Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury Kickstarts Something New With 'Shall We Gundam?'

You may have noticed that there was no new episode of "Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury" last week. Instead, the series aired a special episode on November 13 summarizing the events of episodes 1-6, followed by an interview with Suletta and Miorine's voice actors Kana Ichinose and Lynn. Neither Crunchyroll nor the GundamInfo YouTube channel are currently streaming this segment to audiences in the United States. Recap episodes are an anime tradition, although they were more common when anime series ran for dozens of episodes instead of just a dozen. Earlier "Gundam" titles had their fair share. But all of them, as far as I know, lasted more than six weeks before resorting to a recap. Despite being the newest entry in the prestigious "Gundam" franchise, "Witch From Mercury" managed just six episodes before taking a break. Why didn't Bandai Namco delay this series to give its artists the time they needed, rather than mandating a likely exhausting production schedule? Money, I suppose.

I'd be angrier about how this (very popular, successful) project is being shafted by its producers if not for how much fun "Witch From Mercury" continues to be each week. "Shall We Gundam?" is short on giant robot duels, but otherwise offers a bounty of riches to series fans. Suletta and Miorine wear fancy outfits! Heartless corporate masterminds plot in the shadows! All that and old-fashioned melodrama, too. Even so, what stood out to me most is how "Shall We Gundam?" shifted the spotlight this week from the heroine Suletta to her long-suffering fiancee, Miorine Rembran.

The Miorine I know

"Witch From Mercury ” introduced Suletta and Miorine on equal footing. Suletta is an excellent robot pilot but is otherwise a hopeless, stuttering mess. Miorine is heiress to the powerful Benerit Group, but is simultaneously trapped by that same lineage. Only by working together can the two of them find happiness. Since then, though, each episode has shifted the balance of power further and further toward Suletta. She wins the heart of Guel Jeturk, makes friends with Earth House and even goes on a date with Elan Ceres of Peil Technologies (or at least his clone.) Meanwhile, Miorine drifts into the background. She remains static as Suletta rapidly matures. It's enough to make you wonder if she was ever really important to Suletta, or if she was only ever a stepping stone to the ultimate polycule ending.

"Shall We Gundam?" finally offers Miorine that chance to distinguish herself. Changing the field of battle from a mobile suit arena to a formal occasion grants her the advantage over Suletta. For all that she's changed over the past few episodes, Suletta is still uncomfortable navigating the rarified world of the Benerit Group. She can borrow clothes from Miorine, but she doesn't know how to wear them. By contrast, Miorine knows exactly how to navigate this world. When the three branches of the Benerit Group perform a tag team on Suletta, Miorine seizes the initiative and uses the language of finance she was taught as a weapon against them. Her improvised proposal of "GUND-ARM Inc." is hilariously cynical, but calculated to hit the weak points of an audience that has likely bored and infuriated her all of her life.

That adorable pride

"Shall We Gundam?" is notable, though, in that it highlights Miorine's weaknesses as well as her strengths. She's incapable of taking a compliment; when Nika admires her skills as "the top student in management strategy," Miorine asks "is that sarcasm?" It's Lady Prospera, though, who pinpoints Miorine's Achilles' heel. Miorine may hate the Benerit Group along with her father Delling Rembran. But she also benefits from their wealth and influence. From her clothes to her manners, she embodies their hypocrisy whether or not she is willing to admit it. Miorine last earned Delling's attention by telling him off in a meeting surrounded by his closest allies. Here she does something even more risky, petitioning him for aid even as she plots to take it all for herself. She swallows her pride, and casts the high heels she bought with family money (or inherited?) to the floor.

All of this would be delicious enough if it took place at a fancy ball or dinner party, like in "Revolutionary Girl Utena" or "Turn A Gundam." But "Witch From Mercury" does one better and turns the party into an exposition. After all, the only thing scarier than financial executives is financial executives that spend the whole night pitching their pet start-ups via space Kickstarter. I can't say for sure, but I suspect scriptwriter Ichiro Okouchi's past involvement here considering the appearance of crowdfunding in 2013's "Valvrave the Liberator." In "Valvrave," crowdfunding was a means by which the heroes were able to play their audience to close the distance with the villains. In "Witch From Mercury," it's a financial tool utilized by venture capitalist dinosaurs to bankroll programs on a hunch. Whether Okouchi has similarly evolved with the times remains to be seen.

Our generation knows nothing of Gundams

Above all this hangs the specter of Gundam. The leaders of Peil Technologies admit this week that yes, their Gundam Pharact is a Gundam. Suletta is tricked by them into admitting (even as she adamantly denies it) that her Aerial is a Gundam. Gundams beget Gundams. Miorine's rebranding of Suletta's Gundam as GUND-ARM Inc. is no more desperate than past attempts by the Gundam franchise to repackage the same hoary ideas to younger audiences. The Gundam is the weapon that will destroy the Benerit Group, but also somehow a part of them. Before Delling gives Miorine his blessing, he says to her, "the Gundam's curse is a heavier burden than you think."

Producer Takuya Okamoto intended "Witch From Mercury" to capture a new generation of anime fans for whom "Gundam" was old-fashioned and boring. Miorine speaks for them when she says that "our generation knows nothing of Gundams." Unfortunately, her generation doesn't have a choice in the matter. Her rivals at Asticassia are already busy maneuvering against her and Suletta. Their parents pull strings and ask for favors behind the scenes. We learn in this episode that not only is Suletta's beloved Aerial a Gundam, but Suletta's mother consciously misled her to believe otherwise. Could the Aerial hide worse secrets still? The only thing more dangerous in the world of "Witch From Mercury" than cruelty and corruption may be ignorance.

This week's addendum

Suletta's Other List: This week Suletta cavorts with a student wearing the face of her loved one. While Grassley Defense Systems candidate Shaddiq Zenelli is intrigued by Suletta, he also has a past connection with Miorine. I hope that offers new outrageous possibilities, rather than closing them off!

The Suletta and Miorine Power Hour: Miorine saves Suletta's bacon this week, "because I'm that girl's bride!" She also drew up her elaborate GUND-ARM Inc. pitch with just her smartphone, which I found endearing.

The Robot Watch: Two new mobile suits appear behind Delling in the opening this week. What could they be?

The Utena Corner: Inviting Utena and Anthy to a party and plotting to embarrass them in front of everybody is absolutely something Nanami would do. "Witch From Mercury" switches roles and has Suletta take a spilled drink in Anthy's place rather than Miorine.

The Craft Corner: Since I'm always talking about plot and character in these write-ups rather than technique, I thought it was worth mentioning here that I enjoyed the staging and stark red lighting of the GUND-ARM Inc. set-piece. The giant screen in the background broadcasting the faces of Peil Technologies representatives was a charmingly theatrical touch. It's not subtle, but then, when is this show ever subtle? As a great man once said, "I know writers who use subtext and they're all cowards."

Friends of Gundam: Twitter is not yet dead, and it is flooded with art of Suletta and Miorine wearing their party outfits. Even better, here's Suletta hugging a raccoon dog!