My history with the Gundam anime franchise is surprisingly lengthy for someone who doesn’t consider themselves a Gundam fan. I was first recommended the original Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy in a list of anime one should watch as an anime fan (enjoyed it a lot), and then watched Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (loved it). This inspired me to try and create one of those high-concept tumblr blogs that was just Bright Noa eating hamburgers as a joke (unsurprisingly, it didn’t take off). I have also seen Gundam 00 (enh), one episode of Reconguista in G (what?), Gundam AGE (got bored in the second arc), Iron-Blooded Orphans (liked but grew busy with work and did not finish), Gundam Build Fighters (fun), and Gundam Wing (unintentionally hilarious). This makes UC a third of the Gundam series I’ve watched and AU two-thirds (I’m not including Reconguista in G it was only one episode). I’m not sure if that’s sacrilegious or not according to Gundam fans.
Key takeaways from the franchise include the quintessential Gundam statement that war is hell, and a fun addendum that a friend and I made while making our way through Wing: you can never escape your past which we yelled at each other constantly throughout our watch.
All of this is a precursor to looking at The Witch From Mercury not through the framework of something with which I am intimately familiar, Revolutionary Girl Utena, but instead through its references to Shakespeare’s The Tempest and relationship with classic Gundam thematic elements.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury could be closer to the prototypical war is hell Mobile Suit Gundam than one might assume at first glance.
Names like Aerial (Ariel) for Ericht Samaya/Suletta Mercury’s gundam, and the mysterious Lady Prospera (Prospero), are direct references to characters in The Tempest. While there’s little thus far to suggest that The Witch From Mercury is going to follow The Tempest specifically — in the first two episodes, it has followed key Utena scenes with more specificity than anything else — but there are similarities that go beyond name references. One of the more obvious is structural.
Both begin in media res to the overarching narrative with their own “tempests” of sorts. The Tempest starts with a storm designed to set an audience off-kilter and keep them believing that anything, including magic, can happen. And The Witch From Mercury begins with Suletta Mercury’s confusing arrival and complete lack of knowledge regarding her new school’s social hierarchy. She doesn’t understand exactly what is happening and ends up in a duel for Miorine Rembran’s hand in the process. The first episode doesn’t establish magic but it does establish a school setting that feels outside enough that anything can happen.
As an aside, admittedly this only works with a certain watch order. For me personally — and likely many others — The Witch From Mercury only starts in media res because I watched the first episode, “The Witch and the Bride,” and then went back to the prologue episode afterwards. In fact, I watched the first two episodes and then the prologue third, which is a particularly interesting watch order due to the character of Elnora Samaya/Lady Prospera.
One of the main thematic elements of The Tempest is the exiled Prospero’s desire to regain his title after being usurped by his brother Antonio twelve years prior to the events of the play. To do this he uses magic and manipulates many other people in the play including his own daughter Miranda. As the story moves forward and Prospero becomes more and more convincing to the audience in his quest for justice, he also becomes a more sympathetic character to them despite his methods. This calls into question the subjective nature of justice itself.
Prospero’s machinations are awful but he also was wrongfully deposed. These two facts can coexist and whichever way you lean likely depends not on the written end of the play, but on how convincing your Prospero is and how willing you are to forgive or condemn his actions. Due to Prospero’s role not just as a character but as a creator and a loose stand-in for an artist or playwright, The Tempest also asks its audience to think about the nature of art and theatre. Regardless, at the end of the play he asks the audience to set him free with applause.
Gundam is no stranger to characters like this. One of the franchise’s most popular characters is Char Aznable who is actually Casval Rem Deikun, son of the late Zeon Zum Deikun who was assassinated by the Zabi family. Disguised as Char (Lady Prospera’s mask is a visual reference to him) after Casval is mistakenly pronounced dead, he seeks revenge against the entirety of the Zabi family and makes a name for himself as a mobile suit pilot. This is an oversimplification of his character (to do a proper character analysis would take several posts by someone who is not me) but the narrative similarities are obvious.
The Witch From Mercury‘s Lady Prospera was originally Elnora Samaya, the mother of Ericht Samaya (now known as Suletta Mercury) whose work with the Ochs Earth company in designing a gundam called Lfrith was wrongfully stopped by the regulatory body of the Mobile Suit Development Council. Years before the events of The Witch From Mercury’s first episode, Delling Rembran (Miorine’s father) creates a task force called Cathedra to suppress the development of gundam machines, citing that GUND technology mentally harms and sometimes even kills their pilots. Delling uses Cathedra to wipe out Ochs Earth, killing many people in the process. It’s implied that only Elnora and her four year-old daughter Ericht survive.
Years later, Ericht (now named Suletta Mercury), travels to the Asticassia School of Technology, which is controlled by Delling Rembran and his conglomerate of corporations called the Benerit Group. On her first day at school she stands up for Miorine Rembran without knowing who she is, gets involved in the school’s dueling system, and accidentally wins Miorine’s hand in marriage as a result.
“During the proposal stages, the reason we chose corporations as one of the factors is because of the happenings in the world, as I mentioned earlier, and reaching a younger generation. We felt that a major war between major powers, something like nations pitted against nations, wouldn’t seem that realistic and would be difficult to connect with. Smartphones and online shopping are pretty easy to navigate, but most of what we own and use today is dominated by specific corporations. So I figured that a world everyone might connect with more today, one divorced from war, would be a society dominated by such corporations.”
Takuya Okamoto, producer of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury (Zeonic)
This is all done purposefully against the backdrop of a world controlled by private companies and capital.
To be fair, I don’t think we’re going to see the prototypical “war is hell” Gundam in the sense of seeing a lot of standard warfare, nor will we have scenes like Amuro Ray burying his gundam in the sand in Mobile Suit Gundam, or Kamille Bidan’s horrifying comatose state at the end of Zeta Gundam.
However, I’d argue that The Witch From Mercury has already had a few interesting scenes, especially in its prologue, that comment on the nature of a war controlled not as much by standard governments than private companies. There’s nothing more unintentionally hilarious and uniquely horrifying than watching four year-old Ericht Mercury shooting Cathedra mobile suits out of the sky with the touch of her finger, thinking that it’s some sort of game while Elnora watches her in terror.
In his takeover of Ochs Earth, Delling Rembran rightfully cites the use of GUND technology in mobile suits as a curse that kills its operators. Yet, this is very obviously not the only reason he’s deploying Cathedra to raze the company to the ground. Their technology is a threat to his company’s technology and therefore must be eliminated. There is also the added facet of GUND technology was initially designed for medical use, as seen in Elnora’s prosthetic arm. They needed funding to continue their research, and therefore had to accept an offer from mobile suit company Ochs Earth.
In the time since his military assault on Ericht Samaya’s fourth birthday and the start of her first day at the Asticassia School of Technology, Delling Rembran has become one of the wealthiest and powerful men alive. In the series’ second episode, he berates his own daughter for being powerless in front of his entire boardroom and calls himself a king. It’s unsurprising only acquiesces to her demand for a duel — notably, using the rules that Delling himself established at the school for the winning duelist to become his daughter’s fiancé — when Vim Jeturk, another CEO in his boardroom, notes that they’ve been losing lately in the mobile suit futures market.
Naturally, Lady Prospera immediately agrees to this, saying that she’ll share the data from Aerial with the group. As the series’ Prospero, we have to wonder about her own machinations. She’s not cartoonishly evil like Delling, and the prologue is designed to make her sympathetic to viewers, but she also has more of a hand in what is happening than she lets on, as evidenced by her visit to Jeturk for support before the meeting took place.