Working Through The Queue: Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway (2021)
I took a break in my Gundam binging from the past year, but I wanted to check out this newer installment that recently popped up on Netflix to see if it's new viewer friendly. In general I want to say it's ok in that regard, despite it being a sequel of sorts to the 1988 Char's Counterattack series. It also takes place after the events of Gundam Unicorn (which is the series that actually really got me into the franchise), but it feels a little disjointed from that story. And if all of these titles sound like gibberish to you, don't worry, I get it. Gundam can be pretty tricky to get into, so I just want to evaluate this one as a standalone story as much as I can.
Taking place in the primary timeline of the franchise, the story follows Hathaway Noa, the son of a war hero from the original Gundam series (a conflict known as the One Year War). Since the One Year War and the following war known as Char's Counterattack, the Federation government which controls Earth (kinda the 'good guys' but Gundam is really good at being morally ambiguous) has become more corrupt and civil unrest is brewing. A terrorist organization known as Mafty is standing up to the corruption, with Hathaway organizing its efforts.
There is a good focus on the sociopolitical elements behind this world and the various mysteries they set up, so a lot of the giant mecha action takes a while to hit and that allows this to be more of a character driven thriller. A large portion of the story's focus falls on the character of Gigi Andalucia, a rich socialite who can tell when people are lying, so she's most likely a NewType (this universe's version of telepaths). Toss in a Federation Forces officer named Kenneth Sleg who thinks Hathaway is just a war hero and who is also trying to form a relationship with Gigi and there's some solid character conflicts throughout the plot.
Animation wise it's a great mix of traditional art and CGI and it's incredibly smooth. And as far as the giant robots go, one of the best parts of this film is depicting the collateral damage of mecha fighting over a cityscape. Most Gundam shows, especially modern Gundam, do a great job of showing the utter devastation and civilian casualties that happens when giant robots fire lasers everywhere. There's a great sequence that follows Hathaway and Gigi as they run through a cityscape that's just exploding all around them and it captures the street level repercussions of a robot slug fest perfectly.
While I said at the start that it's ok in regard to being new viewer friendly, I should note that it's working with an established timeline with a lot of built in backstory. It may feel incredibly dense in offhand information at first, especially since they don't really stop to explain who a Char is and why you should care about his rebellion, or why you should maybe care about who Hathaway's father was in the original series. There's an organic quality to it though that I appreciate and just moving forward without endless backstory exposition is a bit refreshing, but I can also see why it may turn some people off. You're mileage as a new viewer will vary depending on how quickly you acclimate to established universes, but I feel that the storytelling is engaging regardless of where you land on that spectrum.
This film is an adaptation of the first chapter of the Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway's Flash novel series, so presumably we have at least a couple more in the pipeline. This leaves things pretty open ended, so if you hate long waits you might want to put off jumping into this and checking another series such as Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin (I highly recommend either version, the manga or the anime) to see if you can a taste for this franchise. Just be careful to not fall too deep down the rabbit hole because getting you to collect and build Gundam models is the franchise's ultimate evil goal. And I should know, I have like a dozen unbuilt robots just waiting for me to get off my lazy butt.