First Look: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury

Alternative title: Kidō Senshi Gundam: Suisei no Majo
Anime original by Sunrise
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Ad Stella 122. Mobile suit and space colony development are monopolized by the Beneritt Group, an omnipresent conglomerate of corporate entities. The Beneritt Group also sponsors The Asticassia School of Technology, a training program for mobile suit pilots and a glorified proxy battleground for the young scions of the various corporations. Suletta Mercury, a girl from the far reaches of space enrolls in the school. She and the Gundam Aerial are bringing change.

Gee’s verdict: Inspired

I’ve been burnt too often by promising starts in the venerable Gundam franchise. It could be said that Gundam has many great first episodes, but very few great last episodes. Thus, my impressions of The Witch From Mercury are based on what I’ve been shown so far.

With that out of the way, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury’s first episode makes a striking impression. Turning Gundam into a Utena styled school drama is an unbelievably inspired choice, and one I want to see to the end, whether it succeeds or crashes miserably. The Ad Stella setting already has one of the more interesting AU settings in Gundam, taking place in a world where transhumanist body modification is seen as the key to unlocking mankind’s true potential. Meanwhile, corporations have solidified into nearly feudal entities, using the Asticassia School of Technology as a blatant proxy battleground to settle disputes, using their own children as pieces in the game of corporate warfare. It’s obvious from the first episode, where the rich and powerful are allowed to use highly tuned custom mobile suits to oppress the underclass without remark, that this school is but another extension of the Beneritt Group’s monolithic control.

And it’s in this setting where we meet Suletta, a decade after the traumatic events of the prologue. Gone is her precocious naivete, replaced with gangly teenage awkwardness. I love the ways in which Suletta’s personality are communicated. She’s awkward and anti-social, which leads to a lot of deep bows and crouching to make herself smaller, a compensation for her relatively towering height for a 14 year old girl. It’s an interesting development but one that feels at least to me, congruent with the events Suletta has lived through. I’m looking forward to the development of her dynamic with Miorine.

And of course, there’s the cool robots. Gundam Aerial’s debut is intense and awe inspiring. The result of its short duel against Guel Jeturk’s custom Dilanza was never in doubt, but sometimes you just want to see a display of raw mechanized power rip a big dumb jerk to pieces.

So where does that leave us? The first episode certainly makes a lasting impression. But will it result in a good story? Gundam has always been a fount of good ideas, but it rarely has the time, budget, or ability to realize those concepts to their fullest. There’s nothing here that has me convinced it’ll be different this time, so I can’t exactly endorse the show as a whole. I can endorse this first episode though. Gundam can be good, Gundam can be bad; but most of all, Gundam should put forward interesting ideas. So far, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury is pretty damn interesting.

Iro’s verdict: Cautiously Optimistic

When I first watched the Prologue episode for The Witch From Mercury a while back, it seemed like pretty standard AU Gundam fare with a couple interesting plot hooks about transhumanism and corporate espionage. Thus, I was unprepared for how different this actual premiere was; while I knew it would take place at a school, the blatant Revolutionary Girl Utena parallels totally blindsided me. The work of head writer Ichiro Okouchi – who also penned the Utena tie-in light novels in the late 1990s, so there’s some lineage there – runs the full continuum of quality from heady (Devilman Crybaby, Planetes) to enjoyable schlock (Code Geass, Princess Principal) to outright bad (Valvrave, Sk8), so my personal expectations for G-Witch moving forward are pretty hazy. It took me most of the episode’s runtime to really get on board with what it was trying to do.

That said, the franchise is certainly no stranger to massive tonal shifts between installments, such as the controversial Mobile Fighter G Gundam and the extraordinarily toy-etic Gundam Build Fighters, and the ones that really swing for the fences are some of my favorite entries. Gundam is bigger these days than it might have ever been before, and based on the whispers of public opinion I’ve heard over the past 24 hours alone, people are really excited about this one. I’m personally too cautious to go all-in (I liked the first episode of Iron-Blooded Orphans too, and look how that turned out), but I think G-Witch has a real shot at becoming a new flashpoint for the entire franchise in the West.

Artemis’ verdict: Skipping Space School

This might sound weird, but I think I would have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t seen the very excellent prologue first. I’m not being sarcastic in any way – although I groaned a bit internally when I saw I was basically being forced to watch a double episode under another name, I thoroughly enjoyed the prologue – it was well-written and extremely emotionally impactful, and it made me excited to see the actual episode 1 of the series, even though I did know ahead of time that there would be a time skip.

To be clear, episode 1 isn’t bad. It might even be above average. It’s just… not as good as the prologue, meaning I went straight from a high to a- well, not a low, but a solid medium. A couple of minutes prior, I got to see space and Gundams and pew-pew mostly from an adult’s and parent’s perspective, and that’s not especially common. Then I started up episode 1 and it was all bratty and/or brooding teens in space school – which, again, is perfectly fine and all, but nothing I haven’t seen plenty of times before in one form or another.

So yeah. This is okay. If you’re a Gundam fan, it’s likely quite a bit better than okay. It’s just probably not for me.

Zigg’s Verdict: Quicksilver

I’m kind of with Artemis on this one, in that I think the first episode here is solid but rather underwhelming compared to the dramatic and weighty prologue chapter. It’s certainly not boring though – a LOT of stuff happens at a fairly breakneck pace. That’s probably a good thing in terms of hooking in new viewers, but personally I think it made a lot of this episode feel very flighty and shallow, with the dramatic happenings undermined by a lack of context or character development. We barely get a chance to learn anything about Suletta and Miorine before they’re teaming up to beat the crap out of a comedy snob fiancee, and I’d probably have preferred an episode or two to slow-burn this conflict before launching into a pivotal battle.

That said, it’s hard to deny how much goofy fun the whole thing is, and I’d be lying if I said the Utena-but-in-space-with-robots premise was anything other than inspired, as daft as it is. As you’d expect, the mech sequences bring the spectacle ably too.  I think for me the key here is whether The Witch from Mercury can combine the more knockabout school adventure with the heavyweight political  drama that we know is lurking in the wings. If they can find a way to blend them together in a compelling narrative, we’ll have a huge hit on our hands.

Also tall Haro is a crime against nature and God.

One thought on “First Look: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury

  1. I won’t say I didn’t have fun with this episode (yes, even after the prologue, this being Gundam I’m sure we’ll get to the over-the-top melodrama and navelgazing about War Is Hell eventually), but I can’t help finding it really weird how it just straight out plagiarizes Utena, not just in the premise but the main episode beats… especially since they never even give Utena a shout-out anywhere, either in the episode or in interviews or commentary. I wonder if they’re going to keep this up…
    (And yes, I know Okuchi wrote the Utena novels, but Okuchi also wrote a whole lot of other things that weren’t Utena-esque at all, so I’m not seeing how it’s natural that something he writes is *this* much like Utena.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.