

After watching Hathaway in cinemas Netflix in all of its glory, I have to say, I’m actually glad we waited this long for it to come out. Its high production values and modern look make it a delight to watch, even on a small screen.

Let’s talk about the Gundam-sized elephant in the room: the CG mechs. One thing that the broader Gundam franchise has over their many competitors and imitations is that they still do traditional hand-drawn mechs. From weekly TV series’ like Gundam Build Fighters to cinematic OVAs like Gundam Thunderbolt, Sunrise has rarely disappointed with their 2D mecha offerings. However, Hathaway deviates from tradition and mostly uses CG instead.

So, how are the CG mechs? To put it bluntly, I like them. The show being made in an era where anime CGI has improved considerably, on top of having cinematic production values, means that the CG mechs look much better than what one might think.

Another reason this approach works is that Hathaway’s Xi Gundam and Penelope are a far cry from the slender heroic Gundams we know and love, having taken on large, terrorizing silhouettes akin to a behemoth. The CG naturally lends a sense of heft to these massive shapes, which are covered in intricate mechanical details.

The other mechs in the show don’t slouch in both the design and animation departments either. Compared to some other Gundam shows, they no longer feel like toy robots flying across the screen, but large walking tanks tearing through the city and its citizens as they try to take each other out. From the stray shots of their firearms to the simple act of walking, their every movement and action leaves a visceral impact on the hapless people around their feet trying to flee from them. 

As a fan of the franchise, this is one of the few Gundam shows that really drives home the fact that these are giant robots; everything has a weight to it, and this can be seen in scenes where both mecha and people interact with one another, be it a car swerving to avoid the foot of a Jegan or a group of people getting crushed by a giant rifle that fell from the sky.

The mobile suits are indeed nice to look at, although the mecha battles taking place at night with little lighting makes it a bit hard to scrutinize them during those moments. Luckily, it’s easier to appreciate the lovely cockpit shots with their detailed rendering of the switches and overlays. 

The same goes for the effects, especially during a mid-movie Mafty attack where we see half or more of the battle from Hathaway’s perspective on the ground. Clashes between beam sabers result in fire raining down, while a stab into a mobile suit’s back causes sparks to erupt like a grand firework display. It’s simultaneously terrifying and beautiful.

Hathaway isn’t only nice to look at when mobile suits are involved, though. The show does a good job of conveying a 3D sense of space in its scenes, and there’s some wonderful character animation. I kid you not when I say that some of the most breathtaking moments in the show for me involved Gigi spinning a pen and spinning herself around.

The backgrounds are great to look at, whether they’re presenting the interior of a space shuttle, a fancy airport lounge, a lush garden, or the gritty streets and shops of Davao. However, there are some scenes where the backgrounds and characters clash with each other, with the latter looking like they’re inelegantly photoshopped in. It’s not an issue most of the time, but it’s hard to ignore the instances that do occur.

Next page: Audio, Hathaway as a standalone experience, extra musings, and closing thoughts.

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