Welcome to the future of Gundam, my friends: we’ve got a robot school, we’ve got megacorporation politics, and we’ve got girls defending each other’s honour by engaging in giant mecha duels for the right to be wives.
This weekend saw the debut of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, the first mainline entry in the legendary mecha anime franchise since 2015’s Iron Blooded Orphans. Set in a new timeline within the Gundam continuity, the series follows the franchise’s first female protagonist, Suletta Mercury, who grapples with the trauma of her childhood after being thrust into a conflict over the future of Mobile Suit development and her new life at the Asticassia School of Technology. An academy for Mobile Suit pilots and engineers controlled by the domineering Beneritt Group — a conglomerate of weapons development manufacturers who hold vast economic and political power over humanity’s nascent colonisation of space — Asticassia is home to the scions of these companies, and the future mechanised soldiers of conflict.
Suletta, largely naive to the complex relationships and rivalries she finds herself put into arriving Asticassia, finds herself immediately drawn to one student in particular: Miorine Rembran, the daughter of the Beneritt Group head Delling Rembran (the same man, unbeknownst to Suletta, responsible for her childhood trauma). Witch From Mercury opens with Suletta and Miorine literally bumping into each other in space, when the former discovers the latter apparently attempting to flee Asticassia, and the duo’s connection only deepens when Suletta finds herself compelled to come to Miorine’s aid when she finds out that Asticassia’s most celebrated Mobile Suit pilot, Guel Jeturk, is betrothed to Miorine. Guel is Asticassia’s “Holder,” a title given to the pilot at the top of its classes achieved through mecha-on-mecha combat in school-sanctioned duels. But as Miorine’s father is the head of Asticassia’s school board, the title grants him Miorine’s hand in an arranged marriage, potentially combining the political powers of not just Delling’s status in the Beneritt Group with one its most influential companies, Jeturk Heavy Machinery, run by Guel’s father Vim.
Much to Suletta’s shock and eventual frustration, Guel treats his relationship with Miorine as disposably transactional, and about their status as inheritors to the Beneritt Group’s power more than anything romantic. Bordering on abusive, his pompous attitude and mistreatment of her is the thrust behind Miorine’s apparently repeated attempts to flee Asticassia. When Suletta discovers that this is what she accidentally impeded by “rescuing” Miorine in the opening of the episode, she immediately leaps to her new friend’s aid, challenging Guel to a Mobile Suit duel.
Although Miorine attempts to take her future into her own hands by standing in for Suletta in the duel — going as far as to take out Suletta’s suit, the Gundam Aerial, herself — the tide is quickly turned against Guel when Suletta races in to help, demanding Miorine let her pilot Aerial. Allowing her to, Suletta immediately accesses Aerial’s powerful core technology, the GUND Format — a semi-illegal human/MS interlink — that empowers her to quickly overwhelm Guel’s own mecha with a dazzling remote-drone attack. Winning the duel, Suletta learns that she is now has the title of Asticassia’s Holder… and with it, Miorine’s hand in marriage. Although Suletta is surprised, Miorine casually tells her that women marrying each other is commonplace — noting that Mercury, Suletta’s apparent home colony, must be rather conservative based on her unfamiliarity — and accepts her new “groom” at the episode’s climax.
Gundam has played with the politics of arranged marriage and unwilling suitors plenty of times before, but centering Miorine’s marriage in both the micro scale of its personal drama and the macro of its wider worldbuilding like this — we’re shown Vim Jeturk attempting to assassinate Delling Rembran in the background of the episode, in order to permanently seal his son’s marriage to her — and then immediately flipping the switch by making Suletta her new match is fascinating. The casual nature of its queerness is surprising for a franchise as old as Gundam. Nothing is played for comedy, and although Suletta is initially shocked, it’s made clear she is drawn to Miorine throughout the episode, and Miorine is likewise as accepting of her “groom” regardless of their gender.
It’s not like Gundam hasn’t tackled queer elements before. Although never textually a couple, original franchise deuteragonists Amuro Ray and Char Aznable are a foundational pillar in Yaoi shipping for their intensely intimate relationship as rivals-turned-allies-turned-rivals, while both 1999’s Turn A Gundam and Witch From Mercury’s immediate predecessor Iron Blooded Orphans engaged with homoromantic attachment in both Guin Rhineford’s infatuation with series protagonist Loran Cehack and the relationship between Yamagi Gilmerton and Norba Shino, respectively. It’s just never centered those explorations in the way The Witch From Mercury has, let alone so immediately.
Time will tell just how Suletta’s new connection to Miorine will play out over the series — after all, the title of Holder and therefore Miorine’s hand in marriage is clearly transitive, and it’s hard to say just how many suitors there had been before Guel and now Suletta. But their connection as displaced outsiders wishing for more beyond the systems of power trapping them — Miorine and the political capitalism of her father’s work, Suletta and the trauma of her childhood and the GUND format that powers the Aerial — makes the duo an incredibly compelling pair to watch already. The Witch From Mercury appears to be placing the burgeoning relationship between Suletta and Miorine at the heart of its story from the get-go, and if it’s willing to make this arranged marriage blossom into something deeper, there’s the potential for us to have not only Gundam’s first primary female protagonist in the series, but its first explicitly queer one too.
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