For the film club I do with friends, I'm picking a series of selections from the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. Because not all of us are anime buffs, I figured I'd write some short intros for each thing I plan to have us watch, to provide a bit of context and explanation. The intros got a bit longer than I'd anticipated (probably because I was procrastinating working on another thing I should have been working on instead). Since I ended up being really happy with what I wrote, I thought I'd share them with a wider audience here on the blog.
To close out our Gundam sampler, we're dropping in on the newest Gundam TV series, 2022’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury. This series just finished airing earlier this month.
For those of us who haven't been particularly enjoying the Gundam series so far, take heart because this one is pretty different. Remember when I told you to throw your A.D. calendar in the trash and replace it with a Universal Century calendar? Well I'm sorry, throw that one out now too, because we're headed to the "Ad Stella" era.
Mobile Suit Everywhere All At Once [Or: Into The Gundam-Verse]
The first four Gundam television series, "First Gundam", "Zeta Gundam", "Gundam Double Zeta", and "Victory Gundam", chronicled an unfolding sequential story of the conflicts between Earth and its space colonies. But by the time Victory Gundam aired, audiences were losing interest in the Universal Century.
So in 1994, for their fifth Gundam television series, Sunrise took a different tack. "Mobile Fighter G Gundam" was a hard continuity reboot with a different take on the familiar elements of the franchise. Dour reflections on the cost of war were out; wacky robot martial arts tournaments were in. In 1995, "New Mobile Report Gundam Wing" followed suit (no "mobile suit" pun intended, ok maybe a little) with its own reboot, this time injecting the classic Gundam formula with a dose of adolescent melodrama.
From then on, reboots became the new norm for televised Gundam, and each new televised series has taken place in its own continuity. The classic "Universal Century" Gundam universe would still be revisited in film and OVA projects like Cucuruz Doan's Island, but those would be the exceptions rather than the rule. So I have to admit that, by focusing entirely on the Universal Century setting (actually, on a single year within that setting), this Gundam Sampler hasn't been terribly representative of the franchise as a whole.
By taking a fresh approach to each new Gundam series, Sunrise has been able to experiment with new kinds of stories, reach new audiences, and of course, push lots of new plastic model kits. And it's worked, but after 44 years, the returns do tend to diminish. In 2003, The Gundam franchise had its biggest hit since the original, "Mobile Suit Gundam SEED", which had a hip fun "genetically advanced superhumans vs. normies" thing going on in lieu of the Newtype concept. But even that was 20 years ago, and the last few entries haven't captured the same broad appeal.
"If I see the word Gundam in the title, I don't watch it."
"Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury", often called “G-Witch” by fans, is the fifteenth major Gundam TV series, and once again a complete reboot with new elements, settings, and themes intended to attract the interest and attention of new audiences.
Sunrise saw this as a matter of particular urgency, after some conversations that had occured during a school field trip to their studio in early 2020. Staff members were taken aback by their teen visitors' view that Gundam was irrelevant to their generation. In an interview, producer Takuya Okamoto recalled blunt statements from students like "Gundam isn't aimed at us", and "If I see the word Gundam in the title, I don't watch it." At that time, Okamoto was involved in the early planning of G-Witch, and the words stuck with him. I feel his pain, for I too have been stung by the words of teens who thought the anime I liked was uncool.
Setting out to prove the cool teens wrong, Sunrise pulled out all the stops to make G-Witch stand apart. There are similarities to past shows, of course: tensions between Earth and its space colonies, mobile suits as weapons of war, the Gundam being the super cutting edge mobile suit. But other than that, the show is pretty different. One much-discussed innovation is that the protagonist is a girl, a long overdue change after 44 years of Gunboys. Another is the setting: while previous series have focused on the battlefield, G-Witch is set primarily at a school, a setting chosen for maximum relevance to a young audience.
And y'know, you might read that in a cynical way, sure. They wanted to make it marketable to kids, so they young-adultified it. But I think there's a more thoughtful and interesting kind of "modernization" happening with the show's approach to the core Gundam concepts. First Gundam examined the human toll of war, via analogy between its big cool robots and the mechanization of warfare during the twentieth century. G-Witch is interested in a different, more contemporary set of issues, including advances in medical technology, the rise of corporations as the new global superpowers, and the increase in mass protest movements, and it deploys its big robots accordingly.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
We'll be watching episodes 0, 1, and 2 of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury. That's three 25-minute episodes. They're available on Crunchyroll Premium in dubbed or subtitled format.
By the way, I don’t know if y’all remember this, but a year or two back, after we’d watched some Shakespeare thing or another, I was wondering why there wasn't more anime adapted from Shakespeare. I think someone at Sunrise was listening in on our zoom call, because G-Witch takes heavy inspiration from a particular Shakespeare play, but instead of telling you which one, let's make a game out of seeing how long it takes you to figure it out.
And lastly, an important goat update. After the goat content in Cucuruz Doan's Island, I mentioned that The Witch From Mercury also features a goat. However I regret to inform you that Tiko the goat does not appear until episode 4. So if you would like to learn more about the role of goats in this alternate universe then you will have to undertake your own independent study.
Incidentally, the Shakespeare play in question is The Tempest. There are a number of references throughout the series, most notably Prospera being a reference to Prospero, and the Gundam Aerial being a reference to Ariel. There is also a "Calibarn" mobile suit which appears later in the show, referencing Calibarn (and also Caliburn, an alternate name for the legendary sword Excalibur). If you're familiar with the plots of both works, it's fairly easy to spot some broad plot and theme similarities between the two. This was particularly fun to discuss because our film club did a series of Tempest adaptations a couple years ago.
Reaction among the film club members was broadly positive, but some of our number were by this point fairly fed up with giant robots, so I can't imagine they're sad to see this series end.
One big plot twist I saved for the last week of movie club discussions was that I've gotten kind of into building Gunpla myself. My first build was the "Aerial Rebuild," the upgraded version of Aerial from season 2 of G-Witch.
Thanks to anyone who took the time to read these little essays! If you've read this far and haven't given any of the various Gundam series a watch, I'd highly recommend you check out any of the stuff we've covered, but my top three recs for newbies would probably be G-Witch, War in the Pocket, or 08th MS Team (which we didn't watch but is a great little 12 episode series).