The latest entry in the venerable science fiction anime series is compelling and thrilling—if rather reliant on series history.
Universal Century 0105. In the 12 years since legendary Gundam pilot Amuro Ray perished stopping Neo Zeon leader Char Aznable’s twisted attempt to save the Earth by annihilating humanity, the Earth Federation government has degraded into a corrupt, authoritarian nightmare. The Federation’s ministers rule the Earthsphere with an iron fist, caring little for the planet’s impending ecological crisis as they while away their days in privileged luxury and brutalize those less fortunate than they. Their power is enforced by Mobile Suits, giant machines that are the key to military dominance.
The future depends on the Anti-Earth Federation Movement called Mafty. To the Federation, Mafty are assassins and terrorists. To the people of Earth and her space colonies, they are champions ruthlessly fighting for a better tomorrow. Their leader is Mafty Navue Erin, aka Hathaway Noa, the tormented son of a hero. Hathaway struggles with the fact that his cause is as just as his methods are merciless. But if he can reconcile himself to that reality, he and his comrades may yet change the course of humanity.
Hathaway’s weapons in this battle? His will. And the Xi, the latest in the line of ultra-advanced, history-shaking Mobile Suits known as Gundams.
*Peter Cullen Voice: Off*
Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is the latest entry in the venerable science fiction anime series’ Universal Century setting, adapted from a 1989-1990 trilogy of novels written by Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino. It’s gorgeously animated, beautifully designed, well-performed in Japanese and English, and a compelling study of its title character. Its score, composed by the great Hiroyuki Sawano, is the film soundtrack to beat for 2021.
I loved Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway, and I’m happily recommending it. But my recommendation comes with one major caveat: Hathaway benefits significantly from knowing Universal Century (UC) Gundam’s often thorny history. Outside of some brief text establishing when in the timeline the film—the first of a planned trilogy—takes place, it hits the ground running and does not take the time to re-introduce long-established parts of UC Gundam’s world and story.
In certain cases, these longstanding pieces of lore and the history they carry—particularly a brief flashback to Hathaway (voiced by Kensho Ono in Japanese and Caleb Yen in English)’s past and a late-film cameo from one of UC Gundam’s major characters—are incredibly important to Hathaway’s development throughout the picture. The decisions he makes and the path he opts to walk are informed as much by the events of the 1988 film Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack as they are the events of Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway itself.
…My recommendation comes with one major caveat: Hathaway benefits significantly from knowing Gundam, and specifically Universal Century (UC) Gundam’s often thorny history.
With the context of the greater Universal Century, Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is a strong chapter in a story that’s been running in one form or another since 1979. Hathaway Noa has grown from a well-meaning but clueless teenager (who was certain that he was the main character of a heroic adventure when he was definitely not) to a thoughtful man committed to his mission even as he grapples with the toll it takes on him, and the people and world he’s trying to save. It’s a moving piece of character work, and it cements Hathaway as an excellent Gundam protagonist.
Without that context, Hathaway’s arc is still effective, but at least one of its biggest moments is much more muted. Fortunately, for those who’d like to catch up, Netflix is currently streaming both the theatrical trilogy version of the original Mobile Suit Gundam and Char’s Counterattack. Of those four films, Char’s Counterattack is most important to Hathaway’s narrative, and Char’s Counterattack likewise benefits from having seen the trilogy beforehand.
Caveat aside, there’s so, so much to dig about Hathaway. It’s a thrilling, well-performed science fiction film with a welcome variety of excellently crafted and strikingly animated action scenes, courtesy of director Shukou Murase (character designer, animation director, and key animator for the Blade Runner 2049 animated prequel Black Out 2022) and chief animation director Naoyuki Onda (key animator on the animated sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1).
Hathaway’s Japanese and English voice casts both do strong work, though I personally lean more towards the former, given that the English script has a recurring issue with stilted dialogue. Ono’s take on Hathaway is marvelously Byronic—charming but guarded in public, solemn and brooding in private, and professionally warm with the members of Mafty. His fellow lead performers, Junichi Suwabe and Reina Ueda, acquit themselves well too as, respectively, the cunning Federation Captain Kenneth Sleg and the eccentric, ambiguously psychic woman of privilege Gigi Andalucia.
Hathaway’s action boasts a terrific command of scale, from its grounded opening—where Hathaway and Kenneth foil an attempted hijacking and hostage-taking by a band of Mafty impersonators to its later moments where Mobile Suits come into play. Hathaway captures the power of Gundam’s trademark machines with elan. They have weight and dimensionality to them, whether they’re lumbering or graceful.
Caveat aside, there’s so, so much to dig about Hathaway.
The Xi Gundam and its nemesis the Penelope, both the work of longtime Gundam designer Hajime Katoki, are spectacular designs. They’re bulkier and more animalistic—even monstrous, than many of their fellow Gundams, and stretch their visual language in neat ways. The mode-shifting Penelope is a bird of prey. The Xi is downright draconic.
The attention and care Hathaway’s creative team apply to the Xi and the Penelope is found throughout the picture, from its rendering of the crowded future streets of the Philippines’ Davao City to the distinct sounds the Penelope makes in flight to the way Hathaway carries himself around Kenneth and Gigi compared to around his Mafty comrades.
Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is a stupendously made picture throughout. For folks who love Gundam, it’s a must-watch. For folks who are curious, I strongly recommend seeing at least Char’s Counterattack beforehand. Personally? I love it. I’ve seen it twice now, and I’ll be seeing it again. It’s a marvelous character study. Its action is excellent. And the Xi Gundam? The Xi Gundam is so darn cool.
Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is now available on Netflix.