Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury Goes On A Date In 'Reflection In An Icy Eye'

Another week, another great episode of "The Witch From Mercury." This time, Suletta crosses another entry off her list and goes on a date. Not with her fiance Miorine, or with her wannabe fiance Guel, but with the mysterious Elan Ceres. Elan has been getting to know Suletta since the very beginning of the series, whether by visiting her in solitary confinement or by being one of the first to exchange contact information with her. The gentle music that plays any time he appears on screen implies that he's the closest thing Suletta has to an ally among the three great branches of the Benerit Group. But the joke's on Suletta, it turns out that Elan is far more dangerous than even Guel! Turning on a dime from friendly to ruthless inside of a mobile suit, Elan wastes his rival Guel and challenges Suletta to a duel himself.

Fans of yuri (girl's love) content may be frustrated that Miorine doesn't have quite as much to do in this episode as she did last time. Certainly, I'm hoping that we see Suletta and Miorine's relationship continue to develop over the course of the series, as we did in the last episode. That said, seeing the most illustrious members of Asticassia School of Technology be so overwhelmed by Suletta's charisma that they tear each other to pieces to win her hand in marriage remains entertaining. It's also a reminder that a war for control of the Benerit Group, if not the solar system, lies in the future. "The Witch From Mercury" is very much a Gundam show, and there's no better example than the character of Elan himself.

Unhappy birthdays

When we first meet Elan, he's a princely type who goes out of his way to help Suletta. Guel sees Suletta as an annoying obstacle and Shaddiq is still trying to feel out exactly what she is, but Elan talks to her as an equal. In "Revolutionary Girl Utena" terms, he's closest to Miki Kaoru, a young idealist who befriends Utena early in the series and imprints hard upon the Rose Bride, Anthy. At the same time, there's the implication that Elan trusts Suletta because he believes she is just like him. In this episode, we find out why. Elan was born to use cursed GUND-Format technology, constructed by the heretical Peil Technologies branch while avoiding the fate that befell Suletta's family. Elan has been assigned by his backers to discover if Suletta is "breaking the rules" of Asticassia, but what he really wants is to know if Suletta is just like him. Unfortunately, she is not.

Throughout the episode, Suletta is fixated on the idea of birthdays. While playing divination at a slumber party with her Earth House friends, she is told that she needs to find out Elan's birth date to know if she has a romantic future with him. Unfortunately, Elan doesn't have a birthday at all. As an artificial person wearing "another person's face," he was made, not born. Taking Aerial from Suletta out for a spin as one would take candy from a baby, Elan discovers that the mobile suit seemingly possesses the faculties of GUND-format tech without causing the same damaging effects. Suletta is able to pilot the Aerial as a normal person, rather than an artificial human built to take the strain.

I become a different person when I pilot the Psycho Gundam

In the wake of this episode, fans have compared Elan to a character from the earlier "Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam," Four Murasame. Four is a young woman who falls in love with the protagonist Kamille Bidan. Unfortunately, Four is also a medical experiment that has been trained to pilot the powerful Psycho Gundam. "I'll always love you," she says to Kamille. "But I become a different person when I pilot the Psycho Gundam." Four is eventually reclaimed by the scientists who "created her," who attempt to erase her memory of Kamille. She is compelled by her conditioning to fight him, but later sacrifices herself to save his life. Later women cast in similar roles include Aina from "08th MS Team," who is convinced by the heroic Shiro to switch sides; Allenby from "G Gundam," whose mobile suit contains a dangerous berserker mode; and Aila from "Gundam Build Fighters," who becomes "a completely different person" when using the powerful Embody System in battle.

Elan has green hair just like Four Murasame. Peil Technologies calls him "Enhanced Person Number 4," as clear a reference as any. It might be strange to think that an alternate universe series like "The Witch From Mercury," designed from the ground up to entice new viewers to the larger Gundam franchise, would borrow material as old and formative as "Zeta Gundam." But Gundam shows have always taken pleasure in paying homage to the past. Tropes like mask-wearing villains, heroic robots with laser swords and telepathic connections are repurposed again and again as a wink to fans or to gently tweak their expectations. Anime is a particularly incestuous medium, and for better or worse Gundam is no exception.

Elan takes Guel to school

"The Witch From Mercury" plays up the contrast between modern high school Gundam and classic war drama Gundam for all it is worth. Elan is a bad boyfriend who loses interest in Suletta once he decides that she hasn't suffered as he has. He's also an artificial human created to pilot a war machine. Guel is an annoying suitor and "tsundere" character who fights a battle in Suletta's honor even though he swears that he doesn't like her or anything. He's also the heir of a powerful arms contractor who keeps throwing away his inheritance on battles he can't win. Suletta's mom offers her moral support just before her date, but even she is playing the field to her own advantage.

The battles themselves continue to be excellent. This episode offers a real doozy of a fight in the second half, with Guel's mobile suit going toe to toe with Elan's Gundam Pharact. Space and scale is used to illustrate the power and speed of the duel, as well as the difference between Guel's close-range combat style and Elan's clinical distance targeting. I'm reminded that series director Hiroshi Kobayashi has experience in both 2D and 3D animation, which likely serves his team well in encounters like this. If "The Witch From Mercury" lacks the coded messages and impeccable style of "Utena," it is fully capable of constructing combat encounters that are exciting to watch beyond what they reveal about the characters. Then again, this is a Gundam series, one of the last bastions of 2D giant robot animation. If it can't live up to that standard, what hope is there? For another week running, though, "The Witch From Mercury" effortlessly hits that bar.

This week's addendum

Suletta's List: Time to cross "go on a date" off the list! I don't think "cries on a date" was on Suletta's list, but it certainly is now. Same for "attend a slumber party" and "play fortune telling."

Suletta's Other List: Elan and Guel fight for Suletta's affection. Miorine rides up on a motorcycle to keep Suletta out of trouble, but is rebuffed. Chuchu remains undecided.

The Robot Watch: Elan's Gundam Pharact is an intimidating creation, with its upside-down skull face and glowing red lights. It supplements its long rifle with remotely operated funnels, drawing an immediate connection between itself and the Aerial. Elan cuts Guel's machine into little pieces just like Suletta did in the first episode, because Elan is ruthless.

The Shakespeare Corner: Miorine mentions "Romeo and Juliet" in this episode, which has me wondering if other Shakespeare references are hidden in this series besides "The Tempest." Could the "witches" of Peil Technologies be a reference to "Macbeth?"

The Theory Corner: There's a bonkers fan theory making the rounds which may not be true, but is entertaining to think about. This wouldn't be the first time that series writer Ichiro Okouchi pulled a fast one on us...