Domon Kasshu, Tenjou Utena, and the Witch from Mercury

Many viewers have remarked on the similarities between The Witch from Mercury and another anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena. Both feature heroines having to protect a prized bride in ritualized duels that involve cutting off a symbol to win (an antenna and a rose, respectively). It’s hard not to make the comparison. But I think the fact that we are seeing “Utena Gundam” so readily embraced is a sign that the Gundam fandom has progressed in ways I couldn’t have seen years ago. This is especially the case when looking at a different spiritual predecessor to The Witch from Mercury, 1995’s Mobile Fighter G Gundam.

There was a time when G Gundam was the black sheep of the family. Eschewing the backdrop of war for a gigantic mechanized fighting tournament, many fans regarded it as antithetical to what Gundam was supposed to be. But as the decades have passed and new fans have come to the franchise and brought new perspectives, the notion of Gundams in formal duels isn’t viewed in such a negative light anymore. We even got a tournament anime about fighting with Gundam model kits! There might be an inherently ridiculous quality that seems to (double) harken back to 70s super robot shows like UFO Robo Grendizer, but that doesn’t mean such a series can’t be serious and insightful in its own way.

The larger setting of The Witch from Mercury, beyond the school, clearly sets up a world where the shady politics of militarism and capitalism shape events in ways worth analyzing that feels very current but connected to the past. When the duels are viewed in this context, they feel not so much separated from the outside as connected to the larger problems that exist. In this sense, it truly does feel like the child of G Gundam and Utena, but also the grandchild of Gundam itself.

Utena via Gurren-Lagann

This isn’t really anything mind-blowing, but I find that one of the themes of Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann can be used to explain a certain aspect of the ending to Revolutionary Girl Utena in a rather straightforward fashion. As I’ll be discussing the ending to Utena, I think a spoiler warning is more than implied, but I’ll put one here anyway because I think both Utena and Gurren-Lagann have final conclusion that shouldn’t be experienced in the form of a paragraph. I advise you not to read this post unless you’ve seen both.

In the “epilogue” of Revolutionary Girl Utena, we see Ohtori Academy only nearly everyone has forgotten about Utena. At first, it seems like Utena ultimately had no impact on the students there despite everything that happened in the series, but little by little the show reveals subtle differences in the characters’ behavior, such as the fact that Wakaba now has a friend who looks up to her as much as Wakaba herself looked up to Utena. Then we see Anthy with Akio, where Akio is trying to revive the rose duels once more. Anthy, however, ends up walking away and (we presume) permanently out of Akio’s life.

If we look at Gurren-Lagann, the drill is one of the very overt themes of the series. The titular robot pulls them out of thin-air, the concept of the infinite power source that is “spiral energy” is derived from the same shape, and it appears in the show’s most famous quotes (“Your drill is the drill that will pierce the heavens!”). From that whole drill motif (though I can’t remember if it’s from a production interview or if it’s said in the actual show) comes the following idea: humanity is like a drill in that it moves forward with every revolution.

Now I believe that the Japanese word Gurren-Lagann uses for “revolution” is different from the one that Utena uses (回転 kaiten, revolving vs. 革命 kakumei, life-changing), but I think it explains the ending to Utena quite well. In the end, Utena did not defeat Akio, she did not permanently undo the rose duels, Ohtori Academy still stands, and Utena is gone from the world. However, it’s clear that she did indeed bring forth a revolution, and in that one revolution all of the characters were able to grow a little. All of the characters, that is, except for Akio. While Anthy is able to finally will herself to break free of the cycle that Akio has built up, Akio himself is shown to be a man who can no longer learn, who is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Like the drill of the  Gurren-Lagann, for the revolution that Tenjou Utena induces, (nearly) everyone moves one step forward.