The column is taking a break from GunPla this week, to instead talk about an actual Gundam show. I know!
For the first time in a few years, a brand new Gundam, The Witch From Mercury, is almost upon us. A prologue episode just dropped, completely legally, on the official Gundam YouTube channel. I’m gonna recommend that you watch it, because it goes hard in ways both expected and surprising. In case you didn’t, here we present a short primer, based on watching it once and kind of half paying attention, followed by doing doing zero research.
It’s worth noting that the tag line for this show is incredible. “This witch…rides a Gundam”, my god. I aspire to that level of writing.
So how was it?
Pretty good! It did a good job setting the stage for a new series, by doing a little world-building, laying out some backstory to explain the factions and their motivations, and then as a treat including a sick robot fight that takes up half the run time. None of this feels like it’ll end up being necessary viewing before you can dive into the main series, but it was bad ass.
Narratively, it’s your usual Gundam Earth-people vs Space-people setup, though in this case both sides appear to be run by different branches of the NRA. Our sympathies are clearly meant to lie with the Space-people, because almost all of them die horribly, but even the space cops have motivations beyond mustache-twirling evil for evil’s sake, which is maybe unrealistic, while still being total assholes, which is very realistic. Gundam being Gundam I would not expect the situation to remain static for long.
The animation looks pretty good, and the mech designs rip. There’s no opening sequence, but the music over the credits does kind of slap, so I’m willing to assume that this will extend the franchise’s streak of all the opening themes being heaters. On a scale from 0079 to 0122, I would rate this about a 0105, or roughly on the level of Gundam Hathaway.
None of the action, despite the title, takes place anywhere on or near the planet Mercury, and there isn’t really anyone I would describe as a “witch” unless I’m being very loose with the definition.
How “GUNDAM” is this?
Well, it has a few of the things you expect from Gundam, such as robotic violence and sadness.
The show is set in a new timeline, Ad Stella, and as such we have to get a new outlandish explanation of the word “Gundam”. In the main Universal Century timeline, it’s a brand name. After the RX-78 Gundam was such a smashing success, anytime someone built a new robot, they’d slap the Gundam name and hood ornament (the V-fin on the head) on it for marketing purposes. In Gundam Wing, it denotes a mobile suit made from Gundanium (or Gundarium) alloys. SEED might have my favorite bonkers explanation: the name is simply an acronym of the operating system software running on the mobile suit hardware. It’s called a GUNDAM because it runs the General Unilateral Neuro-link Dispersive Autonomic Maneuver software, which is incredibly sane.
The Witch From Mercury’s version of this is that I guess living in space messes people up real bad and they need mechanical arms and legs, which use something called GUND technology. This sounds like it sucks – and it does – but they also built mobile suits that can be piloted directly through the GUND implants instead of using joysticks or whammy bars, and that make it a Gundam. It’s somewhere between the Psycho Zaku from Thunderbolt and the Alaya-Vijnana from Iron-Blooded Orphans, including that feedback from the system will mess you up if you stunt too hard.
The brain-searing nature of the Gundams ends up being a plot point. Maybe the plot point: it ruins the life of our hero directly and indirectly, and the event that kicks off the earth/space conflagration is that the earthnoids ban the use of GUND-compatible mobile suits, on the grounds that it’s freak shit, with their obvious ulterior motive being to maintain their edge over the colonies.
The Witch From Mercury breaks bold new ground in Gundam’s habit of everyone being way too young for this shit: the protagonist, Eri, is four. The episode is set during her birthday party, which her parents bail on for work. They’re mobile suit designers/pilots, par for the course in these parts, so Eri wanders off to scream at the parked Gundam, because it’s clearly their favorite child. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it’s a wildly advanced prototype that no one has ever seen before and only the child is capable of piloting.
So yes, it’s very Gundam.
Are the robots cool?
I believe them to be so, yes.
The Gundams use a lot of funnels and bits – remote control guns and swords that you aim with your brain – which we love to see, and they re-combine in fun ways. Lfrith, the main Gundam, has a big shield that can explode into a bunch of chunks that turn into either armor or beam cannons. The other robot has little land mine looking things that grab onto stuff and then blow up. This is made extra cool by yelling the name of the attack when you use it.
Everything has clear bits of armor, with glowing circuitry under it, that lights up when the Gundam balls out merciless. I want to say we’ve never seen a Gundam achieve Super Saiyan before, but we have, it actually happens pretty often.
What about if I don’t know about Gundams, is it ok for me to watch this?
It’s probably fine. Nobody else knows anything about the Mercury-Witch Complex either, so you’ll be starting from square one with the rest of us.
What can we expect from the actual show?
Apparently the head writer is on record as saying that Mobile Suit Victory Gundam is his favorite entry in the franchise, so you can expect that virtually every character you care about will be killed in a way that is as gruesome as it is pointless.
There’s inevitably, hopefully, going to be a time skip, and the lead will be your usual violent teenager when she starts (presumably) driving a Gundam to exact revenge. I expect many episodes to include flashbacks to her childhood trauma, which is what you’re watching when you watch the prologue. It’ll grind the plot to a halt and get old fast. That trauma though, hoo boy, it’s pretty rough. Let me tell you, as a new parent, watching Eri’s dad give himself brain damage piloting a mobile suit, culminating in him singing “happy birthday” to his daughter over the radio while he’s busy getting impaled by a huge sword, was a bit much.
The robots are presumably sticking around. They wouldn’t have spent all this time showing how cool they are, or releasing model kits, for a one-off prequel episode. The Lfrith in particular slaps, and I would not object to watching it wreck more dudes.
Do I need to watch this?
Yes and no. I suspect that the actual show will backfill everything you need to know from here, leaving at most a few easter eggs that pay off if you watched the prologue, so on that level you don’t need to. On the other hand, it’s still new Gundam, and it’s entertaining in its own right, so if you can spare 25 minutes out of your day to see a 4 year old tap on an iPad to commit warcrimes while her mother looks on, horrified, go for it. Spare a thought for the professional soldiers that had to die knowing that a toddler nuked them from a mile away without even knowing what she was doing. Imagine getting that particular call from Space Army, about why your husband ate it. Brutal.
When is The Witch From Mercury out and where can I watch it?
Buddy, I have no idea. October, I think?