TV Review: Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway (Netflix)

“I knew it. You do scary things.” Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway is a 2021 Sunrise animation feature film. The movie is directed by Shûkô Murase, a veteran of the Gundam […]

“I knew it. You do scary things.”

Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway is a 2021 Sunrise animation feature film. The movie is directed by Shûkô Murase, a veteran of the Gundam oeuvre, who was an animation director or character designer on many Gundam titles including 1991’s Mobile Suit Gundam F-91, ’93’s Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, and 1995’s New Mobile Report: Gundam Wing, the smash hit on Toonami for the Cartoon Network. The film was slated for a 2020 release, but was delayed due to the vicissitudes of the Covid-19 plague. The screenplay was adapted by Yasuyuki Muto from a story by Yoshiyuki Tomino, the man who conceived the Real-Robot genre and created the original Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979.Tomino is the driving force behind most of the Universal Century stories.

The Gundam franchise is a prolific, long-lived and many-headed hydra, with myriad feature films, video games and television series. It can be viewed as Japan’s Star Trek in that there are alternate dimensions, different timelines and different time periods within those disparate timelines. The Universal Century is particularly dense as it is Tomino’s baby and he’s been shepherding his creation since 1979 through quite a few shows and movies, including some of the genre’s most iconic. Newer fans often find it easier to get into the Gundam 00’s Anno Domini timeline, the Cosmic Era of the popular Gundam Seed, or Iron-Blooded Orphans’ Post-Disaster setting.

The one thing the timelines all have in common is the ubiquitous use of Mobile Suits, which are largely disposable, piloted, humanoid fighting mechs, and the prototype testbeds known as Gundams.

What made Tomino’s Real-Robot creation unique from everything that came before it was that his Mobile Suits and the people who drove them were expendable, like a typical grunt in a combat theatre. They were ‘real’. The Suits could run out of ammo, run out of power, break down or simply be overwhelmed and destroyed. This set Tomino’s show apart from, and instantly rendered obsolete, the Super-Robot genre which was the trend at the time.

The film is an adaptation of part one of the novel, Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash, published in three volumes from 1989-1990. That story is the sequel to 1988’s highly-lauded feature, Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, making a 33 year lag between the films. This is apparently a trend now after Tron: Legacy waited 28 years and Bladerunner: 2049 waited 35 years to follow up.

The movie opens twelve years after Char’s Counterattack. Hathaway Noa, (Kenshô Ono/Caleb Yen) the son of the renowned Captain, Bright Noa, has crafted a new identity for himself as Mafty Navue Erin. Erin is a feared terrorist who is trying to accomplish what Char Aznable could not: getting humanity off of the Earth and into space colonies so more Newtypes can emerge and Earth could maybe heal from mankind’s depredations. Gathering intelligence while de-orbiting aboard an Earth Federation VIP shuttle, he meets the unusually perceptive Gigi Andalusia (Reina Ueda/Megan Shipman) and Kenneth Sleg, (Jun’ichi Suwabe/Aaron Phillips) an Earth Federation Forces commander. The shuttle comes under attack by a group of hijackers led by a man wearing a pumpkin-head mask who claims HE is Mafty Navue Erin, but who is merely here to rob the passengers of their wealth. Gigi distracts the terrorists and Hathaway springs into action unthinkingly. Backed up by Sleg, the two are able to retake the shuttle and capture or kill all of the hijackers.

Now under the scrutiny of the police and the military, Hathaway is forced to stay with Gigi as they make multiple statements to various government agencies.  Gigi knows that the Mafty from the shuttle was a fake and that Hathaway is the true Erin. She tries to put the moves on him, but when he rebuffs her, she decides to prod him further by turning her attentions to Kenneth, who has no compunctions about spending time with the beautiful girl.

Haunted by his past and determined to discover the identities of the rogue Mafty groups, Hathaway plans an escape out from under the aegis of his inquisitors with the help of the real team Mafty.  His Mafty group is well supplied by the sinister Moon-based corporation, Anaheim Electronics, who are continuing their practice of selling arms and Mobile Suits to both sides of the conflict, a tradition born in the first Gryps War of the masterful 1985 series, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.

To distract the EFF during one of the more visually spectacular sequences in the film, members of his team attack several beachfront hotels with Mobile Suits and beam weapons. They cause appalling amounts of collateral damage, resulting in the deaths of scores of civilians and the complete collapse of several skyscrapers. Primed to make his break, Hathaway sees a terrified Gigi cowering in the rubble. In another snap decision, he abandons his plans and his team so that he can comfort her. Will he remember his duty? Can he get out of the shadow of his famous father and make good on his own promise? Can he truly fulfill Char’s ambitions and save both humanity and the planet that nurtured us all, or will keen-eyed Gigi reveal everything she thinks she knows to Sleg and render all his plans moot?

Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway is a gorgeous movie. The backgrounds and color palate are stupendous. Sunrise Studios’ artists have really mastered the art of blending CG and hand-drawn animation. The characters are done traditionally and the CG Mobile Suits and background plates are seamlessly integrated together. The soundtrack is provided by Hiroyuki Sawano, another UC Gundam veteran, who worked on both 2009’s Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn and 2018’s Mobile Suit Gundam: Narrative.

There are really two main problems with this movie: how it’s constructed, and what it’s constructed around. As part of a pre-planned trilogy, MSG: Hathaway makes the mistake that many ersatz, wanna-be-MCU, failed franchises make; Movies need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end that are actually in the movie. You can’t use a film solely for setup, because without cathartic conclusions, it will fail. You get a sequel if you tell a great story and people want to see more of the world you’re showing.  Expecting that there will be a sequel, that you’re entitled to a sequel where you can explain this or that is a recipe for failure. You need to make a structurally complete movie and resolve your conflicts to truly satisfy an audience. MSG: Hathaway is a very good beginning and a very long middle. Literally, nothing is resolved when the credits roll. We’re told to wait for Part II, though it seems obvious that nothing will come to a conclusion there either, and that part III will hopefully tie everything together. Perhaps it would’ve been better to make two films instead of three. It is very difficult to evaluate this movie as a standalone feature, and I will have to reserve my judgment until I can binge-watch all of the films in a row.

The other problem is that the movie is constructed around Hathaway Noa, and Hathaway Noa is a fuckup. During Char’s Axis drop, he murdered Chan Agni, a Londo Bell officer who was ostensibly on his side, shooting up her Jegan.  He was led around by the nose by Quess Paraya, (Anne Yatco) one of the main antagonists of Char’s Counterattack. Now, he’s leading a terrorist organization. Let me just repeat that: Now he is leading a terrorist organization. It makes it hard to sympathize with him at this point of the story both for his sorry history and his indifference towards mass civilian casualties. Not only is he the leader of a terrorist cell, which is more than a bit unpalatable in this day and age, but he’s ultimately responsible for inspiring copycat groups who are causing mayhem and committing murder in his name. We’re supposed to be on his side, yet when he abandons his mission to comfort Gigi and insure her safety, it feels like he’s fruitlessly following another Quess. Gigi is playing an enigmatic game with him and Sleg that has so many parallels to the Char-Quess-Hathaway triangle that even he recognizes and comments on it, but doesn’t change his behavior. There are the beginnings of a turnaround towards the end of the film, but as a redemption cycle, it leaves much to be desired. Mafty Navue Erin is a hard sell.

As someone with an intimate familiarity with the Gundam franchise, it is difficult for me to put myself in the shoes of a person for whom MSG: Hathaway would be their first exposure to the genre. I doubt that I would recommend this to that individual without providing them with a great deal of background or at least showing them the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam show and Char’s Counterattack, which I would imagine would be vital towards understanding Hathaway’s motives.  While MSG: Hathaway really doesn’t work in my eyes as a standalone feature, it is still a fun, beautiful romp with giant robots and explosions, but like just about every incarnation of Mobile Suit Gundam, it wants you to think long and hard about all those lives snuffed out in each of those pretty explosions and whether it’s ultimately worth it.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway is currently streaming on Netflix.

Mobile Suit Gundam was created by Yoshiyuki Tomino.

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.