There are a few specific things you can say to me that will make me check out an anime faster than “This draws from Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena.” Utena is a series that I hold close to my heart in a way that has actually been detrimental to doing any sort of public analysis. I’ve avoided writing about Utena directly many times for fear of not having something “good enough to say” given how many wonderful analyses there are of its characters, visuals, and thematic elements. The excellent Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight helmed by Tomohiro Furukawa was pitched to me this way and deftly managed to be a love letter to and incisive criticism towards the Takarazuka Revue. (Not-so-coincidentally, the Revue is a major influence on a lot of other media properties in Japan and an obvious visual and structural inspiration for Ikuhara as a director.) Last year there was Shin Wakabayashi’s Wonder Egg Priority which started well and ended catastrophically.
This time it’s Hiroshi Kobayashi and his take on the Gundam franchise, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury. Although there’s a more obvious and direct through line from The Witch From Mercury to Utena in series composer Ichiro Okouchi, who wrote the Utena light novels, whether The Witch From Mercury will deliver something anywhere near as incisive or fun as Utena, will rely on Kobayashi’s direction.
Kobayashi also, interestingly enough, has had a direct influence on this particular anime blog’s direction. It was Kobayashi’s Kiznaiver and specifically Mai Yoneyama’s ending sequence that inspired me to write my first flower language post on this blog, despite having seen flower language used in other anime properties. This also caused me to go back and look at its usage in other works again, and thoroughly prepped me for Naoko Yamada — who many credit for a recent crop of directors using flowers as a secondary visual language in their works — and her direction of A Silent Voice. The rest, as they say, is history. Naturally, there’s flower language used in The Witch From Mercury as well. Diving a bit deeper into it reveals some similarities and major differences between Miorine Rembran — ostensibly Witch From Mercury‘s “Rose Bride” — and her Utena counterpart in Anthy Himemiya.
From her first introduction where she is trying to escape to Earth and Suletta Mercury unintentionally thwarts her attempt, Miorine is shown as someone who is not only actively rattling her figurative chains but is very well aware of how others see her position. She’s outwardly more defiant than Anthy at the outset where Anthy is initially presented as meek and helpless with small hints that she’s anything but revealed episode by episode.
Anthy herself is a character of contradictions by design and who she is for most of the series depends on who you talk to. She is simultaneously a witch, a victim, a master manipulator, a lamb to the slaughter, a loving sister, and myriad other facets of what others believe a woman to be.
There are many similarities between Miorine and Anthy in the first episode of The Witch From Mercury, but a unifying visual is that of the garden.
When Utena Tenjou sees Anthy in the garden for the first time, they’re visually separated. Anthy is in the glass greenhouse and Utena sees her through the windowpanes. Visual paneling is implemented to purposefully separate them while establishing the garden in that moment as both a place of respite and a cage in and of itself. As the Rose Bride, Anthy is tasked with caring for the roses. That’s part of her duty. However, there’s also a sense that she genuinely enjoys gardening, feels a kinship to the roses themselves, and more generally throughout the series is shown to love all manners of flora and fauna. Tending to the roses as a duty and enjoying it aren’t mutually exclusive and are part of Anthy’s contradictory nature.
When Miorine first enters her garden, she says a small, “I’m back/home,” as she walks in. Suletta follows her and the series quickly makes a point to divide them visually. Miorine, for all of the bluster we’ve already seen from her at this point, knows her role in The Witch From Mercury‘s space. (You can even see bodyguards in the distance.) Suletta does not. Miorine’s words to Suletta reinforce this and it’s further evidenced by how confused Suletta is at how harshly Miorine is treated by other students. By contrast Miorine, while visibly upset by it and bristling in defense, accepts it.
Even when Miorine reaches out and shares a tomato with Suletta in an adorable scene where I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ikuhara’s Mawaru Penguindrum, Miorine is on the inside of the garden, Suletta remains firmly out.
This changes when
Saionji, I mean, Guel Jeturk starts smashing plants in the garden and raises his hand to slap Miorine. Before he can do this, Suletta slaps him on the butt in a scene that’s no less emotionally-affecting for how hilarious it is. Suletta crosses the threshold of the garden and becomes an active participant. Like Utena Tenjou before her — despite having a significantly more anxious personality — Suletta cannot stand idly by and watch Miorine be abused. This is the act that makes her a duelist.
And in taking action, Suletta’s character is more firmly established as well. She is not Utena Tenjou, openly flaunting disregard for school rules and generally having a more outgoing and cool personality. Suletta is a nervous wreck who visibly shakes as she stands up for Miorine and seems to second-guess herself frequently. The only thing she doesn’t back down from is her conviction that she was right in defending Miorine. It is here, and her dramatically more confident attitude once she steps onto the dueling field in her robot, is where she finds common ground with Utena.
As for the flowers that surround Miorine in the garden, the flowers that she’s touching in the picture above reminded me a lot of angel-wing begonias. Red and pink begonias are used to represent romance and love, although begonias can also mean a warning of caution towards future situations or a harbinger of dark thoughts. If they are begonias, this wouldn’t be the first time an anime has featured these prominently to frame a relationship between two women, as they were used prominently in Flip Flappers with the character of Yayaka. The leaf structure seems a bit off, so I’m not certain as to whether they’re begonias or not.
Miorine’s garden was actually fairly difficult for me to identify (I might be out of practice a bit) but reminded me a lot of flowers I had seen growing up in family gardens. For example, the bright white and fuchsia flowers near Miorine’s hair resemble impatiens which, as their name suggests, can mean impatient. They also can symbolize motherly love. Next to them in the same pot are flowers that look like primroses which, in Japanese flower language, can mean desperation, but in Victorian flower language carry a message of young love as well as renewal and optimism. Pink primroses specifically represent femininity, grace, and renewal. By Miorine’s forehead, the pot of white and purple flowers resemble petunias, which carry a variety of conflicting meanings including anger, resentment, and comfort. White petunias are said to send a message of purity and innocence (like many white flowers), where purple petunias are a symbol of mystery, fantasy, and enchantment.