Char is gone. Following the events of Char’s Counterattack that ended his resurgent attempt to lead Neo Zeon in a war aimed at transferring power to the space colonies, attempts were made to put the Earth Federation back into the power of its civilians. For just over a decade prior to the events of Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway, it appeared as though the prospect of war had left the minds of the people living on Earth.
But that would be too convenient. By shipping underprivileged people to space because of a supposed lack of space to care for everyone on Earth, an undercurrent of resistance to the Federation was forming that sowed the seeds for a group that rejected this state-run injustice. A terrorist organization known as Mafty is standing up to the plate, ready to fight back.
Mobile Suit Gundam is an interesting beast, with multiple timelines and battles taking place that explore the same themes of war that have driven the franchise throughout its existence. Very few stories have chosen to dive directly into the original storyline since Char’s Counterattack’s release in 1988, leaving it up to a somewhat overlooked series of novels by Yoshiyuki Tomino named to attempt such a difficult task.
But could this story translate into anime, three decades on from its original publication?
War’s Victims and Perpetrators
One key idea that has defined the Gundam franchise since its inception is how its best characters explore their experiences as both participants and victims of the large-scale space wars they participate in.
In Char’s Counterattack, Hathaway Noa went from an initial series side-character to a supporting member of the main cast by taking control of his destiny. In the movie, he befriends and falls in love with a girl named Quess, which makes her decision to fight with Char (promptly going insane as she takes control of her own Gundam), and her inevitable death, all the more painful for him.
It’s this backdrop and history that drives the Hathaway Noa we meet in this latest Mobile Suit Gundam movie. Not that the movie explains this backstory to any innocent soul who encounters it without the knowledge and backstory of the original UC storyline of Char that precedes it.
Hathaway’s motivations for leading a revolution under the guise of Mafty are a mix of the injustices the Earth Federation’s actions as they target minorities and the underprivileged with forced deportations, and the cold cynicism of a man jaded by the actions of those in power and a desire to burn the system to the ground. And before the movie even starts, it seems like this organization is earning support from the people.
Throughout the franchise’s history, no character within the UC timeline embodies Gundam’s approach to war better than Hathaway Noa. It’s his character that drives a dense and otherwise-primarily expository opening entry into the Hathaway movie series, keeping you invested throughout.
Tightly packed into a 96-minute runtime, we’re introduced to an older, more mature and battle-worn Hathaway and the gray ideals driving his terrorist acts, unable to move on from his past in a way that keeps him distant from the unaware hands within the Earth Federation who may want to help him, like Gigi Andalucia and Kenneth Sleg. Through Hathaway, we have a vehicle for the movie’s exploration of the unseen costs of war.
Beyond its messaging and main character, the aforementioned supporting characters are equally interesting insights into the Earth Federation. Gigi is designed as a counterbalance to the memories of Quess that Hathaway still holds, while acting as a neutral figure with hands on both sides of this far-reaching conflict. She takes advantage of the interest in her from the men around her to extract information. And it’s not always clear where her loyalties lie, despite her obvious love for Hathaway. The way Hathaway frames her as a replacement to his memories is also a tragic yet compelling viewpoint for their relationship. Kenneth, meanwhile, is far more than an oblivious head to a military battalion.
Another standout point of the film is its animation. While a part of me wishes that certain set-piece battles had been removed from the shade of darkness within the Earth Federation at night into the brightness of day or the vast emptiness of space, the battles we bear witness to between Gundam units on either side of the conflict are a sight to behold, despite the difficulties in differentiating friend from foe at times. Particular attention to detail has been paid to the mechanical intricacies of these complicated machines, to the point you can picture their inner workings in your head (and in turn, how Gunpla model kits of these would piece together).
For a series known for its space battles, it’s the film’s human drama that takes up the majority of the runtime. While far less of a spectacle, the same attention to detail has been given to the dense backgrounds and expressions of these characters to make it easier to read the pain of the past or the intrigue of the moment on the faces and in the voices of these characters.
Yet once again, it’s impossible to ignore how this fascinating protagonist and world is Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway’s biggest obstacle, and one only exacerbated by the decision to release the film via Netflix. The benefit of releasing a movie such as this on a service like this is its wide reach, allowing the film to be placed in front of a far larger audience than a traditional release would provide. Only fans would go to a theater or pick up a Blu-ray copy of the film, while anyone scrolling through Netflix’s endless algorithm may see a movie about giant mechs and try it on nothing but a whim (especially if they remember the news that Netflix is making a live-action film and want to see what the fuss is all about).
This isn’t a standalone film. That backdrop from Char’s Counterattack and the original series is required viewing for anyone wishing to understand the events of this movie beyond their mere spectacle. Even with the trilogy of compilation movies and Char’s Counterattack being made available for streaming on Netflix alongside this film, this is still a significant commitment for anyone wanting to get the most out of this experience.
Indeed, Hathaway just expects the Second Zeon War to be common knowledge to its audience, and it’s difficult to recommend this film to anyone whose mind doesn’t immediately recall the events of these decades-old movies at the mere mention of it. While hardly a black mark against the film, it’s a curation problem that overshadows the film when the only service with legal streaming access to the film views it as content and not another building block of a deep, interconnected story.
For a story initially conceived as a series of novels in the early 1990s, its exploration of inhumane responses to the migrant crisis because of environmental decline could hardly be more relevant, and its transformation of magnificent Gundam into specters of war is inspired. While the movie is dragged down by an overload of exposition that slows its momentum and is unfortunately positioned by the service streaming it, for those with the right background and patience, Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is one of the more intriguing Gundam stories of recent years.
Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is currently streaming via Netflix.