One of the first questions to ask in one’s anime journey is, quite literally, a big one: Are giant robots right for me? Lucky for you, there’s never been a faster way to find out. Just watch Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury.
Massive humanoid robots are an anime staple, and fewer names in giant robots are bigger than Mobile Suit Gundam — the mega-franchise spawning from Yoshiyuki Tomino’s 1979 anime of the same name. In some ways, Gundam is synonymous with giant robots, kind of like Kleenex and facial tissues. Also like Kleenex, that can be an oversimplification. There are a lot of giant robot shows old and new, and they all do very different things. This is true even within the Gundam franchise, which has spanned eight U.S. Presidents and counting — i.e., it has been around long enough to be a lot of different things, from “grounded military sci-fi about the horrors of war” (the original) to “boy-band revolutionaries” (Gundam Wing) to “Street Fighter with robots” (Mobile Fighter G Gundam).
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury’s selling point has always been its stand-alone nature, which made it the ideal jumping-on point for the Gundam-curious. It’s also new Gundam, which has been all too rare of a thing these days — the occasional movie notwithstanding — and thus bears a bit of an undue burden to be all things to all people, the Gundam faithful and uninitiated alike.
The bananas thing about it is that The Witch From Mercury is pulling it off. Now that the show has begun its second cour of episodes following a brief winter hiatus, the series is kicking into high gear and making a case for itself as the ultimate Gundam show, a showcase for all the many ideas that encompass the Gundam franchise, remixing them all into something that feels new and accessible but does so by taking a little bit of everything from Gundam’s sprawling history — while also closing the loop on some of Gundam’s later, even more famous successors, like Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Amusingly, it’s doing this by playing in another genre entirely: the hybrid magical girl/romance best exemplified by Revolutionary Girl Utena, with which it shares an uncanny resemblance. Like that seminal show, The Witch From Mercury is about a young woman enrolled at a military school where she ends up dueling her classmates in combat exercises to win (and keep) the hand of a powerful heiress.
With this swerve, The Witch From Mercury quietly backgrounds the heavy themes that Gundam and other giant robot shows in its likeness are known for in exchange for a military school drama about the timid Suletta Mercury, the friendly girl from Mercury with an extraordinarily advanced mobile suit that ties her to one of the greatest human conflicts in the solar system. It’s a bit of narrative sleight of hand that only gets cleverer as The Witch From Mercury goes on, as Suletta’s genial nature and school hijinks are juxtaposed against the weapons of war she and her peers pilot for sport, and the political machinations of the adults that put them there.
Despite its sunny disposition, The Witch From Mercury is quietly gutting the longer the viewer contemplates it. Suletta Mercury is not your typical mecha protagonist. She’s not a sad boy longing for validation, nor a grim warrior forced to age too soon. She’s an earnest soul, someone who wants to make friends and help people and be a good future bride to Miorine, the girl she’s betrothed to by combat.
It’s frankly dazzling how much The Witch From Mercury is able to do through Suletta’s story. It’s both cheeky subversion and loving homage, taking aspects of every major Gundam incarnation — the horror of child soldiers, the obsession over cool robots that are in fact weapons of war, intense space politics — and balancing them all perfectly against a plucky slice-of-life school rom-com. If you’re not sure if Gundam specifically or giant robots in general are for you, just stick around another episode — The Witch Fom Mercury has something new to show you.
Suletta Mercury, sadly, has the misfortune of being a Gundam protagonist, and shouldering all the horror of what that means. For the viewer, she couldn’t be a better tour guide to this kind of story — not simply because she’s new to it all, but because maybe, if she’s lucky, she might still make it out OK.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury is streaming on Crunchyroll, with new episodes on Saturdays.