Reviewed by: Eeeper
Released by: Crunchyroll
Age Rating: 12+
Region: 2 - UK
Length: 300 minutes
English 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
An era when a multitude of corporations have entered space and built a huge economic system. A lone girl from the remote planet Mercury transfers to the Asticassia School of Technology, run by the Beneritt Group which dominates the mobile suit industry. Her name is Suletta Mercury. With a scarlet light burning in her pure heart, this girl walks step by step through a new world.
Mobile Suit Gundam is now over forty years old. The venerable franchise has seen a multitude of iterations and introspections, from its beginnings as a space opera with robot sword fights to sports arena mecha fighting, to comedy, and lastly to social commentary. For its latest incarnation, Bandai Namco Pictures (the new name for Gundam animation studio Sunrise) teased a new show called The Witch From Mercury. It immediately set Gundam fans talking because it featured a solo hero again (after the massive cast of Iron-Blooded Orphans) and more importantly, the first female lead to head up the cast of a Gundam show. There have been leading female characters in Gundam before, but none started and ended the show as the named hero. So, when we met Suletta Mercury for the first time in front of her Gundam, Aerial, we knew it could be good or bad.
Suletta Mercury transfers into the Asticassia school for the new academic year and brings her mecha, Aerial, in tow. From the planet Mercury, she finds a school classed between Earthians and Spacians. While docking, she accidentally interrupts the escape plan of Miorine Rembran, a schoolgirl whose family are the most influential within the corporations that control mobile suit design and construction. As a result, Suletta finds herself defending Miorine against Rembran's fiancé, Guel Jeturk, in a mech battle sanctioned by the school and its student council. She bests him by cutting off the crest at the top of his mobile suit and finds herself a top student and engaged to Miorine!
While we fans had our thoughts and suspicions about what kind of show Witch From Mercury would be, I think the show has exceeded expectations on all counts. First up, it has eschewed the "conflict between space colonies" for now that has been a staple of the franchise and inverted the "Earth is better, space colonies are oppressed" plot device in favour of a really dynamic idea: Earth is the backwater and the planets and colonies around it are where the elite or rich hang out. This means that we stay in the school with Suletta and Miorine for the bulk of the season. On top of that is the embrace of a Revolutionary Girl Utena vibe in how Suletta stumbles into Miorine and Guel's spat and gets hooked up to her after a duel much like Utena initially finds Anthy. In Utena, our hero arrives at a school searching for answers to who she's supposed to be, she gets dragged into the upperclassmen's spats with each other and saves a pretty girl in a duel where she ends up engaged to her. It's so good how it translates into a Gundam show. The two girls don't have anything in common but the show throws Suletta into a tizzy when Miorine chafes at Suletta's embarrassment about being engaged to a girl by saying that Mercurians are so prudish. From there, their relationship twists and turns as Suletta starts to understand that Miorine would give anything to escape from the pressure of being her father's only child. And Miorine begins to understand that Suletta has literally no surface hatred of anyone. She'd do anything to help others and the show's gravity well, attracting the rest of the cast, revolves around Miorine and Suletta being together all the time.
I must stress that the show doesn't explicitly state that Suletta and Miorine have feelings for each other but there's an explicit moment where Miorine crosses from "I'm only with her because she won a duel for my hand" to actually expressing feelings about Suletta to her. As to what these feelings are, we cannot say at this moment. But the show in its opening thirteen episodes has done more character depth and more introspection than most Gundam shows take their entire runs on. We spend so much time with the two girls that you barely realise that yes, we're in another timeline for a Gundam show.
Timelines in Gundam: In the original show, they use the Universal Century timeline. This timeline replaces the AD or CE calendar we use today as humanity went into space to set up colonies. Some thirty-seven multimedia projects have been produced from this timeline. There is also a Late Universal Century timeline but that's connected to the UC timeline. Cosmic Era was only used, primarily, for the Gundam SEED series and its spinoffs. Correct Century was used for the Turn (∀) Gundam show and set thousands of years in the future. The Regild Century is set after UC, thousands of years later, and used in the Reconguista in G Gundam series and movies. After War timeline is a separate timeline again and only used for the After War Gundam X show. Post Disaster was used for Ironblooded Orphans and set between Earth and Mars. Anno Domini is used for the Gundam 00 series and its movies and side projects.
This time, it's called Ad Stella and so far, it doesn't have a connection with any of the previous timelines. We get so invested in the girls that the show slips in things like cloning without concern for the test subjects, or rampant inequality between the abandoned Earth and the colonies, or the fact that some of the girl's friends have been compromised by the student council. We see kids dialling home to talk with friends and family, heartbroken at the fact they're so far away from all they know. We see Suletta go through all the things young girls in boarding school go through: worrying about making friends, doing the wrong thing, or drifting away from the bonds that hold them to their classmates. On the other side, Miorine is at first annoyed and upset by Suletta accidentally stopping her from escaping from the buckling pressure of being her father's child, a severe and cruel parent, but slowly she sees Suletta as the one person who judges her for her actions, not her background.
Add to that a cast of kids who want to do well in school and adults who, quite frankly, are monsters. The backstory of the show is that Gundam in this timeline are banned, verging on heretical, due to a previous incident where an entire research outpost was put to the sword for researching and building GUND tech. Only a young girl and her mother survived the attack, losing their friends, colleagues, and her father in the process. Afterwards, the council for the research and development of GUND tech, mobile suits, and other such tech, hushed up all knowledge of the Vanadis Incident's true purpose. You know the kind of council I'm talking about, the kind that sits in a dark, hi-tech room and casually talks about killing hundreds of people or sacrificing anyone to the fire to keep their secrets? While the kids have their own problems, only a select few know what's really going on with the adults and fewer still know what it's really costing them. What sets Suletta's team apart and makes the hairs on the adults stand on end is that Suletta's suit, Aerial, uses an outlawed type of tech that was originally developed for medical purposes but was used to help space colonists survive in harsh conditions. Aerial can use floating drones that make up its armour when not deployed as offensive weapons. This can range from shielding for protecting Aerial or beam weapons towards an opponent. I think as we have seen in Gundam Narrative, Unicorn, and newer projects, the show's producers are starting to think about the Gundam as something less like a mecha knight with a big laser sword and more as a multipurpose weapon, capable of acting in its user's interests but not so much that it needs to check in with the user before carrying out a task.
Speaking of Suletta's mother, Prospera may go down as one of the most problematic and monstrous parents in Gundam history and that's saying something given how most parents in the franchise have been in charge of the bad guys. I love how she's so dual in her personality. On the one hand, she loves her daughter dearly and will manipulate anyone to make sure she is safe. But the other side of her? She is driven, to almost breaking point for a person, to insinuate herself into the lives of anyone who was involved in the death of her husband and friends in the Vanadis Incident. She uses her daughter as a lever to get close to Miorine because her father was the one who ordered the attack on Vanadis. She uses her position as president of Shin Sei Corporation to build Aerial and get it past the inquisition when they threaten to seize and destroy it. She manipulates Vim Jeturk while her daughter and Miorine successfully launch their mobile suit company for funding from the Benerit Group (the only company truly allowed to build mobile suits). On top of that, there's another side to her, one I cannot talk about due to spoilers, that if it's confirmed in the next season, puts her in the same league as Angela Lansbury in the Manchurian Candidate. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm mean.
The show's duelling by consent concept is also refreshing, taking a much more serious take on Gundam fighting as a sport idea from G-Gundam. Here, it's like a medieval jousting contest. Rules, banners, declarations. Everyone at the school is either rich and in on all the schemes or poor-ish and loathe to cross the upperclassmen and women. All of it makes for a great spectacle. Add to this the undercurrent of a solar system teetering on the edge of exploding due to the Benerit Group's suppression of Earthians, and this Gundam show has something for just about everyone. Where else can you have a 5-foot-tall, slim girl with massive pink pompom hair punch out another girl like a heavyweight? As well as that, the cast is extremely likeable and I'd hate for anything to happen to them. They're just trying to survive school and most likely will be asked to survive war before the end of the story. Animation is smooth and polished, although the scuttlebutt online says that a lot of the season was barely finished prior to the broadcast. If so, it doesn't show and I love the clean look of the Ad Stella universe. Not every episode requires Gundam-go-boom-hit-things so sometimes we just get Suletta and co. hanging out while the adults conspire. You can say it's making the animation budget stretch but I like how they paper over the cracks with what they have to hand.
Season one ends on the cliff-hanger to end ALL CLIFF-HANGERS and the second season will have to do some heavy lifting to explain, even half of what we saw in the final episode of S1, as well as flesh out some of the new antagonists we saw in the final arc. I really hope that Miorine and Suletta's relationship not only survives the upheaval seen at the end but that it deepens and blossoms. More than anything, Witch From Mercury gives a glimpse at two people who care about each other and so far haven't died or been reprogrammed, turned to the dark side, or given in. For hardened Gundam fans, everything's here: murky politics, genocidal wars and conflicts, and characters you love and hate. You know if you watched to the end of the season, you'll be back. For new fans, welcome! This is a perfect show to pick up the franchise with. You'll love your two new leads, and almost everyone is compromised out of the gate by some sin they committed or think they committed. Almost everything you'll see or hear has been referenced or reworked from the older shows so if you like this, you'll find something else to watch pretty soon. After the bumper projects of Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway's Flash, Gundam Breaker Battlogue, and Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan's Island, Witch From Mercury shows that not only is the franchise in good shape going into its fourth decade but that it's still got a lot of room and scope to explore the concepts laid down in 1979.