The Mobile Suit Gundam franchise is one of the most storied of all anime franchises that persists into the modern era. Spanning from 1979 to the present, with dozens of stories told through videogames, anime, manga, and even one live action film of… dubious quality, the original Gundam story takes in the Universal Century calendar of humanity’s ascent from a species whose soul is weighed down by Earth’s gravity into a space-faring civilization.

It’s not a particularly happy story, however, as the original Mobile Suit Gundam series showed in excruciating detail. The 43-episode run describes the tail-end of an apocalyptic struggle between the fascist-analogue of the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation. Before the show even began, billions of lives were lost in the opening days of the war as both sides unleashed weapons of mass destruction on one another indiscriminately, culminating in Zeon dropping a massive colonial cylinder onto the Earth as a prelude to a massive invasion and occupation of the planet. It’s grim, heady stuff, and a considerably portion of the Gundam franchise is centered around this war to end all wars, and the destructive aftermath of said war as the Federation imposes peace at gunpoint against Zeon remnants who do not accept the outcome of the war.

There’s a non-insignificant portion of the Gundam fandom who claim Zeon did nothing wrong. Above: Zeon doing everything wrong. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

And at the center of all of these stories, is a weapon of war developed by the Federation out of desperation in the face of an encroaching military threat, the titular mobile suit itself. The Gundam, and its myriad of variants in every piece of Gundam media, is one of the most important series of mecha designs in the history of anime mecha. Nothing else comes close to the sheer influence on mecha design that Gundam has had on anime, and that’s not something to say lightly. If you’ve watched any military mecha in any anime outside of Gundam, you have watched something that owes no small part of its visual design to Gundam. Even shows like Flag, which is almost as Not Gundam as an anime with mecha in it can get, still owes the core of its mechanical design to the Gundam franchise.

The 0 Gundam, from Gundam 00. The iconic v-shaped attachment on the head has been passed down from the original Gundam designs all the way until G-Witch‘s latest design. Many mecha designs across all manner of anime series often reference this and many other design elements from the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

I describe all this at the start of an in-progress review for Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury because I feel it’s important to talk about where the franchise began before we get into the latest alternate universe presented by Sunrise. Whenever someone who isn’t already familiar with Gundam expresses interest in this venerable franchise, many fans (myself included) can suddenly be overcome with the urge to tell them EVERYTHING about the Universal Century timeline. We’re like excitable war historians. The history of the Universal Century is extensive, covered by and expanded upon by so many different shows and manga that it can intimidate anyone who is approaching it for the first time.

The AU shows offer something more digestible and approachable, two things that are sorely welcome to someone who has just stared into the Gundam abyss without a clue on where to start. And while “from the beginning” sounds obvious, the original Mobile Suit Gundam is a very old show that also suffered from intense budget and production challenges. In a day and age where the likes of Chainsaw Man, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer are absolutely blowing the doors off most anime from a visual standpoint, an old show with dated visuals is a tough ask for many anime fans.

The Alternate Universe Gundams

These two are insane…ly in love with each other. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

Many American fans of Gundam likely cut their teeth on Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, which was one of the first two alternate universe shows that Sunrise produced back in the early 90s, though we received it many years after the fact. It, alongside Mobile Fighter G Gundam, arrived after over a decade of Universal Century content. Up to this point the history book of Gundam, so to speak, was already quite full, and something that was made for people who were already deeply involved with the franchise.

Gundam Wing proved to be one of the most popular shows in the 1995-1996 Toonami line-up. I would know; I was there. I was rushing home from school every day to catch episodes of it. I recorded it on a series of VHS tapes I would watch with friends. It was all we talked about at school. We were enamored by the stylish masked ace Zechs Merquise, easily impressed by the frankly insane philosophies of Treize Kushrenada. Series protagonist Heero Yuy was the baddest of asses among a crowd of five questionably sane teenagers with more firepower than sense packed into their nearly invincible Gundam machines. The final battle, with the main character’s mobile suit melting and exploding as it suffers through re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere while Heero tries to muster up one last desperate shot to save the world, is still one of the most hype things I can think of in anime. Don’t even @ me, bro.

You need to understand: when this last episode of Gundam Wing aired on Toonami, I was shouting encouragement at the TV, all in hopes of Heero Yuy pulling off the impossible. I was younger, naive, and in this moment, a fully committed Gundam fan. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

It was my first taste of Gundam, and while in retrospect one could argue it has not aged well under the twin magnifying glasses of age and experience, it is the show that brought me into the franchise. And I still watch it at least once a year.

This is why alternate universe Gundam is so important to me. It’s the gateway for new generations of fans who may only be willing to dip their toes first before taking their leap into the sea. We’ve had plenty of AU stories that have served as their own portals into the broader franchise for fans of all ages. It’s very… Final Fantasy, when I think about it. For each generation of video game console, for every generation of Final Fantasy fan, there is The One Game that got them to try out everything else the series has to offer.

The power of AU Gundam stories comes precisely from the fact that they aren’t weighed down by literal decades of fictional alternative history. A viewer can sit down and watch an episode of Iron Blooded Orphans and still enjoy themselves without knowing about Char Aznable, his true identity, why he is fighting, and the things that continue to motivate him in the face of setback after setback. But longtime fans can look at that same episode, and see the political, social and technological themes of the original franchise being presented in new and interesting ways. We’re rewarded for our fandom as much as a new fan is rewarded for sitting down to watch through one of these AU shows. If it’s done well enough, us old salts and the new fans arrive at the same place: a greater appreciation for Gundam as a whole, and ideally a desire to watch even more.

So far, based on what I’ve seen of The Witch From Mercury, if it can stick the landing, it will be remembered as such a show, and hopefully will be another gateway that people can enter the fandom through.

At last, I’m going to talk about Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury now

As of this writing, there is a Prologue and four episodes of G-Witch available on Crunchyroll, which more than enough runtime to establish a fair opinion about the show, its story and characters, the themes, the visual design, and so on.

The “Prologue” episode and the show itself wildly differ in tone, which might throw viewers new to Gundam and old vets like myself alike for a loop. In a way, the “Prologue” is the Gundam I know well, a brutal, even gut-wrenching 23 minutes to establish the universe. In the Ad Stella calendar year of 122, GUND technology for prosthetics is being integrated into combat machines known as mobile suits by a company known as Ochs Earth. The Gundam Lfrith project is one such project, headed up by Dr. Carbo Nabo. Unfortunately, mobile suits that use GUND technology have a habit of severely damaging or even killing their pilots, and so a regulatory body named Cathedra decides its time to end all such research into GUND technology. And by “end”, Cathedra leader Delling Rembran means “liquidate everyone at Ochs Earth.”

“Prologue” is an incredibly brutal episode. We’re introduced to a little girl by the name of Ericht, her mother Elnora, and her father Nadim as they live aboard the Ochs Earth research station. Ericht’s birthday is shattered when Cathedra troops board the station and begin murdering everyone aboard, quickly and efficiently. You spend a good half of the episode seeing friendly names and faces, only to see them get ventilated by special forces, or blown away by Cathedra mobile suits. It’s also a disturbing episode, as we see how GUND technology is actually dangerous to the pilots. As Elnora and Ericht attempt to escape the station in the Lfrith, Nadim activates the Permet system aboard his mobile suit to defend them. We see his skin burn, hear him hyperventilating as he engages the enemy, and he still dies despite his best efforts.

The face of a father willing to give up everything for his daughter. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

Ericht shows compatibility with Lfrith in the proper Gundam fashion of children being thrust into war machines, and chillingly celebrates like a child at their birthday party as Cathedra mobile suits are annihilated by Lfrith’s advanced weapons guided by her enthusiastic gestures. And so, the scene is set for inter-corporate warfare in an age where humanity seeks its place among the stars.

Then Episode One plays on Crunchyroll four months later, and the setting is the Asticassia School of Technology. Space high school, essentially. And in these four episodes, we get what is expected out of high school stories. There’s bullying, even some fantasy-like racism between spaceborn and Earthborn humans, pranks played by students on others, fist fights, and possibly some budding romance. And of course, there’s political intrigue as the parents of the students, all connected to various mega-corporations tied into mobile suit development, seek to use their children as a means to jockey for political power or increased wealth.

If you’re the type of person who finds such settings to be annoying, I’m urging you to keep reading or keep watching. G-Witch is a good enough show that for someone like me, who does have misgivings about school settings in anime, was roaring with laughter and approval at the antics going on.

Suletta and Miorine – Shades of Utena

In a first for Gundam, the lead protagonist of the show is a young woman. Suletta Mercury (previously known as Ericht) has been sent to Asticassia to go to a proper school for the first time in her life, alongside of the mobile suit known as Aerial, which is just… so obviously a Gundam its hilarious. Much of the intrigue behind the scenes in the first four episodes involves extremely powerful people trying to confirm if it is or isn’t a Gundam, and the answer is frigging obvious to anyone. While in-story, the characters don’t know what a Gundam is supposed to look like, I know what one looks like. That’s part of the fun. I know these people aren’t ready for what’s coming.

Suletta and Miorine’s first meeting is this moment, when the former mistakes the latter to be an astronaut stranded in space. It is not the most auspicious meetings. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

On paper, Suletta is not the sort of character I can get behind. She stutters through every single verbal interaction with other people. She’s cowardly, barely able to even look anyone in the eyes, and is easily cowed and bullied by anyone with a personality stronger than a mild breeze. The only time she’s shown any real assertiveness and confidence, it’s in the Aerial’s pilot seat.

Here’s the rare, red-haired Suletta Mercury in her natural state: cowering behind her Not-an-iPad in hopes of avoid direct visual contact with the equally rare silver-haired Miorine Rembran, and confused that she has not died from being in the close proximity of anyone other than her mother. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

Despite all this, I love Suletta. Despite her struggles, she cutely and tenaciously presses onward with some help from her friends. “If you run,” she is fond of stating, “you gain one… but if you move forward, you gain two.” Knowing how dark this show’s back story truly is through the “Prologue”, I will be very upset if this show goes full Gundam and harms her in any way. She deserves some happiness. I want her to keep moving forward, keep gaining two (or more, as it will turn out).

The other half of the show’s lead characters is Miorine Rembran, who is everything Suletta isn’t. Miorine knows who she is, what she wants to do in life. She is confident, angry when Suletta is submissive and meek. She’s also, officially, per the story and the school’s own bizarre rules, Suletta’s wife-to-be. Miorine’s father is none other than Delling Rembran, and he has set up the academy as a means to find his daughter a properly bred husband among the students gathered here. Suletta “wins” Miorine by the end of the first episode, after a fantastically choreographed mobile suit duel between herself and Guel Jeturk, the failson scion of the Jeturk group, whose father is actively plotting against Delling.

Miorine is constantly monitored by guards under the employ of her father. The garden she’s entering in this shot is one of the few places she can find any solace. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

Miorine is awesome. She’s a bit of a brash tsundere style of character who is also not afraid of her own emotions, and also not afraid to try taking things into her own hands despite being a terrible mobile suit pilot. She desperately seeks a way to feel the academy and go to Earth, and despite being initially unwilling to go through with the whole “dueling for betrothal” system, Suletta’s stunning Episode One victory over Guel softens her… a little. Unlike other suitors, she doesn’t seem to actively hate Suletta (but is annoyed by her seemingly cowardly nature). For now, she sees Suletta as her best means of achieving her own goals, whatever those may be by Episode 4. But there’s clearly signs that Suletta might also be the first real friend she’s been able to make at the academy.

Easily one of the best shots of the entire first episode. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

If the “duel for your lover” sounds remotely familiar, it is worth noting that one of the lead writers for this show is Ichirō Ōkouchi, writer of the Revolutionary Girl Utena novels from 1998. Fans of Utena will instantly see the similarities here: the main heroine duels for the right to “possess” a young woman that has been reduced to an object of desire, one that will potentially change the world. There’s also very unsubtle yurification going on here, as many fans (and fan artists) have been going wild over the idea of this pairing becoming considerably more romantic in the future. Gundam has always had… challenges, in regards to romantic relationships and their portrayal in the series. Ask poor Kou Uraki from Gundam 0083 how it feels to have a love interest shoot you in defense of a space nazi she once dated. Ask Releena Peacecraft and Heero Yuy what its like to be equally insane in completely opposite directions and philosophies.

This also means there’s bound to be a lot of pain and suffering for these two in the future… which makes me nervous because I want nothing but the best for Suletta and Miorine. But this is a Gundam story written by an Utena author, so… I’m worried. Excited for more, but worried… in a good way!

The ensemble makes a show

G-Witch’s protagonists are fantastic. This story can’t work if the leads are weak. Watching Suletta and Miorine grow as people, even over the initial four episodes, has been a masterclass in character writing. There’s a lot that G-Witch gives us with their dialogue, when the writers are TELLING us about them, but there’s also a lot little things about the way they are animated. We see Suletta start to relax more around Mio, making her the second person outside of her scheming mother that Suletta appears comfortable to talk to. We see Mio’s expression shift when Suletta speaks about her hopes and dreams. When combat in the Aerial is imminent, we hear the confidence rising in her voice, the stutters stopping temporarily. When Suletta is endangered by some cheap tactics engineered by other rich kids at the school, Miorine’s already strong personality goes into overdrive as she pulls out all the stops to save her future husbandwife. When the bullying becomes too much for Suletta to bear, the way the animators and the voice actress (Kana Ichinose) work together to realize that dramatic break is just heartrending. And Miorine’s (voiced by Lynn) equally desperate encouragement to her new friend in Episode Four is just as moving.

But as great as they both are, few shows are carried by their central characters alone. The rest of the cast needs to do their job as antagonists or as supporters for the protagonists or their enemies. Thankfully, G-Witch delivers in spades. In short, I like who I’m expected to like, and dislike the people the writers want me to dislike. Common character tropes are deployed against the viewer in interesting ways even early on in the show, but there are some stand outs I’d like to mention here.

Guel Jerturk

Look at this jerk. Look at him! He deserves every humiliation headed his direction. But hopefully, he also gets some kind of W, too. Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

People say that first impressions are everything, and the first impression that Guel Jeturk gives off is that he’s an asshole. A petty, entitled asshole, backed by money and a healthy dollop of unearned confidence. As I described him before, he’s the failson scion of his father’s incredibly powerful and influential corporation, and he’s at the school for one reason: defeat all potential rivals with company-developed mobile suits, and secure the hand of Miorine Rembran in marriage for reasons we aren’t yet fully privy to even by episode 4.

Episode 1 Guel is a jerk, almost irredeemably so. He damages Miorine’s garden on the school campus (which she keeps out of respect for her late mother), physically abuses her, and generally has a terrible disposition around anyone. He believes he’s the best pilot at the academy, which makes his episode one defeat satisfying for the viewer and infuriating for him.

Guel’s father, Vim, has a lot of influence in the duels at the school, so he pulls out all the stops to ensure his son gets a second chance with the odds stacked heavily in his favor. And this is when we learn a lot more about Guel than that first impression lets on. Guel is more or less the product of his upbringing. Like Miorine, his relationship with his father is heavily strained… but unlike Miorine, he continues to strive to be acknowledged by Vim as a proper man and ace pilot. So when Vim gives him a machine that effectively can pilot itself in order to crush Suletta and win back the title of “Holder” of Miorine… Guel is deeply hurt by it. The moment that unfolds in Episode 3 is very reminiscent to the fight between Rocky and Ivan Drago, with Guel all but shouting that he is fighting for himself. And then he also helps deliver what is so far the single funniest moment in the series thus far.

I hope this boy gets the help he needs to be a better person by the end of this show. Of course… this is Gundam, mixed with some Utena, so… rough times potentially ahead.

Chuatury Panlunch

Called “Chuchu” by her close friends, Chuatury Panlunch is an Earthian teenager with a huge chip on her shoulder that doesn’t become fully apparent until Episode 4. People from Earth are in terrible economic shape and face intense prejudice from Spacians, and Chuchu isn’t taking this lying down. Her initial interations with Suletta range from ‘total disinterest’ all the way to ‘get the hell out of my face you damn spacian’, and the latter sums up a lot about how she feels towards spacians as a whole. Her distinctive appearance makes her visually memorable, two massive pink puffs of hair on either side of her head (and leads to questions as to how any of that fits in a space helmet). But what really put her on my radar comes in Episode 4.

Suletta is invited to the academy’s Earth House by other Earthian students, which she is grateful to accept, as she needs a support team in order to pass the various piloting exams provided by the school. But Chuchu ain’t having none of that, and she forces the rest of the House and Suletta into dropping the idea altogether. Her hatred of Spacians is somewhat justified: we see Chuchu calling her family back home in the aftermath of a demonstration against Spacian economic tyranny that is forcibly put down by Spacian forces, who deploy massive mobile suits against all but hapless protestors on foot.

But when Suletta faces the same bullying she experiences at the hands of upper-crust spacian students, Chuchu springs into action, as the clip above shows. While Guel’s place on my list of excellent supporting characters comes from a more cerebral place, Chuchu earned a mention for more kinetic reasons. Seriously, she just walks up and puts that bully to sleep in a single punch, then dukes it out with the other and is clearly winning by the end of the clip. That alone sold her as a side character to watch. Chuchu apparently doesn’t take anyone’s shit lightly, and that kind of attitude can take someone pretty far in life… or get them into a lot of trouble. Again, this is Gundam mixed with some Utena so… who knows what the heck is gonna happen.

Honorable Mention – The Dueling Committee

There’s “student councils”, and there’s “STUDENT COUNCILS.” Image courtesy of Crunchyroll.

Any anime that takes place at an academy for the elite needs to have, by law, an absurdly overpowered student council. For this Gundam story, we get the Dueling Committee.

The Dueling Committee is staffed by some of the heaviest hitters in the school’s hierarchy: Guel Jeturk is of course there, and he gets his own personal heckler in the form of Secelia Dote. They are joined by Elan Ceres, who is backed by Peil Technologies, and Shaddiq Zenelli, the potential heir to Grassley Defense Systems.

The former of these two is a nearly emotionless young man who calls back to the likes of Heero Yuy from Gundam Wing, and he openly states that he will “never” allow himself to fall in love with anyone. “YOU HAVE TEMPTED FATE!” I shouted at the kid when he said this, and I certainly hope someone picks up that phone when he does admit to falling for Suletta because I CALLED IT BACK IN EPISODE 2. He’s already “interested” in this quirky, cowardly girl from Mercury, and he hopes she will get to do everything on her personal bucket list. Strictly for professional reasons, we’re all sure.

And then we come to Shaddiq, the guy who apparently does not understand what the buttons on a shirt do because the blonde bombshell is constantly exposing his chest at the audience/any woman within a 250 yard radius. Whereas Elan is mostly dead to the world outside of his acts of unexpected kindness to Suletta, Shaddiq is a player who knows he’s a player. He apparently doesn’t take the duels very seriously but is also a prodigy who is next in line to inherit his father’s company. He attends high-level meetings with his father, including the major one wherein the fate of Aerial and its pilot are being debated by the movers and shakers of this Gundam’s world. Clearly, his outward appearance is a ploy of some sort, but these types of characters almost always have the promise to upend a lot of plots and plans by other, more direct schemers.

The very idea of a mobile suit dueling committee is ridiculous. Asticassia is ridiculous. I can’t wait to see these kids ruin the well-laid plans of those damned adults, all the while calling them out for what they are in traditional Gundam fashion.

The Verdict, For Now

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury has been eclipsed by the absurdly fantastic Chainsaw Man and Spy x Family this season, and the show itself is allegedly plagued by some production issues that aren’t necessarily present in the first four episodes (five, if you include the Prologue). But what is here is an incredibly fresh take on the very concept of Gundam, written by writers who are reaching deep for some inspiration from sources I think most Gundam fans like myself were never expecting. I’m really excited by what’s been presented here, and I hope G-Witch can keep the breezy pace even when the plot inevitably turns darker and more serious.

The Witch From Mercury has the potential to be the best gateway into the Gundam fandom since Gundam Wing, and if it can stick the landing, even less than perfectly, it could also be a strong contender for Anime of the Year. I intend to follow it to the bitter end, whatever that might be, and if my word means anything to you, I recommend you do the same.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.