Vrai calls in Gundam experts Maddie and Megan to discuss the very ambitious and very queer first cour of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury!
Date Recorded: February 1, 2022
Guests: Maddie, Megan
0:04:19 The Gundam franchise and Universal Century
0:10:15 Gundam: The Origin
0:10:58 Suletta as Gundam’s first female pilot protagonist
0:13:37 The novelty of a two cour anime
0:15:19 Wow cool robot
0:18:22 Military appropriation of medical tech and portrayal of disability
0:23:41 It’s gay too
0:27:11 Reading Suletta as autistic
0:38:59 These KIDS (GUND-ARM Inc)
0:47:25 Aerial’s short story
0:48:20 The Manchurian Candidate
0:52:13 Part 2 theories
0:55:41 Gundam recs for G Witch fans
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. As promised for our seasonal episodes, there simply wasn’t room to talk about the latest Gundam series in a medley-style round-up. So, we have decided to dedicate an entire episode to the first 12 episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury.
My name is Vrai. I am a managing content editor at Anime Feminist. You can find me and the freelance stuff I post on Twitter @WriterVrai. And with me today, I have two special guests and Gundam experts, Maddy and Megan.
MEGAN: Maddy, do you want to go first, or shall I?
MADDY: I can go first. So, my name is Maddy. You can find me pretty much anywhere at hyakushiki0087. My pronouns are they/she, and I’ve loved all things Gundam for, gosh, nearly two decades now. It feels like forever. And onto you, Megan.
MEGAN: Well, I am Megan D. I’m @Brainchild129 on Twitter. I have been running the Manga Test Drive blog for over ten years now. And I’m glad to be back on Chatty AF to talk about one of my favorite franchises.
VRAI: It’s true. Yes, folks may recognize Megan from the Glass Mask episodes or the Hot Gimmick drinkalong. Hoo boy. And Maddy, I don’t know if our listeners will know you, but certainly the folks in the Texas cosplay scene are familiar with you. But as I mentioned, we are here today because you both know a heck of a lot about Gundam.
Before we dive into that, I just want to note up top that this is a spoilercast. Obviously, we don’t yet know what will happen in part two; that’s going to be airing in the spring. But we will be covering details of everything for the first 12 episodes, after we do some basic discussion, so, after about ten minutes in. You have been warned.
VRAI: All right, so, now, for those of you at home, The Witch from Mercury aired this past fall. It started in the fall 2022 season. It was announced in September 2021, which made it the first Gundam series in the main line—not including Build Fighters and other spin-offs like that—since Okada Mari’s Iron-Blooded Orphans. So, it’s kind of a big deal that there was a lot of anticipation around.
The director is Kobayashi Hiroshi, who, speaking of Okada Mari, was the director of Dragon Pilot, Hisone and Maso-tan, as well as, more recently, the Netflix Spriggan anime. The series composer, though, perhaps most interestingly for AniFem audiences, was Okouchi Ichiro, who has done an absolute boatload of things. He was the series composer for Azumanga Daioh, for Angelic Layer, for Devilman Crybaby, for two of the more recent Lupin series, for Sk8 the Infinity, and, most relevantly for how this series has started to develop, he wrote the two light novel side stories for Revolutionary Girl Utena and worked on that series as well.
MEGAN: I should also note, this is not his first go-round with Gundam. He actually wrote four episodes of Turn A Gundam back in 1999.
VRAI: Oh, the series that people like and that I desperately wish we could do a podcast about but it’s not legally streaming anywhere!
VRAI: Ah, I’ve heard good things about that.
MADDY: It’s very good.
VRAI: Yeah, I would love to watch more Gundam, but I think I am not alone in folks at home who feel a little bit intimidated by the size and length of the franchise. For context, the only Gundam I have seen in total is Gundam 00, which I know is a considerable outlier format-wise.
My partner is a big nostalgic fan of Gundam Wing, and of course, I have absorbed various details from the Gundam-loving people in my life. But otherwise I am pretty unawares of the finer details of this massive half-century-long property. And I wanted to reassure people that, at least for me, I did not have any trouble watching and enjoying Witch from Mercury.
MEGAN: Yeah, I know that some people can be really intimidated by, for lack of a better phrase, the homework you have to do, particularly if you get into the Universal Century timeline. But, speaking as someone who’s seen more than her fair share of Gundam, this might be one of the most newbie-friendly AU Gundams in a long time.
VRAI: Yeah, do you guys want to explain the Universal Century–versus–AU thing?
MEGAN: Maddy, do you want to tackle this one?
MADDY: Ah, yeah. I mean, Universal Century is the main timeline written by Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino. And generally by fans and by most critics, too, Universal Century is seen as pretty good. There is a general timeline. The first three series and the movie that follows those three is seen as one continuous timeline. And then there’s offshoots from that, some either more in the recent future or later future, some in the recent past like Gundam Origin.
And then there’s AU Gundam, which is using typical Gundam themes and, of course, giant robots to tell a completely different story. AU Gundam can be, by most standards, hit or miss. Some are really awesome, and some are not. Some, everybody universally thinks is awesome.
If you think that Turn A Gundam is AU, which I personally think it is (there’s contention around that, too) … Turn A is universally loved by most people. Meanwhile, there are shows like Gundam Seed, which most people don’t like. And then there are some shows like Gundam X that either people really like or really hate and it’s 50/50. I’m on the Gundam X–loving team, personally.
So, with an AU Gundam that got announced here, there was a bit of hesitance. I was on the hesitant team at first. I liked, generally, who was on staff, but I was also a little hesitant just because of the, gosh, past 15 years of bad AU Gundam with how the first season is either from all right to great and then the second season will always just fall in on itself every single time.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes, I did mention I watched 00, didn’t I?
MADDY: Yeah, Ribbons is the only thing that’s redeeming in that. I really don’t like 00. I really don’t.
VRAI: Don’t make me fight you about Tieria. Anyway, we’re moving on.
MADDY: But yeah, so, basically, tl;dr: UC, universally seen as good because I personally like Tomino’s writing. Megan may disagree.
MEGAN: [Chuckles darkly]
MADDY: But generally, Tomino’s writing is enjoyed and whoever he works with also… You know, if Tomino isn’t the strongest, there’s somebody else that’s doing the heavy lifting here that will tie everything all together in a nice, neat bow.
AU… will it even tie into a bow? I think they just tied a knot a few times on a few of them and called it a day and they’re still tripping over their shoelaces.
MADDY: So, honestly, that’s as brief as it gets with UC versus AU Gundam on that one.
VRAI: Maybe it’s because I’ve come into the franchise backwards, but I honestly really enjoy (or at least, I am fascinated by and often enjoy) how the AU Gundams, which are the ones I’m most familiar with and I think are easiest to get into for new fans who are like, “What’s a Char?”… I like how—
MADDY: War in the Pocket exists. It’s six episodes long. It’s very good.
VRAI: But it is interesting to me that even when a Gundam is not working into the main timeline, they always seem to return to not just similar themes of anti-war and progress of humanity and all of that, but character archetypes and plot points seem to get remixed fairly frequently, which I think is just fascinating.
You have the concept of the Newtype: these New-Agey, sort of psychic characters. In 00, they’re not called Newtypes; they’re called Innovators, but it’s the same principle. And here in Witch from Mercury, you’ve kind of seen that folded into the thing that is being called the Gundam itself, where the GUND system has that principle of being able to psychically connect and see other people’s hearts and such.
MEGAN: Yeah, it’s the one thing that kind of unifies all of the franchise. Regardless of whether it’s UC or AU, regardless of whether the show is good or bad, it’s these common themes, these common archetypes that come through. And don’t feel bad about your own Gundam history. I came into it a weird way, too. I got into it through a manga, specifically Gundam: The Origin. And then I just kind of pick-and-chose what OVAs or shows I wanted to watch.
VRAI: You’ve talked up the Origin quite a lot as a good entry point for folks who are kind of curious about the original Tomino stuff but maybe don’t want to go into 50 episodes of ‘70s.
MEGAN: Yeah, I admittedly… I’ve talked extensively about this elsewhere. Shoutout to my friends over at Giant Robot FM, which is a lovely mecha podcast. But yeah, it’s a very accessible way to digest the original story of Mobile Suit Gundam with a slightly more modern perspective, since it was written by the show’s character designer, animation director… many different roles. And it’s just really gorgeous!
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, I think this is something we should address up top, because one of the things that proved contentious by annoying people before it came out, and is just notable in general, is that Witch from Mercury is the first Gundam to have not just a prominent female character but a female pilot protagonist.
MEGAN: Yes. She’s not the first female Gundam pilot. That can be traced back to 0080: War in the Pocket. But Christina was not the main character of that work, where Suletta most distinctly is, and some of the more argumentative parts of Anitwitter had issue with that.
MADDY: Oh, they did. Oh, boy, they did. Ugh.
VRAI: Yeah, I think it is fair to say that Gundam as a franchise and maybe Tomino specifically, but as a franchise as a whole, has an up-and-down relationship with how it writes female characters.
MEGAN: Oh, boy!
MADDY: Tomino, yes, but I feel like Gundam as a whole definitely has this issue, for sure. I would pin the blame on him, but it’s the whole damn thing.
VRAI: I just want somebody to do a pitch on just a franchise survey on the weirdness of gender in Gundam, frankly. But alas, we do not have an entire podcast to dedicate to that today.
MADDY: We could.
VRAI: We could.
VRAI: If people want, I’ll have you two back and you can regale me with tales of ways that Gundam is weird about women. I would love that.
MADDY: We could just talk about Zeta Gundam, and we could just have a whole podcast dedicated to that series alone. I love Zeta, but…
MEGAN: [crosstalk] That’s a dangerous prospect, Vrai, because I can go off on that, a lot!
MADDY: I’m not a Zeta hater, but that is a big misogynistic… Oh my God. [Chuckles]
MEGAN: We’re not here to talk about that.
VRAI: No, no, we’re here to talk about how wonderfully surprised I have been about how joyous and wonderful G-Witch turned out to be, because I really had just an exuberant time watching this series from week to week. It was one of those “Oh, this is why I love anime” type shows.
MEGAN: I know. I was kind of wary when it was first announced. I didn’t have any huge expectations for it. I wanted it to be good, because of course I want the first Gundam with a female protag to be good. And again, yeah, I was just delightfully surprised by just how good and how interesting it was and how steady it was right up to the end of the season.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, it is something that I think we don’t get to see as often anymore because of the way production cycles work now. We’re more likely to get either single, isolated 12-episode anime or adaptations of big, long shounen that don’t necessarily have an end in sight. You don’t get a lot of necessarily original series that get at least 26 episodes (we don’t know if Witch from Mercury is going to be longer than two cours yet) to settle in and really set up a big cast and unveil its themes at its leisure. And it was just so nice to have that here.
So much of what’s going on here is— We barely scratch the political intrigue elements, and a lot of it is just “Here’s what these various groups are like, and here’s sort of an introduction episode with where this character is at, and we’ll pick that back up in the next part.” And I’ve just missed it so much.
MADDY: Oh, it’s fantastic stuff. I mean, what really ultimately got me into Gundam as an older teenager and an adult was the political themes remaining as intriguing as they are and how you could pick apart at an individual series’s political worldbuilding forever. And that’s what I love about UC specifically. Tomino does a fantastic job of that, and G-Witch did an equivalently good job with this. It was fantastic. It was episode 4, I believe, was a very good intro, political worldbuilding episode. I was on the edge of my seat for that one. I love that stuff.
VRAI: I love a little bit of ironic nursery rhyme shit.
VRAI: I’m a sucker. Yeah, I think when this show started getting big and started hitting with folks who aren’t necessarily Gundam fans, which I think is wonderful, I saw more than a few folks who did not know that “Wow Cool Robot” was about Gundam, which was wild to me!
MADDY: I saw that, too! I was like, “Whoa, what year am I in? What is happening?” [Chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah. And then I also saw… You know, I’ll take that over the people who very earnestly tried to say that Witch from Mercury is not political when… I think it’s the third episode has the labor protest on Earth where they’re protesting abuse of laborers and strip mining of resources and then they get blasted by military artillery. No politics here.
MADDY: Yeah, that was episode 3. That was the episode that I was referring to. Or maybe it was 4. It was 3 or 4. It was pretty early on.
VRAI: 4 is the one with, uh… Oh, what is his name? I always think of him as Newtype Boy.
MADDY: Oh yeah, Elan 4.
MEGAN: As far as the show’s politics, what I find interesting is normally Gundam is very straightforwardly sociopolitical when it comes to warfare, but G-Witch takes it in a whole new direction in that it’s about corporate warfare.
And elements of this have shown up in previous Gundam works. I mean, there’s elements of this going back to Zeta Gundam in the mid-‘80s. It comes a little bit in Unicorn. But it’s never been so prominent as it is here, where literally corporations control entire planets and Gundam battles can dictate the rise and fall of somebody’s company.
MADDY: So, what I was thinking, what’s different between, let’s say, UC Gundam versus G-Witch is that UC Gundam, it is still (well, what you can say) a unified government sans Zeon, and Anaheim Electronics, which is effectively a defense contractor, is acting between the two off in the distance, supposedly with some oversight but clearly it doesn’t have any.
Meanwhile, in G-Witch, imagine if this defense contractor effectively was the government. Instead of a neoliberal or neoconservative-style government, it’s more of a… I would almost call it corporatist or anarchocapitalist in some strange way. So, it takes a different political lens with this one. And I like the change of pace. Instead of having the same style of political hierarchy, it kind of inverts it a bit, and I think that’s neat.
MEGAN: Yeah, to go back to the meme, in this case, it’s not so much “War is bad” so much as “Capitalism is bad.”
VRAI: I’m so into that.
MADDY: Space capitalism kills.
VRAI: Yeah, that element that they introduced right from the episode 0, the prologue episode where we put all our infodumping so that we could just do character work in episode 1, I think that central concept that comes up again and again, that the GUND system was originally a lifesaving medical device that was then… the only way they could get funding was to allow it to be reappropriated as weaponry and military technology. And that is some potent shit.
MEGAN: Yeah, literally, it was technology used to help people adapt to space until one company says, “No, we don’t like this anymore. We’re shutting you down, permanently.”
VRAI: Yeah, it’s not just a window into how altruistic science can be… maybe “corrupted” isn’t quite the word I’m looking for, but compromised, maybe, by what it needs to do to continue its work and, you know, that question of applied science versus pure science.
But it allows for a lot of normalized disability representation in a way that I think is super cool. Although, I think there’s a little bit of give and take with Prospera there as she gets into the grayer end of morally gray. I don’t know, it was what really struck me about the series even before the first episode was just straight-up Revolutionary Girl Utena.
MADDY: Oh, gosh.
MEGAN: And people thought they were exaggerating. And then they watched it and, like, no, this really is Utena in Gundam!
But going back to the disability talk, yeah, Prospera makes an impression when literally in a meeting, she pulls off her prosthetic arm and throws it at somebody to basically bitch-slap them. That is a power move.
VRAI: Uh-huh. I love her. I don’t support her, but I love her.
MADDY: I support women’s wrongs, actually.
MADDY: Unfortunately, I’m gay!
VRAI: Oh my gosh, she is so fun, and we will definitely spend a hefty chunk of time talking about her because there’s a lot to go over there.
MEGAN: And disability isn’t something that’s really come up in previous Gundams. The closest thing I can think of is Gundam Thunderbolt, which was an ONA fairly recently. But in that story, it’s about, in part, Zeon pilots who are equipped with prosthetics because they’ve lost their legs and arms in battle, put into mobile suits that have been modified to accommodate those prosthetics, and then basically shoved right out into battle. So, it’s a little more about this literally dehumanizing system.
VRAI: Right. It’s like the downfall of a lot of cyberpunk, where it takes augmentation as this sort of inherently dehumanizing thing rather than something assistive and hopeful. I like cyberpunk, but it’s kind of a bummer. It’s kind of an ableist bummer.
MEGAN: But G-Witch takes a more hopeful or at least neutral approach to it. Like, the GUND system is not inherently bad; it’s just complicated. And a good part of the second half of this season is with Suletta and company trying to take this research back into a more positive and societally useful direction.
VRAI: Yeah, which I’m very interested to see where it goes with that. Honestly, so much of how the themes develop depends on how long this show gets to be, because traditionally, every Gundam gets to be 50 episodes, but there are a couple exceptions, right?
MADDY: How long was IBO? Wasn’t it only 20-some odd?
MEGAN: No, it was two seasons, so 50 total.
MADDY: Oh, it was 50 total. You are correct. Yeah, maybe this one will be a 50 or 49. Honestly, it has to be at least 36 episodes for it to be rounded out. Hopefully they get a full 50. But if they can’t stick to that, 36 will probably be survivable.
VRAI: Yeah, I’m torn because I think this cast is so well developed that you could do 50, but I also wonder if… I hope it is not a production that feels the need to have the traditional number of episodes at the expense of narrative development. (Can you tell which Gundam was my first Gundam?)
MADDY: Yeah, I agree. That’s why I said I was okay with 36, because honestly, I feel like 50 would be too long for this one. We’ve already gone so far. And while I do fear stuff getting lost in the sauce, especially the political worldbuilding, if it’s too short, it could get even more lost in the sauce if it’s too long. You gotta find a balance in the middle there, I think. That’s my opinion. That’s where I stand.
VRAI: Especially with the element of—with Elan’s character specifically—this element of face-swapping or the theories about whether Suletta herself might be a clone, given timeline discrepancies and the way she talks to Aerial. You don’t want to do too much pop-and-swap character stuff. Otherwise, the impact of a death loses its punch, which I think could be a danger if the show went on too long.
MADDY: Yep, that’s why I think the Utena length of 39 episodes honestly wouldn’t be terrible.
MEGAN: Yeah, I’d be okay with that. Speaking of Utena, something else that makes G-Witch unique: it real gay!
VRAI: It real gay!
MADDY: It is so gay.
VRAI: I love it. I just… I love them so much and their feelings and… I appreciate the way that— Suletta and Miorine’s relationship hasn’t yet had that conversation of “Oh, this isn’t just a function; we really like each other.” And, you know, that’s going to be put off for a while now, given the finale of part one.
But I like that it doesn’t— How do I put this? A lot of series that I feel like are queer and coded, by virtue of using a traditional romantic structure and putting characters in it—even though they never formally confess but were sort of meant to imply based on the structure—-feel the need to have other characters or the writing itself pop in every now and again to do basically a quiet version of a “no homo,” where we’re sort of reassured that this isn’t going to ever textually happen.
Whereas, I think Suletta and Miorine’s relationship has really gotten a chance to develop very earnestly, where it’s just taken as read that, yeah, Suletta might realize that she likes Miorine even though she’s never really considered her own sexuality outside of these normative boxes that she’s seen in anime.
MEGAN: Yeah, and I feel like the show is taking it seriously. And it’s not necessarily doing so through big, obvious conversations where they talk about how seriously they’re taking this relationship. But it’s in things like Miorine’s big breakdown at the end of episode 10 or even just the way Suletta, over the course of the show, takes her title of the groom more and more seriously. Just the language she used makes it clear she doesn’t see this as just a role.
MADDY: Yeah, and the fact that they even use that bride-and-groom language to begin with is astounding. That surprised me. I was like, whoa!
MADDY: And then I was just like, “These are gonna be role titles, right? They’re gonna do the ‘no homo’ thing, right?” Nope. And then, now we’re all the way at “Email me three times a day!” We’re in it now.
MEGAN: [crosstalk] “Take care of my plants! Clean my room!”
MADDY: The literal rose garden euphemism from Utena but it’s tomatoes instead.
VRAI: Yeah, clearly the bride stuff originated from Utena.
MADDY: Oh, totally.
VRAI: But I think that’s an interesting difference, where— I don’t get mad about Utena because I think it’s so centered as a character tic that Utena is struggling with a lot of internalized homophobia and all that and that’s part of what the show is critiquing. But it is nice to have a series that just doesn’t feel the need to do that. Sure, maybe Suletta is still thinking like, “Well, I’d kind of like to go out on a date with a boy. I don’t know. Maybe?” But it’s very casual about it. The casualness of it all is so nice.
MADDY: It’s mostly framed through Suletta’s wish list. She’s got her ideas and she’s checked off a lot of boxes so far, things like “Make a joke where everybody laughs” and such like that. And maybe she will go off her wish list or add more things to her wish list.
MEGAN: Oh my God, her wish list, though! [Screams with joy]
MADDY: It’s real. I feel that very much.
VRAI: Yeah, I know you have a lot of feelings about Suletta being a very readable autistic character.
MADDY: Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! [Chuckles] Oh, gosh, I can go into this. So, for reference, if you haven’t found my Twitter already by now, I am an autistic person.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Autistic Five. Carry on.
MADDY: I was diagnosed at a very young age, and nothing’s changed. [Reacting to Vrai’s comment] Yeah. [Chuckles; resumes explaining] But yeah, I read Suletta as autistic pretty quick. Obviously not prologue quick, because there was way too much going on. But pretty much right off the bat, I was like, “Oh, wow!” I immediately saw aspects of… First, it was aspects of other autistic people I knew in my life, and then I started seeing aspects of myself.
It’s mostly with the way she moves her body, the way it kind of rocks around as she walks, the way that her hands move. It’s the way that her eyes kind of dart around. She can make eye contact for some extended periods of time, but you notice that she always looks away, just as most autistic people cannot maintain eye contact. Most autistic people move their hands around or rock their bodies. It’s what’s called stimming. It’s a form of emotional regulation that we end up doing.
And of course, her lack of ability to pick up social cues and other things around her, just that veil over how she perceives the world around her, not even just from her living in isolation, even though especially that can compound on it, as I was also an autistic person who grew up in a pretty remote environment.
So, to me, it was very visible, and as the show went on, it didn’t just plateau and remain the same. It just became more and more obvious, and I’m just like… every episode is like, “Oh my gosh!” She is so autistic! You can’t just tell me that she’s not. There was something new with every single episode. It was fantastic. And it didn’t feel dehumanizing in any way. It was presented as a matter of fact, and people knew that she was a little weird, but people in earnestness liked her, which is good. I’m glad they didn’t go down the more sad route.
Of course, they showed her insecurities with what I viewed as rejection sensitive dysphoria, where she really does think in absolutes. When something doesn’t quite go the way she plans it to, it’s just an absolute veer to the complete left or the complete right instead of just being in a possible gray area. I personally struggle with that, and I’m sure most autistic people who are listening to this can say the same thing. So, that also, too. Just all these things together and more things that I can’t even remember off the top of my head.
VRAI: The way she really tries to overcompensate but then doesn’t ask for clarification because she’s trying not to show that she didn’t understand something is a mood. [Chuckles] But yeah, Suletta for me… I definitely see the coding. She falls for me in that third tier of— “Tier” sounds qualitative, and I don’t mean it that way, but just for sake of language…
If we call tier 1: we’re using the word “autistic,” which I haven’t seen too much in anime outside of nonfiction works like My Brain Is Different. And then for tier 2, you’ve got something like Yuri Is My Job, where “Oh! Oh, girl, you’re very autistic!” and you have lots of characters talk overtly about how she can’t read the room and how she’s very blunt and that kind of thing, and we have explicit things where we’re talking about these directly without using, necessarily, the technical terms.
Then Suletta’s like one to the side of that, where I could technically see how these character traits came about because you wanted to write her as being anxious or traumatized, but also it all works together really cohesively as a character reading in a way that, even if it wasn’t intentional, I think that it’s strong and standalone and viable, if that makes sense.
MADDY: Yeah. And I feel like a lot of Gundam characters are written this way. There has been a pretty popular theory since I started poking around at Gundam stuff on the internet a billion years ago, going back to UC Gundam stuff. A lot of people believe that a good chunk of Newtypes, not Cyber Newtypes so much but just Newtypes— Cyber Newtypes are genetically created, for those who are not familiar, versus those who became a Newtype, who were born that way, or eventually evolved into that state of being. A lot of people believe that Newtypes are also autistic. I firmly believe that Amuro is autistic and Lalah Sune is also autistic. So I feel like whoever wrote Suletta’s character and whoever designed her pulled a lot from that and then were like, “Let’s just add some extra steps here.”
VRAI: Like you said, she is written with such care. I think the character writing in G-Witch is what keeps me coming back, because I like the political commentary, but I think for me, I am somebody who is sort of reluctant to get into space opera, political drama stuff. I’ll watch Galactic Heroes someday. I promise people. But I am more—
MADDY: [crosstalk] Eh.
VRAI: I’m more of a courtly intrigue type person. And I think I would categorize the difference as being: space opera or political stories are ones where characters sort of stand as metonymous to the ideals that they’re arguing over, and courtly intrigue are stories where the supposed ideals or social structures being fought over are excuses for these interpersonal conflicts. Right?
And I don’t think that G-Witch is fully a courtly intrigue type series. I think it very is earnest about the sociopolitical stuff it wants to talk about. But because it forefronts its characters so much and lets their personal wants color this stuff that is happening politically, it really drew me in, as somebody who’s not traditionally into the genre.
MEGAN: And while I’m not coming at Suletta from the same perspective you two are, even then, she’s just an incredibly endearing protagonist, someone who just really draws you in. She’s just so sweet and naive and earnest. She’s a sweet little tanuki of a girl.
And even things like the way the show handles her nervous stutter, because she very often nervously stutters whenever she has to talk to anybody. But that stutter eases up in the moments where she’s more confident in people, whether it’s her mother or in Miorine. And it’s a subtle thing, but it’s such a well-done thing that really informs her character.
VRAI: I also love how— I bang on a lot about how miscommunication as a narrative device tends to get short shrift because it’s often done badly. But I really liked how a lot of the second act of this season comes down to a miscommunication between Suletta and Miorine because they are both trying so hard to be strong for each other and not realizing that they’re tripping up the other person’s anxieties, where Suletta has to prove that she is useful and that’s how she knows that she is worth being here and she is valued; whereas for Miorine, she wants to be so good and competent that she can make Suletta feel like she doesn’t have to worry or work so hard anymore. And they’re inadvertently making each other sad, and then I gotta cry. [Chuckles]
MEGAN: Aw. Speaking of characters that make you cry, we gotta talk about the surprise best boy of the season. Guel, a.k.a. Bob.
MADDY: [Snorts] Bob.
MEGAN: Now, admittedly, at the start…
MADDY: I love Bob.
MEGAN: … there were a lot of people who were trying to ascribe the various characters from Utena to the supporting cast of G-Witch.
VRAI: Which I think you can.
MEGAN: Oh yeah, you definitely can. And Guel absolutely fits Saionji, and in fact, he might be the biggest Saionji to ever Saionji in the history of anime.
MADDY: They made him homeless! They made him homeless! [Chuckles]
MEGAN: His arc, going from this spoiled rich-boy bully to literally living in the woods to now having to work a part-time job on a space freighter under an alias because Dad basically kicked him out of the home and the company! It’s just— How did he get so moe? How did he get so moe?
VRAI: By getting his ass kicked a lot. I feel like that’s pretty cool.
MADDY: When he stopped using that hair gel. That hair gel? Just kick it out. And his hair flopped down a little bit more naturally, and I was like, “There we go. You’re like perfect now.”
VRAI: See, I have a soft spot for Saionji as a character, just because I read him as a deeply self-loathing closeted gay, but also, he sucks for a lot of Utena. And I think one of the smart things that G-Witch did was to basically speedrun Saionji’s arc, where we get to the sadboy toxic masculinity within the first six episodes instead of the first 30.
MEGAN: Yeah, he literally goes from “I’m going to fight you” to “Will you marry me?” with the implicit thing of “so you’ll protect me from my dad.”
MADDY: And now his dad is dead by his own hand! So that’s fun.
MEGAN: [Chuckles in dark surprise]
MADDY: We will see where this goes from here! [Laughs]
VRAI: That is… Because I… I mean, I’m not ready to give up this theory yet, but I was positive that Guel has death flags on him, right? Because he just absolutely screams of this very strident, brash character who believes in fighting as an honorable, noble thing who then dies in a very stupid way because we’re illustrating that there is no honor and fighting and it’s just violence that begets violence and more trauma.
And my theory is still that it will have something to do with him dying because Shaddiq inadvertently puts him in a dangerous spot while trying to secure his own position for maximum tragic irony points. I don’t know if they’ll do that now that they’ve gone the “Oh no, I have been broken by murdering my own father,” but I’m still keeping it on the table, because that’s a very Gundam thing.
MADDY: I genuinely thought he was going to die in episode 12. I thought, like, “Yeah, he’s gonna die this episode. I’m not ready.” And then it was his dad, and I was like, “Please don’t do this to me. Why did you do this to me?” Ah! Not angry, but I was in absolute anguish on my couch on a Sunday morning.
MEGAN: I don’t know. It’s nothing more than a feeling at this point, other than the fact that he’s taken on an alias at this point. I have the weirdest feeling Guel’s going to become a Char! He’s got the desire for revenge. He’s already got an alias. All he needs is a mask.
MADDY: But we already have our Char. What if your Char was the mommy issues instead?
MEGAN: We can have multiple Chars. They can embody different facets of Char-dom.
VRAI: Yeah, that is the ultimate question, is: what do we do with multiple different types of Char?
VRAI: I do want to shout out— We don’t have time to talk about every good character!
MEGAN: I know!
VRAI: All the kids of Earth House are great. I love the way that, like queerness and disability, fatness is just normalized and treated as cute and adorable.
MEGAN: [crosstalk] Yes! Oh, what’s her name? Lilique? Lilique? She just has boyfriends, and her weight is not a big deal. And of course, Chuchu, who… behind Guel as breakout favorite of the show with the punch heard round the world.
VRAI: She’s so good!
MADDY: Those girls never came back either. I think they’re dead.
VRAI: Oh my God. And Shaddiq is super interesting, too, as this character… I am not qualified to talk about the racial elements, but it definitely feels like they are there, where he’s the most notable brown-skinned… He is in the upper echelons of these characters. He is notably darker skinned than a lot of other of the heir types, and he feels this constant sense of needing to prove why he deserves this space, but also, he has to do it in this way where he constantly seems pleasant and approachable and unthreatening, unlike Guel. I think there’s a lot going on with his character, in addition to him being Touga.
MEGAN: Yes. I was gonna say he’s absolutely the Touga to Guel’s Saionji.
MADDY: I was also about to say, as I had a coworker named Sadiq, Shaddiq in reality is not spelled like that. It is spelled S-A-D-I-Q, which I assume it’s the same name root that whoever named him made, and that name, to me ironically, means “an honest, true friend,” which…
MADDY: Ooh! And Nika’s name probably comes from referencing back to the figure of Nike, Greek for victory, but also, it’s possible that her name is Persian, which… I think her Persian name also means good and true. I don’t think it means honest so much, but good. So, there’s also several lacings of irony within their names, at least.
VRAI: I mean, Gundam loves a meaningful name. I have to assume that Guel going under Bob is poking fun at the fact that all Gundam characters have ridiculous names.
MADDY: [Pronouncing Bob in Japanese] Bobu.
MEGAN: But before we get too far, I do want to talk a little bit about Miorine as well, because it’d be really easy to just slot her as just another tsundere, almost right down to the “bakas.” But over the course of the show, we see a lot more to that, because she has very good reason to resent her father and the control he implements over her life and the way he uses her as a tool.
And over the course of the show, we not only see her open up to Suletta, who is probably the first person in all of her 17 years who didn’t approach her as basically an acquisition tool, but also the way she kind of has to embrace her legacy as Delling’s daughter, to have to actually use those business skills to save Suletta midway through the show and to fund the GUND-ARM company, complete with that amazing advertisement. And in a weird way, it almost starts to mend her relationship with her dad… until the end of the season.
VRAI: I am obsessed with the sort of inverse relationship that the series pulls off between Miorine’s relationship with her dad and Suletta’s relationship with her mom, where they sort of ended up swapping places in terms of their parental relationships by episode 12. And that’s good-ass writing!
MEGAN: Yes, it is, and it’s clearly very purposeful.
VRAI: Mm-hm. So, as we get into the last quarter of the podcast here, I feel like that’s perhaps enough time to begin to talk for a fraction of a second about Prospera, who has a lot going on.
MEGAN: Very much, even if you’re just going by the prologue, because, like Miorine, she also has very good reasons to want revenge against Delling. Literally destroyed her life. But as we go on, it definitely becomes more about whether she’s using the ends to justify the means, the ends being her daughter!
VRAI: Yeah! I am so fascinated with Prospera specifically. Because she’s so in the background right now, I can’t help constantly questioning how much the predictions I make about her character stem specifically from my familiarity with the franchise and franchise traditions.
To me, ah, clearly this is a character about how people who have been traumatized and been victims become victimizers because their anger leads them to use other people as pawns. And it seems so clear to me in just the little ways that she’s been sinister. But in text, she’s really supported Suletta, in basic, concrete terms.
MEGAN: Yeah, I know a lot of people see her as possibly the second coming of Gendo in the way she’s using her daughter, but if anything I think it’s more sinister if she really does love and support Suletta and still uses her for her own revenge.
MADDY: Yeah, I firmly believe in that theory. I feel like she definitely has an earnest love for her daughter, but she has just been driven so far over the edge since what we’ve seen in the prologue, that she’s undergone so much to change her appearance and all these things, even though she doesn’t seem to lie about being Suletta’s mother, if Suletta is who we think she is.
I honestly think that she still earnestly loves her and supports her even if she was willing to shove possibly something into Aerial. I’m on that train. There is something wrong that Prospera was able to— Prospera chose to put something in the Aerial and still loves Suletta with such earnestness that she will push her into doing these things. Maybe it’s because she thinks it’s what’s best for her.
MEGAN: It could be “Mother knows best.”
VRAI: I agree: I think that Prospera loves her daughter. I think she’s sincere about that. But I also think, especially if Suletta is a 2.0 kind of situation and her quote-unquote “real daughter” is in the Aerial, then maybe there is that element of— I don’t think she would ever let Suletta die, but I think maybe she thinks— There are a certain number of things of “Well, ah, she’ll come back from that” where it’s “I need to do this” more than “I need to protect my daughter’s mental health as long as her physical health is okay.”
MADDY: I think it’s definitely an abuse of Suletta’s resilience, because I’ve… You know, you’ve met people in your life that are very resilient people, but some people know that this person is resilient so they’re willing to put them through stressful situations time and time again, because, “Oh, they’ll get back up. Oh, they’ll get back up. They’re resilient. They’re strong.” Always the “Check in on your strong friends” kind of situation.
MEGAN: There’s no better example of that than that final episode when Prospera basically activates Suletta’s Manchurian Candidate powers.
VRAI: See, I don’t necessarily buy into that theory. I think it’s viable, but I think we don’t know yet.
MEGAN: That’s true. It’s iffy. But something else that’s also interesting is the weird, for lack of better phrase, family dynamic between Prospera, Suletta, and the Aerial, the Gundam itself, because of the way Suletta approaches the Aerial, that she treats it like a sibling and talks to it in such a manner and the suit responds in kind!
VRAI: Yeah, the suit definitely talks back. There is something going on there.
MADDY: Vrai, did you read the short story that was up on Gundam.info, because that goes even more into that, as well. There is a short little novella about… er, it’s from the Aerial’s perspective, and it is interesting.
VRAI: Yeah, no, do you want to…? Is that still up?
MADDY: Is that still up? I bet it should be. Gundam.info has a G-Witch website, and I believe the short story is up there.
VRAI: Do you want to kind of summarize it a little bit for folks at home?
MADDY: In short, it’s like an interim period between the prologue and episode 1, effectively, where it’s Aerial basically watching over Suletta as time goes on and then Suletta slowly effectively emerges from her cocoon as she is ready to go to school…
MADDY: … as she goes from age 4 to… I believe 16 was the age they gave her, effectively.
VRAI: 16 or, I think, 17. But yeah, younger than she should be, given the time skip. Yeah, I know that I saw people pointing out that the way that is written, there is almost a magical property to Prospera’s words for Suletta.
Which, I think there is a vagueness there and I think that’s why it’s interesting that folks have been really split on whether it’s full-on an activation; whether it’s some element of Prospera knows that she can push her daughter into this behavior and that’s advantageous for her right now (you know, “We’ll deal with it later; it’s fine as long as she’s not troubled”); or whether it’s fully Suletta just completely emotionally dissociating at the end there, because she is Not Okay.
MEGAN: No, she is not.
MADDY: Yeah, no. I honestly think… Because if I’m writing the autism theory here, will I ever think it’s canonized? Honestly, no. But neurodivergent people, when put into very stressful situations, when a trusted figure approaches them in said stressful situation, as somebody who has been there, who has been with a person that I learned in hindsight to not trust… If a person knows this weakness, they will try to implant something in your head by assuring you that doing this sort of thing is fine or going down this path is fine. And you will be effectively gaslit into believing it’s fine. And you’ll go through with it, and you’ll only realize what happens in hindsight with whatever path you’ve gone or whatever you’ve done.
VRAI: And I think it’s pretty crucial that— I think Miorine would have been inevitably traumatized, because how can you not? But I don’t think she’d have been upset if Suletta was upset, right? It’s that moment of human connection where not only has something horrifying happened; this is not how she would know Suletta to react in any way. And she feels alone, completely alone in her horror, dealing with this.
MADDY: Yeah, I think this is Suletta— I mean, I don’t even think Suletta has been exposed to much death, even prior to this, aside from the prologue. But does she remember that, if Suletta is Eri? And even assuming that that theory doesn’t exist, she may not even remember it. So, truly, since she grew up in a sheltered place, this could be her first exposure to such a thing, so maybe she doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation.
VRAI: Yeah, and because it’s Gundam, we are meant to take it seriously as the audience. Like, I think, on the one hand, fuck that guy. On the other hand, Gundam is so determinedly dedicated to “Even if you kill somebody that you had to kill, you have to deal with the fact that you ended a life of somebody else who was living and breathing, and that’s a serious thing even if ultimately it had to be done.”
MADDY: Yeah, the cost— Suletta does not understand the cost of life that she has taken, even if it is an antagonizing force. She has still taken a life, and that costs something. And in this instance, life was cheapened, not for the audience but for Suletta just because she doesn’t understand.
MEGAN: And it could have easily just been reflexive, like she saw Miorine in danger and just… smack!
VRAI: Yeah, because she has the Aerial, she is disconnected from acts of violence. Aerial protects her in more ways than one, in ways that (I think we’re starting to get hints of) may not be good for her.
MADDY: Yeah, we’ll see where the second season takes us. I hope it takes us in a well-written direction, regardless of the direction it goes.
VRAI: Yeah, do either of you have big-swing theories about where we might go from here?
MEGAN: I don’t know if I have any big theories. I mean, aside from my “Guel potentially becoming a Char” theory, I hope we see more of the Earth side of the conflict because it’s only really been teased a little bit between the “have and have-not” quality and what we’ve seen with the Earth Witches, as they’re called, Sophie and… I forget the other pilot girl’s name.
MEGAN: That’s it. I hope we see— I’m certain we’ll see more of Sophie because she’s gone full sicko mode; she’s definitely coming back. But I do hope we see more of that side. And mostly at this point, I’m along for this ride. I’m not getting too deep into theories. I’m content to let this show take me in whatever direction it wished.
MADDY: I am, too, generally. I honestly don’t have too many big theories myself, other than I kind of believe in the “Suletta isn’t Eri” theory, but even if that isn’t true, there is something wrong with the Aerial. There is someone in there. I don’t know who that someone is. Or maybe it’s multiple people. A friend of ours made a joke about “Somebody shoved an entire kindergarten class in there.”
MADDY: And I believe that. I believe that. You know who I’m talking about, Megan. [Laughs]
VRAI: Incredible. 10 out of 10.
Yeah, I’m not prepared to say, “Man, and this is definitely going to go someplace great,” and subsequently curse it because, you know, Wonder Egg Priority was a thing. But so far, I’m very confident in what they’ve set up, and I have a higher confidence in their ability to pull it off because it has been so character-centric, which means that there’s a higher chance that as long as the emotional narratives pay off, it’s more survivable if they fumble a political theme somewhere along the way, you know?
MEGAN: Also, I don’t care about the how and the why: I hope Suletta and Miorine kiss, just because it would drive people on Twitter crazy, for both good and bad.
MADDY: Yeah, that show will be a success if they kiss, no matter what. Even if it ends catastrophically, like in a way that is badly written, at least G-Witch will remain interesting, even just on that note and even just from what we’ve seen so far, even if it ends spectacularly badly. The “spectacular,” keep that word in mind. It’ll still be spectacular.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Please let the animators rest. They’re clearly very tired.
MEGAN: Isn’t that true for every show these days?
VRAI: It’s true, constantly. I’m very concerned about all of them.
Also, from what I hear, the Aerial models are selling super well. Which, my understanding is that that’s key to the ongoing success of any Gundam.
MEGAN: Yes. The show is doing well in the ratings, and yes, the Gunpla are flying off the shelves. At one point, the Aerial was so sold out at some Japanese stores that they had to fill the shelf space with Aerial-brand potato chips or, what were they, corn chips.
MADDY: Yeah, it was their corn chips, and even those were flying off the shelves, and then they eventually replaced them with Guntank Gunpla at Bic Camera. —Bic Camera’s a… it’s a tech store over there.
VRAI: Nice. Ah, let’s see. Now, with any hope we can get back together and talk about the second half after it finishes up. But while folks are waiting for G-Witch to come back, do either of you have a Gundam series that is available streaming, that folks who have become curious about the larger franchise through G-Witch should check out next?
MEGAN: Yeah, that’s always the question. Honestly, for a standalone one that honestly reminded me a little bit of G-Witch, at least in its early episodes, was G Gundam, which is currently available on Crunchyroll although they’re using a lousy DVD-era remaster. I’m not sure if it’s still streaming in HD on Gundam.info’s YouTube channel. It is definitely available on Blu-ray.
That one is kind of curious. It was the first AU series. It’s extremely shounen. It’s very much a battle tournament sort of show, but I like the way it kind of reverses and does its own spin on some of the common themes of Gundam. It’s a fabulous-looking show. It’s got great music. It’s one of Tomokazu Seki’s best performances as the lead, Doman.
It’s a nostalgia favorite for people who watched it on Toonami. It gets a lot of crap from people because “Oh, it’s not a proper Gundam. It’s not a proper UC show,” but screw that. I love G Gundam. It’s one of Imagawa’s best shows. Please watch it.
MADDY: One that would be streaming… Bad recommendation or not, intimidating recommendation or not, I would say go back to the first Gundam. I think it’s sublime. I’m not talking the movie trilogy, even though that is less intimidating and is only three 90-minute films. I like the original TV series. I honestly think the best place to start is always at the beginning.
But if you want something shorter and less intimidating, while not available on streaming like the Gundam films and the Gundam TV show are, War in the Pocket is short and sweet. And if you want something to punch you in the gut, like the last episode of this series did, War in the Pocket will do that.
MEGAN: I will second this. It was the first animated Gundam I ever watched and it is fantastic. And despite being a UC-era story, it requires very little homework to get into it.
MADDY: Even if you didn’t do any homework, you can pick up on it pretty quick.
VRAI: Yeah, actually, one of the very early articles on the site was about War in the Pocket. I’ll drop that in the show notes for folks who maybe want to read up a little more before potentially hunting it down. But those are both great options, I think.
Let’s see. And with that in mind… Gosh, we could still go on for another hour. There are whole characters we didn’t touch on at all, but…
MEGAN: I know!
VRAI: This is such a rich series and I’m loving it so much. Thank you both for joining me here. And like I said, hopefully we will get to do this again in a couple of months.
And thank you for joining us at home, too, AniFam. If you liked what you heard here, you can find more from the team by going to AnimeFeminist.com, where we have more articles and podcasts for your perusal.
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