Giant Robots Against Colonialism: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury’s Shakespearean roots

By: S. Chang November 29, 20230 Comments

Content Warning: discussion of colonial violence, racism, ableism

Spoilers for all of The Witch From Mercury

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury is a show that does not just wear its inspirations on its sleeve but builds on them. One such reference point is William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, from which G-Witch borrows three characters: Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban. In doing so, G-Witch spotlights colonialist readings of the play, particularly by highlighting Prospero and Prospera’s manipulative tendencies. Prospera embodies multiple roles from The Tempest, which complicates the narrative. Suletta’s victory using the Calibarn Gundam enables The Tempest’s Caliban to reclaim his rights as an indigenous person by proxy, envisioning a world where the colonized can break away and heal from oppression by joining together.

Colonialist readings of The Tempest often point toward the relationship between Prospero and Caliban as a reflection of the colonizer and the colonized. Before the play’s events, Prospero had landed on the unnamed island, killed Caliban’s mother, Sycorax, and subjugated Caliban. Colonialist readings of the play paint Prospero as a colonizer “who [befriended] the subjugated natives in the name of cooperation […] and then [exploited] and [colonized] them”. Such interpretations align with Caliban’s description of Prospero as “a tyrant, a / sorcerer, that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island.” Caliban’s antagonism toward Prospero lies not only in murdering his mother but also in taking over the island that Caliban should have rightfully inherited. 

In referring to Prospero’s cunning and cheating, Caliban supports the belief that he and his mother did not expect Prospero’s violent conquest of their island. Prospero, on the other hand, speaks of Sycorax and Caliban by exclusively referring to the former as a “witch” while constantly deriding the latter for his darker skin and suggesting both to be innately evil. Such rhetoric reflects the racist ideas that drove many imperialist powers to justify their conquests under the white man’s burden, believing indigenous people incapable of orderly ruling themselves. G-Witch’s Prospera inherits many of Prospero’s nastier traits, emphasizing these colonialist elements of the story.

Prospera raising a finger to her lips secretively

Neither Prospera nor Prospero hesitate when presented with the opportunity to usurp the power of others to benefit themselves. Political machinations have exiled both characters from their homes before their stories’ beginnings. However, Prospero was a wealthy nobleman before arriving on the island. Prospera was little more than average before the Vanadis Incident. Prospero and Prospera are left with only their children and their thirst for vengeance for company. However, Prospero is driven by his resentment over losing his status and all the benefits that came with it, and Prospera seeks revenge on behalf of her family and colleagues. Prospera has a minority status simply by existing as a disabled woman of color, complicating her relationship with the colonialist narrative that G-Witch is adapting and referencing.

As a member of the Ochs Earth team and an intersectional minority, Prospera is simultaneously a victim and perpetrator in a way that Prospero cannot be. Prospera’s claim to power does not result in her being revered as a magician as Prospero often is. She is instead labeled derisively as a witch. While Prospero rises to power by stealing Sycorax’s magic, Prospera’s use of Ochs Earth technology instead proposes a merging of Prospero with Sycorax. Prospera is a victim of Spacian-led oppression in a manner reminiscent of Sycorax being robbed of her island. Prospera is an outcast even after climbing the ranks and joining the Benerit Group, relying on political manipulation to reach her goals. Despite earning a seat at the top of this oppressive system, Prospera remains villainized by the majority group in power. However, rather than disabling this system, Prospera seeks to manipulate it for her own ends. By occupying this position, Prospera complicates colonialist themes from The Tempest by presenting a member of the oppressed who perpetuates the cycle of oppression.

Prospera mourning her daughter Eri's body

Prospera and Prospero neglect the goals of Ochs Earth and Sycorax in their quests for vengeance and act directly counter to what either of those parties would have wanted. Sycorax ostensibly did not envision dying at the hands of a man who would use her powers to abuse her son, just as Gund technology began as a medical tool before being used in war machines. Prospera’s prosthetic arm is an omnipresent reminder of Gundam’s original, well-intentioned roots. However, she turns to Gund’s violent applications in Gundams over their medical uses in her quest to avenge her lost husband and colleagues. In order to accomplish her violent revenge, she undermines Miorine and Suletta’s attempts to develop Gund technology for peace, even though what Gund-Arm is trying to accomplish hews closer to what Prospera’s dead colleagues would have wanted. When she uses the Aerial to destroy the other Ochs Earth Gundams at Quinharbor, she murders many Earthian bystanders, demonstrating a flagrant disregard for her past, suffering due to being aligned with the Earth faction, and Aerial’s roots as Earthian technology. In doing so, Prospera becomes actively complicit in the systemic violence that caused her family’s tragic past.

These traits reflect the attitudes with which colonizing powers took from and exploited indigenous people for their expansion. Prospero’s specific brand of abuse toward Caliban aligns with the parasitic theory of colonialism as “a one-sided contract that seeks to extract profits while offering up nothing in return.” Prospera in G-Witch continues her inspiration’s colonialist legacy in her single-minded quest for vengeance. Prospera’s willingness to use the Aerial for her ends, regardless of who gets hurt in the process, mirrors Prospero’s callousness in usurping the island from Sycorax and Caliban. Even if they are justified in their anger, they rely on exploiting tools intended for the benefit of others to accomplish their selfish desires for revenge. Gund technology’s perversion from medical to military use reflects the generally violent nature of colonialism, using the goodwill of indigenous peoples against them. Prospero is happy to murder Sycorax to install himself in a position of power, putting down the indigenous Caliban in the process. Likewise, Prospera has no problem terrorizing the Earth despite needing Ochs Earth’s Gund technology to survive, needing both her prosthetic arm and the Aerial to reach her goals.

dubious representatives from Earth. "Now you weapons merchants want to sell us medical products too?"

Prospera and Aerial’s relationship mirrors Prospero and Ariel, with the latter doing most of the heavy lifting at the behest of the former, carrying with it the colonialist implications of Ariel’s compliance with Prospero. Ariel in The Tempest is a magical spirit implied to be another indigenous islander. Unlike Caliban, Ariel has no objections to working as Prospero’s servant and harasses Caliban by incessantly pinching him without Prospero’s command. G-Witch Aerial is similarly compliant to Prospera and is ruthless when battling Suletta piloting the Calibarn, which is also an Ochs Earth Gundam. In The Tempest, Ariel contrasts against Caliban “as a powerless, obedient, and supportive indigenous figure.” Neither Ariel nor Aerial ever turns against their respective authority figures, reminiscent of victims of colonization who believe it is better to work with their oppressors. Their willingness to participate in violence against Caliban and Calibarn despite their shared identities highlights the harmful results of their behavior. When colonized people choose to work with their colonizers, any personal benefit comes with complicity in harming others of their kind. However, it is worth noting how Aerial in G-Witch similarly combines multiple roles from The Tempest, akin to Prospera.

Prospera’s doting towards Eri in the Aerial parallels Prospero’s obsessive protectiveness over his daughter, Miranda, highlighting the generational aspect of the perpetuation of colonialist violence. Just like her father, Miranda antagonizes Caliban as an indigenous person. Prospera justifies their shared mistreatment of Caliban by accusing Caliban of attempting to rape Miranda. His fears stem less from a place of genuine concern than the idea that “the virginity of his daughter may be violated by a native rapist, [before marrying] a civilized lover coming from the western world.” Prospero cares only for Caliban concerning how he might corrupt Miranda, similar to how Prospera uses Suletta as a tool while only focusing on Eri as her “real” daughter.

Like Miranda, Eri learns this antagonistic behavior from her parent and echoes it. While not as overtly hateful as Miranda, who spews various racist comments toward Caliban, Eri still cruelly pushes Suletta away and willingly helps Prospera terrorize Earth. Eri occupies a similar intersectional minority space to Prospera, functionally disabled in her containment within the Aerial, and as such, demonstrates how Prospera has passed her trauma down to Eri. By being the primary tool with which Suletta participates in the school duels and complicit in Prospera’s plans, Eri, like her mother, ends up helping to perpetuate the system of oppression that caused her family so much grief. This complicity reaps differing rewards between G-Witch and The Tempest.

multiple floating copies of young Eri

Prospero ultimately frees Ariel in The Tempest, but Caliban’s fate is inconclusive. This act of “freeing” highlights how colonizers treat the rights of those they conquered as privileges to be granted for their servitude. In contrast, those who rebelled are not assured of their freedom. Ariel becomes indebted to Prospero for releasing them, despite freedom being “the birthright of any individual and not the colonizers’ gift.” Rewards granted by colonizers in exchange for servitude merely return that which their rule had initially stolen away. However, freedom returned with loyalist strings attached is not an adequate replacement for colonizers robbing indigenous people of human rights. Unlike Ariel, Caliban is not explicitly freed. The audience is left to interpret whether he can live in peace on the island after Prospero departs or if he is shipped back with Prospero as a spectacle for Europeans to gawk at. The inconclusive nature of Caliban’s fate contrasting with Ariel’s proposes that complicity in colonialism is the better alternative for the oppressed, as it is a definite route to freedom.

G-Witch uses the Aerial and Calibarn Gundams to show a third route, where indigenous people subject to colonialism can find happiness and peace through cooperatively dismantling oppressive systems. Unlike Ariel, who remains hostile to Caliban to the end, Aerial the Gundam sacrifices herself in an act of protection before lending her Gund-Bits to fuse with and power up the Calibarn, allowing Suletta to disable the Interplanetary Laser and destroy all the Gundams present at Quiet Zero. The union of two Ochs Earth Gundams creates an alternative ending where indigenous people, characterized by Caliban and Ariel through their Gundam counterparts, can stop the perpetuation of colonialist violence to find happiness. Eri is still trapped inside an inanimate object, and Prospera must use a wheelchair. However, Suletta gives them peace by removing the tools of violent oppression from this world. 

Their anger was deserved, but playing into the rules of the system at large is shown to be the wrong way of resolving their grief. This ending suggests that where Caliban and Ariel went wrong in The Tempest was in their split nature, Caliban alone seeking to fend off Prospero while Ariel was happy to capitulate to his orders. G-Witch’s ending shows that when oppressed people come together, they can all reclaim what they had lost, rather than a select few conditionally earning liberties through loyalty to their oppressors.

Calibarn and a damaged Ariel facing off

The reclamation of power enabled by Aerial and Calibarn’s fusion allows Gund technology to return to its medical roots, undoing the corrupting force of colonialist violence. The Gundams are inherently violent in their application and need to disappear if Gund is to return to its roots. The Earthian doctor Miorine meets points out the difficulties of advertising technology for medical use while it is simultaneously a tool for committing atrocities. Like any technology, Gund can help to heal or harm, depending on how people use it. When oppressive application prevails, promoting such tools as beneficial to those scarred by the destruction they caused is complicated. Only after Suletta destroys all the Gundams does the technology on-screen turn from military to medical in its primary application.

In the epilogue, there is a heavy focus on disability technology. Petra, Suletta, and Prospera all appear with mobility aids, emphasizing the benefits of Gund technology after the destruction of the Gundams at Quiet Zero. Not only that, but Eri’s continued presence reflects a willingness to let disabled individuals exist as they are. Prospera’s quest to “fix” Eri only resulted in more tragedy. Suletta and Miorine instead choose to accommodate Eri by wearing communication devices. Healing from the scars of oppression means accepting that the damage done to a person cannot be made to go away. However, they can still be provided the necessary tools to live a happy life. By transplanting the core of colonialist themes in The Tempest, G-Witch shows how indigenous powers can be returned to their original non-violent roots while also providing a means by which one can recover from the scars of colonization.

Suletta and Miorine sitting together on a river bank

In conjunction, G-Witch and The Tempest paint a complicated picture of colonization and the best route out of it. Prospera and Prospero are both heavily reliant on using the abilities of others, whether they are stolen or gained from manipulating others. Prospera and Eri occupy unique twists on concepts from The Tempest, showing how colonialist systems can be perpetuated by those previously harmed by them. While The Tempest proposes that capitulating to colonizers is the safest way to freedom, G-Witch instead seeks a total reclamation of indigenous powers from colonizing forces. By coming together for the benefit of all, colonizer violence can be fought off and healed from, albeit not wholly undone. Whether Petra or Suletta ever return to being fully abled is unknown, though Prospera and Eri are almost certainly beyond recovery. However, with sufficient medical tools and the support of those around them, their happiness and quality of life will be no less than anyone else. It is a complex but ultimately positive ending that builds on pre-existing Shakespearean themes and makes something nuanced and new.

Additional Works Cited

Bryant, Rachel. “Toward the Desertion of Sycorax’s Island: Challenging the Colonial Contract.” English Studies in Canada, vol. 39, no. 4, Dec. 2013, pp. 91-111.

Ghammaz, Saif Al Deen Lutfi Ali Al. “Revisiting William J. Shakespeare’s The Tempest From a Colonial and Postcolonial Lens.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 13, no. 6, June 2023, pp. 1373-1378.

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