English Title: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
Japanese Title: 機動戦士ガンダム 水星の魔女 [lit. Mobile Suit Gundam: Mercury’s Witch]
Director(s): Kobayashi Hiroshi
Screenwriter(s): Okouchi Ichiro
Studio: Sunrise Released: 2022–2023
Runtime: 24 episodes, ~25m each.
Starring: Ichinose Kana, Lynn, Noto Mamiko, Azakami Yohei, Hanae Natsuki, Furukawa Makoto
My Verdict: Fresh take on the franchise with mother-and-daughter duo. Set pieces can be better. Good production. Not bad despite a little wokeness.
● Gundam works generally have themes related to the futility and horrors of war. While somewhat maintaining that tradition, The Witch from Mercury takes a different approach, which is refreshing.
● The Prologue (episode 0), released in July 2022, introduces the political background regarding the GUND Format, medical technology intended to help humanity function in space. Not surprisingly, it can also be applied to military mobile suits, hence GUND-ARMs or “Gundams”. However, the man–machine interface can cause permanent neurological damage or even death in pilots.
● Led by Dr Cardo who invented the technology, the Vanadis Institute is one of its developers, operating at the Fólkvangr research station built on an asteroid. However, the Mobile Suit Development Council imposes a freeze on development with one of its more hardline members, Delling Rembran, ordering a full assault on the station. Only Elnora Samaya and her four-year-old daughter Ericht escape in the developmental mobile suit.
● Since the head scientist-inventor of the controversial GUND Format and most if not all of her scientists are female, they are derogatorily referred to as “witches”. I am generally skeptical of “witches” used in the context of persecution as, like “church is against science”, most of it is myth for the purposes of anti-Christian propaganda. The anime doesn’t dwell on all that but the reference has the connotations. Setting that aside, it works well enough in this anime if one can accept that the Vanadis Institute just happens to have mostly female scientists.
● In episode 1, set some years after the prologue, 17-year-old Suletta Mercury arrives at the Asticassia School of Technology (アスティカシア高等専門学園) with her mobile suit Aerial. The school is run by the conglomerate Benerit Group headed by Delling. As the Japanese name suggests, the school is a higher-education institution. It specializes in technology, piloting and business, obviously aimed at developing the next generation to maintain the group’s dominance. Just like in real life, the private sector fund and therefore influence education.
● The plot follows Suletta as she adjusts to school life and deals with the bigger events which her mother has a part in orchestrating.
● Suletta’s mother, of course, is Elnora. She goes by the name Prospera Mercury and wears the helmet-mask, she being the Char-figure of the series. Char-figures can sometimes be a bit bland, a clone that is almost a mere placeholder in a series. Some, however, can be morally grey and compelling. Thankfully, Prospera belongs to the latter group and it is commendable that the writers don’t go out of their way trying to make her charismatic and then fail in the attempt. It is voice actress Noto Mamiko’s performance that exudes charisma and confidence. Prospera has lost much and she is a loving mother, but she is also coolly manipulative. And for her, it’s also personal and that makes her relatable.
● It is also immediately apparent that there are more main female than male characters. Most Gundam series have more main male characters. There is nothing wrong either way and taking a different approach for this series is understandable.
● It is woke in this respect? It’s not as if every female character is either good and/or highly competent and every male character is either bad and/or incompetent. There are all sorts of female characters. There is variety with the male characters too even if this is not immediately apparent. So, thankfully, it’s not woke but it could be subtler. Either way, the mother-and-daughter duo works well for this story.
● As Suletta adjusts to school life, she tries to befriend Miorine Rembran, the only daughter of Delling. One of the other reasons for the school is to sift out suitors for Miorine as part of business. This is done by mobile suit duels and the title “Holder” is officially Miorine’s fiancé (until they lose). Suletta piloting Aerial throws a wrench into that as she is a nobody.
● There are three main male characters that in effect represent three “houses”: Guel Jeturk, Elan Ceres and Shaddiq Zenelli. These houses belong to the Benerit Group but, of course, each has its own agenda. Although more characters (and parties) add complexity which makes the plot more intriguing, it also may make it more difficult to follow initially.
● Also, although these three guys are not particularly interesting initially, they do come across as morally grey later which makes them and the plot better.
● With Suletta in the picture, Miorine is at least temporarily free from the usual suspects but is still nonetheless stuck within the system. Her struggles also drive the plot.
● To those who want to see anime lesbian action between Suletta and Miorine: too bad. Initially, it doesn’t look like anything more than innocent girly love from Suletta. Either way, in this corporate-centric world, marriage (by any definition) is a convenient means to maintain or obtain political and economic control so it’s thematically consistent. Other than Suletta, no one seems to care what type of relationship they have with Miorine as long as it materially benefits them.
● As for Suletta and Miorine’s relationship, it avoids trying too hard so it’s not Gundam Chick Flick in Space. However, Miorine’s coolness makes the friendship itself feel cold. That is part of the conflict but it does make it difficult to emotionally invest in. [Potential Spoiler] Of course, the relationship is hinted to be more later. Even Gundam can’t entirely escape wokeness. To be fair, it doesn’t dwell on it but maybe Gundam Chick Flick in Space, if done right, would feel less forced after all.
● In addition to corporate hostilities is the Earthian–Spacian issue, a not uncommon way of commentating on race and class struggles in Gundam. Basically, it adds another party to the fighting and therefore more action and killing.
● The first 12 episodes are mostly like a high school drama with mecha duels and a mother pulling strings in the background. It’s a fresh enough take on Gundam but one may wonder where the series is going. Whilst pacing can improve a little, true to the franchise, things do escalate.
● After the break, things calm down again for episode 13. But things don’t remain calm for long and Prospera’s plan becomes more apparent.
● This is not a political drama in which every machination is narrated in detail but, somewhat like Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (2007), it is immediately apparent that there is a little more so-called politics in this series than others, which makes it interesting.
● The narrative overall can be considered tight but the pacing feels like it is on autopilot. I don’t mean pedestrian. It is fast enough and certainly not boring. Whilst almost everything is signposted, which is good, when major plot points need to happen, they just happen—it’s as if the writers adopted the mentality of “We’ve already signposted X earlier, so this character can now mention X and just make it happen.” It makes enough sense intellectually but a little more worldbuilding would enhance the “feel” of the situation. So, by “autopilot” I mean that it feels too programmed.
● The above applies to the ending as well. Whilst there is a resolution and denouement, what needs to happen happens too neatly.
● The other weakness is that Aerial can deploy GUND-BITs, a swarm weapons system. From a military perspective, it makes sense to have it. As for storytelling, it looks cool enough but it just comes across as too cheap a device. Suletta’s piloting needs to stand on its own in set pieces without relying on such a powerful system. Either way, there are some wow moments but there needs to be more.
● The first opening and ending themes are “The Blessing” (祝福) by Yoasobi and “You Be Noble” (君よ 気高くあれ) by Shiyui and Ryo respectively. The second opening and ending themes are “Slash” by Yama and “Red:Birthmark” by Aina the End respectively. If one is into electronic and grungy rock, then one would probably like the songs. I think all four tracks try too hard. That said, the soundtrack by Ohmama Takashi is solid, at times having hints of Sawano Hiroyuki’s work in Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (2010) and Aldnoah.Zero (2014) but not as grand.
● This series has the difficulty of being faithful to the franchise template whilst also providing something new, a task not easy when said template is decades old. The Witch from Mercury mostly succeeds with a mother-and-daughter duo, using a school setting, and incorporating business and politics into the plot. And there are undeniably good performances and animation. The mecha action isn’t bad but it could use better set pieces as well as having less woke elements even if it doesn’t jam them down your throat.
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