Hathaway is a bit unique as far as Gundam anime go. While it’s not the first show in the franchise to be adapted from an existing novel series, this particular story has been in print since way back in 1989. And more than that, it is penned by the creator of Gundam himself, Yoshiyuki Tomino. Really, the biggest surprise about it is that it took so long to be made into an anime.
While ostensibly the first film in a trilogy (with each film set to cover one of the three Hathaway’s Flash novels), Hathaway doesn’t feel like it. Rather, it feels like the second film in the series—which in many ways, it is.
Despite first appearing in the TV anime Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Hathaway Noa only really comes into his own as a character in Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack. While Char and Amuro prepare for their final confrontation, Hathaway’s story sees him meeting and falling in love with Quess—a girl who defects to Char’s side only to have the horrors of war and her own Newtype powers drive her to mental instability. In the final battle, Hathaway attempts to talk Quess down (and is semi-successful)—only for her to be killed by a soldier trying to save Hathaway’s life. This is the defining moment in Hathaway’s life and the underlying impetus for everything he does in the new film.
The problem is that, while Hathaway alludes to these events, it never directly explains who Quess was and what really happened to her. Rather, Hathaway expects you to have seen Char’s Counterattack and to be intimately familiar with Hathaway’s story going in.
Hathaway, as a film, is sort of an odd beast as it spoils its big twist early on and then pretends that it hasn’t for the rest of the film. It’s obvious early on where the various characters fall in the Earth Federation/Mafty conflict, but the movie nonetheless throws out red hearings to try and make us doubt ourselves. Still, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it allows us to learn about the world and the mindset of its characters.
It’s important to note that Hathaway takes place at a vital point in the U.C. Gundam timeline: roughly in the middle of the 30-year gap between Char’s Counterattack and F91. That means it has to show things moving towards the status quo of F91 where space colonies are once again powerful enough—and willing enough—to make a bid for independence. The film does this by showing the Federation government beginning to export the poor to the colonies by force, as the planet is struggling to support so many due to the long-term effects of Char’s Counterattack. It is this move that led to the creation of Mafty and their war on the government.
Hathaway does a good job of showing how Mafty is viewed by the various sides of the conflict. In the opening scene on the plane, we see how the rich and powerful view the situation from their privileged perch in the system. Then, later in the film, we’re put in the shoes of the oppressed masses and see how they regard Mafty not as terrorists, but heroes fighting for the little man.
On the more personal front, the film features a love triangle between Hathaway, Gigi, and Kenneth, but it’s not quite what you’d expect. Gigi clearly has feelings for Hathaway, yet when rejected she has no issues having fun with Kenneth instead. Kenneth, meanwhile, is never sure whether Gigi is friend or foe—so he keeps her close just in case.
Hathaway, on the other hand, clearly likes Gigi—but for all the wrong reasons. In Hathaway’s eyes, Gigi is Quess reborn. But despite being a young and incredibly powerful Newtype with a similar view of the world, Gigi is not Quess, and Hathaway shoehorning her into Quess’ role not only hurts his chances with her but also makes him deaf to the things she is trying to tell him. It’s sad and, honestly, more than a bit realistic for a character so deeply shaped by loss.
On the visual side of things, the film is beautiful but hampered by some of its creative choices. Outside of the opening scene on the plane, all the other action scenes in the film take place at night. While this works well in selling the chaos of Hathaway and Gigi trying to escape an urban mobile suit fight on foot, it is ill-suited for the film’s climatic Gundam versus Gundam battle since the darkness makes it hard to differentiate between the fighting Gundams. And of course, there’s also the unavoidable issue of having characters with a late 70s art style interacting with characters who have a 2020s art style—which can look especially strange in the case of Hathaway and Gigi.
The music likewise stumbles a bit. Now don’t get me wrong, Hiroyuki Sawano‘s score is amazing as always (though not quite living up to his work on Unicorn or Narrative). The problem is how his music is used. His vocal tracks are best suited for battle scenes where most of the dialogue is the characters grunting or screaming at each other. However, in this film, one such track starts long before a battle begins, causing an odd instance of dissonance where the epic music accompanies the prelude to the battle instead of the actual battle itself.
All in all, Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is unlike the Gundam films/OVAs in recent years in that it is completely unfriendly to new viewers. It assumes that you already know who the main character is and what drives him. If you know these things, the film is perfectly understandable and makes for an interesting character piece. That said, there are any number of creative choices with the usage of music, visuals, and the way the story is told that harm the film. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination (and if you are a big U.C. Gundam fan, you’ll almost certainly enjoy it), but with a bit more finesse in execution, it could have been a far better adaptation than what it has turned out to be.