Mobile Suit Gundam as a franchise is likely to be most generally recognized for its titular mechanical warriors, their designs as iconic as they have become toyetic within the many years for the reason that authentic present started its rocky road to international renown. However the newest cinematic entry within the franchise, premiering on Netflix this month, seeks to downplay its titular mecha to ask some massive questions on Gundam’s wider world.
The animated function, Cellular Swimsuit Gundam: Hathaway, is directed by Shūkō Murase and written by Yasuyuki Muto. It’s the primary in a deliberate trilogy of flicks set within the yr U.C. 0105—the “Common Century” timeline that performs host to a majority of the Gundam franchise’s works, together with the original 1979 animated series—and 12 years after the occasions of the beloved animated film Char’s Counterattack. In a world the place the globalized Earth Federation is now not actively at warfare with its interstellar colonies, the film follows the titular Hathaway Noa (Kensho Ono), a former Federation cellular go well with pilot and the son of well-known commander Vivid Noa as he returns to Earth on a brand new mission.
Not a Federation soldier however as a substitute disillusioned with its more and more totalitarian insurance policies in opposition to “spacenoid” residents (people who’ve grow to be accustomed to, or had been born, residing in area colonies), Hathaway has taken on the id Mafty Navue Erin as the pinnacle of the self-titled dissident group Mafty, searching for to violently silence Federation ministers and advocate for the colonies’ proper to self-govern. However when confronted on his journey by a mysterious younger lady named Gigi Andalucia (Reina Ueda), and introduced head to head with the Federation commander tasked with searching Mafty down, Kenneth Sleg (Junichi Suwabe), Hathaway is pressured to re-examine his personal previous traumas in addition to his present ideological beliefs as Mafty’s actions in opposition to the Federation proceed to escalate.
It’s that wider astropolitical image that makes Hathaway a captivating factor to witness over its roughly 90-minute runtime, extra so than any specific moments of mecha motion it might comprise. If something, it deliberately downplays a few of its larger motion setpieces to place its worldbuilding on the forefront. Outdoors of the opening scene, the place terrorists claiming to be a part of Mafty assault the ship Hathaway and outstanding Federation ministers are traveling to Earth on, motion performs second fiddle to quieter scenes of dialog and interrogation. Hathaway is a gorgeously animated movie, however its motion isn’t the main focus of that element. There are solely actually two main conflicts within the movie: an eventual Gundam vs. Gundam duel between Hathaway and Federation forces on the movie’s climax, and a breakout spotlight scene depicting an on-the-ground Cellular Swimsuit assault that cleverly subverts our typical perspective of Gundam’s motion to offer it the texture of one thing extra out of a catastrophe film than a sci-fi mecha motion movie, accentuating its critiques of the powers at play in its world.
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If large robots usually are not Hathaway’s major curiosity—exterior of reminding us simply how petrifying large mechanized troopers actually are—its focus, then, is on the quieter moments and particulars of Gundam’s “Common Century” setting. Happening in an vital interval of that established timeline, Hathaway’s return to Earth asks him to navigate what humanity’s crucible, and the individuals answerable for it, have grow to be in peacetime since his traumatic experiences in Char’s Counterattack. The satan is in its particulars, contrasting lovely, lavish photographs of tropical locales with the encroaching, technologically superior cityscapes internet hosting the Federation’s elite members—Hathaway strolling amongst them in “disguise” as his father’s son, relatively than as Mafty’s chief. But it surely twists the thematic knife additional nonetheless, contrasting these decadent cityscapes with the rundown, crowded streets the place the conventional, put-upon individuals of the Federation rise and grind in programs of capital— scraping by to take care of their statuses as Earth-living residents whereas Federation “Manhunter” squads stalk the streets for dissident exercise, militaristically policing who stays on Earth and who’s forcefully emigrated to the colonies.
That is removed from the primary time Gundam has engaged with the concept the “heroes” of its authentic collection, the Earth Federation, are something however heroic. The unique present solid a uncertain eye over its intentions loads of instances, and successor collection like Zeta Gundam and Gundam Unicorn extra explicitly tackled the evil the Federation was able to. However bringing it again to the forefront in Hathaway, over the potential spectacle of the mechanized motion the franchise is beloved for, is a powerfully promising concept that this primary a part of the trilogy delivers on. It’s a transfer that feels truthful in a world rocked by climate crises, rising totalitarian and fascist governments, and actual questions over what our evolving society, and the individuals who maintain energy in it, are doing to the planet. That it is usually an adaptation of one in every of Gundam’s most well-known non-anime works—the 1989 trilogy of novels Hathaway’s Flash, penned by Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino—seems like even additional grim commentary. The themes Tomino was writing about over 30 years in the past nonetheless really feel ripped-from-the-headlines as well timed and resonant for immediately.
What doesn’t fairly work in Hathaway’s favor because it engages with these critiques is how little it does to onboard newcomers to the franchise—who, say, occurred upon a title card of a large robotic thanks to a splashy Netflix deal to deliver the movie exterior of Japan after a yr of pandemic-induced delays. It’s a peculiar launch state of affairs that would by no means have been predicted and is not totally honest to the movie itself. However whereas Netflix did its finest to offer the choice for audiences to get some preparation for Hathaway’s release—the streamer acquired rights to the movie compilation trilogy of the unique Cellular Swimsuit Gundam, in addition to Char’s Counterattack, in mid-June—a lot of what makes Hathaway attention-grabbing, each the film and its titular characters, is constructed on prior expertise with the franchise that the movie itself coasts by on.
We’re by no means given the setup as to why it’s attention-grabbing that the Earth Federation has grow to be so brazenly totalitarian, nor are we given the explanation why Hathaway’s ethical crises all through the film are drawn from his previous, fleeting relationship with Quess Paraya in Char’s Counterattack—and the way he begins to imprint that relationship onto Gigi on this film as she pokes and prods at his resolution to grow to be the pinnacle of a violent terrorist group like Mafty. These are issues that, because the viewers is primarily meant to be Gundam followers invested within the Common Century setting, are simply meant to be framing the movie inherently. However in making that alternative, it serves to undercut moments Hathaway desires to hit hardest with out offering even somewhat context—too busy patting itself on the again for a throwaway flashback shot evoking a well-known scene from Char’s Counterattack, for instance, relatively than making its place within the wider Gundam world extra specific to anybody however its most invested followers.
However for these already invested in that world, Hathaway serves as a captivating primer for future exploration. Gundam as an entity, because it sprawls out throughout completely different mediums and continuities, has grow to be more and more reflective of its roots as of late—whether or not by way of the nostalgic embrace of cellular go well with merchandise, or by way of re-litigating the setup of its world in variations like The Origin and different early-UC projects like Thunderbolt. To get a movie that honors these roots then, not simply in a devoted adaptation of an older, highly-regarded work in Tomino’s novels (which have nonetheless but to be formally translated into English), however in re-visiting critiques of its worldview and worldbuilding that the franchise has performed with from virtually its very starting, is way more fascinating than the idle exploration of acquainted imagery and designs. Hathaway’s evocation of a few of Gundam’s most attention-grabbing themes offers way more to chew on than a splashy mecha struggle with designs we’re aware of from many years of anime, manga, and model kits—even when it sacrifices somewhat accessibility to a wider viewers to start partaking with it.
It’s clear that Hathaway is extra about setup than it’s payoff. There’s nonetheless way more for Murase and Muto to discover as they dive deeper, not simply into Hathaway’s character, however the world round him, within the remaining two entries, every time they might come. However whereas this primary entry within the collection won’t seize the flash that Gundam followers on the lookout for an all-out mecha royale might want, it units the stage to re-examine a few of the franchise’s most enduring themes in a compelling new mild.
Cellular Swimsuit Gundam: Hathaway is now streaming on Netflix.
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