Monday, February 26, 2024

Gundam and the witches: the female revolution of The Witch From Mercury

Gundam and the witches: the female revolution of The Witch From Mercury

Since the first, historical series of 1978, Gundam it was more than just robotic souls: it was an attempt to go beyond the stereotypes of the genre and to broaden the discourse by including more realistic and complex, even controversial, themes.
This identity, more mature and adult, strongly desired and pursued by the author Yoshiyuki Tomino, is one of the fundamental components of the now fifty-year success of a brand that has been able to evolve and overcome national borders, to become one of the best known titles even outside the famous “circle of enthusiasts”.
In the first Gundam the protagonist is not the classic stereotypical hero, with boiling blood and indomitable will that had been seen up to that moment driving a robot.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – una scena

On the contrary, Amuro Rei is a boy full of insecurities, overwhelmed by events bigger than him, with big problems of socialization and adaptation. A more difficult character to tell, of course, but with which it was much easier to identify.
Likewise the conflict involving the Federation and the Principality of Zeon it does not resolve itself into a mere contrast between good and bad, but is full of obscure points, gray areas and blurred boundaries, with the only certainty of the tragic nature of the deaths, on both sides.
Indeed, more than fifty years have passed and Gundam has been able to grow, evolve and adapt, both by keeping some elements unchanged and, courageously, experimenting, trying, even making mistakes.
And we come to Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercurywhich you can find on the Crunchyroll platform.
Obviously, for our analysis it will be necessary to make some spoilers, consider yourself warned (or, better yet, go and catch up on the series).

New times, same problems

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – una scena

The new series is set in an original timeline, named AD Stella (AS). In this not-so-distant future, humanity has begun to move into space, founding several colonies throughout the inner solar system. But disparities and inequalities have not disappeared, quite the contrary. On the one hand, the Earth has become impoverished, reduced to a mere reservoir for the rich colonies. On the other hand, the same colonies are actually in the hands of very powerful financial conglomerates and families of plutocrats, intent on making war on each other behind the facade of only apparent order.
In this complex scenario, the main source of wealth is Permet, a material with almost miraculous properties that can be extracted throughout the Solar System, usable as a conductor of information and, practically, in all the products used by humanity. from propellants to the most advanced instruments.
One of the main uses of Permet is for military purposes, with the creation of combat automatons. A particular type of these automatons, the GUND-ARMs, exploited a complete synergy between machine and driver, with the result of obtaining extraordinary performances. There was, however, a fatal flaw: these machines caused their pilots such an overload of information (Data Storm) to put both their bodies and their minds at risk, even going so far as to kill them.
The GUND-ARMs were then banned as a prohibited technology, until the decision, sponsored and carried out by the powerful Benerit Group, to kill all the scientists who were studying a way to exploit the GUND technology in order to advance the human race. And it is right in the middle of this dramatic event, in the year AS 101, that we meet the scientist Elnora Samaya and her little daughter Ericht.

The Witch’s Revenge

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – una scena

As aficionados of natural magic know, witches travel in trios. And three are the main protagonists of this new, in some ways atypical Gundam series: Elnora (with the new identity of Prospera (one of the many references that the series makes to Shakespeare and his Storm), his daughter (?) Suletta and Miorine Rembran.
Three very strong female characters, each in their own way, each with their own purpose and their very human flaws to overcome.
The whole story of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury is, in the end, the story of Elnora’s revenge against the world that robbed her of everything she loved.
But Elnora is not limited to a trivial showdown: its real purpose is much more personal, complex and, from a certain point of view, even disturbing, and revolves around little Erict.
Studies on the Permet have convinced Elnora that the only hope for her daughter (whose fate we will only discover later in the series) is to transcend mere human nature and, through the Permet, ascend to a higher state of existence, one in which the frightening amount of data that we can call “soul” becomes able to exist beyond matter. The Quiet Zero.
With this goal in mind, Elnora/Prospera has no qualms about using any means at her disposal, deceiving and exploiting everyone, even the main protagonist of the story, Suletta, and the scion of the hated Rembran family, Miorine.

Gundam explained to my niece: the myth of the White Mobile Suit

The Fool and the Bride

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – una scena

After a prologue as well done as it is tragic, the series seems to change register and focus on the school life of Suletta, a funny and clumsy girl who arrives from Mercury, one of the most isolated and mysterious colonies of the system, in Asticassia. This institution is an elite higher education institution with a strict distinction between social hierarchies, with the “spacers”, the inhabitants of the colonies, at the top and the natives of the Earth at the bottom. Here the scions of the main families and financial groups dominate, and conflicts are resolved with duels between giant robots.
In this microcosm Suletta arrives as an explosive meteorite, a deadly mix between total ineptitude in social relationships and the overwhelming superiority of her robot, the Aerial, which she maneuvers with superhuman skill. In all respects, Suletta is an anomaly: a misfit eager to establish human relationships but completely unable to manage them, who she entrusts to her mother for every decision she makes.
A sort of Parsifal, an Arthurian “pure madman”, therefore, with disarming naivety but endowed with overwhelming fighting power.
It is a lethal combination which, in fact, will explode in all its drama in thecliffhanger episode that concludes the first part of the seriesand which has become a cult (complete with viral memes) among viewers.
Before analyzing this topical moment, and explaining why it is so important not only for the series, but for the entire Gundam brand, however, we must introduce the last witch of the group, or Miorine Rembran.
What on paper should be a very strong character unfortunately turns out to be the weakest of the three, on balance. Miorina is the daughter of the head of the Benerit Group, which is the main and most prestigious of the financial companies that control the world of Witch from Mercury. In her turn, Mioine is a coveted “prey” in the school, not only because she is very attractive but also because she is the heir to the colossal family empire. Therefore Miorine is, quite literally, more of a prize than a real person. She is the “bride”, the designated mate of the best fighter in Asticassia. An imposed identity that she tries to oppose by flaunting a closed, strong and standoffish character.
Only the relationship with Suletta, who immediately proves to be a pilot of a level superior to all the others, will allow her to try to get out of her shell to achieve independence and full realization as an individual.

Power to the Women

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – una scena

Leaving the reader the pleasure of following the plot of the series, which despite ups and downs is still of a good level, here we would like to point out some interesting elements of The Witch from Mercury, in particular related to the choice, far from obvious for the kind, of aim decisively at the female audienceleaving the male figures in the background, in secondary roles.
For the first time in an animated series, piloting the main Gundam is in fact a girl. More: the relationship that develops between Suletta and Miorine becomes more and more profound and intense, until it becomes a love story with all the trappings, without gender barriers.
Net, as we said, of some structural flaws in the series, it is an epochal step forward, made even more evident by the fact that even the antagonist of the series is, in fact, a woman. A woman deeply wounded but at the same time fiercely determined to ensure a new future and a better life for her lost daughter.
If the potential of this assumption is unfortunately not fully exploited in the series, which ends with an overly feel-good and anti-climatic ending, the fact remains that in the previous episodes there were moments of notable tragedy and at least a couple of discrete punches in the stomach of viewers, and that Prospera has carved out a prominent place in the category “villain“.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – una scena

The character of Suletta is also well outlined who, beyond a successful character design and the funny expressions that have made her a viral phenomenon, initially presents herself on the verge of sociopathy: frighteningly shy, awkward and completely unaware of how to manage human relationships, is little more than a puppet in the hands of his mother, so much so that he carries out her every command without asking questions or being scrupulous.
It will be the will to bond with Miorine, therefore the affection she has towards her (and not, say, a trivial sense of justice or the will to “defeat the bad guys”) that will force her to come out of her shell and impose her will, freeing herself definitively from the fate that had been imposed on her.
Between Mother and Daughter remains the last element of this feminine triad, namely Miorine, the Bride. A character who could and should have been developed more carefully, but who in reality fails to go beyond the path, indeed a bit trivial, of the rich and grumpy girl with a heart of gold who realizes herself the moment she solves the conflictual relationship with his father and finds sentimental and emotional support in a trusted partner.
The final judgment on The Witch of Mercury still remains positive (despite the ending demanding revenge…), both for the successful alchemy between the three protagonists and because, in fact, it represents an important, courageous first step towards greater awareness in the representation of female characters, especially in an area, that of big robots, where for too long women have been relegated to the role of “simple” shoulders.