Shukou Murase’s Visual Masterpiece | Gundam: Hathaway

Seldom is a movie so addicting that I find myself rewatching it within a day. Even most good films hit the spot just right that I can give it at least a while before a second watch. But some movies, whether they’re short or just incredibly well-paced, get me coming back almost instantly. The kind of film varies, but they have something in common: spectacles that I can’t get out of my head.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway is one such movie. Director Shukou Murase, the man behind Gangsta, Ergo Proxy, and Genocidal Organ – among others – brings this story to life, from novel to film. It’s the first of a planned trilogy from Studio Sunrise, and it might just be the most gorgeous film to look at in 2021.

This is an adaptation of a novel written by original series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, with artwork by legendary character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto. The story follows the Hathaway Noa. He is the son of Bright Noa, an officer in the Earth Federation’s military, and a major character from the original series and beyond. Hathaway was there during Char’s Rebellion. He witnessed the philosophies of Char Aznable and original series hero Amuro Ray firsthand.

12 years later, the Federation is corrupt, the earth is dying, and its citizens are being forced out into space through deportation. A terrorist organization called “Mafty” is attacking the Federation and has gained the support of the public. The leader, “Mafty Navue Erin” is none other than Hathaway, the man embodying both Char and Amuro’s ideals.

His mission, however, puts him in direct opposition with Kenneth Sleg, a federation commander who wants his head. Plus, a woman named Gigi Andalucia, whose intentions remain a mystery. Hathaway has to balance his mission to save humanity against the lives taken in his war against the Federation. When all of humanity can’t live on Earth together, how can humanity truly be united?

The opening 15 minutes of Hathaway is one of the best introductions to a film I have seen in a long while, and surely one of my favorites among anime films. A terrorist attack on a luxury transport vessel, with notable Federation Cabinet Members aboard. They claim to be Mafty, but the true leader right there, one of the hostages. Hathaway Noa is aboard as an inconspicuous passenger.

The key players in the film’s story are all present. By the end of the incident, we know so much about all of them. Hathaway is quiet and reserved but is also unshaken by the threat. He’s also a total badass. Kenneth is a prideful military man, as well as something of a ladies’ man. Gigi is the hardest to get a read on, as is intended I imagine. But her voice getting into Hathaway’s head suggests she’s a Newtype, the Gundam universe’ equivalent of a force-user from Star Wars.

The entire time, the character designs, character animation, weapon design, mechanical design, color grading, shading, voice acting, and music were all perfect. Haruhiko Mikimoto’s original designs are respectfully updated with new designs by Shigeki Kuhara, Pablo Uchida, and some obvious influence by Director Murase. If you’ve watched his other works, you know that Murase’s fingerprint is seen most heavily in character art.

There is an idea that anime has abandoned older, more hyper-detailed artwork. The kind that you’d see in the science fiction animation of the 80s and 90s. Directors like Murase, more than most, seems uniquely committed to reviving this philosophy. Pablo Uchida especially has a style that mirrors western poster art famous in older cinema and mixes it with the striking style of eastern animation.

The aesthetic of Gundam: Hathaway feels familiar and true to the universal appeal of the franchise. And yet, I can’t think of a single Gundam work that looks THIS good (except Thunderbolt perhaps). To put it in laymen’s terms, this movie’s animation fucks. Every movement of the body is smooth, every pose feels natural, and every attack or gunshot feels heavy and visceral.

I’ll say it. Gundam: Hathaway‘s introduction is the best opening to a film since the Cowboy Bebop movie. It’s an addicting beginning to an otherwise short 90-minute film. When the dust settles on the attempted plane hijacking, the film starts feeling like an old James Bond film.

Hathaway finds himself stuck with the mysterious Gigi Andalucia as the government wants to question the people aboard the plane and figure out what happened. Meanwhile, Hathaway is planning a major attack and meeting with his allies. It’s a well-paced second act that explores the political unrest on Earth from the ground level. The wealth disparity is made frighteningly clear.

Gundam is a story of war that rarely takes a particular side. However justified one side is, war will always take unwanted casualties. Hathaway is right to hate the Federation and their corruption needs to be dealt with. However, he and his diverse band of compatriots, of which I wish got more screentime, are terrorists.

None of that is meant to be cynicism either. Gundam has always appeared very cautionary in my eyes. That the story is unafraid to let the leads commit themselves fully to morally questionable deeds in the name of solving societal problems clear as day makes Gundam a tense and thought-provoking thriller.

Truth be told, my experience with Hathaway was something of a rollercoaster. The first time I watched it was on YouTube, shortly after the Blu-rays were made available in Japan. The video got taken down later the same day and I didn’t even finish the whole thing, but I wasn’t super impressed. There were a lot of characters I didn’t know but who seemed important. Without getting answers quickly, I was being impatient.

Having watched it again after its official release on Netflix, on a big TV with a good soundbar, I’m reminded of how integral the experience of watching something is to one’s impression of it. Audio/visual immersion aside, I was able to absorb more of the storytelling as it was intended on a second – more attentive – watch.

This is a planned trilogy after all, so not every character will be fully fleshed out. And considering the film’s priorities from a narrative standpoint, the main trio, Hathaway, Kenneth, and Gigi, are all wonderfully done. During the final confrontation, secondary characters like Lane Aim of the Federation and Gawman of Mafty showed the makings of some great characters in their limited but meaningful screen time.

I wanna take a second to gush over the sound design. Eriko Kimura and Kouji Kasamatsu were the sound directors and from the gunshots to the explosions, everything worked in tandem with the already stunning visuals to present a grounded sci-fi world. Dramatically, the sound also built tension in ways that created meaningful hype.

The Penelope is the new mobile suit that the Federation is flaunting in this movie. It’s an experimental Gundam piloted by Lane Aim, who I can already tell is going to be somewhat of a rival to Hathaway. The first time it appears, we don’t even see the pilot or even get a good look at the Gundam in its full spender. But we see it in the sky and hear its near-animalistic howl. It’s terrifying. As soon as you hear it, you know shit’s going down.

The RX-104FF Penelope.

It says something about audio and visual mastery when a soundtrack by Hiroyuki Sawano is the least impressive thing going for your film. Sawano probably looked at the production and said “well that’ll be a breeze. This isn’t a dig at Sawano either. He’s one of the best at what he does. In this case, though, there were a few more impressive factors at play and he didn’t wow me. Color me shocked.

With Sunrise’s money and oversight, this film is the ultimate vision of what Shukou Murase’s direction and style are capable of. Gundam: Hathaway is everything that I wished Genocidal Organ from 2017 would have been. There’s none of the messiness and the split effort between two different studios. It is simply phenomenal.

It’s also short, but content in the knowledge that this will be a trilogy, I’m fine with that. As the beginning of a story, it’s as perfect of an eye-catch as one could conjure. If I’m cautious at all, it’s because the last great anime trilogy to catch my eye, Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel, disappointed me as it went on. But, with the different source material, different staff, and a different studio, I’m sure I don’t have to be too scared.

My biggest complaint? Possibly the dub. It was done by NYAV Post, who in my eyes has a glowing track record of producing some of the best dubs in years. Something about that opening scene however lacked impact in English. It was probably the screams and reactions from certain characters.

Aaron B. Phillips, a relatively new voice actor, voices Kenneth and does a well enough job. The last time I heard him he voiced Laurent Thierry in Netflix’s The Great Pretender. I’m glad he’s getting more work for damn sure. As for Hathaway, I was skeptical. Caleb Yen’s voice conveys the youth of such an unassuming lead. I think it takes some getting used to. For lovers of dubs, I think this will suffice, but some early scenes seem slightly awkward as a result of the translation.

As I said in my review of Gundam: Unicorn, I am still quite new to the franchise, but I’m eager to explore the franchise more and I don’t seem to be at a loss for great things to watch. Unicorn almost instantly registered as a 10 for me and Hathaway just gets better the more I think about it.

I’ll put it like this. As of right now, Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway is one of the best films of the year and certainly one of the best-looking anime films I’ve ever seen.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway is available for legal streaming through Netflix in Japanese and English.

What did you think of Hathaway? What’s your favorite Gundam series? Which should I review next? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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