WARNING: SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF GUNDAM: THE WITCH FROM MERCURY
I know I probably shouldn’t do it. Sunrise is notorious for fucking up a good thing by meddling midway, and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury has been good. Yet, even if I regret in the long run giving this show praise, I want to lay out my thoughts now, especially after an intense and shocking season finale.
Gundam: The Witch from Mercury is the first major Gundam anime to feature a female protagonist. While there have been heroines before like Christina Mackenzie in 0080: War in the Pocket and Hoshino Fumina in Gundam: Build Fighters Try, no one has been as prominent as Suletta Mercury. It’s a milestone that can easily be mismanaged, but the creators have done an amazing job not just with her portrayal, but also constructing a world that is a significant departure from typical Gundam while also feeling true to the spirit of Gundam and addressing modern concerns.
One of The Witch from Mercury’s biggest adjustments to the lore of Gundams-as-mecha is simple but profound: In this universe, Gundam technology was not originally designed for war. Rather, it was meant to help people with disabilities, and was only made into weapons through the greed of others. The world is dominated by corporations operating from space at the expense of those on Earth, touching upon a very relevant concern about the unchecked power of the moneyed.
It’s within this context that Suletta stands out in contrast to her peers as she enters school for the first time. When we first see her (outside of the traumatic childhood events of Episode 0), she’s a nervous mess of a teen who has never interacted with kids her age, and whose only friend is her Definitely-Not-a-Forbidden-by-Law-Gundam, the Aerial. She seems to have the power to persevere in spite of her anxiety, carrying an innocent-yet-powerful sense of right and wrong. She wants to both make friends and do good, and the wrench she throws into the systems in place at her school is a big one.
The school setting is also something of a first for a main Gundam series, and the way it’s handled is beautiful. While on the surface it makes The Witch from Mercury look like it’s trying to mimic a popular trend, the show successfully does two things to make this work.
First, it presents the school as an unusual place with unusual rules: a place to train students in the use and management of mobile suits, which also features a formalized mecha-dueling system that participants can use to wager and settle disputes. It seems silly, but it’s also contextualized as a kind of sheltered space to protect/mold the rich kids of the corporations running the world and give them advantages to further leverage their positions. This is precisely what Suletta gums up by becoming the “groom” for the “bride” of the school, Miorine Rembran—the daughter of the CEO who owns the school.
Second, it takes those setting elements of the school and uses them to drive home certain themes and metaphors. The Witch from Mercury has often been compared to Revolutionary Girl Utena, and while the abstract symbolism and allegories aren’t as robust and dominant here, they still carry a lot of weight. Not only are the yuri vibes undoubtable and a more overt step into that territory, but the duels are very revealing about each character and their motivations. The balance is very reminiscent of G Gundam.
So when the other shoe drops in Episodes 11 and 12 as a real battle begins, it really highlights what an isolated environment the school really is. Duels are playtime and ways to establish hierarchy. Combat is where lives are lost. The competition between corporations is only one factor when the tensions between Earthians and Spacians can lead to such death. And when Suletta emerges as being surprisingly okay with murder (for the “right” reasons, like saving people), her lack of hesitation is downright frightening. It’s why Miorine’s reaction at the end is so powerful. She and Suletta worked out their emotional differences and trust issues, but now here’s an unexpected side called “Suletta can literally smash someone into a bloody stain and not bat an eye.” It really is like Utena and Anthy switched spots.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the similarities between Suletta’s mom and Char Aznable, and how they go beyond the masks. I was mostly thinking about their presentations and mannerisms, but this has made me realize there’s a vital aspect of Char’s character I didn’t look at enough: the unwavering desire for revenge. And so it begs the question—what would Char do of he has a child? The likely answer is “shape them into a bringer of vengeance.”
I hope The Witch from Mercury can live up to the greatness we’ve already seen. Please let this one get through okay. The next time I write about this series, I imagine it’ll be as a Gattai Girls entry.
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