The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Category Archives: Gundam

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – Review and Reflection Three Past The Halfway Point

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them. Tools are just tools. They either work, or they don’t work.” –Steve Jobs

Half a month after the Dawn of Fold’s attack at Plant Quetta, the Benerit Group cover up the incident and life at the Asticassia School of Technology seemingly returns to normal, although Miorine is now absent. Asticassia prepares for an Open House event, and as the Holder, Suletta is duty-bound to participate in a tournament. To Suletta’s great surprise, Norea and Sophie appear; they threaten Nika, only for Suletta to show up and save her. Meanwhile, Shaddiq disobeys orders and plots to destroy the existing system between the Benerit Group and Earth. To save Nika, Suletta challenges Sophie and Norea to a duel. During the exhibition tournament, Sophie and Norea use their own mobile suits to murder several of the participants, and when Suletta intervenes, they blast a hole in the colony wall and forces the combat out into space. Here, the Aerial’s system takes over and disable Sophie’s mobile suit, along with her drones. When Sophie tries to keep fighting, stress on her body ends up killing her. Prospera reveals to Belmoria that Aerial’s unnatural power comes from the fact that her firstborn, Ericht, had her consciousness uploaded into Aerial – the Quiet Zero programme that Prospera had unveiled to Miorine earlier was intended to disrupt the world and usher in new change. Back on Earth, Guel has become a prisoner of war, and Dawn of Fold members prepare to evacuate their base as the Benerit Group commences counter-terrorism operations. Despite having lost most of his motivation, after learning one of the children at the base had also lost her father, Guel decides to save her, but she ends up dying. When Olcott, a former Cathedra soldier, confronts Guel, Guel reveals that he wants to preserve what remains of his father’s memories, and Olcott relents, letting Guel go. Miorine later learns that Quiet Zero had actually been her mother’s brain-child. With The Witch from Mercury‘s second half kicking off in earnest, the latest Gundam instalment has hit the ground running and is beginning to delve into the sorts of topics that are consistent with what Gundam series are able to explore.

Following the attack at Plant Quetta, The Witch from Mercury underwent a dramatic tonal shift. The magical battle school style setting is quickly displaced as the horror and desolation of warfare impacts the students who were present at Quetta; once Sophie and Norea break out their Gundams and use live fire in what would otherwise be a controlled environment, it becomes clear that even at school, there is no escaping the ravages of violence and warfare. Suddenly, all of the things that matter to the students, whether they be studying for exams, participating in extracurricular activities or maintaining one’s social status, become irrelevant – the complexities and adversity present in the real world forcibly present themselves, and this is something that now must force the characters to grow. This is most apparent with Guel, who’s been thrown from his old world and now is filled with a desire to preserve what matters to him, and in Suletta, who’d been quite insulated from what a Gundam can do (during the duels at Asticassia, the Aerial’s weapons have their output reduced). With guidance and support cut out, it does appear that The Witch from Mercury‘s main cast must now make their own decisions and try their own strengths. In Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeon’s attack on Side 7 forced Amuro Ray into the RX-78 II and left Bright Noa the captain of White Base, compelling everyone to grow and repel Zeon’s forces. Similarly, Gundam SEED‘s Kira Yamato was a reluctant pilot to the Strike who stepped up to protect those around him and eventually found his own way to fight without compromising his values. Gundam stories focus on youth as they come to find their own place in the world and decide for themselves what’s worth fighting for; it is through the sum of their actions that one’s identify becomes defined, and Gundam series have always excelled at showing how being put in difficult situations force individuals to grow in ways that duels and navigating social cliqués cannot. With the magical battle school chapter of The Witch from Mercury seemingly over, the hope is that the series will now delve into the aspects that Gundam series are best known for. So far, The Witch from Mercury appears to be trending towards this: with Guel now en route to becoming a new man, and the revelation that the Aerial contains the spirit of Suletta’s sister, it will be curious to see what comes out of Suletta and Miorine’s journey as they strive to push their Gundam away from warfare towards more peaceable applications in medicine and advancement of humanity.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • To very little surprise, when The Witch from Mercury returned to Asticassia, viewers were initially shocked that the series had appeared to brush aside all of the fallout and consequences that followed Planet Quetta: right at the beginning, Suletta is shown as participating in and winning multiple duels as a result of having let requests accumulate in her absence, and for the briefest of moments, I wondered if The Witch from Mercury was going to emphasise the magical battle school elements over what makes Gundam so engaging. This was, fortunately, not the case, and The Witch from Mercury continues to keep the pedal to the metal as more becomes unveiled.

  • For me, the expectation is that any series carrying the Gundam name will necessarily show the interplay between technology and society: the school setting, with its regulations and focus on social interactions, is far too siloed an environment to adequately show these larger themes. Thus, when The Witch from Mercury returns things to Asticassia, there must be a bit of reasoning behind it, and this becomes shown to viewers as the characters in Earth House struggle to come to terms with what happened, and how despite what had occurred, the incident and its following cover-up means that there’s little chance to talk things out.

  • With this in mind, I’ve noticed that a lot of discussions out there are missing the forest for the trees. At both AnimeSuki and Random Curiosity, for instance, people have elected to focus on the implications of what’s happening in The Witch from Mercury at the individual level, such as the Nika’s allegiances or Elan’s intentions. I understand that the characters of any work, Gundam or otherwise, drive the narrative, but at the same time, the precise wording of a conversation isn’t particularly meaningful in a work like Gundam because the characters themselves are only half of the picture. The mobile suits themselves, and the world everything is set in, must also be considered.

  • Hence, trying to pick apart the morality of Dawn of Fold’s methods, or Nika’s allegiances, isn’t particularly meaningful because the situation in The Witch from Mercury exists as a result of the research and development of mobile suits. In order to understand The Witch from Mercury‘s intention as a work, then, one must also factor into account the mobile suits and their performance, as this impacts how the pilots use them. In turn, the pilots’ interactions with both their own machines, and other mobile suits, speak to what a given Gundam series’ goals are. For instance, in Gundam 00, Setsuna treats his mobile suit as the embodiment of peace and achieving an ideal, whereas in Gundam Unicorn, the Gundams are synonymous with possibility.

  • In The Witch from Mercury, the Gundam-types initially represent forbidden technology that Suletta aims to transform into a symbol of hope. Sophie and Norea, on the other hand, see Gundams as devastatingly powerful war machines. The duality of a given technology is a recurring theme in Gundam, mirroring the fact that technology is neither intrinsically good or evil, and that this is dependent on how said technology is used. Here, Sophie and Norea transfer to Asticassia, surprising Suletta and Earth House, ahead of an open house event.

  • For me, I find it quite unnecessary to spend too much time speculating on Nika’s intentions; Gundam series have traditionally revealed the characters’ beliefs, intentions and desires as they progressed, and it’s easier to let the story do the talking. So far, what viewers do know is that Nika is an orphan and was given a chance to enrol at Asticassia, where she was expected to support Shaddiq in his machinations. Shaddiq’s plans seem to be underlying everything that’s unfolding here in The Witch from Mercury, and while it is a tradition to speculate on what might happen, I prefer letting events occur before giving thought to what the story intends to convey.

  • This is why episodic reviews for Gundam are tricky: surprises and plot twists are common, and this renders speculation a difficult exercise. While individual episodes do offer quite a bit to talk about, I find that I can look at a given Gundam work’s themes best once all of the pieces are in play. To put things in perspective, Hathaway’s Flash‘s future directions are not something I’m familiar with, and while I have spoken to my impressions of the first film, my own discussion is limited to what I can see on-screen. Back in The Witch from Mercury, the dynamic between Norea and Sophie resembles Johann and Nena Trinity of Gundam 00, and it was here that I began appreciating the fact that I’ve got some familiarity with other Gundam series.

  • Norea sees Nika as a liability and moves to eliminate her, but Suletta saves her at the last moment, before subsequently challenging Sophie and Norea to a duel. Although duels are a way of life at Asticassia, Gundam series have previously shown that war isn’t fun and games. This clashes with the approach that many magical battle school series out there take. Readers will get the sneaking suspicion that I’m not a fan of that particular genre; this is because the idea of youth wielding extraordinary powers in their navigation of the adolescent social hierarchy comes across as wish-fulfilment and doesn’t show a meaningful journey in how one might overcome their troubles: I’ve certainly never settled my problems with other students through use of a powered exoskeleton or manifested weapons from one’s soul. Conversely, when the magic (or equivalent) is scrapped in favour of real-world activities, the same story can show something much more relatable to viewers.

  • Gundam has never purely been about finding oneself, but instead, weaves this element into the complex interplay between man and machine, as well as society and its challenges. Thus, when characters do grow and find their purpose, they did so as a consequence of their actions, learning through both their successes and failures. I expect that this will happen with Suletta as The Witch from Mercury continues, even as more about the Quiet Zero initiative becomes known. Following the events at Planet Quletta, Miorine’s ditched her studies to look after Delling and continue work on her projects. It’s a clever way of giving her and Suletta some distance for the short term, and this leads me to anticipate that at some point, Miorine and Suletta will need to reunite and reconcile after the former’s shock and horror at the fact Suletta could casually splatter an enemy combatant without batting an eyelash.

  • For me, The Witch from Mercury really earns its stripes when Sophie and Norea enter Asticassia’s open exhibition tournament, but then begin shooting to kill. Norea melts through one of the participants and notches up the first casualty. In an instant, the security and safety of the high school is shattered. The typical magical battle school story never deals with this, so The Witch from Mercury‘s progression acts as a rather creative way of challenging that genre, and how, regardless of one’s social status or skill in an arena, none of those things matter when it’s a fight for survival.

  • To readers, I’ve doubtlessly been remarkably harsh and unfair towards the magical battle school genre; I acknowledge that people do enjoy these series, and note that at some point in the future, it may be worthwhile for me to give Infinite Stratos a revisit, as well as see what Chivalry of a Failed Knight is about. Both are notable representatives of the genre, and it is probably time for me to see if my own criticisms of magical battle schools are warranted. For the present, however, since The Witch from Mercury has stepped away from duels and social circles into the realm of Gundam, I’ll leave all of this behind in favour of my usual modus operandi for discussing Gundam series: focusing on the mobile suits and how they figure into things.

  • The Lfrith Ur and Lfrith Thorn are only Gundams in name: although they are exceptionally powerful mobile suits, their usage stands completely contrary to what Gundams are meant to represent. This is a recurring theme in the Universal Century, Gundams are mobile suits derived from the RX-78 II line and eventually came to symbolise hope and possibility, but by the time of Hathaway’s Flash, the Ξ Gundam had become something that Hathaway would operate as his personal machine, tarnishing the Gundam’s original meaning. Similarly, although Setsuna F. Seiei sought to “become Gundam” in 00, his convictions were challenged with the Trinity siblings’ arrival, and this eventually led Setsuna to do some soul searching, whereupon he decides that a Gundam is a mindset, rather than a machine.

  • The Lfrinths’ actions during the exhibition fight was the surest sign that The Witch from Mercury would be stepping away from the magical battle school environment, and while the devastation Sophie and Norea wrought here leaves major consequences on the students and attendees, it’s also a powerful show of how once conflict arrives, there is no turning back. For the express purpose of destruction, Sophie’s Ur has brought some unmanned drones with her. Although Sophie describes them as GUND-bits, they don’t operate like traditional bits or funnels in the sense that they can’t dock to the Ur and likely have their own power supply.

  • Whenever other universes are mentioned, the classic question that inevitably comes up is how Suletta’s Aerial Rebuild compares to other Gundams. In The Witch from Mercury thus far, the Aerial hasn’t had much of a chance to really shine in combat, since all of its battles were in duels. The Aerial Rebuild has built in thrusters and an improved weapon, so it’s more mobile and hits harder than its original form. Beyond this, Suletta has yet to use the machine the same way more combat-seasoned pilots do. Overall, I would suppose that, ignoring pilot ability, the Aerial Rebuild is probably similar to the 00 Gundam or ν Gundam in relative performance – although lacking a GN Drive, the Aerial’s GUND Format is comparable to the ν Gundam’s psychoframe.

  • After Sophie and Norea blast a hole in the colony walls and forces the fight outside, the Aerial activates a system not unlike the Unicorn’s NT-D, taking control of Sophie’s GUND-bits the same way Banagher had done against the Kshatriya. Amidst the fighting, Sophie reveals her raison d’être here – having been deprived of a normal life, all she wanted was to do the things people of her age had done, and to this end, she’s willing to fight for it. Such a moment, however short it was, gives insight into the wealth gap that exists in The Witch from Mercury. Assuming this to be the case, The Witch from Mercury still has yet to show why there is such a rift between Earthians and Spacians, as it is only implied that Spacians and the Benerit Group may have profited at the expense of those on Earth.

  • Sarius had ended up as the acting head of the Benerit Group after Delling was attacked, and with this, Shaddiq’s plan finally comes into motion; he kidnaps Sarius amidst the chaos, calling upon members of the Grassley House to assist him. Shaddiq had initially appeared to be the well-liked member of the Grassley House with uncommon business acumen, but has proven himself to be a master manipulator who, like Gilbert Durandal and Char Aznable, counts on his charisma to create situations that are conducive towards his plans. It is admittedly unusual to see students being willing participants in Sarius’ kidnapping, at least until I recall Gundam: The Origin, where Char had led a group of Zeon student forces to attack a Federation compound successfully.

  • The Aerial’s power forces Sophie to continue increasing her Permit system until her body is finally overwhelmed, and she dies as a result. The Aerial’s supernatural performance in this battle, and the phenomenon that occurs, is akin to the results of forcing two psychoframe equipped mobile suits together and creating a psychofield. Similarly, it is revealed that Aerial’s internal system actually contains the consciousness of Prospera’s first daughter. This process was likely deliberate, a part of Prospera’s plan to advance the world in a direction favourable for her plans; the same thing had happened to Rita Bernal in Gundam Narrative, but the precise nature of how that happened was never shown.

  • Gundam Narrative had been a sequel of sorts to Gundam Unicorn, and while it shows the fate of the Unicorn line of mobile suits and the psychoframe technology, a conversation with a friend also revealed I missed something fundamental about this story: I originally felt that its story regarding the Unicorn’s future was incomplete, but my best friend, a Gundam expert, suggested that I look at Narrative as a story about learning to find one’s own path amidst adversity, rather than allowing one to be defined by the expectations others have of oneself. This is something Zoltan fails to do, whereas Jona does manage to accomplish this at Narrative‘s end, and with almost five years having now passed since Narrative, I feel that the time is right for me to revisit Narrative.

  • Rita’s consciousness embedded in the Phenix’s psycoframe had given it powers surpassing the supernatural, and when Jona manages to board it, his own feelings allow the Phenix to pull off a miracle equivalent to when Amuro had repelled Axis. While the process was abstracted out so Narrative could tell its story, here in The Witch from Mercury, a little more explanation would serve two purposes: The Witch from Mercury would solidify its world-building and advance its own story further, but at the same time, it may also give a bit of insight into how Rita’s consciousness was transplanted into the Phenix. Gundam series draw inspiration from one another and share similar mechanics, and questions one series may raise can occasionally be answered by another series. As such, I am the sort of Gundam fan who is open to seeing different universes.

  • Earth House’s members subsequently find themselves under arrest for allegedly harbouring a terrorist: after Grassley House outed Nika, the whole of Earth House is suspected of aiding and abetting her. They’re subsequently brought in for questioning, and, having quickly become my favourite of the houses, one cannot help but be concerned for them. This sort of thing would be unheard of in the typical magical battle school setting and is yet another reminder that The Witch from Mercury is a Gundam series, first and foremost.

  • While Sophie insists that the Gundam is a weapon of war, Suletta continues to hold that Gundams can be used to advance humanity. I’m inclined to side with Suletta, since technology is purely dependent on the user, and this is what motivates the page quote. Originating from an interview Steve Jobs had with Rolling Stone Magazine in 1994, Jobs had meant to suggest that people ultimately drive everything, and without people, the technology is nothing. Suletta channels this same spirit: the same GUND Format that Sophie believes to be a destructive tool is something Suletta sees as an instrument of hope. I imagine that in the moment, Ericht’s spirit is reassuring her, and this is what gives Suletta strength to do what she can in the world of the living. Other Gundam fans are likely to disagree with this, as they believe that Suletta will crack from the strain of warfare eventually.

  • The question of what became of Guel is swiftly answered – it turns out the Dawn of Fold captured him, and he’s now being held somewhere on Earth as a prisoner of war. Dawn of Fold suppose that with Guel, they might have a bargaining chip handy. The situation on Earth has only been glimpsed briefly, but from what is shown, it’s apparent that Earth is in dire straits. Although there’s still blue skies, buildings lie crumbling, and the world distinctly resembles the one seen in 86 EIGHTY-SIX: outside of San Magnolia, the world was ruined and slowly being reclaimed by nature. This, I imagine, is the surest sign that there is a massive wealth inequality between Spacians and the Earthians.

  • Shaddiq’s plan turns out to have been motivated by the fact he’s half Earthian, and the idea to dissolve the Benerit Group by redistributing their assets to Earth is his means of taking revenge for what had happened to Earthians. The plan is actually no different than Full Frontal’s plan to create a Side Co-Prosperity Sphere in Gundam Unicorn, in both its simplicity and the consequences that might follow if actually enacted. At this point in time, one might surmise that Shaddiq could be the main antagonist of The Witch from Mercury, but drawing conclusions like these can also be misleading – Lady Prospera and Delling’s programme still remain unknown, and there’s always the possibility that Shaddiq could be allowed to get further so when the time comes, he’s made the scapegoat for whatever follows.

  • In the aftermath of Sophie’s death, the Earthians create a grave for her. The presence of children is meant to reiterate that, despite being terrorists, the Dawn of Fold are still human, and it is moments like these that cast doubt on the fact that the Dawn of Fold are necessarily evil. All sides of a war have their reasons for fighting, and just because the leaders are irrational does not mean the foot soldiers are mindless drones. Gundam has previously sold this idea extremely well, and in humanising the sides of a conflict, viewers are forced to conclude that conflict isn’t as black and white as it prima facie appears.

  • With Benerit Group security forces approaching, the Dawn of Fold prepare to evacuate. While leader Naji manages the evacuating forces, former Cathedra soldier Olcott stays behind with a team, piloting mobile suits to keep Benerit Group forces occupied. Olcott had lost his son following an attack and since then, defected to Dawn of Fold. When Guel hears one of the children demanding to know of his father’s location, the shock and guilt of his own actions come back to him.

  • Unlike the duels of Asticassia, combat between mobile suits outside of a school environment are brutal and gritty. Despite their ambush, Dawn of Fold are quickly beaten back. All of the fighting happens between ground-type mobile suits, and here, they field the HU-45p Prodoros, which is produced by Hanumat Manufacturing Industry. The Prodoros resembles the Zakus of the Universal Century, being limited to physical weapons, and while they do manage to take out a few of the Benerit mobile suits, they are ultimately overwhelmed.

  • Guel’s desire to save one of the children present marks a notable shift in his character: Guel had begun his journey in The Witch from Mercury an arrogant, pompous student who looked down on others, but since Suletta’s arrival, his own ego was thrown into question, and since then, he’s sought to prove himself worthy. However, after the Planet Queletta incident, his losses force him to open his eyes and see beyond his own surroundings; his sense of right and wrong has doubtlessly shifted, and this is one of the reasons why I try not to judge characters until the end of the series, since the events can dramatically alter a character.

  • The physical battles between mobile suits on Earth brought to mind the slow, lumbering combat that occurs between the early mobile suits of the Universal Century and Cosmic Era (Anno Domini’s GN Drives and the fact that the Union and AEU had mobile, transformable suits meant that their fights with the Gundams were still quite swift). Throughout combat, the Benerit suits employ beam rifles to destroy Dawn of Fold’s Prodoros, and one touch that I liked was how, after being shot through the cockpit, the Prodoros crumble to the ground without a catastrophic explosion.

  • Seeing that Guel has found his resolve, Olcott decides to let him go. Guel promises to fight to protect what remains of his father’s legacy, and this will likely bring him on a collision course with his younger brother. One element of The Witch from Mercury I’ve not mentioned until now is the soundtrack – it’s set to release in July, and with four disks, it will retail for 4400 Yen. The incidental music in The Witch From Mercury has range from unremarkable to breathtaking, par the course for a typical Gundam series. Gundam SEED00Unicorn and Origin have excellent soundtracks with iconic pieces, and while The Witch from Mercury doesn’t appear to have a distinct leitmotif for Suletta or the Aerial yet, I imagine that as the Aerial and Suletta is forced to sortie more, viewers will yet have an opportunity to appreciate Takashi Ohmama’s compositions for this series.

  • With Miorine wondering about what Prospera and Delling have in mind, The Witch from Mercury‘s second half has hit its stride. Since The Witch from Mercury still has many of its mysteries unresolved, anticipation mounts regarding what happens next, and I am reminded of the importance of keeping an open mind. Having gotten my start with Gundam 00, and then becoming a fan of both the Universal Century and Cosmic Era, The Witch from Mercury initially felt far removed from what made Gundam enjoyable for me. However, as the series progressed, hints of something bigger have begun manifesting, capturing my interest, and I am hoping that The Witch from Mercury will stick its landing. On this note, I do feel that I’ve not given Iron-Blooded Orphans a fair chance, either, and it will be worthwhile to make my own decision as to whether or not the series earns the praise that the community have given it.

In the past three weeks, discussions surrounding The Witch from Mercury at some venues have quickly devolved into arguments about morality, resulting in cyclic arguments on every topic from Shaddiq’s plans, to whether or not the Dawn of Fold are a sympathetic faction. Although Gundam series always generate interesting conversation, remarks on morality are always counterproductive because what constitutes as ethical varies so widely between different individuals, and moreover, when one’s survival hangs in the balance, many assumptions about the simple nature of right and wrong are lost. However, what makes Gundam series especially noteworthy is the interplay between morality and technology; morality does not exist in a vacuum, and in The Witch from Mercury, the most important questions to ask lie precisely with the matter that is Quiet Zero. So far, Prospera has revealed that her first daughter, Ericht, was uploaded into the Aerial, similarly to how Rita’s consciousness became a part of the Phenix in Gundam Narrative. The complex interplay between consciousness and machine, in both cases, results in a machine of supernatural performance, and Gundam Narrative had suggested that, because such technology is far above humanity’s comprehension, it is dangerous to use it. This is because the implications are not fully understood, and as such, emerging technologies should not be used until humanity matures enough to handle things safely (i.e. for the betterment of one another rather than one another’s expense). The Witch from Mercury has laid the foundations for a similar conversation, although the distinction here is that, since the setting and characters are different, there’s an opportunity now to see if it’s possible to reach a different conversation. Hints that humans can learn and grow, to an extent where they can be trusted with emerging technologies, are present in The Witch from Mercury: Suletta insists that Gundams can be machines for helping, rather than harming, and even after she witnesses Sophie’s death on the battlefield, she continues to hold that Gundams aren’t necessarily instruments of death and that new technologies can be used to advance humans as a whole. Previous Gundam series had their lead machines become symbols of hope, and in particular, Gundam 00 had shown how the extraordinary power conferred by a GN drive could ultimately be used to expand humanity’s understanding. If The Witch from Mercury goes down this route, the series could very well provide an answer to the question that the Universal Century raised and suggest, through the GUND Format, that the psychoframe technology is something that humanity could have mastered and safely wielded if the concept had been further explored, in turn showing how, even if emergent technologies can be abused, humanity can mature to make use of its advances in a productive manner.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack – A Retrospective on Gundam’s Greatest Rivalry At The Thirty-Fifth Anniversary and Memories of that Fog-Shrouded Day

“I’m not as impatient as you are; I’m willing to wait for humanity to learn and grow.” –Amuro Ray

By UC 0093, following his experiences with Earthnoids, Char Aznable has become disillusioned with humanity and is convinced the only way to accelerate progress is by rendering the Earth uninhabitable through repeated asteroid strikes. His early efforts are successful, and the Neo Zeon forces manage to drop the Fifth Luna colony onto Lhasa, Tibet. The EFSF and Londo Bell, including veteran pilot Amuro Ray and Captain Bright Noa, fail to prevent the catastrophe: Amuro duels Char during this battle and finds his Re-GZ outmatched by Char’s Sazabi. This latest incident prompts the Federation to arrange a secret treaty with Char, and to this end, Prime Minister Adenaur Paraya and his daughter, Quess, board the Ra Cailum, which is bound for Londenion. Hathaway, Bright’s son, had managed to secure a shuttle into space, and following Char’s attack, also boards the Ra Cailum, where he meets and falls in love with Quess. Meanwhile, Amuro heads off to collect his new mobile suit, the RX-93 ν Gundam. It turns out Char intends to purchase the asteroid Axis in exchange for fleet disarmament, and while Cameron Bloom relays his doubts to Bright, Char and Amuro wind up confronting one another. In the aftermath, Char takes Quess back with her, intrigued by her potential as a Newtype and pilot. When Neo Zeon forces ambush the Londo Bell fleet overseeing the disarmament at Luna II, a major battle erupts: Char’s intentions had been to seize the nuclear stockpile stored here and installing them at Axis before preparing the asteroid for collision with Earth. Londo Bell is unable to stop Axis, and give pursuit. Amidst the renewed battle, Quess, now piloting the Alpha Azieru mobile armour, ends up dying after Chan fires on her while trying to protect Hathaway, who had seized a mobile suit and flew out to Quess with the hope of recovering her. Distraught, Hathaway destroys Chan’s Re-GZ. Meanwhile, Amuro and Char duel in their mobile suits, and after Amuro gains the upper hand over the Sazabi, he tries to single-handedly push back Axis with the ν Gundam. Amplified by the intense emotions, the ν Gundam’s psychoframe resonates, causing Amuro, Char and the ν Gundam to vanish in a massive flash of light that repels Axis. This is Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack (Char’s Counterattack from here on out for brevity), the first-ever Gundam theatrical film that premièred in March 1988 and has since been recognised as a cornerstone in the Gundam franchise, representing the culmination of the longstanding rivalry between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable; in particular, this rivalry had gone from professional respect to personal hatred, a consequence of the pair’s losses and experiences throughout the One Year War and subsequent battles between the Earth Federation and Zeon remnants.

Long counted as one of the greatest rivalries in Gundam, Char and Amuro’s conflicting beliefs are fuelled by dramatically different interpretation of their experiences throughout the One Year War and Gryps War, as well as the personal losses both have sustained in their bid to uphold their goals and protect what’s dear to them: Lalah’s death proved to be too large of a wound to overcome for both. However, different perspectives mean that Amuro and Char both handle things differently. For Amuro, Lalah’s death initially drove him into a deep guilt, but after he overcomes this, he vows to fight with the aim of protecting what he can. This is why Amuro is willing to give humanity the chance to learn their own strengths as he as. Conversely, Char’s beliefs about humanity are galvinised in the aftermath of Lalah’s death, and disillusioned with how people could not seize opportunity even when it was presented to them, Char resolved to destroy the Earth and force a migration into space. The clashing ideals are best described as “when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”: this old paradox fully captures the extent of Char and Amuro’s rivalry by the time of Char’s Counterattack, and so determined are the two to overcome the other’s beliefs, that the pair immediately engage in a fist fight when they first meet again. Through this rivalry, Char’s Counterattack speaks to the inherent dangers of ideals progressing too far; there’s no more room for negotiation or reconciliation, and when polar opposites come into contact, conflict is the result. The dangers of polarisation is quite visible in contemporary politics, as people increasingly adopt an “us versus them” mentality and refuse to acknowledge that those holding contrary opinions, more often than not, still want the same outcomes, even if the means are different. In Char’s Counterattack, both Char and Amuro desire for an end to the conflict and the opportunity to simply be with people important to them, but because of opposite ideals, there is no chance for reconciliation. In the paradox with an unmovable object and unstoppable force, philosophers often posit that the premise is flawed because it assumes both can simultaneously exist. Char’s Counterattack resolves this paradox with the opposite conclusion and indicates that after a certain point, neither can coexist – regardless of one’s original intentions, when beliefs become too far removed from their initial state, they effectively cease to be. In this way, Char’s Counterattack can be seen as a tragedy, a portrayal of what allowing oneself to become consumed by an idea may look like, and one which cautions viewers to re-examine their own beliefs, as well as the impact said beliefs may have on those around oneself. However, speaking to the strength of writing in Gundam, Amuro and Char’s fate can also be a blessing; by vanishing and moving on to the next plane of existence, the pair are liberated from their duties in this world and finally allowed to rest, placing their aspirations and ideals in the next generation.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Char’s Counterattack is set in UC 0093, some fourteen years after the original Mobile Suit Gundam and six years after Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Since the One Year War, Zeon’s dissolved into remnants, and the EFSF had established the Titans to stamp out said remnants. Their methods, however, prove to be questionable, and Char ends up joining forces with Kamille Bidan and the AEUG to stop the Titans. In this time, Amuro’s grown from being a naïveté into someone with a strong set of convictions and skill as a pilot. Char, on the other hand, became increasingly disillusioned after seeing humanity continue to throw away potential, and coupled with his losses, he becomes convinced that humanity must be forced into space.

  • Thus, Char’s Counterattack opens with Char and Neo Zeon forces fending off Londo Bell in order to defend Luna 5 while it plummets to the surface. Char’s Counterattack, being the culmination of Amuro and Char’s stories, acted as a capstone of sorts for the Universal Century. The film, released in 1988, requires some familiarity and background with the precursor events, such as Lalah Sune’s death and Char’s temporary alliance with moderate Federation forces – they motivate the events of the film.

  • Char’s Counterattack turns 35 this year, and to commemorate this occasion, a special vinyl album was released. Retailing for 4840 Yen, this album features all of tracks from the soundtrack, which was composed by Shigeaki Saegusa and had been an integral part of Char’s Counterattack – contrasting the campy music of the original Mobile Suit GundamChar’s Counterattack‘s incidental music is melancholy, conveying an air of finality about it. When I first watched Char’s Counterattack a decade earlier, I found myself thoroughly impressed with the music.

  • I’d originally picked up Char’s Counterattack out of curiosity: back then, Gundam Unicorn‘s penultimate episode had just aired, and in this episode, a glimpse of the Axis Shock event was shown, piquing my curiosity. A few months earlier, I purchased the MG RX-93 ν Gundam Ver Ka., which released at the end of 2012 and featured the “Invoke Mode” gimmick, which exposed the ν Gundam’s psychoframe: the build had intrigued me, and after successfully completing the MG 00 Raiser Seven Sword/G, I became curious to try my hand at what would become my third MG.

  • The MG ν Gundam would represent a challenge: the perfect-grade style hands and ABS frame made the kit feel a little flimsy, but once assembled, it became an impressive-looking model. The funnels don’t stay on all that well, so I’ve opted to display this model without them, but even then, the kit towers over its 00 counterparts, and the exposed psychoframe gives the model an impressive presence on the shelf, being a more subtle version of the Unicorn’s transformation mechanism. Here, Amuro and Chan speak with an engineer about the psychoframe: as a new technology, the psychoframe was intended to improve mobile suit performance, although its emergent properties make it a difficult technology to control.

  • Char’s Counterattack also introduces Hathaway Noa, Bright Noa’s son, as well as Quess Paraya, a young girl with strong Newtype powers. The love dodecahedron in Char’s Counterattack has been a point of discussion for many a viewer, but in this discussion, I’ve chosen to primarily focus on the Char and Amuro rivalry, the mobile suits and ideologies, as well as reminisce on the world a decade earlier. Back then, Char’s Counterattack had just turned a quarter-century old, and I was gearing up for my undergraduate thesis defense.

  • After I had submitted my written thesis, I turned my attention towards preparations for the oral exam, and as memory serves, things had been going very smoothly. As means of a break, I watched Char’s Counterattack to see the original film that my then-new MG had made an appearance in. At around this time, I’d also gotten into DOOM: back then, a combination of curiosity through Pure Pwnage, Accursed Farms releasing “DOOM Guy’s Mind” as an April Fool’s joke, and the fact that my Dell XPS 420 couldn’t run other games, I decided to give DOOM a whirl, playing the game in between reviewing for the thesis defense and my remaining exams.

  • In this way, the time between submitting my paper and the exam passed in the blink of an eye. I vividly recall the Saturday leading up to the defense itself: that Friday, half of my classmates (mostly in the Biomedical Sciences stream) had defended. The folks in the Bioinformatics stream (myself included) had an extra week to prepare, but I had joked to my friends and classmates that with how we were as students, the week felt more like torment than additional preparation time. One of my bioinformatics friends had a brilliant idea to hang out in an evening dubbed “spaghetti and scrubs”.

  • With nothing better to do besides playing DOOM, I accepted this invite and spent a merry evening with friends making sausage spaghetti, eating said spaghetti and watching Scrubs. From the floor her unit was on, one can normally see the city centre, but on that evening, fog had enveloped the area wholly, obscuring everything and giving the area a distinctly Phobos-like vibe. Back then, one of my best friends, a computer science major, had been going through some tricky times, and a few weeks earlier, I had invited him to hang out with some of my health science peers so he could unwind and regroup.

  • To my pleasant surprise, my friend from computer science and friend from health science immediately hit it off; in fact, they began seeing one another shortly after and eventual became married after graduation. A chance encounter at my suggestion had resulted in this happy outcome, and because of the timing of things, I cannot help but recall those days when listening to the Char’s Counterattack soundtrack. In a cruel bit of irony, precisely a year after the Spaghetti and Scrubs party, the young woman I’d met in Japanese class (whom I developed a crush on, and ironically, whom my friend in health science had thought I’d been seeing) made her relationship with someone she’d met on her exchange programme “Facebook official”.

  • I was devastated from this news, and my friend from computer science had been there to walk me through those tricky moments in the days following. That summer, I ended up directing all of my energies towards working on the Giant Walkthrough Brain to make my mind off things, and the rest is something I’ll recount in greater detail another time. I understand that this particular set of anecdotes is not remotely related to Char’s Counterattack, but this is one of the occasional hazards of reading this blog: I am free to write in my own style and are not bound by any set of constraints.

  • For me, being able to reflect on old experiences (and perhaps provide some comparisons with a given anime) is a helpful exercise; I am able to apply my current experiences and mindset to look back on the things I previously did and decide if there was anything I can stand to learn from the past. As it turns out, writing out my thoughts serves to help me organise them better, and this is why I tend to reminisce here. The equivalent moment in Char’s Counterattack comes when Amuro and Char confront one another for the first time in years at Londenion.

  • The comment about love and hatred being two sides of the same coin definitely holds true, as they both involve intense emotions and consume one’s thoughts in the same way. Unsurprisingly, these emotions both impact the same regions of the brain, and so, when Char and Amuro fight, they are motivated by the same feelings of anger and resentment following Lalah’s death. Once the treaty at Londenion is signed, the stage is set for Char’s Counterattack‘s main act, and Char ends up whisking Quess away, having felt her latent ability as a Newtype.

  • After Char persuades Quess into helping the Neo Zeon cause, he assigns Gyunei Guss to look after her and get her familiar with mobile suits. Gyunei is a Cyber Newtype, an artificially enhanced individual with exceptional combat prowess. However, Gyunei suffers from an inferiority complex and constantly strives to prove himself, worrying people only respect him for his capabilities. When he meets Quess, Gyunei becomes infatuated with her. The secondary characters in Char’s Counterattack only appear in the film and have limited exposition, but their presence in the story doesn’t particularly complicate things.

  • In fact, I feel that one of Char’s Counterattack‘s strengths is the fact that even if one didn’t have sufficient familiarity with the Universal Century, it is still possible to follow the story and understand why the characters act in the manner that they do, thanks to flashbacks and exposition provided in the film itself. By UC 0093, Char’s become the de facto leader of the Neo Zeon forces, and although he keeps up the appearance of a politician, he’s primarily interested in his own machinations to realise his vision of the world’s destruction. While claiming to care about humanity’s future, Char’s motivations are actually quite shallow and petty: ever since Lalah’s death, Char’s sought vengeance on Amuro, who had unintentionally dealt her the killing blow.

  • The death of Lalah permanently impacted both Char and Amuro, and while viewers might find it petty that neither Char nor Amuro have gotten over Lalah’s death, I remark on how after the events of nine years earlier, my own outcomes wherever relationships are concerned haven’t ever recovered. It is the case that getting past losses like these can be difficult, and in Char’s Counterattack, both Char and Amuro, despite having new people in their lives (Nanai and Chan, respectively), are still guilt-stricken about Lalah’s death, preventing them from fully living in the present. I am not going to begrudge either, having found no solution in the past decade as to how to best go about handling this, and will only remark that when dealing with losses surrounding matters of the heart, people should take as much time as they need to make peace with their pasts.

  • The swan thus becomes a haunting symbol in Char’s Counterattack, representing the ethereal Lalah and the commonality in both Amuro and Char’s difficulty in letting go of the past to the point where they become mortal foes. Here, after Quess clashes with Nanai and Gyunei, she seeks solace in Char’s company, who sees an opportunity to get her accustomed to the feelings that permeate a battlefield. The fear and aggression on the battlefield terrifies Quess, who becomes convinced that she needs to eliminates these things.

  • During a combat encounter, Gyunei ends up destroying the ReGZ and kills Kayra Su. The ReGZ (Refined Gundam Zeta) was supposed to be a cut-down version of the Zeta Gundam meant for mass production, possessing a simpler transformation system and a backpack system that increased its versatility. Its performance surpasses most machines, but lacking a psycommu of its own, the ReGZ was not equipped to deal with more advanced Zeon machines. Amuro had found the ReGZ outmatched by Char’s Sazabi earlier, and here against Gyunei, Kayra is overwhelmed. Although Amuro tries to defuse the situation, the ν Gundam’s fin funnels kick in and escalates things.

  • Despite only making an appearance here in Char’s Counterattack, Chan Agi was one of my favourite characters for her attitudes surrounding the hitherto-untested psychoframe, specifically worrying about its viability in combat, and to this end, she carries a T-shaped sample of it with her. Her relationship with Amuro was an interesting one, and while the pair reciprocate their feelings, it’s clear that Amuro’s still stuck in the past. Char was similarly stuck in the past, as well – although he’s in a relationship with Nanai, he hasn’t gotten over Lalah, either. The fact that Char and Amuro were more similar than they’d cared to admit is one of the reasons why their rivalry becomes so heated.

  • Thanks to Cameron Bloom’s confiding in Captain Bright, Londo Bell is able to anticipate that Char is up to something. They realise that Char’s purchase of Axis was for another colony drop, and rush off to stop this from happening, resulting in a titanic battle as the Federation Forces try to prevent an impact event. Here, I will remark that in this discussion of Char’s Counterattack, I’ve omitted a lot of details surrounding more subtle elements in the film – Char’s Counterattack is a very busy movie, and there’s a lot going on, so I’ve elected to only cover a few moments. Critics are right in that the additional details can make the film somewhat difficult to follow, even for Universal Century fans. However, on the flipside, all of these elements make the ending all the more poignant.

  • At the time of its deployment, the RX-93 ν Gundam was the single most advanced mobile suit available to the Federation: designed by Amuro himself, the ν Gundam is the culmination of his learnings and incorporates highly sophisticated features that render it highly versatile in combat. Its default load-out includes head-mounted Vulcans for point defense, a beam rifle, two beam sabres and a hyper-bazooka. The ν Gundam also equips six Fin Funnels that each possess their own generators, allowing them a superior operational time compared to classic funnels and giving Amuro the means of engaging multiple targets simultaneously, overwhelming individual targets and providing a measure of defense. During the final battle, Amuro is able to single-handedly engage the Neo Zeon forces and effortlessly fends off even Quess’ α Azieru with relative ease.

  • Amidst the chaos of combat, Hathaway manages to commandeer a Jegan and pilots it out to Quess with the intention of bringing her back. Char’s Counterattack establishes one of Hathaway’s biggest weakness: he tends to think with his heart rather and as a result of this, begins to see the Federation as an impediment to progress. After the events of Char’s Counterattack, Hathaway ends up joining the Federation forces and completes training with them, before moving on to studying botany and eventually founding the terror organisation Mafty. Although convinced he could save Quess, Hathaway is ultimately denied when Chan arrives and fires on the α Azieru, killing Quess.

  • In return, Hathaway opens fire on the already-damaged ReGZ. Chan’s spirit is released, and in death, her consciousness ascends to a different plane as her mobile suit becomes enveloped by a bright light. Char’s Counterattack introduced some of the Universal Century’s most outrageous and wild phenomenon through the psychoframe, and I always got the impression that by unveiling this technology in a film meant to act as the Universal century’s capstone, Char’s Counterattack was signalling that this was the end of one age, leaving things open to future authors to explore further.

  • Some fans have not taken too kindly to the use of psychoframe and its associated supernatural attributes because it ultimately represents deus ex machina – unknown properties means that psychoframe could potentially be abused to effortlessly resolve plot points simply because there was no clearly-defined limit to how human will could be converted to physical energy. Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Narrative both attempt to reconcile use of the psychoframe and explain what eventually became of this overwhelming, otherworldly technology.

  • The highlight of Char’s Counterattack is when Amuro and Char, equipped with their cutting-edge mobile suits, clash for the final time. The Sazabi is the Neo Zeon counterpart of the ν Gundam, being equipped with a psychoframe and funnels that make it superior to every Federation suit of its time. Despite its large size, use of a lightweight armour and the inclusion of multiple thrusters gives the suit incredible mobility. It is curious to note that here, Char and Amuro duel one another with mobile suits that are supposed to represent the culmination of their knowledge and skill, and yet, in Char’s case, his motivations and goals become increasingly small-minded even as Amuro tries to make an effort to move on and fight for the future.

  • In the end, Amuro and the ν Gundam win out – Amuro casts the Sazabi’s wreckage onto the surface of Axis and captures Char’s cockpit. While Char and Amuro fight, Captain Bright and the Ra Cailum have managed to infiltrate Axis and installed explosives, allowing them to blow the asteroid apart. Despite their efforts, the rear end of Axis is still on a collision course with Earth. Determined to save the lives of those on Earth and prove Char wrong, Amuro decides to use the ν Gundam in an attempt to push Axis back. During this time, Char’s attempts to justify his actions become increasingly immature, revealing someone who has completely lost his way ever since he’d lost Lalah and completed his initial goal of taking revenge on the Zabi family.

  • On the other hand, Amuro may have been impacted by his losses, including Lalah, but he channels all of this sorrow and despondence into trying to build a world where warfare isn’t a problem, so future generations won’t have to experience what he did. The clash in ideology is a reminder that benevolence wins out over revenge: Amuro had joined the One Year War out of a desire to protect those around him, standing in complete contrast with Char. In this way, Amuro is able to maintain the moral high ground throughout Char’s Counterattack.

  • As Axis continues plummeting, the Sazabi and ν Gundam’s psychoframes begin resonating with one another. Both Federation and Zeon pilots perceptibly feel a sudden desire to protect the planet and appear to help Amuro out. A green light begins filling the battlefield, and viewers, alongside the characters, begin to wonder what on earth is happening here. The scene is dominated by silence, with no incidental music to hint to viewers how they should be feeling as the psychoframes start behaving erratically as a result of the human wills concentrated in such a small area.

  • One subtle, but significant, moment is when the extreme heat begins causing Federation and Zeon suits to malfunction. Symbolising how some things transcends ideology, when one Geara Doga begins to be pushed back, a Jegan pilot grabs him: both pilots are on opposite sides of the war, but ultimately share in common the same desire to protect their home world. The moment becomes increasingly desperate until a vast green light engulfs the space and begins pushing Axis back. At this moment, Aurora begins to play and the melancholy of the moment really kicks in: although tragedy was averted, both Amuro and Char would ultimately give their lives for what they believed in. When Char’s Counterattack concluded, I finally understood the grudges and feelings of regret that would be left behind, providing a stronger context for the events of Gundam Unicorn.

  • Char’s Counterattack, despite its multiple unresolved points, had left a tangible and indelible feeling in me. The song Aurora would also come to represent the feelings I felt at the end of my undergraduate programme: at this point ten years ago, there’d been less than a week to my defense exam, and I joked to my best friend, a Gundam fan and the only person to have understood the reference, that stress from anticipating the exam might’ve caused an Axis Shock. When the exam itself arrived, I walked in with a cold determination, resolving to just get things done. In the present, hearing Aurora still reminds me of the melancholy and beauty in finishing my honours degree in health science: it had been a major milestone in my life, and achieving a degree paved the way for everything that followed, but at the same time, I would be parting way with all of my classmates. In revisiting Char’s Counterattack a decade later, it is striking that all of these memories come back to me in such a vivid fashion, mirroring how strongly one’s experiences can shape who they become.

Although intended to round out the Char and Amuro era of the Universal Century, Char’s Counterattack would introduce new concepts that would subsequently be explored in Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Narrative. The idea of forbidden technology, taking the form of the psychoframe, is a centrepiece in Char’s Counterattack. Described as a special microprocessor that can convert human thoughts into physical power, the psychoframe is already characterised as having unknown characteristics and opens the Universal Century to the idea of Newtype ghosts and other remarkable, otherworldly phenomenon. This in turn allowed the Universal Century to branch out beyond the horrors and desolation of warfare, the impact on conflict on people and the advancement of technology in relation to the demands of conflict: introducing the psychoframe symbolises the danger of placing faith in technology that isn’t fully tested, and the consequence of this becomes clear at the end of Char’s Counterattack as both disappear from existence. The potential and possibility behind psychoframe becomes something that provides further avenue of exploration, as the technology is supposed to be both a tool that might bring people one step closer towards the longstanding dream of space colonisation, but at the same time, because so much is unknown, the destructive potential is also massive: in Gundam Narrative, Zoltan Akkanen uses the II Neo Zeong’s psycho-shard system to trigger a spontaneous fusion event with the aim of creating enough debris and subsequent impact events to permanently scar the Earth, an unexpected use-case when considering it was originally meant to enhance a pilot’s reaction time and mobile suit performance. This particular topic is one of the long-lasting legacies of Char’s Counterattack, and owing to the fact that Char and Amuro both piloted the original psychoframe mobile suits, no discussion of their application in the Universal Century is complete without an understanding of where the technology was initially used, as well as how further developments have essentially resulted in the opening of a Pandora’s Box with regard to psychoframes. Char’s Counterattack, then, can be seen as a passing of the torch: Amuro and Char’s stories, vis-a-vis directly impacting the conflict between the Earth Sphere Federation and Zeon, are over, but their legacies mean that the Universal Century’s fate is left to future generations (and writers). In the present, it does appear that the tricky nature surrounding psychoframe means that any desire to use the technology is blunted, suggesting that humanity still has a ways to go before they realise its dream. In the meantime, the open-ended nature of Char’s Counterattack means that, even thirty-five years on, there remains plenty of opportunity to explore the Universal Century and bring its stories to new viewers.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – A Reflection After The First Half

“What would you do if you know you could not fail?” –Eleanor Roosevelt

As Suletta settles in to life at the Asticassia School of Technology, she continues to try and fill her list of things she’d like to do. Suletta eventually befriends Earth House, and after making a name for herself upon defeating both Guel Jeturk and Elan Ceres with the Aerial. The Aerial’s performance eventually catches notice of the Benerit Group, who move to confiscate the Aerial owing to its status as an illegal Gundam. Miorine ends up making a bold proposal during the Incubation Party – to form a company with the aim of purposing the GUND Format for safer applications. Lady Prospera makes an appearance, and while Miorine ends up securing funding for such a company from her father, Prospera informs Suletta that Aerial is technically a Gundam. Miorine kicks her company, Gund-Arm Incorporated, off, and determines that medical applications of the GUND Format will most likely succeed – she’s discovered that this is what the technology had originally been used for, and remaining faithful to the original applications would allow the public to learn the benefits of the GUND Format prior to its usage in military systems. Although Gund-Arm Inc. is successful in building their prototype, Suletta becomes distant when she begins to feel that Miorine is ignoring her. Meanwhile, Shaddiq’s interest in the Aerial leads him to try and duel for it: Suletta and Earth House manage to beat him, but in the aftermath, Shaddiq contacts an Earth-based terror group, Dawn of Fold, to assassinate Delling after learning that Vim and Sarius intend to take over the Benerit Group. In order to demo their prototype to stakeholders, Earth House and Miorine head over to Plant Quetta in order to pick up the Aerial, and along the way, Miorine and Suletta reconcile. However, Dawn of Fold choose this as the location and time to execute their attack. Delling is gravely injured in the process, Guel accidentally kills Vim, who had sortied to fend off Dawn of Fold, and ultimately, Suletta ends up fighting Dawn of Fold’s Gundams before the defensive fleet arrives, forcing Dawn of Fold to retreat. Suletta ends up locating Miorine, killing a lone terrorist in the process and frightening Miorine. This is where The Witch from Mercury sits after its first half has concluded – while the series had initially given the impression that it would be a Gundam series with elements from Revolutionary Girl Utena, which similarly had an emphasis on the “battle high school” elements, the moment Dawn of Fold appear and strike at Plant Quetta, it becomes apparent that The Witch from Mercury is decisively Gundam as concepts of right and wrong, the nature of warfare and the dangers of new technologies swiftly return.

The use of Utena elements in The Witch from Mercury is a particularly innovative means of storytelling: for most of The Witch from Mercury‘s first half, traditional elements associated with the “battle high school” genre are seen, with youth slugging it out in arenas while enjoying their halcyon days and jousting for dominance both within their cliques and for social supremacy. Discussions for these sorts of shows gravitate towards analysing character traits and interpersonal dynamics as people strive to figure out how duels and story progression may unfold based on how characters act around others, and their internal thoughts. However, all of this falls away once Dawn of Fold begin their attack; this has far-reaching consequences on the remainder of The Witch from Mercury and reiterate the idea that reality is dramatically different than the environment that schools provide their students with. This is where The Witch from Mercury‘s genius is – up until now, Miorine’s world had been defined by a rocky relationship with her father, and a chance to earn his approval through Gund-Arm Inc. Guel had similarly wanted to maintain his status and restore his honour through duels, and Suletta herself yearns for a fun-filled life with classmates. Disagreements between students are settled in a structured and relatively safe manner, and students are more concerned with things typical of youth, whether it be coursework or social status. However, in reality, all of these assumptions evaporate; schools abstract out many of the difficulties in reality to instruct on a concept, and while one may perform well in a classroom or arena, reality is different because it will introduce situations where there are multiple, often conflicting variables. In The Witch from Mercury, for instance, duels at the Asticassia School of Technology are initiated by pilots who know one another, and battles end when the v-fin on an opponent’s mobile suit is destroyed. In actual combat, the only rule is to survive. Enemy combatants won’t have a full-fledged knowledge of one another’s capabilities, and instinct matters as much as skill and one’s machine. All notions of honour and fairness quickly disappear; while in a duel, pilots don’t aim for their opponents’ cockpits, a live combat situation demands one must be prepared to shoot to kill. Suletta seems to adapt quickly to this, allowing her to save Miorine in the final moments to The Witch from Mercury‘s first half, but at the same time, Miorine, being completely unaccustomed to the harshness of reality (and the fact that had Suletta not acted, she and Delling would be corpses), panics in response to Suletta’s actions. By having a terror attack force Suletta’s hand, viewers are reminded of the fact that the real world isn’t as black and white as textbooks make things out to be, and similarly, Guel’s accidentally slaying Vim in combat following a misunderstanding shows how things won’t always be cut and dried. In this way, The Witch from Mercury shows that there is a dramatic difference between school and real life. In the latter, the horrors of warfare leave none unscathed, and that extraordinary situations may demand people act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise consider. Similarly, one’s identity and beliefs matter little once the bullets and beams start flying – who one believes themselves to be is irrelevant next to how one acts; the choices that on Suletta, Miorine and the others make will will doubtlessly have far-reaching consequences as The Witch from Mercury enters its second half, and excitement mounts to see what exactly goes down now.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before delving any further into this post, I will remark that I had been following The Witch from Mercury with regularity since its airing, even if I haven’t otherwise been writing about it. Gundam series are inherently difficult to write for in an episodic fashion because episodes only show more pivotal moments, and it is the sum of narrative progression over several episodes where one begins gaining an idea of what a given series aims to convey. Here in The Witch from Mercury, the first half is almost entirely set at school and apparently deals with business, with a side of duels.

  • However, in the first half’s final moments, The Witch from Mercury completely blows away everything from earlier and sets the expectations for what’s possible. Admittedly, the use of war machines in settling what are otherwise petty squabbles between students felt immature, a waste of the vast potential behind mobile suits, and in particular, Gundams. Here, Suletta fights Guel, who’s rocking the MD-0064 Darilbalde from Jeturk Industries. These mobile suits seem to emphasise close-quarters combat, and the Darilbalde comes equipped with an AI that helps a pilot react to changing situations on the battlefield.

  • I found that the duels in The Witch from Mercury limits the show’s ability to showcase a mobile suit’s combat capability – students might be going all-out in a duel, but parameters are turned down so pilots don’t vapourise one another or damage their school grounds. In this way, seeing the result of a duel, while impactful for the students, don’t give viewers an accurate look at what the mobile suits can really do, or the greater implications of one’s actions. The Witch from Mercury is not impressive in its earlier episodes for this reason, but on the flipside, the reason why the mobile suits are given less emphasis is to give the characters more shine time. Suletta initially feels like the most unlikely Gundam pilot with smiles and mannerisms more befitting of the lead character in a slice-of-life anime, but this also endears her to viewers.

  • The first bit of The Witch from Mercury also gives viewers a glimpse of the discrimination and mutual dislike between Earthians and Spacians (basically the Earthnoids and Spacenoids from the Universal Century). Among the students, this sort of dislike manifests as sabotage of other student’s work, disparaging comments and the like. Miorine tends to take the high road and avoids involving herself in these things – she prefers to focus on her garden, and while other Spacians make life difficult for the Earthians, she handles things with maturity; during one drill, she continues to walk Suletta through things until the latter passes in spite of some other students’ actions.

  • For now, I’ve not bothered learning all of the different factions that exist at Asticassia School of Technology, and instead, I’m mainly interested in Earth House because they represent Earthians, whereas the remaining students are Spacians. Because the conflict between these two groups define Gundam series (such as the Universal Century’s Spacenoids and Earthnoids, or Cosmic Era’s Coordinators and Naturals), seeing how the conflict is portrayed gives insight into how extensive conflicts are. In the environment of a school, things seem restricted to bullying, but later down the line, news clips also show that the divide is much more severe than The Witch from Mercury initially shows.

  • The Aerial’s performance, a product of the GUND Format, is prohibited technology, and from what The Witch from Mercury has shown viewers so far, it allows for the mind to interface with hardware more readily. In practise, the Permet System is most similar to the Pyschoframe from the Universal Century with one important caveat – it only converts thoughts into motion and cannot otherwise create extraordinary phenomenon. Use of the Psychoframe in Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Narrative had made it so that mobile suits could perform otherworldly feats, such as travelling at speeds faster than that of light, and even turning time back.

  • With the GUND format, it would appear that here in The Witch from Mercury, the definition of a Gundam-type machine is that any mobile suit capable of using the GUND format is counted as such. Suletta had spent most of the series convinced that the Aerial was not a Gundam and that she just was attunemed to its systems. The definition of what makes a Gundam varies from series to series: Universal Century Gundams are powerful mobile suits with a special kind of armour that make them quite resilient to damage, and in the Cosmic Era, Gundams have a special OS. On the other hand, Anno Domini’s Gundams are equipped with GN Drives, which offer nearly limitless energy.

  • Gundam-type mobile suits in The Witch from Mercury are especially powerful because they allow pilots to run remote weapons, but duels have shown that mobile suits also equip counters for them. Peil Technologies’ FP/A-77 Gundam Pharact uses the same technology as the Aerial, and some mobile suits have jammers that prevent the GUND format from working. This renders the mobile suits balanced against one another, a sharp contrast with how Gundam 00 had presented its lead machines. The GN Drives in Anno Domini were said to be up to twenty years more advanced than anything the rest of the world had, and for the first half of Gundam 00‘s first season, Celestial Being carried out armed interventions without any resistance.

  • On the other hand, Gundam SEED had Gundams be constrained by their battery life, which forced pilots to use them strategically. Kira had to work within the Strike’s operational time until he became responsible enough of a pilot to utilise the Freedom, whose internal reactor gave it a limitless operational time and increased performance over conventional mobile suits. In every Gundam series, the mobile suits themselves speak to the pilot’s intentions and aims. The Freedom represents Kira’s maturation as a pilot and gives him the power he needs to fight on his terms, while in Gundam 00, the Gundams symbolise a tool for opening a path to the future. Here in The Witch from Mercury, Suletta’s Aerial appears to represent family and protecting what’s important to oneself.

  • With this being said, it’s still a little early to say if this holds true, but what is known is that Suletta has a perfect record with the Aerial. When Elan decides to challenge Suletta to a duel, he does so with the aim of securing the Aerial for Peil Technologies to study. The corporations of The Witch from Mercury are competitors even though the operate under the Benerit Group, and this is what motivates corporations to use any means necessary to gain the leg up. Having had limited social interactions, Suletta assumes that Elan wants to be friends with her, and while she makes an admirable attempt to do so, corporate interference means that the Elan Suletta knows ends up being discarded.

  • The “profits ahead of everything” mindset in The Witch from Mercury is a criticism of contemporary views on capitalism: companies out there have increasingly put profit over all else. What’s seen in The Witch from Mercury might be an exaggeration, but it does speak to how such a world can rapidly devolve if corporations are allowed to operate outside regulation and government oversight – pursuit of quarterly growth means that people are inevitably sacrificed. Elan’s fate is a tragedy in this sense; the relative seamlessness of his replacement by another iteration speaks to how little regard there is for his well-being, and Suletta’s efforts come up to naught.

  • While a majority of the community seems to be quite interested in the possibility for a yuri relationship here in The Witch from Mercury, I’ve chosen to skate over this because for me, the core of any Gundam series is the complex interplay between man and machine. How the Gundams are used, and how their pilots respond to warfare inevitably drive the story, and while romance plays an ancillary role in how characters may act in a given moment, the type of relationship doesn’t matter. Instead, other elements in The Witch from Mercury take centre stage, and I find these aspects to be significantly more noteworthy.

  • During a start-up gala, Miorine ends up making a proposal to both show up her father and save Suletta’s Gundam: given the Cathedra Agreement’s terms, a weapon that kills its operators is unfit for use, and the Gundams have done this. However, Miorine demands that the underlying technology be investigated further before it should be dismissed, and to this end, she suggests the Gund-Arm Inc as a company for proving that the GUND Format is safe to use. Surprisingly, Delling ends up acting as an angel investor, and his actions give the other investors confidence to follow suit, giving Miorine 240 billion dollars of starting capital.

  • In the aftermath, Lady Prospera congratulates Miorine and clarifies that the Aerial is in fact, a Gundam. I’ve never actually seen a Gundam series deal with start-ups before, so this was actually a refreshing approach to the story. For the next few months, Miorine sets about trying to prove her concept, and upon reviewing enough videos, learns that the GUND format was actually once intended for use in medicine. Because medicine is the study of human health and healing, it is universally regarded as a benevolent field, and associated discoveries always draw interest in their applications.

  • The early days of Gund-Arm Inc. brings to mind the humble beginnings that start-ups usually go through, reminding me of when I had worked for my first startup. The excitement is real, and Miorine’s natural talent for leadership means that under her, the Earth House members begin trying to figure out what their value proposition will be in earnest. However, Shaddiq develops an interest in Gund-Arm, believing the Benerit Group will benefit from the study of the GUND Format. His efforts to take control of the company fails thanks to Miorine’s iron resolve, and Shaddiq eventually resorts to altering school regulations in classic Utena-style student council meddling to shut things down with the hopes that Miorine will transfer everything to him to keep Gund-Arm alive.

  • I’d been worried that The Witch from Mercury would derive more elements from Utena than Gundam when things started out. Utena is counted as a classic for its surreal imagery and encouraging themes: viewers agree that Utena is about accepting one’s identity and learning how to deal with internal conflict. Although well-suited for describing a youth’s journey of self-discovery, Gundam‘s dealings with the real world beyond school means that Utena‘s themes are better suited as a starting point here in The Witch from Mercury. Since Gundam series have long shown how people change and respond to drastic things like warfare, characters are usually thrown onto the battlefield and pushed into a situation that draws out their best (or worst).

  • While it is important to find and accept oneself, and a school environment is oftentimes suited for this because it abstracts out many complexities of reality, what matters in life beyond school is how one acts, and what motivates one’s choice. The Witch from Mercury therefore has the chance to build upon this and separate itself from Utena: I would argue that one does not truly understand themselves until they’ve been put in a situation where they’re compelled to make a difficult decision using their existing experiences and whatever knowledge and facts are available to them. The arena, being a contained environment, simply cannot offer this, and so, even when Shaddiq challenges Miorine to a six-on-six duel for Gund-Arm Inc., the stakes aren’t too high for this reason (and I remark that having people comment on the course of a battle diminishes the weight behind the combatant’s actions).

  • Shaddiq himself wants Gund-Arm, but his lackeys from Grassley House only seek to prove their superiority to Earth House. Conversely, Earth House, Miorine and Suletta are fighting to protect that which is dear to them, and in their arrogance, Grassley’s pilots underestimate Earth House. Even though Suletta is eventually boxed into a corner, a well-placed shot from Chuatury brings the match to a close. The outcome of this duel was never in the question because at this point in The Witch from Mercury, Gund-Arm Inc. hasn’t even built anything of note yet, so the story must proceed in a way as to allow for some tension as the company gets further along with its development.

  • Of all the groups at the Asticassia School of Technology, I am most fond of Earth House because Chuatury, Nika and the others feel the most authentic, down-to-earth, standing in contrast with the arrogant and conceited members from the other, wealthier houses. In past Gundam series, whether or not viewers aligned themselves with the Earthnoids or Spacenoids depended greatly on the series. I found that in the Universal Century, the EFSF are more sympathetic than Zeon, and similarly, ZAFT was easier to root for than LOGOS. In Gundam 00, however, it’s Celestial Being versus the world, so rooting for Setsuna and his team of Gundam Meisters was the obvious choice. Of course, in classic Gundam fashion, not all Earthians are agreeable, and not all of the Spacians are arrogant in The Witch from Mercury.

  • The prosthetic legs that Gund-Arm Inc. develop under Miorine’s leadership is a solid prototype that shows that the concept of using the GUND Format is viable, and during a test run, Suletta proves that their first draft is able to secure various medical certifications. Unlike Theranos’ Edison machines, Gund-Arm Inc. actually has a prototype that Miorine is willing to show to authorities; while Miorine briefly gave off Elizabeth Holmes vibes early in Gund-Arm Inc.’s history, the gap between Gund-Arm Inc. and Thernaos is massive: Miorine isn’t motivated by anything beyond a desire to show the Gundam as a safe, legal technology and stick it to Delling. However, with a good team in her corner, progress is made within the space of two months.

  • Suletta is, for the lack of a better word, adorable – she’s unlike Gundam pilots that come before her. Previous Gundam pilots have varied greatly: Amuro Ray and Kira Yamato both were civilians who eventually accepted their duty and found a way to fight for what mattered without inflicting wanton destruction, and Setsuna F. Seiei came to realise that there was more to his life than being a soldier. However, each of these earlier characters took time to become the pilots they’re best known as, and it is appropriate to give Suletta this same opportunity. With this being said, Suletta’s resemblance to the average military moé protagonist is what makes her unique, and one hopes that the battlefield won’t change her into a Heero Yuy or Setsuna F. Seiei.

  • As The Witch from Mercury progressed, I got the distinct feeling that Delling, despite his Darwinist viewpoints and cold treatment of Miorine, was someone who is distant with his daughter because of something that happened in his past. He acknowledges Miorine’s successes and indicates that as long as she can continue to maintain her course, he’ll keep backing Gund-Arm Inc. The Gundam wikia at present lists him as the main antagonist of The Witch from Mercury, but traditionally, Gundam series have always introduced the actual antagonists later on – Gundam 00, for instance, didn’t unveil Ribbons Almark as the true antagonist until the final episode of the first season. After Alejandro Corner is defeated, Ribbons comments on how everything’s fallen into place and that he’ll inherit the world Ribbons created.

  • I imagine that the real antagonist will be made known in due course, and if anything, I feel that Grassley could be the real foe: following his own failures, Shaddiq hires a group of Earth-based terrorists with the aim of shaking things up and securing his own position amongst the Benerit Group. Shaddiq is motivated by a desire to prove himself, and the constant power struggle amongst members of the Benerit Group means that greed could be a motivating factor. Of course, with how Gundam series unfold, I expect to be surprised as things unfold. Here, members of the Dawn of Fold discuss their latest assignment, which sets in motion The Witch from Mercury‘s rising action: as soon as Dawn of Fold are introduced, The Witch from Mercury finally begins to feel like a full-fledged Gundam series.

  • On paper, multiple sparring corporations had the potential to create some complex conflicts and provide writers with a chance to portray the dangers of unregulated capitalism, as well as corporate interference with democratic systems. While this is a topic that is often ignored, the Universal Century’s Anaheim Electronics and Luio & Co. both played instrumental roles in supplying arms and armour to both the EFSF and Zeon alike, as well as engineering under-the-table deals to provide both sides with increasingly lethal weapons with the aim of prolonging the conflict between the Federation and Spacenoids for maximum profits.

  • The Benerit Group and its internal conflicts would have represented a great way of showing another side to things, and in The Witch from Mercury, glimpses into these elements are shown from time to time. However, most of the first half was devoted to building up the characters, and over the course ten episodes, Suletta and Miorine both receive solid development to establish their traits. Suletta is still quite unsure of herself, and after a full episode of miscommunication, Miorine finally confronts Suletta and reassures her that she matters. Once the character growth is firmly established, The Witch from Mercury can finally step towards that which makes Gundam so enjoyable.

  • The halfway point of a given Gundam series is when things tend to get exciting: in Gundam SEED, the Archangel suddenly find themselves under fire from both the Earth Alliance and ZAFT after arriving in Alaska, while in Gundam 00, the world lures Celestial Being into the Taklamakan Desert in a massive operation to capture their Gundams, which in turn led to the Throne Gundams appearing. Here The Witch from Mercury, once Dawn of Fold appear, they bring the Lfrith Ur and Thorn to the party. These Gundams are based off the Lfrith, which was developed into the Aerial, and far outstrip any of the mobile suits that Jeturk and Peil produce.

  • Dawn of Fold’s Gundam pilots, Sophie Pulone and Norea Du Noc, are polar opposites in temperament. Sophie is brash and impulsive, while Norea is more reserved and focused. Despite differing personalities, the pair get along well enough, even if Sophie’s nature occasionally jeopardises missions. I imagine Sophie and Norea’s names are references to Gundam 00: Sophie’s family name is similar to the GNY-004 Plutone, predecessor to the GN-005 Virtue, and Norea’s name might be a callback to Sumeragi Lee Noriega, Celestial Being’s tactician and the de facto captain of the Ptolemios. Once Norea and Sophie start firing on Plant Quetta, prompting an evacuation.

  • While evacuating, Miorine runs into Delling; she’s surprised he’s here, and even more so when he asks her to accompany them. With this, The Witch from Mercury suddenly begins to feel a great deal like Gundam Unicorn: in the first episode, during a transfer to hand off Laplace’s Box and the Unicorn Gundam, the Sleeves (Zeon Remnants) attempt to infiltrate and capture the Gundam for themselves. Students find themselves among the carnage, and like Gundam Unicorn, The Witch from Mercury also portrays the belligerent forces as dealing collateral damage to their surroundings.

  • Earth House’s response to the unexpected incident is a natural one, and everyone wonders if they’ll make it out, especially as the Dawn of Fold Gundams begin firing on the docks. Norea makes to neutralise all of the vessels present, but at the last second, notices a light signal from one of the ships. It turns out Nika was able to transmit something that saves them, and the implications of this are that she knows something about Dawn of Fold. Beyond this, viewers will have to wait for The Witch from Mercury‘s second half to learn more.

  • Meanwhile, both Vim and Guel have sortied with the aim of taking out Dawn of Fold’s other machines. Unbeknownst to each other, they end up clashing when assuming the other is a hostile, and Guel inadvertently kills Vim. There is a degree of dramatic irony in this scene, and viewers are now reminded of the fact that in warfare, many things cease to matter. Guel had spent much of The Witch from Mercury as the punching bag, losing status and prestige after Suletta had defeated him. All of this feels trivial now; while Guel probably disliked Vim to some extent, no part of him had wished for this outcome.

  • Female pilots that aren’t sound of mind are a longstanding element in Gundam series – from Louise Halevy and Quess Paraya, to Nena Trinity and Stella Loussier, the Gundam franchise is littered with pilots that deserve pity more than dislike. In this knowledge, I have a feeling that Sophie probably has a background that contributed to her becoming the person she is presently. Sophie has the same temperament as Nena, but in terms of story, is doing what Marida Cruz had done at the beginning of Gundam Unicorn.

  • Dawn of Fold fighters enter Plant Quetta’s interior and prepare to slaughter all in their path, but Lady Prospera guns them down, saving Suletta in the process. She explains that in this moment, acting allows her to save Suletta. The line “gain one by running away, gain two by stepping forward” is reiterated at several points in The Witch from Mercury, and this mindset is ultimately what led me to suggest that The Witch from Mercury is building on top of elements from Utena: knowing yourself is only the stepping stone, and it is ultimately how one acts that defines them. Suletta has always thought about this line, and even when frightened or confused, tries to act with the aim of bettering her current situation.

  • Much as how Banagher uses the Unicorn after Cardeas Vist entrusts the Gundam to him before perishing, encouraged by her mother’s words, Suletta sorties in the Aerial. The entire sequence was a homage to Banagher’s first sortie as the Unicorn’s pilot: after activating the Unicorn, he uses it to drive the Kshatriya out of Industrial Seven. In The Witch from Mercury, Suletta uses the Aerial to push the Ur out of Plant Quetta. Out in space, the two Gundams separate and clash with their beam sabres, similarly to how the Unicorn draws its swords after the NT-D kicks in.

  • The fact that Dawn of Fold have access to Gundams brought to mind Hathaway’s Flash; traditionally, a Gundam is a mobile suit that comes to represent something more than just warfare, and so, when terrorist factions gain access to them, this sullies the notion of what a Gundam is meant to symbolise. Looking back, both Gundam SEED and Gundam 00 had done this: Cosmic Era Gundams are any mobile suit with a special kind of OS, while in Anno Domini, Gundam-types possess a GN Drive and a specific head design. The mobile suits thus become secondary to the beliefs that their pilots hold, and indeed, this was a secondary story in 00: once the world begins to gain access to GN Drives, Setsuna must re-evaluate what Gundam means to him.

  • With this as precedence, what Suletta ends up doing as the Aerial’s pilot will shape its image and legacy within The Witch from Mercury: while the arena-style duels haven’t been able to convey this, throwing Suletta and the Aerial onto the battlefield will. One aspect I’ve not yet covered in my discussion too deeply is the Aerial itself. So far, Suletta has had a pretty solid performance with it, and looking at the Aerial’s GUND Format and GUND Bits, it feels decidedly like a combination of the 00 Qan[T] and its Sword Bits from Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer, which could assemble into a large sword, with a plausible version of the RX-0 Unicorn Gundam’s psycoframe, and as a result of the GUND Bits being able to configure themselves into a rifle or shield, the Aerial has the GAT-X105 Strike’s versatility.

  • This combination of functionality makes the Aerial a contender, and in discussions where fans compare what different Gundams can do, I would hold that the Aerial is an excellent suit capable of performing well both against individually powerful units and groups of mass production units from other universes (in fact, it would probably give even the 00 Raiser and Freedom some trouble). To keep things balanced, The Witch From Mercury has jammers for the GUND Format, and this means that as a pilot, Suletta would have room to improve and maximise what she can do with the Aerial. Here, after Suletta uses her GUND bits to form a powerful rifle and forces both the Ur and Thorn to make distance, Plant Quetta’s defensive fleet finally arrives, forcing Dawn of Fold to retreat.

  • Although Delling is still alive as far as Dawn of Fold can tell, a single terrorist manages to survive. Before he can do any damage to the already-injured Delling, Suletta arrives and pulverises him with the Aerial, turning a former human being into a pile of blood, flesh and bone. In the aftermath, Suletta is all smiles, since she’s just rescued Miorine, but all Miorine sees is a blood-splattered Suletta. Graphic violence is not foreign to Gundam, speaking to the horrors of warfare; Gundam SEED had shown in vivid detail what happened when people were hit with the Cyclops System and GENESIS weapon, while Cucuruz Doan’s Island had Amuro trample a Black Tri-Star pilot with the RX-78 II.

  • In the case of Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Amuro’s expression had been one of regret and revulsion – he clearly did not wish to kill the Black Tri-Star pilot, but the moment had demanded it. Suletta, on the other hand, sees things quite differently, a consequence of realising that saving Miorine is more important than trying to sort out the terrorist with a non-lethal approach. The community’s been quite divided as to whether or not this moment breaks Suletta’s character. On my end, I find that it’s appropriate because an indecisive Gundam pilot tends to be ineffective; Gundam series often portray a pilot who’s reluctant to fight, but once they find their resolve, they go on to contribute towards protecting what is dear to them. Here at The Witch from Mercury‘s halfway point, my main remarks are that the series has laid down the groundwork for what could be an excellent series.

  • If The Witch from Mercury decides to focus on warfare and its implications in the context of corporations and their actions, this series will meet expectations and be enjoyable. If the series wishes to return to the school environment and fall back on exploring identity over actions and their consequences, The Witch from Mercury will become a disappointment. Innovation and trying to tell a story in a different way is an admirable pursuit, but in a given story, what makes for a worthwhile experience is whether or not something can leave viewers with a definitive message to walk away with. For the present, my thoughts on The Witch from Mercury‘s first half draw to a close. The second half is set to continue in April, and I’ll be following this one with interest. While the break does break the momentum up (Gundam series typically ramps things up after its halfway point), it also gives viewers a chance to pause and reflect on what’s happening.

  • I’ll admit that writing this post was difficult: The Witch from Mercury is quite unconventional in its execution, and while things were quite slow to start, once the series hits its stride, it has its moments. It took me some time to figure out which topics The Witch from Mercury were the most noteworthy, and this is why my thoughts on the series comes out nearly a month after the first half concluded. I remark that not everyone is going to agree with how I approach things or the conclusions I reach, but at the same time, I’m also not going to agree with the notion that using a Revolutionary Girl Utena setup in Gundam makes the series more revolutionary, either. A revolutionary Gundam series explores the implications of technology, warfare and society in different ways, and here in The Witch from Mercury, the corporate piece, coupled with how novel technology is presented, is what’s innovative and in turn, holding my interest.

With The Witch from Mercury raising the stakes, elements from past Gundam series return. Gundam has always raised the question of whether or not taking a life is justified, and different Gundam series handle things differently. Gundam SEED, for instance, has Kira learning how to shoot precisely enough to take an enemy pilot out of the fight without harming them, and in Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro reluctantly accepts that taking a life is a necessary evil in war. He shoots to kill where needed but otherwise doesn’t go out of his way to kill his foes. Similarly, Celestial Being’s Gundam Meisters typically aim to disable rather than kill unless circumstances force them to do so otherwise. The gap between right and wrong is a narrow one, and over the years, Gundam series suggest that the answer to this question is situational. At the same time, the series also reminds viewers that passing judgement may not always be feasible: although Suletta probably will have a difficult time explaining things to Miorine once The Witch from Mercury resumes, the fact is that the blurring boundaries between right and wrong, and making decisions that are consistent with one’s beliefs will be a core part of this Gundam series, as it has with previous instalments. Learning to set aside one’s judgement of others, and instead, focusing on doing what one can, is a core part of the Gundam franchise. Although The Witch from Mercury is slower than its predecessors to reach this point, the fact that the series is beginning to step up and expose both Suletta and Miorine to the horrors and desolation of warfare means that the second half is going to be an interesting journey to follow. Beyond stepping into the realm of what makes Gundam stories so engaging, The Witch from Mercury also has begun to hint at how mobile suit combat looks. Until Dawn of Fold’s appearance, the arena environment greatly limited what the mobile suits in this universe could do, but outside of the constraints that is school, viewers are given a chance to see what mobile suits can do. The combat sequences outside of the duels are of a respectable quality, and as the conflict extends well beyond the boundaries of Asticassia School of Technology, optimism for thrilling, well-animated mobile suit combat scenes is not misplaced. Changes to anime production in the present means that viewers won’t be continuing with things until the spring, and while this may dampen some of the momentum the first half had built up, if The Witch from Mercury can present a meaningful message about how there is merit in doing what one can by learning and adapting to the moment (versus clinging to things like the past, social status and the like), the series will make for an excellent addition to the Gundam franchise. At this point in time, however, it’s anybody’s guess as to how things will unfold, and this means that entering The Witch from Mercury‘s second half, one will need to enter with an open mind.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – Initial Impressions and Reflection

“Many of the dangers we face indeed arise from science and technology – but, more fundamentally, because we have become powerful without becoming commensurately wise. The world-altering powers that technology has delivered into our hands now require a degree of consideration and foresight that has never before been asked of us.” –Carl Sagan

To advance humanity’s ability to colonise space and travel beyond the solar system, the Vanadis Institute built the GUND system, which allows the mind to communicate with machinery. After Vanadis Institute was acquired by Ochs Earth, GUND was utilised to build highly advanced mobile suits known as Gundams. However, the platform places extrem strain on the pilots and in some cases, have even resulted in fatalities. Elnora Samaya is a test pilot for the Lfrith, but has been unable to get the Lfrith operational. When the Mobile Suit Development Council (MSDC) decides to suspend the Gundam programme at leader Delling Rembran’s behest, they deploy special forces to Fólkvangr and kill off the entire staff. Elnora manages to escape with her daughter, and in the process, her daughter activates the Lfrith’s weapons systems and destroys the attacking mobile suits, although her husband, Nadim, dies in the conflict while attempting to buy Elnora andn their daughter time to escape. Twelve years later, Elnora’s daughter, now going by the name Suletta Mercury, enrolls at the Asticassia School of Technology, an institute funded by the Beneritt Group. After encountering Miorine Rembran, Suletta arrives at the academy and learns that here, all matters are settled via duels. When Guel Jeturk, son of Vim, challenges Miorine to a duel, she promptly steals Suletta’s mobile suit, the Aerial. Suletta manages to regain possession of the Aerial and destroys Guel’s mobile suit, although the Aerial’s performance leads the MSDC to suspect that it may be built using GUND technology. Suletta is promptly arrested, and Delling takes an interest in the case. He orders Shin Sei Development Company, who had built the Aerial, to a hearing. Their representative, Lady Prospero, appears and insists the Aerial’s performance stems from utilising drone technology. When Miorine barges in on the proceedings and demands to duel Delling, Vim, who’d also been sitting in on the hearing, comments that the Aerial’s capabilities might be what the Beneritt Group needs. Delling agrees to Miorine’s terms, and Miorine sets off to implore that Suletta must board the Aerial and fight again to save both her enrollment at Asticassia, and the Aerial: Miorine had set the terms of the duel to be such that, if she lost, Delling would be able to do as he wished. With this, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury (The Witch From Mercury from here on out for brevity’s sake) has started. Marking the first time in fifteen years since a Gundam series had caught my eye, The Witch From Mercury represents a unique and new approach to a franchise that’s been around for a shade over four decades.

Gundam series have all dealt with unique topics. Gundam 00 considered the implications of activism and how superior technology can be applied to shake people out of their apathy: the appearance of Celestial Being and their overwhelmingly powerful Gundams would force the world to unite under one banner, and when this unification resulted in the formation of a secret police, the A-Laws, Celestial Being returned to the front lines to correct an unforeseen consequence of their actions to prepare humanity for a hiterto unknown contact with extraterrestrial life. Gundam SEED spoke to the socio-political dangers of genetic engineering, and how warfare is born of resentment for fellow human beings based on their status and abilities. Following the events of Char’s Counterattack, Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Narrative both dealt with forbidden technology, and whether or not possibility outweighs the curse of tapping into a power that is barely understood. Here in The Witch From Mercury, the GUND system and Gundams appear to be in keeping with the recent topics of new technologies, as well as the hazards they present. However, much as how Gundam Unicorn indicated that every negative had a positive (the psychoframe could be used to manifest resilience and resolve as well as fear and anger), The Witch From Mercury aims to argue that all new technologies come with this danger, and that it is the responsibility of those who would develop and use this technology to wield it in a beneficial manner. On top of this, the presence of numerous large corporations in The Witch From Mercury speaks to the problems associated with unregulated capitalism: here, corporations appear to have displaced the government as the main entity with judicial, legislative and executive power. The interplay between corporations and the GUND System in The Witch From Mercury would suggest that the dangers this technology posed is only one of the factors behind why Delling created the Cathedra Agreement: one cannot rule out the possibility that the GUND system was deemed illegal on account of revolutionising humanity’s capabilities for long-term space travel and putting current companies loyal to Delling at risk of being unable to compete, in term harming Delling’s position. From the start of The Witch From Mercury, it becomes clear that, while the setup is quite novel, there remains a very strong story that could be told during The Witch From Mercury‘s run, one that speaks to contemporary issues (such as the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and how they’ve made communications easier, while at the same time, creating a world where discourse is increasingly polarised) in the same way Gundam 00 had been a commentary of the social-political landscape of the War on Terror era and its implications on humanity.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I still vividly remember watching the second season of Gundam 00 at this time of year, near Thanksgiving, so being able to watch Witch From Mercury marks the first time I’ve watched a full Gundam series since 2007’s Gundam 00. This year’s Thanksgiving saw yesterday spent on grocery shopping and housework, before a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and stuffing, ham and pineapple, garlic prawns and an asparagus-carrot medley, capped off with a Crème Brûlée, enjoyed under a vivid sunset and golden foliage. What appealed most to me about Gundam 00 had been the implications of introducing a radical new technology to disrupt the status quo, and the consequences that followed. I Here in Witch From Mercury, the GUND System is this technology. From what the prologue provides to viewers, it’s a system for controlling prosthetics produced from Permet, an exotic metal.

  • The Vanadis Institute is researching applications of the GUND System and produces mobile suits known as GUND-Arm. These mobile suits are extraordinarily powerful by forming a neural link with the pilot, but the connection also places considerable strain on the pilot.  While the Mercury family celebrates Suletta’s birthday, a special forces team (analogous to ECOAS) infiltrates the Vanadis Institue at Fólkvangr after the Mobile Suit Development Council deemed the GUND System unethical for resulting in deaths of those who would operate it. The technology appears to have taken some inspiration from the psycho-frame in the Universal Century, which similarly converted thoughts into physical energy but, being a highly experimental technology, was also exceptionally dangerous and difficult to control.

  • Gundam series are fond of drawing on their predecessors for inspiration, and long-time Gundam fans will spot callbacks to earlier series. The Witch From Mercury continues on with the Universal Century’s themes of utilising novel technologies and their inherent dangers. These themes are nothing new in science fiction, and Gundam series tend to be ambivalent about said technology; while they are not without benefits, depending on how they are applied, they can be quite deleterious. The Witch From Mercury shows the consequences of pushing forward with the GUND System: pilots are pushed to their limits.

  • While Gundam 00 made it clear that it was Celestial Being versus the Union, AEU and HRL at the onset, it seems that The Witch From Mercury is going to be a little more complex; this universe is still divided into Earthnoids (“Earthians” from here on out) and Spacenoids (“Spacians” from here on out), but there doesn’t appear to be a massive war between the two sides. Instead, the universe is set up so that there’s multiple large corporations that are self-regulated by the Mobile Suit Development Council (MSDC). This universe’s emphasis on corporations suggests that capitalism, and the folly in the blind pursuit of profits, will be a central part of The Witch From Mercury. Here, Delling Rembran gives a speech about the importance of how weapons should not take their operator’s lives, and it is on these grounds that Vanadis Institute’s GUND System research is to be halted.

  • To this end, the MSDC have deployed a strike team to neutralise Vanadis Institute and its assets. Suletta’s father sorties in a prototype mobile suit, the XGF-01 Lfrith, to fend off the Grassley Company’s Heingras. While successful, the Lfrith has more trouble against the CEK-040 Beguir-Beu, a custom machine with a GUND System Jammer. Suletta’s father is taken out of the fight by a Beguir-Beu, while MSDC forces spread out in the facility and take out Vanadis Institute’s staff. So far, as we’re still early in The Witch From Mercury, specific performance and handling traits surrounding the series’ mobile suits are not known. In previous Gundam series, I would use mechanic information to see how mass production suits would fare against Gundams, but even without this information, it should be clear that Gundam-types always tend to have the upper hand early on in a series.

  • The lead researcher at Vanadis Institute, Cardo Nabo, had been a major supporter of the GUND System research, and here, she’s surrounded by hostile special forces unit. She refuses to back down and is ultimately executed. The manner in which the MSDC conduct things in The Witch From Mercury is deliberately meant to signify how corporations in this universe have become powerful enough to control aspects of society as tightly as a government might, and one might reason that allowing corporations to have this level of influence is plainly detrimental and it would be interesting to see if down the road, The Witch From Mercury will touch on topics like the tyranny of corporate governance and how when misused, it can be used to favour companies with certain agendas over ethical and sustainable practises. By arbitrary shutting down Vanadis Institute, Delling demonstrates the sorts of abuses that may occur if corporate governance is self-regulated.

  • Suletta’s mother had been working on the systems to the XGF-02 Lfrith, which possesses a GUND-Bit system. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen a starting Gundam to come with remote weapons: in the Universal Century, Amuro Ray’s RX-78 II was only equipped with a beam rifle and beam sabres (it wasn’t until the RX-93 ν Gundam came that Amuro gained access to Fin Funnels), while in Cosmic Era, the GAT-X105 Strike Gundam similarly lacked remote weapons, and Kira only piloted a mobile suit with the DRAGOONs by the events of Gundam SEED Destiny, and likewise, Setsuna F. Seiei’s Exia and 00 Raiser was not equipped with Fangs (Setsuna gains access to the 00 Qan[T] and its Sword Bits by the events of Awakening of the Trailblazer)

  • Previously, funnels appeared much later in Gundam series as the technology improved. That the Lfrith features an advanced bit control system is therefore meant to show the sophistication in the technology that Vanadis Institute had developed in conjunction with the Ochs Earth Corporation, which was responsible for constructing the Gundams. At a young age, Suletta had synchronised with one of the Lfriths, and although she doesn’t know it yet, she’s able to act as a conduit for the Lfrith’s remote weapons. When her father comes under fire, she unconsciously uses the bits to disable the mobile suits attacking her father’s Lfrith prototype, but he perishes anyways.

  • Twelve years later, Suletta has become a student who’s been admitted to the Asticassia School of Technology. On her first day, she spots someone floating in space and decides to rescue them. The moment brings her into a meeting with Miorine Rembran, daughter of Delling Rembran, and the manner in which Suletta uses her current Gundam, the Aerial, was quite reminiscent of how Banagher Links retrieved Mineva during the events of Gundam Unicorn‘s fifth episode. Curiously enough, I’ve not heard any viewers mention this, or any of the elements from earlier Gundam works that have made their way into The Witch From Mercury.

  • Anime fans have universally indicated that The Witch From Mercury is technically a successor to Revolutionary Girl Utena, a series that began life as a manga in 1996 and received an anime adaptation a year later, on the grounds that Ichirō Ōkouchi wrote the story to The Witch From Mercury. Back in 1998, Ōkouchi had written two novels for Revolutionary Girl Utena, but in addition to this, Ōkouchi has also written the story for Code Geass. Consequently, I am wondering where the Utena pieces comes in: Ōkouchi might have a few callbacks to Utena here and there, but at its heart, The Witch of Mercury is a Gundam series.

  • As such, I will be drawing upon related Gundam moments to discuss my impressions of things here in The Witch From Mercury and remark that, even if I have no background in Utena, I still expect to be able to keep up with The Witch of Mercury without any difficulty. Here, the various corporations’ higher ups discuss their earnings, and one of the companies, Parneo has reported losses for three straight quarters. As a result of this, Delling moves to ejected Parneo from the Benerit Group. In recent years, corporate greed has become an increasingly noticeable problems: for instance, players of games have found that of late, games are shipping as shoddy products with an excessive microtransaction emphasis.

  • Compared to previous Gundam pilots, Suletta has no equivalent: she’s shy and has weaker social skills, but possesses a modicum of skill with her Gundam. After it turned out that Miorine didn’t want saving and had been trying to escape, things between Suletta and Miorine become quite awkward. Gundam is no stranger to pushing adolescents into the cockpit of an extraordinary machine, but in previous series, wars have been so disruptive that youth are forced to fight. The fact that Suletta is able to attend a school where mobile suit piloting is part of the curriculum therefore speaks to the differences in this universe.

  • Admittedly, it is pleasant to see a Gundam universe where the conflict isn’t brewing because of grudges born of past atrocities. The Universal Century and Cosmic Era had already covered those topics (and done so well), so it makes for a novel experience to see how mobile suits, and Gundams, can be used in different contexts. The idea of mobile suits being used to settle personal disputes is far removed from what I’d previously seen, and it emphasises that this universe has a unique set of rules and customs. Of course, the last time I saw an anime where military hardware was utilised so casually, it would’ve been Infinite Stratos.

  • Infinite Stratos‘ failure was that it overemphasised Ichika’s relationships, so here in The Witch From Mercury, using a similar setup and dispensing with the poorly-written romance could provide a chance to show how such worlds operate: as conflicts and strife escalate, I imagine that the characters will no longer be able to maintain their everyday lives as students and step up to face whatever challenges face them. Here, Guel Jeturk prepares to square off against Miorine after the latter refuses to marry him: he’s a skilled pilot, but has the arrogance and temper to match. As it is early in the game, I’m tempted to say that Guel will probably fulfil a role similar to Top Gun: Maverick‘s Jake “Hangman” Seresin.

  • While Suletta is normally hesitant, she becomes much more assertive and pushes Miorine away from the cockpit: as a child, Suletta was told that the Gundam was like another part of the family, and Suletta’s taken this to heart, even twelve years later. Although perhaps in a different way, Setsuna F. Seiei regards his Gundams the same way, becoming visibly enraged when enemy pilots suggest taking back a piece of his machine or replacing him as a pilot. This aspect of being a Gundam pilot is quite understandable: Setsuna felt he was entrusted to act as the Exia’s operator and comes to view his machine as a part of himself. Gundam SEED Destiny similarly had Kira feeling down after the Freedom was destroyed.

  • The reason why Suletta and her peers are more likely to be in a sympathetic position is because Gundam‘s choice of featuring younger pilots in lead roles is meant to parallel the fact that youth represent the future, whereas older characters would be more conservative and therefore, more resilient to change. Without any major conflicts at this point in time, I am especially curious as to how things will unfold in The Witch From Mercury, and for the present, one of the challenges I face will be learning all of the characters’ names.

  • When Suletta takes over from Miorine, she’s able to utilise the Aerial’s capabilities completely: the Aerial is able to cast off armour parts and utilise them as funnels, bringing to mind a more refined version of 00 Qan[T]’s Quantum Burst mode. Unlike 00 Qan[T], which simply discarded its outer armour, the armour on the Aerial has thrusters and beam rifles built in. As this occurs, the Aerial’s exposed frame glows red, similarly to the Unicorn when its NT-D was activated. The similarities between the GUND System and the psychoframe becomes more pronounced here, and despite Guel’s prowess as a duelist, the Aerial’s funnels promptly waste him.

  • Having seen the Aerial in a combat situation now, I’m curious to see how this Gundam stacks up against lead machines from other series. The GUND System gives it an edge over other mobile suits here in The Witch From Mercury, but because previous starting lead machines all have their constraints (the RX-78 II’s beam rifle had a limited capacity, the Strike has an operational time capped by its battery, and the Exia’s poorly equipped for longer-range operations) to parallel the pilots’ need to grow into their role as Gundam pilot, I am curious to see how Suletta’s abilities will grow over time, and in turn, whether this shows its limitations as a Gundam or unlocks more of the Aerial’s potential (as Banagher had with the Unicorn).

  • In duel’s aftermath, Miorine states that by law, Suletta must become her partner, to the latter’s shock. I will note here that traditionally, I do not place much emphasis on romance in Gundam series: between the mobile suit mechanics and social-political aspects, Gundam series offer a lot to talk about. With this being said, in the past, I have been branded a heretic because yuri and yaoi topics are things I don’t spend a great deal of time on in my discussions; my counterargument is that I see no reason to focus extensively on romantic relationships in an anime unless romance is a key part of the theme.

  • The Aerial’s performance is immediately suspected to be the result of using prohibited technology, and Suletta is detained, pending expulsion, while the Aerial is immediately slated to be dismantled. In the twelve years since the prolog’s events, GUND System technology was banned, and while Delling had done so under the pretense of ethics, one immediately gets the feeling that the GUND System threatened the status quo he and other business leaders were accustomed to. This stands sharply in contrast with concerns raised over the Psycoframe technology in the Universal Century: research and development on Psychoframes had been stopped because the technology resulted in uncontrollable phenomenon manifesting.

  • One aspect of The Witch From Mercury that was especially impressive is the soundtrack: Gundam music has always been excellent, and I’ve immensely enjoyed the incidental music for Gundam 00Gundam SEED and Gundam Unicorn. Here in The Witch From Mercury, the music has cues from Gravity. The choral elements has a very powerful and visceral tenour about it, and this stylistic approach is one I associate with life. Through the music, it does appear as though The Witch From Mercury is speaking to the significance of life and what it means to be alive. Miorine’s love of botany might be seen as another hint to these ideas: she’s especially proud of the tomatoes that she grows, and that she gives one to Suletta may foreshadow the deeper connection that the pair will share later down the line.

  • Here, Nika shares lunch with Chuatury and another Earthian. Discrimination and mutual dislike between the Earthians and Spacians is present in The Witch From Mercury, manifesting in what psychiatrist Chester Pierce characterises as micro-aggressions, which refers to actions that casually degrade certain social groups. Spacians see themselves as superior, and Earthians resent them for their attitudes as a result: Chuatury is especially vocal about this, but Nika is more composed and willing to overlook the Spacian’s actions. I have read that the term micro-aggression has been misappropriated and creates a culture of victimhood, in which every perceived slight is misinterpreted as a personal attack, and some experts are critical of the concept, suggesting that is is insufficient to merely recognising when something’s happened, but rather, one must identify how to address such behaviours.

  • The sharp contrast between the lives of students and the larger corporate quagmire surrounding this series is a point of interest in The Witch From Mercury: elements aren’t just introduced into stories for the sake of being introduced, and where The Witch From Mercury is concerned, excitement stems from seeing how all of the pieces come together. The politics and mechanics are what I enjoy Gundam most for, and there isn’t a right or wrong way of watching a given franchise. People can focus on any aspect they wish to and will likely still derive meaning from what happens.

  • After reprimanding Guel for losing a duel despite possessing a top-of-the-line mobile suit, Vim turns his attention to the matter at hand: Shin Sei Development Company’s representative. I have noticed that parental figures in Gundam aren’t exactly the most warm or inspiring, further accentuating the themes of how the future tends to be driven  by youth, and how the experience youth possess will impact how they come to handle problems in ways the adults do not think of. Gundam portrays this in a positive manner, and I’ve found that, so long as youth are pursuing something of their own accord, without interference, they will tend to find their footing, whereas those whose causes are corrupted by shadowy influences will lose their way.

  • Twelve years after Delling shut down the Gundam programme and implemented the Cathedra Agreement to prohibit the use of GUND System technology, Shin Sei Development Company appears to provide a suit with Gundam-like traits. One of their representatives, Lady Prospera, appears to a hearing, and Prospera acts as The Witch From Mercury‘s masked character. Her explanation is that work conditions cost her her face. Masked characters are a staple in Gundam, originating from Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Char Aznable, and traditionally, all masked characters have been ferocious pilots.

  • Elan Ceres ends up visiting Suletta while she’s confined and delivers her a meal. Elan is also a skilled pilot with Peil Technologies, and while he’s emotionally distant and reserved, he takes an interest to Suletta and her Gundam. Because we’re still early in the game, I am having a shade of difficulty keeping track of characters beyond Suletta, Miorine, Guel, and Delling, but typically, as I continue to watch a series, I will become more familiar with the characters. The Witch From Mercury establishes Nika, Chuatury and Elan as potential allies to keep an eye on, and because Suletta seems to be a novice with some things, she could do with a few friends in her corner as she learns the ropes and comes to understand what she’s fighting for.

  • The definition of what makes a Gundam is unique to a timeline, and here in The Witch From Mercury, a Gundam appears to be any mobile suit equipped with the GUND System. Curiously enough, the back and forth between Prospero and the MSDC reminded me of a similar scene in The Dropout, when John Carreyou faced down David Boies about Theranos’ non-existent technology and ended up gleaning the fact that Theranos operated their tests on concealed Siemens machines. Here, Prospero manages to smoothly handle the MSDC’s questions and eventually creates doubt amongst some of the corporation’s members. Watching Prospero denying that the Aerial is a Gundam was quite amusing: she argues that the Aerial uses drone technology that is being developed to improve mining processes, and since the Beneritt Group is in need of something to change their fortunes, Vim takes an interest in what Prospero has to say.

  • The second episode proper, third overall, concludes with Miorine barging into the council chambers and demanding to duel Delling (if she wins, Delling must stand down and accept Suletta, but if she loses, then she will agree to whatever terms he has), before retrieving Suletta and giving her an update. Since the Aerial appears to hold the key to driving things forward, the next battle’s outcome is preordained. However, as with any anime, what I’m most excited to see is where The Witch From Mercury ends up. Over the past three episodes, I’ve only covered a small amount of the thoughts I’ve had about things so far, and here, I will remark that with Gundam series, it’s actually quite difficult to be a fair judge of events and characters based on what’s seen so far. I therefore will be writing about this series again once it has hit its halfway point, and then again when it has concluded: having more episodes will afford me with a better perspective on what The Witch of Mercury does well, and what messages it has that allows it to stand out from its predecessors.

Aside from the story, the other aspect in The Witch From Mercury I am looking forwards to seeing is the mobile suit combat. Having entered the Gundam universe through Gundam 00, which marked the first time Gundam was broadcast in HD, my standards for mobile suit combat has been set by the fluid and dynamic clashes between mobile suits and fleets. Battles in Gundam 00 were tense, high-paced and detailed, making use of unique footage to ensure that every battle was visually distinct. In this way, Gundam 00 would come to set the bar for what I’ve come to expect when mobile suits challenge one another in combat. Gundam Unicorn would raise the bar further: Universal Century mobile suits are significantly heavier than their Anno Domini counterparts, and this additional mass is shown in battles, as suits must constantly make course adjustments, and deliver heavy strikes in order to deal damage. The mobile suits of The Witch From Mercury appear more sophisticated than their counterparts in Anno Domini and the Universal Century, being as commonplace as those of the Cosmic Era, and the battles seen so far indicate that mobile suits are not a new technology. They fly smoothly, fight fluidly and resemble a mature technology rather than a concept in development, so to this end, it is clear that, with more mobile suits present in The Witch From Mercury, to the point where they are used among youth and adults alike to settle disputes, there will be plenty of opportunity to see how The Witch From Mercury presents its incarnation of the Gundam universe’s most iconic weapons of war. Animation technology and techniques have doubtlessly advanced in the fifteen years since I first watched Gundam 00, so beyond telling me a compelling narrative with a meaningful theme, the scale and scope of mobile suit combat in The Witch From Mercury is also going to be something I’m keeping an eye on. Beyond these two elements, I am very open-minded to the directions this latest iteration of Gundam is taking: so long as Suletta’s journey is tied to speaking about how technology and people can be reconciled, alongside how a healthy dose of youthful idealism might set in motion improvements in an aging system is presented, and well-animated mobile suit combat, I anticipate finding enjoyment in The Witch From Mercury to the same extent that I had fifteen years earlier, when I was marvelling at Celestial Being’s brutal intervention at Ceylon and the change their actions would subsequently bring to the Anno Domini world.


Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island, A Review and Reflection and Remarks on Human Faces Amidst Warfare

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” –G.K. Chesterton

Following the battle at Jaburo, the Federation prepare to capture Odessa, a Zeon stronghold. After arriving in Belfast, Amuro and White Base resupply before receiving unexpected orders to eliminate Zeon forces stationed at Alegranza, a remote island, after Federation forces sent there were wiped out. When Amuro arrives with Kai Shinden and Hayato Kobayashi, they are shocked to learn that there are children on the island, and moreover, rather than Zeon forces, Amuro encounters a lone Zaku that overcomes him in combat. After coming to, Amuro meets the Zaku’s pilot, a man named Cucuruz Doan, and sets off in search of the Gundam, which he’d lost during the encounter. Although he is unable to find the Gundam, Amuro finds that the islanders, many of them children, live a life of moral simplicity, working with one another to maintain the island’s infrastructure and their very means of survival. Meanwhile, after an overwhelming performance at Casablanca, Zeon’s Southern Cross team is assigned to assist with an operation – Zeon General M’Quve begins negotiations with the Federation’s General Gopp as a ruse for his plan to decimate critical Federation cities using a hidden MIRV. As it turns out, Zeon had placed a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile there as an ace-in-the-hole, but find themselves unable to utilise it because of communications jamming. Thus, the Southern Cross are assigned to investigate Alegranza and determine if there’s a saboteur there. As Amuro’s gone missing, Bright Noa quietly orders a search team sent out to search for Amuro even as the Federation begin preparing for their attack on Gibraltar, delaying their launch to give his team a chance to find Amuro. Amuro himself comes to understand Cucuruz and impresses him when he is able to help fix a broken water main. While searching for his Gundam, Amuro learns that Marco, one of the oldest boys on the island, also wants to help Cucuruz fight. Surprised that Amuro made it to Cucuruz’s workspace, Marco and Amuro briefly engage in fisticuffs. Cucuruz sends both back, forbidding them from going further. It turns out that Cucuruz had once been a formidable pilot, but deserted Zeon after being ordered to fire upon children during a battle. When another storm hits Alegranza, Amuro repairs power to the generator, giving the children light for the first time in a while. He also reactivates the lighthouse, impressing Marco. The power confirms to White Base’s search party that the island is inhabited, but it also eliminates any doubt in the Southern Cross’ mind that Cucuruz is on the island. They begin their operation to launch the ballistic missile; Danan, Selma and Egba engage Cucuruz with their custom Zakus, while Wald and Sanho infiltrate Cucuruz’s silo and manually prepare the missile for launch. While they are successful, Amuro manages to retrieve his Gundam with help from Marco. He eliminates both Wald and Sanho before stepping in to fight Egba, who’d disarmed Cucuruz. Recalling how Cucuruz had defeated him, Amuro uses island’s geography to surprise Egba before finishing him off. In the aftermath, the missile launches, but its payload detonates harmlessly in the atmosphere – Cucuruz had been successful in sabotaging the missiles. M’Quve laughs off their failure to destroy key Federation cities, and Amuro reunites with Fraw Bow, as well as the others on White Base. He realises that so long as Cucuruz keeps the Zaku, trouble will continue to find him, and offers to discard the Zaku. Cucuruz consents, and the two group part ways on amicable terms, with the islanders hope that they can preserve peace in their home the same way Amuro and Cucuruz do.

Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the latest Gundam instalment, returning to the Universal Century’s One Year War and Amuro’s journey in fighting for what he believes is right. However, at this point in his career, Amuro is still very much a novice pilot unfamiliar with the horrors and demands of warfare; he only pilots the Gundam reluctantly, and Bright Noa expresses as much, stating that he’s only as strict as he is with Amuro in order to remind him of the importance of doing his duty to protect those around him. When Amuro is defeated and meets Cucuruz, Cucuruz’s words to Amuro are simple: he fights to protect those on his island as a means of atoning for the sins he committed on the battlefield. By having Amuro meet someone whose actions are motivated by nothing more than a desire to defend life, Amuro comes to realise that Cucuruz wasn’t so much fighting to kill those who were on the other side, as much as he was trying to keep the islanders safe from whatever conflicts the outside world might bring with them. The reason why Cucuruz spared Amuro was because he recognised the machine that, even at this point in the war, developed a fearsome reputation for mangling Zeon forces despite its pilot’s inexperience. Meeting Amuro and hearing him out allows Cucuruz to similarly realise that warfare only results in bloodshed. While Gundam series are best known for their mobile suit combat scenes, exploring the human stories for both Federation and Zeon characters alike is meaningful because it shows how wasteful warfare is, and how where given the choice, rational individuals would very much prefer to live their lives peacefully, free of armed conflict. In every Gundam series, conflicts are motivated by a combination of ideology, greed and a lust for destruction perpetrated by those who are in power and have every reason to cling onto this power. Through their perverse desire, corrupt politicians and military leaders manipulate soldiers into dying, often needlessly; when soldiers are freed from their obligations and given a chance to see their opponents’ faces, to talk things out, they often find that they are more alike than different. This is precisely what happens in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, and although it represents only one detour in Amuro’s journey, understanding Cururuz helps Amuro to become a more resolute pilot. While he still values human life and only reluctantly pulls the trigger, Amuro understands that there are circumstances that demand he act decisively. These learnings allow Amuro to help stop the Southern Cross from escaping and potentially giving his allies further trouble, and ultimately would impact how he fights his counterpart and arch-rival, Char Aznable, as the One Year War rages on.

Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a fantastic addition to the Universal Century for showing one step in Amuro’s growth. In addition to this, it also brings to light a side of Gundam that is rarely seen – even somewhere as grim as the Universal Century, there can be humour, as well. Bright Noa arranges for a series of phoney delays to give White Base the justification they need to stick around and look for Amuro while Mirai suppresses her laughter. When Sleggar Law attempts to convince Sayla to operate the Core Booster, he words things in such a way as to earn himself a slap to the face. Upon arriving on Alegranza, Kai and Hayato manage to escape their damaged Guncannons, and for their troubles, are rammed by a rampaging goat. The presence of children do much to to lighten the mood in Cucuruz Doan’s Island: a war might be raging, but the combatants and civilians alike are still human, able to experience both sorrow and joy. Seeing the characters smile and laugh gives additional weight to Amuro’s fight. Amuro is defending the children’s smiles the same way Cucuruz was defending Alegranza’s residents. Humour is a fantastic element to employ because it humanises the characters and gives weight to their goals. Jun Maeda is no stranger to this approach, and although people attribute his stories’ emotional impact to over-written scenarios, the reality is that Maeda gives characters a chance to see what individuals are like before tragedy strikes. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the approach taken is unlikely to satisfy individuals who believe that grim, dark tones equate to realism, and that tragedy corresponds to maturity. However, to suppose that only suffering can create meaningful context for growth would be to eliminate an entire aspect of one’s being. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Amuro’s growth is precisely driven by the fact that viewers have a chance to see what peace brings to people, and why it’s worth defending. By giving viewers a chance to laugh at Kai’s antics, or the daily lives of the children on Alegranza, a juxtaposition is created between the atrocities both the Earth Federation and Zeon governments are willing to commit in order to achieve their supremacy, and the everyday lives of both Earth Federation and Zeon citizens would rather live.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ll open this post with the combat between Cucuruz and an unnamed Federation pilot running a GM. The RGM-79 GM is the earliest mass production Federation model, being a cut-down RX-78 II with superior acceleration and the ability to equip various weapons – its design and role would later inspire Gundam SEED‘s GAT-01 Strike Dagger, which was similarly a cut-down Strike Gundam designed for mass production. Although the GM is made cannon fodder in Gundam and slaughtered en mass by named pilots, the design paradigms follow closely how real-life prototypes enter mass production. In Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the film opens with a group of GMs attempting to fend off Cucuruz’s Zaku. Before delving further into this discussion, I note that Cucuruz Doan’s Island premièred on June 2 in Japanese theatres, but the BDs became available shortly after for overseas viewers to check out. Unlike other publishers, Sunrise understands that a short release delay is the best way to maintain interest in a series and drive sales. Other studios (especially CoMix Wave and Showgate) could take a leaf from Sunrise’s book – rather than waiting eleven months to release BDs, strive to release them within a few weeks of the theatrical opening date.

  • Although the original Zaku is technically inferior to a GM in terms of durability and firepower (a single shot from the beam spray gun would be enough to neutralise the Zaku), Cururuz is an uncommonly talented pilot, and despite lacking any ranged weapons, makes use of his heat hawk to completely destroy the GM team, as well as their landing craft. The loss of forces that stumble upon Alegranza is what prompts the events of Cucuruz Doan’s Island: Federation forces become convinced that Zeon remnant forces occupy the otherwise uninhabited island and therefore, may pose a threat to their operation.

  • At this point in his career, Bright Noa is a junior lieutenant, although after an attack on White Base kills much of the original crew, Bright becomes the de facto captain of the ship. Bright would subsequently go on to bring the White Base to Luna II while evading Zeon forces, before crash-landing on Earth and attempting to reach allied territory. The elements of the original Mobile Suit Gundam eventually make their way over to Gundam SEED, with the Archangel, Murrue Ramius and Kira Yamato replacing White Base, Bright Noa and Amuro Ray, respectively.

  • Bright presents himself as a strict leader who does his utmost to rally those around him, and believes in discipline. This is how he’s able to maintain order and a command hierarchy amongst the civilians that have boarded White Base; besides Amuro, Fraw Bow, Kai Shinden and Hayato Kobayashi also join White Base’s crew. In The Origin, Kai Shinden and his friends are portrayed as minor delinquents who get into hot water with authority figures owing to their curiosity and disregard for rules, but when the events at Side Seven force them into combat, Amuro and his friends, however reluctantly, do become an integral part of the Federation effort to repel the Zeon forces.

  • Mirai Yashima was previously seen as a helmsman of sorts in Gundam Origin and becomes White Base’s helmsman, as well – she offers advice to Bright where appropriate and is seen guiding him whenever he doubts his own leadership; being astute and driven to improve, Bright often reflects on the way he does things. Here, he wonders if he’s being too strict on Amuro and the others. From an external point of view, Bright is doing precisely the right thing. I recall a similar conversation in Tom Clancy’s Locked On, where John Clark reminds Jack Ryan Jr. that chains of command exist so soldiers act cohesively under stress, but he understands how can be difficult for civilians to get used to this fact.

  • Bright’s orders are simple enough: his higher-ups order him to send out a reconnaissance team to investigate Alegranza, and to this end, the Gundam, plus two Guncannons, are sent out. The island appears uninhabited, until children suddenly appear and begin throwing rocks at Kai’s Guncannon. The presence of children on Alegranza foreshadow what Cucuruz Doan’s Island deals with, and meanwhile, Amuro himself wonders at what awaits them on an island that’s a little too quiet. The designs of the cockpits in Cucuruz Doan’s Island and The Origin speak volumes to how quickly mobile suits advance. Here in UC 0079, cockpits use flat-panel monitors and analogue controls, but by the events of UC 0093, cockpits are immensely sophisticated and provide a full 360° panorama.

  • When The Origin concluded back in July 2018, I was a little disappointed that the series hadn’t given viewers a cameo appearance of the RX-78 II, which had been shown to be in development as being the answer for Zeon’s Zaku mobile suits. The Origin did give viewers a glimpse of Bright Noa and White Base as they set off on their first assignment to retrieve the RX-78 II, and overall, when I finished The Origin, I was immensely satisfied. The Origin began back when I was in graduate school, and originally, I’d figured that it would finish similarly by the time I was graduating; the third episode aired a month before my defense, and the fourth episode was scheduled close to my convocation.

  • However, the producers determined that more episodes were needed to adequately present the story. Two new episodes were added to the line-up, greatly expanding things and also giving The Origin a chance to showcase the large-scale battles between Zeon and the Federation. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, viewers get their first look at the completed RX-78 II, a revolutionary mobile suit that uses mega-particles to drive its weapons system, giving it exceptional firepower. Amuro is prevented from using his beam rifle at close quarters, which is capable of destroying any mobile suit of its time with a single shot, and when facing off against Cururuz’s Zaku, he is forced to switch over to his beam sabres.

  • Pushed against the cliff, Amuro attempts to attack, only for the ground to give way. He tumbles into the ocean and is knocked unconscious, but later reawakens in a small hut and is surprised to learn that the door isn’t locked. The islanders look at him with hostility – it turns out that the children on the island were orphaned by the One Year War and dislike soldiers for failing to protect the people. Cururuz does nothing to stop Amuro from leaving, knowing the island’s harsh conditions will soon result in Amuro returning to them.

  • Since he’d had a rough idea of where the Gundam had fallen, Amuro attempts to trek across the five kilometre wide island on his own. He ends up at a massive crater in the island and is forced to turn back as both night and exhaustion sets in. Early on, it was clear that Amuro would not find the Gundam this quickly: had he simply located it, he likely would’ve left and rejoined White Base as they prepared for the operation at Odessa. This wouldn’t allow Amuro to see the One Year War from a different perspective, which is the crux of Cucuruz Doan’s Island‘s story.

  • Knowing that Amuro would be struggling in the island’s desolate landscape, Cururuz sends Cara out to look for him, and she is shocked to learn that Amuro had made it all the way to the crater. He gratefully accepts the water she’s brought, along with her invitation to dinner. In his position, Amuro quickly realises that he must make his way back to White Base, without the Gundam, things will become trickier. His heart never strays from locating his machine, but for now, Amuro also spots that he’s probably going to be here for a while.

  • The children on the island initially do not take kindly to Amuro’s presence. As an outsider and a soldier, Amuro is seen as being a threat and unaccustomed to the way Cururuz does things. However, Amuro appears to show no objection to Cururuz’s suggestion that he’ll need to earn his keep on the island, much as the others do. While the island life would deviate from what Amuro is used to, spending time in the armed forces, under Bright’s eye slowly begins imparting a shift in him, too; Amuro becomes acclimatised to doing what he’s told and living a spartan life.

  • I would imagine that landing on the island and doing what he can to survive reinforces what Bright had been trying to show Amuro; although Bright had been vehemently opposed to Amuro piloting the Gundam early on, he quickly spots that Amuro has a natural affinity for the machine and is the only one capable of using it to keep the Zeon forces off their back. Thus, when Amuro refuses to pilot the Gundam and evade his responsibility in Mobile Suit Gundam, Bright motivates him in one of Gundam‘s most iconic moments with the now-legendary Bright Slap.

  • That Cururuz Doan’s Island brings this moment back (in flashback) with modernised visuals would represent a welcoming call-back to the original series. The moment is referenced in numerous other series – Amuro’s “not even my own father hit me” is as well recognised as the Bright Slap itself, and as a curious bit of trivia, Amuro’s voice actor, Tōru Furuya, similarly was struck by author Yoshiyuki Tomino after Tomino became displeased with the recording sessions’ progress. Tomino then told Furuya that all of the shock and indignation he’d felt there was how Amuro would be feeling, which in turn became Furuya’s now-famous delivery of those lines in Mobile Suit Gundam.

  • Upon learning that Amuro might’ve been shot down, Bright struggles to do what he believes is right (delaying departure and rescuing Amuro), and following orders from the top. Bright is in an unenviable position; although there is a war to fight, the Gundam has become a significant asset in their arsenal and, together with White Base’s cutting edge equipment, has been the reason why a novice crew has been able to give Zeon forces so much trouble. As Bright contemplates following orders, Fraw Bow loses composure and breaks out in tears at the though of losing Amuro.

  • Meanwhile, M’Quve and Gopp enter negotiations about Gibraltar: M’Quve wishes for the Federation to hold off on their operation and indicates they have an ace-in-the-hole in event of the Federation’s refusal to comply. Gopp appears unconcerned with M’Quve’s threats, but M’Quve is confident in his ability to make good on his promises should the invasion proceed. At this point in time, the Antarctic Treaty prevents both Zeon and Federation forces from resorting to weapons of mass destruction, but M’Quve indicates that Zeon isn’t particularly respectful of their terms. Although prima facie giving Zeon a massive advantage, Zeon actually had limited resources to wage war long-term, and this would buy enough time for the Federation to rebuild their forces, including the development of their own mobile suits.

  • M’Quve’s plan is contingent on something stored on Alegranza, and whatever this is is important enough to warrant withdrawing the elite Southern Cross team. With their high mobility Zakus (which would inspire the high mobility Tieren in Gundam 00), the Southern Cross are able to turn the entire tide of a battle on their own. At Casablanca, they rescue a detachment of Zeon forces that were slowly being overrun by Federation forces: high mobility Zakus are equipped with thrusters on their legs that allow them to hover and move with a far greater speed than standard Zakus.

  • Each of the Southern Cross’ Zakus utilise a loadout suited to the pilot’s preferences, and here, one of the members fires an anti-materiel rifle against a Federation GM, blowing its head unit apart with a single well-placed shot. The team’s members only nominally get along with one another, but in the battlefield, their coordination and teamwork are sufficient to overwhelm the comparatively disorganised Federation GMs. GMs have the unfortunate distinction of being easily destroyed, and in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, their simplistic design belie the fact that they’re still sophisticated machines meant to act as the Federation’s answer for the Zaku.

  • The disparity in machines appears to be the fact that, while Zakus are technically inferior to GMs, Zeon possesses better pilots – The Origin shows that Zeon’s mobile suit program has existed for longer than the Federations, giving them additional time to train pilots. While the Federation’s Gundam and the GM derivatives are excellent machines, their pilots are significantly less familiar with them, nullifying any technical advantage the GMs possess. Mobile suit combat in Cucuruz Doan’s Island might not be as frequent as one might expect, but this is in keeping with the film’s themes, and moreover, what combat sequences that are shown are wonderfully animated, really showing the weight and scale of each engagement between individual pilots.

  • The lack of mobile suit combat in Cucuruz Doan’s Island was a point of contention for Anime News Network, who suggested that the Southern Cross are “shallow filler” and the film as a whole was “[lacking] of variety in the action”. As previously noted, the emphasis on the human side of things in Cucuruz Doan’s Island means that more time is spent on Amuro interacting with Cucuruz and the islanders. The Southern Cross are therefore less of a foe than Amuro’s own doubts; while he was knocked out, Amuro dreams uneasily of his own mother rejecting his decision to take up arms, and Amuro himself is torn between using force to defend those important to him.

  • As such, it is plain that Anime News Network’s expectations of Gundam clearly differ than my own, and I’ll remark that folks looking for intense mobile suit combat set in the Universal Century won’t be disappointed by works like Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt. Back in Cururuz Doan’s Island, Cururuz is seen working on the schematics to what appears to be an MIRV, but there is never any doubt in the viewers’ minds that he’s no sleeper operative; in a flashback, Cururuz refuses to fire on civilians, and this is what led him to desert. When Amuro sets off to try and find his Gundam, Cururuz lends him his hat and canteen – he knows that Amuro can’t stay on the island forever.

  • Back on White Base, the children have barricaded themselves in the bathroom and refuse to come out until the crew promise to rescue Amuro. Although there is little Bright can openly do about things, he clandestinely authorises a search and rescue mission. Sleggar Law, an ace pilot, decides to help out, and after managing to convince the children to come back out, organises the search team. Sleggar forms the basis for Gundam SEED‘s Mu La Flaga: both are amicable and exceptionally skilled pilots, but also have a tendency to flirt with the ladies. When Sleggar explains his plan to Sayla here, he earns himself admonishment to the face.

  • In the end, Sleggar is able to convince Sayla to operate the Core Booster, although Kai and Hayato are exasperated that Sleggar used such a means to accomplish his goal. Moments like these quickly indicated to me that Cucuruz Doan’s Island was going to incorporate humour together with the more serious moments, and while this seems out of place in Gundam, it is effective because it reminds viewers that behind every machine is a human being. Later Gundam series are all-business; there are some moments that may elicit a chuckle here and there, but on the whole, comedy is not something Gundam is known for. Thus, in an episode about the human aspects of warfare, it is appropriate to give the viewers a few more laughs.

  • Amuro reaches the end of the island, and upon finding the spot where there are mobile suit footprints, he realises that his Gundam must’ve fallen into the ocean. He turns back, defeated, and soon, finds that the islanders have encountered a new problem: despite a massive rainfall, they’re out of fresh water. Cucuruz and Marco are heading off to fix things, and without anything else to do, Amuro decides to accompany them. This decision turns out to be a good one; Cucuruz quickly identifies that while their water supply is fine, the line itself has broken.

  • Cucuruz is too broad to fit through the opening in the cave, and Marco hesitates upon seeing how tricky the walls are. Conversely, Amuro volunteers to go and does his task admirably; after reaching the break, he seals it and repairs the line, allowing water to return to the islanders. Marco ends up growing resentful of Amuro, feeling that his thunder was stolen, while Amuro’s stock among the islanders improve. Between his prior experiences on White Base, and his own skill with mechanical systems, Amuro is well-equipped to deal with some of the islanders’ problems.

  • It turns out that Cucuruz’s main work on the island is devoted towards altering a launch system belonging to Zeon. Through his work, Cucuruz is able to jam any external communications to the weapons, preventing Zeon forces from remotely firing the ballistic missile. This control room notably has what appears to be a .30 calibre machine gun port, allowing the launch controls to be defended in case of an attack, but the flipside is that such a system could also be used by unauthorised forces to fend off anyone trying to stop a launch; it shows Zeon’s faith in their own soldiers’ loyalty.

  • The Southern Cross’ Egba Atler is their current leader. A hot-blooded and brash pilot dead-set on proving that he’s a superior leader to Cucuruz, he becomes violent when Danan Rashica expresses interest in their latest assignment. Danan seems to be star-struck at the prospect of meeting Cucuruz, a consequence of hearing about the latter’s legendary exploits when he’d been a pilot, but all Egba sees is a traitor who discarded his duty. For Egba, nothing would give him greater satisfaction than squaring off against their former leader to settle who’s the more suitable pilot once and for all. To save their teammate from a physical beating, Danan’s teammates restrain Egba and buy him enough time to escape.

  • Pilot Selma Livens, on the other hand, had similarly respected Cucuruz, but is more reserved about things. In combat, she’s confident and capable, but she feels that Egba is not as effective as Cucuruz had been. Egba resembles both Dozle Zabi and the Black Tri-Stars in temperament. While Anime News Network’s reviewer found the Zeon pilots to be “filler”, I disagree with this sentiment on the grounds that the Southern Cross are simply a team of pilots who were sent in to advance M’Quve’s plans as a part of a larger political game. The choice to pick the Southern Cross rather than a generic outfit is deliberate; a special forces team would create additional tension in a way that unnamed soldiers would not.

  • Generally speaking, I don’t place much stock in Anime News Network and their movie reviews. Given what I’ve seen there for film reviews, it appears that criticisms are doled out for criticisms’ sake, rather than as a result of any legitimate shortcomings in a given movie. In a review, the negatives end up being only touched upon, as though all reviews are subject to a quota of criticism in order for Anime News Network to appear informed and relevant. This was most apparent with their reviews for Non Non Biyori Vacation and Violet Evergarden: The Movie: both film’s successes are callously brushed off in a few sentences, and no additional justification (or evidence) for the remarks were given.

  • I’ve long found that criticisms in a vacuum are meaningless; if one is to criticise, then one must also either offer suggestions for improvement, or acknowledge the reasons behind why a given work may have turned out the way it did. For me, I only will make remarks on improvements if a limitation particularly noticeable, and the Southern Cross don’t come across as such. Back in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Sayla and Sleggar prepare to launch. The search and rescue mission is something Bright has approved of – he was originally shocked to learn that the operation at Alegranza was called off after Gibraltar became a larger priority and struggled to make the call. In the end, Bright places his faith in Amuro and the Gundam.

  • To this end, Bright stages a scenario where White Base is still attempting to prepare for take-off: with just about every part of the ship seemingly seeing delays or problems, Bright gives the impression to Federation command that they’ll need a little more time before they can go anywhere. This charade buys White Base enough time to recover Amuro from Alegranza: Salya, Sleggar, Hayato and Kai have all taken off for the island with the goal of bringing Amuro back, and this time, Fraw Bow and the children accompany them, as well.

  • Mirai’s suppressed laughter speaks volumes to the light-hearted nature of their ruse, and reinforces the fact that outside of Zeon and Federation atrocities, the soldiers are ultimately human. Bright’s decision here also speaks more loudly about what’s in his heart: while he voices doubt about pushing Amuro too hard or even treating him harshly, choosing to delay departure, against orders, shows that Bright places great stock in Amuro and the Gundam. This is something that will later impact how Bright operates; in Gundam Unicorn, Bright’s been around the block long enough to know that any worthy Gundam pilot can achieve whatever they set their mind to and as such, places his faith in their ability and resolve. This is what motivates his speech to Banagher shortly before the Garuda transfer, and there, Banagher would prove that Bright’s intuition is on the money, a result of years of working with Gundam pilots.

  • When a massive storm slams into Alegranza, Amuro decides to look around and see if he can get the power up and running: while life on Alegranza is relatively cozy, the residents don’t have access to power. Some of the children are deathly afraid of the dark, and when the storm appears, they become inconsolable. With a deft hand for repairs, Amuro ends up not only restoring power to the cottage, but also fixes the lighthouse. Marco and the others are overjoyed with this; the residents have long discussed fixing the lighthouse but lacked the knowhow to do so.

  • With the lights back on, the children are much happier, and Marco admits he’s happy to have Amuro around. The two reconcile here, but when Cururuz arrives, he states that Amuro’s actions were a mistake – he deliberately kept the lighthouse and electrical power offline to avoid drawing any attention to the island. The addition of power would broadcast to the world that the island was inhabited and worth looking at. Shortly after, both Amuro’s allies and the Southern Cross spot the lighthouse, removing any doubt in their mind that Cucuruz must be there.

  • Kai and the others’ original plan had been to land on the island and quickly retrieve Amuro, along with his Gundam. However, the mission suddenly becomes considerably more dangerous when they spot the Zeon forces approaching the island. In previous Gundam, mass production units have been presented as a bit of a joke: unnamed pilots are typically slaughtered whole-sale, and often presented as standing still when under fire. I appreciate that this is done to illustrate a disparity in power, similarly to how in Hollywood films, exotic machines and monsters can make short work of F-22s and M1A2s, which are, in reality, impressive machines.

  • However, seeing Zakus in The Origin was a reminder that even the mass production machines can be formidable. I would’ve liked to have seen more battles between basic Zakus and GMs, but here in Cururuz Doan’s Island, the final battle feels tense even with only a squad of machines; having spent the whole film seeing the children in Cara and Cucuruz’s care, it always felt that Cururuz would have his hands full in trying to keep the battle away from the other islanders. I imagine that for the Southern Cross, they’ve got no information about the islanders and are here purely to neutralise Cururuz and get the launch mechanism working again.

  • When Sayla and Sleggar arrive, an iconic Mobile Suit Gundam theme begins playing. It’s titled “Fear of Battle”, and here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the song has been modernised while at the same time, retaining the aesthetic of the original, which had been composed with a disco-opera tone, blending the grandeur of space opera music similar to John William’s Star Wars with 1970s disco elements. The modernised version has a slightly heavier tenour and a richer sound, but beyond this, is immediately recognisable. Overall, the music in Cucuruz Doan’s Island is of an excellent quality – Takayuki Hattori repraises his role from The Origin as composer.

  • Unfortunately for Kai and Hayato, Sayla and Sleggar’s arrival do little for them: the Core Booster’s taken damage and Sayla is forced to make a crash landing, dislodging Sleggar’s GM and causing its head to pop off. Sleggar is thus unable to contribute in a meaningful way to the combat after shooting down the aircraft carrying the Zakus, and while this puts the Guncannons in a difficult position, this moment also creates comedy reminiscent of what is seen in a 1970s anime. Both Hayato and Kai manage to escape their machines’ destruction, and before the Southern Cross finish them off, Cururuz finally arrives.

  • One of the joys about writing Gundam posts is that there’s almost never a shortage of screenshots to draw from, and correspondingly, no shortage of things to talk about. For this post, I started with a screenshot collection totalling 258 images, and had to cut it down to a more manageable sixty. While I could, in theory, find enough content to discuss regarding the mobile suits themselves, this would result in exceedingly long posts that I’m certain readers would have no interest in reading (and writing extremely long posts takes an inordinate amount of time, as well).

  • Wald disembarks his Zaku and enters the control room, where he finds Cucuruz’s handiwork. He quickly overrides the changes Curucuz had made and re-arms the ballistic missile, which begins counting down for a launch. Confident he’s done his duty, he prepares to his Zaku. Meanwhile, Marco and Amuro have managed to sneak into the hangar; Amuro is unaccustomed to swimming the underwater passage and ends up swallowing water. Marco revives him, and the pair manage to reach the Gundam. They are noticed by Yun, who sets off to investigate.

  • Yun ends up following Amuro and Marco into the hangar, where he finds a curtain covering a mobile suit cage. Upon pulling the curtain back, Yun is horrified to find himself face-to-face with the White Devil. Amuro swiftly activates the Gundam’s beam sabre and burns a hole in Yun’s Zaku, killing him instantly. At this point in time, the Gundam’s already developed a fearsome reputation amongst Zeon’s pilots. It is here that Marco realises that Amuro is similar to Cucuruz – he’d developed a respect for Amuro after the latter had repaired the island’s power supply, but to see Amuro willfully use a mobile suit and deal lethal damage shows Marco the sort of resolve Amuro must have.

  • For Amuro, operating a mobile suit is a morally tricky duty because it entails taking lives during the line of duty. During a flashback, Amuro recalls his mother’s shock that he would pick up a weapon and pull the trigger. However, the flipside of this is, if Amuro lets an opponent live, they might return and kill others important to oneself. Thus, when Amuro spots Wald trying to reach his Zaku, he decides to trample him with the Gundam. This kill mirrors how in war, difficult decisions must be made, and also shows how Amuro is prepared to take a life if it means saving other lives, although he retains enough of his humanity to feel remorse for what he must do.

  • Back on the surface, Cucuruz decimates the Southern Cross. Danan is positively honoured to die at the legendary Cucuruz Doan’s hands, while Selma wonders why things had to turn out this way when Cucuruz smashes her Zaku. While Federation GMs use beam sabres as their melee weapon, early Zakus are armed with heat hawks: these hand-axes have a super-heated blade that utilises thermal energy transferred from the Zaku’s main reactor, and generate enough energy to both cut through armour and resist a beam sabre, although its small size means it’s a weapon that takes skill to wield effectively.

  • Soon, only Egba remains: he’s a cut above even the other Southern Cross pilots, and is intent on taking Cucuruz down himself. His Zaku is equipped with a heat sabre, a blade composed of a shape memory polymer that allows the sabre’s blade to be stored while not in use. Heat sabres work on the same principle as a heat hawk, with the polymer conducting heat from the Zaku’s reactor to augment its cutting ability. For their efficacy, superheating the polymer would cause it to degrade rapidly, meaning that heat sabres ultimately have a limited lifespan and are thus discarded after use.

  • While Egba is focused on fighting Cucuruz, Kai and his team encounter Cara and the children, who are chasing after the island’s one goat. Cucuruz Doan’s Island had hints of humour interspersed throughout its run, but it is here that Kai and Hayato’s misfortunes are made light of – the goat lifts them into the air and the moment is frozen in stills for posterity. Gundam employing humour to this extent is uncommon (Gundam SEED and Gundam 00 were, for the most part, deadly serious), but the presence of children creates the opportunity for creating lighthearted moments that act as a break in tensions.

  • However, even with the bit of comedy offered by a goat and White Base’s more hapless crew, Egba’s determination to finish off Cucuruz is real; he hammers into Cucuruz’s Zaku, and while Cucuruz is able to hold his own, Egba ends up disarming Cucuruz. Cucuruz refuses to give up, but a hail of 60 mm rounds suddenly distract Egba. With Cucuruz disarmed and nearly beaten, Egba turns his attention towards the Gundam, confident that he can beat it.

  • The moment had felt grim when Cucuruz had fallen, but with the Gundam’s arrival, the mood tangibly shifts. Fraw Bow is overjoyed to see the Gundam arrive, and the heroic incidental music speaks to the fact that this is Amuro’s time to shine. Use of music is a classic storytelling element, and longtime viewers can often guess at what will happen next based purely on what themes play. Of course, in shows where the hero’s theme plays, the outcome of a battle will almost feel preordained; in Gundam Unicorn, for instance, whenever the Unicorn motif is heard, Banagher is certain to do some damage.

  • For this fight, Amuro has access to only the Gundam’s beam sabres, having discarded his beam rifle earlier whilst fighting Cucuruz. The Gundam’s beam rifle was a first for mobile suits. Up until this point, mobile suits had carried kinetic weapons. Zeon’s Zakus carried machine guns that were powerful enough to puncture the hulls of Federation ships and shred their fighters, but against the Gundam’s armour, these weapons proved ineffectual. Conversely, the Gundam’s beam rifle fired rounds as powerful as those of a battleship’s main gun, allowing it to destroy mobile suits trivially.

  • Without the beam rifle, Amuro is pressed into close quarters combat, and while Egba is a powerful foe, Amuro holds his own, counting on the Gundam’s superior technology. However, after landing on a ledge, Amuro quickly spots that he’s in the same scenario he was in when he first fought Cucuruz – the perilous cliff edge overlooking the ocean had been his downfall earlier, and now, Amuro realises he can use the terrain to his advantage. This is significant because it would show Amuro learning to think tactically and utilise every element available in a fight, rather than purely depending on the Gundam’s power.

  • To this end, Amuro utilises the Gundam’s vulcans to force Egba off-balance, creating an opening in which to strike him down with. Vulcans in Gundam are typically 60 mm, and fire at very high rates. However, in Gundam, rounds appear to deal much less damage than their calibres suggest: 60 mm rounds are considered to be only really useful for soft targets and point defense against missiles. Similarly, Zakus fire 100 mm rounds that do negligible damage to the Gundam’s armour. However, in reality, even 30 mm rounds have anti-armour capabilites, and 100 mm rounds are approaching the size of the shells used in tank guns. This likely speaks to the necessity of using beam rifles and beam sabres, given the defensive capabilities that mobile suits possess with respect to their armour.

  • The advent of beam weapons lead to a paradigm shift in mobile suit design: less emphasis is placed on armour, and newer designs will favour speed. Although cutting-edge mobile suits like the RX-93 ν Gundam and RX-0 Unicorn possess an I-field, capable of deflecting beams, even these have limitations. As such, for newer mobile suits, firepower is life, and speed is life insurance. Of course, in 0079, mobile suits are still a nascent technology, and so, Amuro has the advantage where weapons are concerned. While successful in defeating Egba, Amuro is unable to prevent the ballistic missile from launching. In the heat of battle to protect the islanders, the ballistic missile and its MIRV payload is forgotten.

  • For M’Quve, the Southern Cross appear to have succeeded in their efforts to reactivate the ballistic missile on Alegranza. In this moment of triumph, he watches the missile launch, while the horrified Federation Navy hastily launch cruise missiles in a bid to intercept the ballistic missile. Ballistic missile interception during the boost phase is desperately tricky – while the missile is vulnerable during this time owing to its fuel stores, it is rapidly accelerating, limiting the intercept window. Unsurprisingly, the missiles the Federation send out cannot reach their mark, and the ICBM manages to disperse its nuclear warheads.

  • To everyone’s surprise, the warheads suddenly detonate shortly after they enter the mid-course phase. Gopp is relieved; although M’Quve called his bluff, Cucuruz’s intervention single-handedly saves tens of millions of lives, and with Zeon’s bargaining chip gone, the Federation is able to push forwards with their assault on Gibraltar ahead of their plans to capture Odessa. In the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro’s visiting of Alegranza was plagued with production issues, and while it aired in Japan, never was shown in English releases. The story, while seemingly a detour, contributes greatly to Amuro’s growth and also shows some of the behind-the-scenes of how the Federation’s counteroffensive against Zeon begins.

  • For Cucuruz, although he was beaten in mobile suit combat, he was successful in preventing unimaginable casualties. The fact that Zeon was willing to resort to such means speaks both to their disregard for life and perception of the Federation’s people as being little more than obstacles; The Origin had shown the Zabi family as being quite divided on how they wanted to handle the war. Degwin had been hoping for a quick war and negotiations until the “Zeon is Exhausted” speech spurs him to keep fighting, while both Gihren and Kycilia had more militaristic ambitions. On the other hand, Dozle is a loyal soldier who genuinely fights for his people’s survival. Cucuruz is relieved to have survived, and that his actions have prevented the war from escalating.

  • The dynamic between Fraw Bow and Amuro is probably one of the more subtle but relatable aspects of Mobile Suit Gundam: early in their journey, she sticks with him, but as Amuro begins developing feelings for the other women that come into his life, and Fraw Bow begins seeing Amuro’s best friend, Hayato, instead. This is a natural progression in life, and both friendships and crushes do not endure forever. For now, however, the two are still relatively close – Fraw Bow tearfully embraces Amuro after he defeats Egba, relieved he’s alright. In the aftermath, the White Base crew part ways with Cucuruz and the islanders after Amuro chucks Cucuruz’s Zaku into the ocean, feeling that the only way to really be free of the fight is to live a peaceful life on the island without any weapons.

  • With this excursion over, the children on board White Base bid farewell to the islanders on Alegranza, and White Base itself prepares to head on over to Gibraltar for the next step of its operation. Cucuruz Doan’s Island ends up being a meaningful, self-contained story that helps viewers to see one set of events that would come to shape how he fights as a pilot, and for this reason, Curucuz Doan’s Island can be seen as a necessary stop rather than a detour. Seeing the growth and evolution of Gundam pilots is something that always captivated me: from watching Setsuna F. Seiei become more mindful and attuned to those around him, Kira Yamato become increasingly willing to fight once he realises he can do so without unnecessarily taking life, or Banagher realising that he has a responsibility to see something through, Gundam series have typically done a fine job of showing how people can rise to the occassion.

  • As such, when it comes to the autumn’s The Witch from Mercury, my expectations remain consistent with what they’ve been for every other Gundam work I’ve seen previously. To be an enjoyable series, The Witch from Mercury must deliver on three fronts. Firstly, the protagonists must mature in a meaningful way to mirror the interplay between responsibility and capability (as a pilot experiences things, they become more suited for using their power to defend what is dear to them). Second, I do not wish for unnecessary drama at the interpersonal level, since Gundam has always been about individual response (and eventually, rising up) to challenges at scale. Finally, combat choreography must be of a high calibre, at least as smooth and visually fluid as Gundam 00Gundam 00 is now more than a decade old, but it set the bar for what’s possible with Gundam, and therefore, is the yardstick I gauge other Gundam fights against. In the Universal Century, mobile suits are heavier, but the fights are still well-choreographed.

  • Cucuruz looks on as White Base departs from Alegranza; his encounter with Amuro leaves him a changed man, as well, and without the burden of a Zaku to maintain, as well as a Zeon silo to sabotage, a great weight is lifted from his chest, allowing him to fully devote himself to a peaceful life on Alegranza without worrying that Zeon or the Federation will show up again. It is here that I will note that Cucuruz’s name sounds quite similar to that of Kukuru Misakino from The Aquatope on White Sand – the two are prima facie about as different as night and day, but on closer inspection, both Cucuruz and Kukuru care very much about the things around them.

  • A look at the blog’s archive finds that mid-June does seem to be the month when I write about Gundam films: in 2019, it was Gundam Narrative, and then last year, I had the chance to watch Hathaway’s Flash. This year, the streak continues with Cucuruz Doan’s Island, and I finish this discussion just in time to celebrate Father’s Day with the family; my parents were treated to a Korean fried chicken dinner from a nearby joint. We ended up going for chicken three ways (crispy, garlic-soy and Gang-Jeong style) with a side of fries; Korean fried chicken is a bit pricier than our go-to Southern fried chicken, but the cost is reflected in the fact that the chicken is fried to crispy perfection while remaining tender and juicy.

  • Cucuruz Doan’s Island concludes with Cucuruz fulfilling a promise of properly celebrating a young boy’s birthday, complete with a cake. It’s a fitting close to the film and shows that Cucuruz is determined to preserving the peace on his island. Even without a Zaku, Cucuruz can still do this by looking after the island’s children with Cara. Altogether, Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a superb and insightful addition to the Universal Century timeline, and I would count this film an A (4.0 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten point scale, 9.0 of ten): this movie is a chance to see the RX-78 II remastered, something I’d wanted to see since The Origin ended, and on top of this, tells a meaningful story. While yes, it would’ve been nice to see more mobile suit combat, I appreciate that this isn’t the story’s primary objective, and what combat we did get was still of a superb quality.

Altogether, Alegranza Cucuruz Doan’s Island represents a remarkable show of how the original Mobile Suit Gundam was set in a universe that could tell a compelling story, and how with a fresh coat of paint, the classic story of the One Year War and the first Gundam could reach new audiences: Mobile Suit Gundam introduced elements that are now iconic in the Gundam franchise, but it has not aged particularly well. Inconsistencies in animation resulted in some segments of the story being removed, and Cucuruz Doan’s Island is one of them. However, seeing Cucuruz Doan’s Island brought into the present, while at the same time, remaining respectful of Mobile Suit Gundam‘s original aesthetic, sets one exciting precedence for what could be possible. A fully remastered portrayal of White Base and Amuro’s exploits during the One Year War would not only introduce new fans to where the story began, but for existing fans, it would be a phenomenal experience that breathes new life into memorable scenes. Such a project would be fraught with challenges: for one, some die-hard fans would be unwilling to accept any remaster that isn’t completely faithful to the original. Similarly to how Halo: Anniversary was criticised for altering the aesthetic in some missions, reducing the suspense the level designs conveyed, there is always a possibility that a remaster may make changes that could disappoint some. On the other hand, when a remaster is respectful of the original while modernising the visuals, it can be successful. Halo 2 Anniversary is one such experience, being a direct upgrade to its predecessor without dramatically changing the aesthetic that was present in the original. A Mobile Suit Gundam remaster that is done similarly to how Halo 2 Anniversary was done would be a welcome experience, and I’d certianly watch it in a heartbeat. In the meantime, Cucuruz Doan’s Island has been a superb experience, one that places a greater emphasis on the human sides of warfare and at the same time, portraying mobile suit battles as being a very intense and personal experience in ways that are possible now thanks to significant advances in animation methods and technology. Cucuruz Doan’s Island becomes an essential experience for Universal Century fans, updating all of the visuals in the Universal Century to modern standards and presenting excellent insight into Amuro’s character through a detour that would ultimately contribute to how he fights his battles, giving him the resolve and strength needed to stand toe-to-toe with Zeon’s legendary Red Comet.