After having its premiere moved around twice due to the pandemic and its release from the big screen to Netflix, “Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway” has finally debuted, and it was worth the wait, especially for Filipino Gundam fans.
You see, the Philippines is the location of the animated film, a welcome convergence for the many passionate “Gundam” fans in the country. Produced by Bandai and animation studio Sunrise, “Hathaway” was to be released in Japan on July 23, 2020 and is the latest installment in the canonical Universal Century (UC) continuity, where the Earth Federation Space Force (EFSF) is fighting a war against the spacenoids of the Republic of Zeon, or iterations thereof.
The first film is set mostly in a future version of Davao—in the Gundam timeline of UC 105. Directed by Shuko Murase, “Hathaway” is the first of a film trilogy based on “Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash,” a line of light novels written by “Gundam” creator Yoshiyuki Tomino that ran in the Kadokawa Shoken manga from 1989 to 1990. The events of “Hathaway” happen between the film 1988’s “Mobile Suit Gundam Char’s Counterattack” and 1991’s “Mobile Suit Gundam F91.”
“Hathaway” begins 12 years after “Counterattack.” In the first part of “Hathaway,” a shuttle carrying Federation officials is hijacked by alleged terrorists from the Mafty organization, but are repelled by passenger Hathaway Noa and Federation officer Kenneth Sleg. The damaged shuttle has to land in the Federation base in Davao, Sleg’s destination as he is set to take over the mobile suit unit there. Sleg doesn’t realize that the man his task force is tasked to hunt down—the mysterious Mafty Navue Erin—is Hathaway himself.
This is further complicated by the fact that Hathaway is the son of Bright Noa, one of the most noble characters in the original “Mobile Suit Gundam” from 1979. This is the beginning of a series of furious robot battles, covert operations and personal conflicts. The show features very stylized mecha designs from “Hades Project Zeorymer’s” Moriki Yasuhiro. In short, they’re quite crazy, especially the Penelope Gundam, which doesn’t even sound like any Gundam before. But Murase delivers with kinetic robot battles and engaging espionage. The animation is amazing, up to par with that of “Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn” and its sequel “Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative.” •In fact, one of the most interesting parts of “Hathaway” happens when a mobile suit battle breaks out in the middle of the city—but is seen from Hathaway’s point-of-view, showing how terrifying such encounters can be at ground level, collateral damage and all.
You don’t need to know all the “Gundam” backstory to appreciate “Hathaway,” you just have to keep up, because it runs at a pretty relentless pace story-wise, thanks to Murase and composer Hiroyuki Sawano. But like any “Gundam” property set in the UC, there is a lot of background that is necessary to truly appreciate the significance of “Hathaway.” This is particularly important considering the behavior of Hathaway (and the late, unlamented Quess) in “Char’s Counterattack.” It is, however, a great jump-on point for possible new fans for the “Gundam” franchise, maybe Filipino fans who have yet to discover his venerable science fiction property.
Hathaway is set up as the protagonist in the eponymous series, but, as in many “Gundam” series, the ostensible “terrorist” is set up as the hero. This is, however, a logical and welcome development to the mess he was after “Char’s Counterattack.” Gigi Andalucia is the mysterious femme fatale. Sleg is the actual honorable character—but is placed in a problematic position. We can see the care that went into the production. “Hathaway” producer Naohiro Ogata actually visited Davao and scouted the location. So it is the Davao of the future, down to the •palengke•, and, eyes aren’t fooling you, that really is Jollibee—the fast food chain branch, the mascot and the Chickenjoy—all making appearances in “Hathaway.”
“Mobile Suit Hathway” is a pleasant contradiction: A very modern execution of one of the older canonical “Gundam” novels. While “Gundam” fans will no doubt appreciate a new movie on Netflix, Filipinos should take a look and maybe appreciate why this property is so popular here. Otherwise, the only downside is that “Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway” is clearly the beginning of the trilogy, and we have to wait for the two other parts to find out what happens in the end.
“Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway” is now streaming on Netflix.