The Fight Against Oneself: Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway

In my earliest days of online Gundam fandom back in the late 1990s, the vast amount of information available was like a treasure trove of juicy morsels about what was out there. Among them was mention of a certain novel—“Did you know there’s a sequel to Char’s Counterattack? It’s called Hathaway’s Flash, and it stars Hathaway Noah [sic], who pilots something called the Xi Gundam!”

Though I don’t recall ever asking out loud, chief among them were: “Would I ever get to experience this story myself?” and “Why the hell would they make a sequel about Hathaway?” 

Now, in 2021, we have Gundam Hathaway, a film (presumably the first of a series) that adapts the novel into animation. Story-wise, it follows Hathaway Noa, now in his 20s and a decade-and-change removed from the events of Char’s Counterattack. Leaders of the Earth Federation have been under attack by a mysterious terrorist named Mafty Navue Erin, and Hathaway’s own history leads to him being in the epicenter of this situation. 

The action is impressive and the character animation is gorgeous, though the lack of 2D animation for the robot fights is kind of disappointing even if the 3DCG looks good overall. When the Xi Gundam shows up, you get a real sense of the sheer size of the thing. Compared to even the oversized Nu Gundam and Sazabi from Char’s Counterattack, the long distance from cockpit door to seat sells how much things have scaled up. 

But the story of Hathaway, and his internal struggle, is where this first film shines most.

I don’t know how the young me back in 1998 would have reacted to the characters and narrative of Gundam Hathaway, but I think it would have been quite different. A couple years ago, I watched a theatrical screening of Char’s Counterattack, and coming at it as an adult instead of a teen gave me a whole new perspective. The young side characters, Hathaway and the Newtype prodigy Quess Paraya weren’t irritating fools but simply kids who are failed by adults at every turn.

In this light, an adult Hathaway makes for a compelling protagonist. While he’s portrayed as being far more skilled in combat both in and out of mobile suits compared to his child self, he never comes across as inherently exceptional the way previous main characters like Amuro Ray and Kamille Bidan were. What you have in Hathaway is a child traumatized by war, and who’s trying to prevent his past mistakes as an adult, but who doesn’t necessarily know what the right answer is. Within him are the dueling philosophies of Amuro and Char, clashing and contradicting. He wants to be the everyman and the charismatic leader, the hero who saves the people both from corruption at the top and themselves. 

Nowhere is this clearer than his interactions with the female lead, Gigi Andalusia. She’s an eccentric empath who’s probably a Newtype or something similar, Hathaway sees the late Quess in her, and while she can be a thorn in his side, Gigi’s exactly the kind of person Hathaway fights for. If he can prevent more tragic deaths like Quess’s from happening, he’ll do whatever it takes.

I’m looking forward to seeing where Hathaway’s decisions take him, though I know this is Gundam and the chances of tragedy are markedly high—especially because the original novels were written by the original series director Tomino Yoshiyuki during one of his more fiery periods. Whatever the result, Hathaway Noa is a worthy Gundam protagonist.

Quesstions: A Renewed Look at Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack is a defining anime for me. It cemented Gundam in my head as this incredible thing, and its aesthetics (especially its main mobile suits) remain among my favorite ever. That’s why, even though I’d seen the movie plenty of times in my youth and I own a physical copy, I still decided to attend the recent Fathom Events screening. It also didn’t hurt that there was an exclusive new interview with director Tomino Yoshiyuki.

There was one big mishap at my screening, which was that the theater played the wrong audio for about the first ten minutes or so. They eventually fixed it, but were not allowed to restart the movie because it was a Fathom Event. Thankfully, they gave us a free voucher for a future showing.

That mess-up aside, watching the film at my current age made for a significantly different experience compared to when I was a teen in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just that I was older, but that the current circumstances of the world make clear the failure of the story’s adults all around.

Char’s Counterattack is the finale to the ongoing rivalry between the original Mobile Suit Gundam protagonist, Amuro Ray, and his greatest rival, Char Aznable. Both older and in different positions after two different wars—the second of which they fought side by side—it’s a bookend to their ongoing personal, political, and philosophical differences.

One notorious character in the film is Quess Paraya, a young and talented Newtype (essentially a psychic) who willingly gets wrapped up in the conflict. She’s infamous in the fandom as a character nearly everyone hates because she gets in other characters’ ways and acts like a know-it-all despite her age. However, when I watched this time, I could only pity her.

It’s true that Quess can be infuriatingly impetuous and overconfident, but I realize now that her side plot is less about her screwing things up due to arrogance and more about the adults who fail her at every turn. She’s the classic case of a teenager with very real talent and insight but who doesn’t realize how her lack of experience and first-hand understanding of the world limits her. Quess thinks she’s figured it all out but she hasn’t, and when she interacts with Amuro, Char, and even her dad, they all brush her off in different ways or enable her in the worst ways possible. She’s someone who could be guided and mentored, but no one has the time or desire. Even those closer to her in age, who are romantically interested, lack the maturity to be good partners.

There’s a point at which Amuro and Char are fist-fighting while arguing, and Char says that humankind is ruining the Earth and something must be done about it, which prompts Quess to immediately join his side despite ostensibly being with the Earth Federation due to her dad. The way Quess thinks she’s on the same wavelength as Char, even though she knows so little about him, brings to mind a teen on YouTube watching an extreme political video and thinking, “Yeah, I get it!” without realizing how much they’re being manipulated.

But it’s not just Quess who suffers from being a half-broken machine—this is a recurring theme throughout the entire cast. Amuro is trying to be a mature adult who’s both a good soldier but also independent-minded, but can’t shake the ghosts of the past. Char is trying to be a real leader and successor to his dad’s legacy but also can’t come to terms with how things played out with Amuro all those years ago. Gyunei, a soldier under Char, is so close to figuring everything out, but actually thinks that scoring the figurative winning point in the big game will turn everyone to his side. They’re all in shambles, and the film takes away some of their mystique even as it showcases them in gorgeously animated space combat.

In the Tomino interview afterwards, the director described Char in Char’s Counterattack as someone whose star quickly rise in his youth as a pilot, but who finds himself inadequate as a leader partially because he still desires to settle things personally. It positions Char as not the enigmatic rival, and instead a man frustrated by his own limitations but refusing to directly them. It might be no wonder why my teenage self didn’t quite get it.