More Than Just a Flash: “Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway” (2021) Movie Review

The following may contain spoilers for Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway.

Director / Shukou Murase
Screenplay / Yasuyuki Mutou (based on Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash novels)
Production / Sunrise
Release Date / June 2021

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is the second animated production in the UC NexT 0100 Project, or as I’d like to call it, “Sunrise finally moving on from the One Year War.” It was announced during the Gundam 40th Anniversary celebration and was initially slated for a Winter 2019/2020 release, which got pushed to Summer 2020, and then we all know what happened since. It is a movie trilogy adapting the Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash novels written by original Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino. The original novels were considered as an unadaptable pieces of fiction and thanks to this reputation, fans of the franchise, myself included, were very much excited when the adaptation was announced. It would be the first story set in the Universal Century for quite a while not to primarily feature the Federation-Zeon storyline. With this much expectation surrounding its release, does Gundam Hathaway deliver? Short answer, absolutely. But that’s way too short, then you may want to check out my unsolicited thoughts on Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway.

The story opens in U.C. 0105, 12 years after Char’s rebellion as we see Hathaway Noa, all grown up and on a shuttle heading to Earth together with several high-ranking Earth Federation ministers. There is much buzz over the recent actions of the anti-Earth Federation terrorist group “Mafty” and its leader Mafty Navue Erin who is actually Hathaway Noa. This is also where we first meet Earth Federation Forces officer Kenneth Sleg along with Gigi Andalucia, a mysterious woman who’s able to clearly see through Hathaway and his hidden persona. As they approach the atmosphere, several armed men in ridiculous masks, claiming themselves to be members of Mafty, hijack the shuttle and start terrorizing the passengers. This is where the story of these three connect and start to intertwine with each other.

The first question many would probably ask is whether you can watch Gundam Hathaway without watching any of the previous Universal Century installments. Personally, I think you can, though I’d recommend at least watching Char’s Counterattack to get better context as this movie picks up directly from the events of that one. But even if you don’t, you can still understand the story as it’s detached from the Federation-Zeon storyline of the previous entries. We also enter a morally gray area as we take the perspective of the terrorist organization Mafty. We see how their actions involve civilian casualties and collateral damage, but this is ultimately in resistance of the much more corrupt Earth Federation Government and their policies of forcing civilian emigration to the space colonies through the Man Hunter division.

This leads us to the characters, and while several are introduced, we only need to focus on the three I mentioned earlier: Hathaway, Gigi, and Kenneth. Their actions may have larger ramifications but the tighter story is basically their interactions and the actions they take in response to the events surrounding them. Hathaway is still haunted by the events of Char’s Counterattack and he himself acknowledges how Gigi totally reminds him of Quess. This had an effect on their mission in Davao that got one of their pilots captured and more collateral damage. Speaking of Gigi, she is mostly a mystery in the entire duration of the film. She also tends to be obnoxious at times, hence Hathaway’s Quess comparison, but doesn’t come across as annoying. Kenneth is the cool character archetype but unlike others of similar nature, he’s actually competent. In fact, he is responsible for bringing in the Penelope. We also got a glimpse of its pilot, Lane Aim, as well as the other members of Mafty, but the movie really focuses on these three.

As for the overall narrative (not Gundam Narrative), this installment of Gundam Hathaway, is a very character driven film. Much of it is dialogue that establishes the setting and fleshes out the motivations of our characters. If you’re expecting this to be like a feast of giant robots and beam spamming, then you would be disappointed. That said, there are a couple of mobile suit battles sprinkled throughout the movie and they do look freaking amazing. The plot is clearly a setup for the next installments so you might feel being left off a cliffhanger after the last set piece battle.

Which is a good segway to the animation, and I’ll probably compare this to the last Gundam film released, Gundam Narrative. One of my main complaints with that movie is the uninspired animation, despite having a theatrical budget. That film looked modern but generic at the same time. Gundam Hathaway totally made up for it as the animation is outstanding. One of the reasons why the original Hathaway’s Flash novels were supposedly impossible to animate was because of the overly complicated mobile suit designs of the Xi Gundam and Penelope. For Gundam Hathaway, pretty much every appearance of these two mobile suits are done entirely in CG. Now I know some are still irritated with CG in their anime but I totally feel this works for the movie. Especially with the Penelope and the Fixed Flight unit which has this otherworldly appearance thanks to the light pulsating from it. Also, props to whoever is doing the user interface and HUD for the mobile suits as the subtle animation in these look great, not to mention having proper English.

The mobile suit battles also take a different approach. To keep the focus on the characters, most scenes with mobile suits are shown with a bottom-up perspective. This gives these machines a more menacing presence as their size and power are reinforced by this perspective. Attention to detail is also given to how battles affect the surrounding areas, particularly how even the sparks from mobile suits clashing, or small beam discharges cause more collateral damage. Such details are often omitted in the TV iterations due to the additional animation required. Being a theatrical feature allowed them to include these nuances, adding more to the overall anti-war message of the movie.

I often overlook sound design in movies like this as they’re more of visual spectacles. But you can’t help but marvel at the sound design in Gundam Hathaway as the sound effects are so real, you can easily mistake them for those seen in live action movies. While mechanical sounds are one thing, very much notable are the alerts and beeps you’ll hear from the instrumentation and various panels inside the mobile suit cockpit. Even the computer voiceovers are done so well you won’t think it’s coming from an animated movie. You will also hear how every time Penelope enters the scene, it comes with this mechanical alien-like sound that I can only compare to those produced by the Decepticons from the live action Transformers movies. It sounds complicated, which is very fitting for a similarly complicated machine like the Penelope. And of course, let’s not forget the score provided by Hiroyuki Sawano. He’s pretty much in every anime nowadays so you can’t really miss his orchestrations.

Overall, I think this is a great start to this movie trilogy. While I haven’t read the original source material, most who did say the first movie pretty much covers the first volume of the novel. I did catch a glimpse of how the story ends so it would be interesting if these movies will go the same route. As of this review, there’s no announcement as to when the second installment would be released but if this one is of any indication, then I’ll definitely look forward to seeing the rest of this trilogy. Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is pretty much a no-brainer watch if you’re a Gundam fan though I’d also recommend it if you’re a more casual anime fan who character-driven stories like this.

Thoughts?

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