Lethal Innocence: How Gundam: The Witch from Mercury Yanks the Rug Out from under You


A Witch’s Brew

Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated series of the fall 2022 season, Gundam: The Witch from Mercury (Kidou Senshi Gandamu Suisei no Majo) represents a departure from previous entries in a number of ways. Most importantly, it is the first mainline installment in the Gundam franchise to feature a female protagonist. This is not to say that Gundam works have never followed women before, but these have all been side stories. Even better than that, the chemistry between leads Suletta Mercury, the titular witch, and Miorine Rembran hint at a queer romance. Another first. The school setting, lack of an ongoing conflict, and focus on familial relationships also serve to set it apart from previous series.  

With its first run of twelve episodes completed in January of 2023, the Witch from Mercury left fans dazed. In a deft application of the midseason twist, the series’ twelfth episode concluded with a shocking act of violence which will have far reaching consequences. Even better, significant craft went into making sure that twist achieved its desired effect.      

For Those Unfamiliar

For those unfamiliar, The Witch from Mercury takes place in a world of total corporate dominance. Even the pretense of civil government is gone, and the military is firmly in the hands of the corporate elite. The children of the ruling class attend Asticassia School of Technology, where disputes are settled by mobile suit duels between students. Hailing from the backwater planet of Mercury, protagonist Suletta Mercury enters this milieu with no social skills, a hazy grasp of academic culture, and a forbidden Gundam-type mobile suit called Aerial. Forbidden in this setting, because here a Gundam (or GUND-arm) is a type of mobile suit which uses a direct neural-link OS called “GUND Format” that can kill its pilot. Those who successfully pilot GUND-arms are called “witches”, and are greatly feared. Suletta being just such a witch.

After defending a girl from an overaggressive suitor, Suletta becomes embroiled in a duel with said suitor which she handily wins. She then promptly finds herself engaged to the girl she was defending. The girl in question is Miorine Rembran, daughter of the CEO of the Benerit Group, the world’s most powerful corporation. And her father has set up the dueling system so that whoever is the school’s top duelist, called the Holder, has the right to Miorine’s hand in marriage. Now the new Holder, Suletta is caught in a game of deadly corporate intrigue as multiple parties scheme to either take her position or use it to advance their own.

Series Dynamics

To the writer’s credit, Witch from Mercury does not become a series of one-off duels. Instead, much work goes into developing both world and characters, with battles serving to punctuate that development. Likewise, the more antagonistic corporate elite characters’ constant power plays provide most of the conflict. Running counter are Suletta and Miorine’s (mostly Miorine’s) efforts to avoid becoming ensnared in the multiple schemes around them, or hatching schemes of their own to use the corporate system to their advantage. Whether it’s the heir of the powerful Peil Technologies corporation forcing a duel as a pretext to seize Suletta’s GUND-arm or Miorine forming her own company to ensure she never becomes anyone’s prize again, well-executed plots abound. Incidentally, if any of this sounds familiar (particularly the elite school setting, duels, and woman forced to marry the top duelist), that’s because Witch from Mercury shares a writer with the classic series Revolutionary Girl Utena. It can hardly be described as merely Utena in space, however.

It can be argued that the core of this is series is the dynamic that forms between Suletta and Miorine. On the surface, the arrogant, feisty Miorine could not be more different from the anxious, awkward Suletta. However, it soon becomes clear that they both have trouble interacting with their peers, albeit in different ways. Suletta cannot read a social situation to save her life, and if she wasn’t the school’s Holder it’s likely she would be an outcast. Miorine, meanwhile, tends to expect people to just do what she says and does not always understand how her actions impact others. But between the two of them, they gradually help bring each other out of their shells and shore up each other’s shortcomings. Even better, Suletta’s sweet, supportive disposition encourages Miorine to open up more to others. In particular, Miorine begins to internalize Suletta’s philosophy of “if you run, you gain one, if you move forward, you gain two” to become even more proactive.

A Piece, Not a Player

It’s also interesting to note that, despite being the story’s “damsel”, Miorine is by far the more proactive character. Because Suletta comes from the distant backwater of Mercury, she has no idea how things work in Asticassia or in the world it purports to prepare its students for. Therefore, it falls to Miorine to make the actual moves when it comes to advancing their position. Suletta may be a witch, but she just focuses on winning duels. In fact, for the most part, Suletta seems to be running around the board rather than playing the game. This is not to say that she does nothing of her own accord, but she is usually content to follow others.

Likewise, despite her superior piloting ability and souped-up machine, she demonstrates no fondness for violence and usually tries to negotiate her way out of fights. In fact, she never seems to bear anyone, even her opponents, any ill-will or hostility. Besides Miorine, the other person in Suletta’s life that she’s especially close to is her mother Prospera, CEO of Mercury’s Shin Sei Development corporation. Suletta is very much a momma’s girl, and is always anxious to hear her mother’s advice on anything and everything. In fact, Prospera is the one who gave Suletta her “if you run, you gain one, if you move forward, you gain two” philosophy in the first place. Possibly to offset the fact that her job kept her from being present for most of Suletta’s childhood.  

To the people around her, Suletta is an open book. A witch, but not a scary one. She holds nothing back, always giving nothing less than her honest opinion, and never lies. This, combined with her sunny, goofy disposition almost makes her seem like a character that was written for a slice of life series that somehow wound up in Gundam.

Planting Ideas

Suletta’s arc with Miorine appears to come to a head in the eleventh episode, when, after having accidentally made Suletta feel unneeded in the previous episode, the two finally have a much-needed heart-to-heart. With Miorine doling the legwork to legitimize their company and no duels to fight, the only thing left for Suletta to do was care for Miorine’s precious tomato garden. Suletta didn’t mind, because she saw it as a sign of Miorine’s trust. After Miorine hired some professional gardeners, in her mind to relieve Suletta of unnecessary work, Suletta’s insecurities made her fear it was sign Miorine didn’t trust her. To make things right, Miorine literally chases Suletta down and confesses her true feelings. She tells her not only that she is not useless, but opens up about all the ways Suletta has changed her life for the better. And she tells Suletta to start tending her tomato garden again! It’s sweet beyond belief and very in character for both of them.

The Shattered Expectation

So, it comes as something of a surprise when episode twelve ends with Suletta gruesomely crushing a man like a mosquito with Aerial’s hand. Out of context, her actions are understandable, perhaps even laudable. The man in question was an assassin who was threatening Miorine with a gun, and absolutely would have killed her and her injured father (his intended target) had Suletta not intervened. What Suletta did is not, for the most part, the issue. It’s everything that comes after that.

Having just violently ended someone’s life, how does the young witch react? While she was justified, given her personality, wouldn’t she still feel bad? That’s what one would expect, but she doesn’t. She isn’t even phased by what she’s done. She climbs out of Aerial in order to check on Miorine, acting like Miorine’s ride home was a no-show so Suletta came to pick her up instead. As she approaches her bride, Suletta slips and falls in the blood of the man she just killed and laughs at her own clumsiness. Smiling like an angel, she extends a gore-slathered hand to a very traumatized, and increasingly terrified, Miorine. The episode ends as Miorine asks Suletta how she can be so casual, before calling her a murderer.  

The cherry on top? The red paste that Suletta reduced the assassin to looks a lot like a mashed tomato.

Questions Make More Questions

The placement of this moment could not have been better. Or more devastating. To Miorine and the audience. For Miorine, this occurs shortly after she has truly opened herself up to another person for the first time. Not only that, after their earlier exchange, she had every reason to feel that she had gained a better understanding of Suletta. The same goes for the audience. As it turns out, neither we nor Miorine knew the first thing about Suletta.

Suletta’s actions call into question almost everything about her. This girl we took as moral, empathetic, and fundamentally harmless, has revealed a side that is none of these things. I.e., she saw nothing wrong with killing, seems oblivious to Miorine’s horror, and has just demonstrated a lethality we’ve never seen. It’s a blindside par excellence.

Signs of Something Wrong

All that said, this didn’t come out of nowhere. The narrative actually sprinkles little hints throughout that something is off about Suletta. There’s her relationship with her mother, for example. While Prospera seems supportive, she lied to Suletta about her mobile suit being a GUND-arm. Suletta seems as concerned about piloting an illegal machine as anyone would be, and asks her mother to explain things when she discovers the truth. However, after a brief conversation with her mother, Suletta is suddenly okay with it. This may only be Suletta’s dependent nature rearing its ugly head, but other details in the scene suggest otherwise. For example, Suletta’s pupils contract into tiny points and she acts disoriented, as if hypnotized. Miorine is present for this, and acts visually unnerved.

This comes up again shortly before she traumatizes Miorine. Suletta witnesses her mother ambush and kill another group of assassins. She is at first very disturbed, but then her mother explains her reasoning for her actions, making explicit reference to Suletta’s life philosophy. After hearing a variation on “if you run, you gain one, if you move forward you gain two” Suletta suddenly becomes much more eager to fight. Worryingly, Suletta’s eyes widen and her pupils contract just as they did when Prospera explained her reasons for lying to her.   

She also has a habit of conversing with Aerial as though it were a living thing. Supplemental materials make it clear that Aerial does have something like a sentient AI, but the fact that Suletta sees nothing strange about this is perplexing. There’s also some inconsistencies with Suletta’s age. She gives her age as seventeen and is four years old in the prologue. However, while talking to Prospera, another character mentions that the events of the prologue happened twenty-one years ago, meaning that Suletta should be twenty-five. Either she is lying about her age, or the audience has not only been left to wonder who Suletta is, but potentially what Suletta is.

Shaping Expectations with Genre

It’s not only the series characterization of Suletta that makes the ending of episode twelve so shocking. It’s also a matter of how the writers have chosen to weave the multiple plot threads together. Being a typically intrigue-heavy Gundam series, nastiness and brutality abound. However, most of this happens away from Suletta. The plots involving her tend to revolve around her relationship with Miorine and her learning about her world.

If Suletta is a slice of life character, her story follows suit. Or appears that it does anyway. She does get caught up in intrigue, but either duels her way out or is rescued by a more worldly character. This not only helps shape audience expectations of how she will behave, but how any plot centered around her will resolve. Every time the audience has seen Suletta go out in her mobile suit, no one has died. Even in her mobile suit battle just before her rescue of Miorine, she manages to non-lethally send her opponents packing. The sole exception is when we see her fight in the prologue where she destroys four mobile suits. However, even here it’s implied that she’s too young to understand what she did. However, as previously mentioned, the girl in the prologue may not be Suletta at all.

End Result: A Wicked Left Hook

In sum, all of these elements combine for maximum shock when the twelfth episode rolls around. It’s a matter of managing the audience’s perceptions, and sprinkling some breadcrumb here and there. Thanks to that, the writers are able to pull off the twist without it feeling contrived. An essential element in creating meaningful surprise.      

               Whatever else, it’s three months before the next batch of episodes begins releasing. Like any good writer working in serialized medium, the writers of this show know the value of a good cliffhanger. In fact, they know a little better since they yanked the rug out from under the viewer before they pushed them to the cliff. Fans are going to be chomping at the bit. And the best part? The writers have clearly been setting this up from the beginning.                                          

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