If anime loves a child soldier, there’s few franchises that love them more than Gundam. From Amuro Ray to incoming hero Suletta Mercury, the series is defined by putting youths into walking weapons of war. But its latest series is kicking off with bringing that idea to its most extreme.
This week Sunrise internationally debuted The Witch From Mercury Prologue, a one-off prequel episode that is set a decade or so before the events of the main series—at the least, as it stars the show’s protagonist, Suletta (known in Prologue by presumably her birth name, Ericht “Eri” Sayama), as a toddler on her fourth birthday, living with her parents on the asteroid facility Fólkvangr. It’s Eri’s mom Elnora who is actually the test pilot of the Gundam Lfrith, the latest in an experimental line of Mobile Suits that connects directly to its pilots’ GUND cybernetics to power its weapons technology.
Naturally, you can see where this is going. Over the course of Prologue it’s revealed that Eri has a natural affinity even stronger than her mother’s to connect to the Lfrith, and when things go bad—and Earth’s own Mobile Suit development council sets up a military force to violently crack down on development of the Gundams in Space, wiping out the workers on Fólkvangr in a raid—there comes a time to put Mother and daughter alike in the cockpit.
To be fair to the adults of Prologue, they don’t force Eri into the Gundam—Evangelion this ain’t. The child hides there during the raid, as she knows it’s where her mother will likely come, as Elnora spends most of her free time testing her limits in the Lfrith’s cockpit. But nevertheless, Eri is the one controlling the suit when it leaves to engage the enemy mechs attacking the asteroid... and little to her own awareness, she’s really good at killing people with it.
It’s one of the most horrifying sequences a Gundam show or movie has put out in years—both for the fact that on the surface, the action is awesome and brutal in the way you want your giant robot laser beam space action to be, but for the added gutpunch that Eri is simply too young to understand what she’s just done by waving her hand at the dots on a screen in front of her. Unlike Hathaway’s similarly awe-inspiring and horrifying Mobile Suit sequence last year, where the human perspective was placed out of the suits to emphasise the gravity of their destruction, here everything is weightless, almost clinical, reflecting Eri’s own disconnect from the knowledge of what she’s done... a knowledge her observing mother Elnora has, who can only acquiesce to her daughter’s playful comment that the explosions of three dead people before her look like the candles on her birthday cake.
Gundam’s young protagonists have always been visited upon with great trauma simply for the act of getting inside their devil’s machines. The Gundam is a corruptive tool, capable of combatting great horror but also in dealing that horror—a theme that has been at the heart of the series since Amuro first got in the original Gundam over 40 years ago. Transposing that trauma onto a child as young as Eri—young enough that they cannot yet navigate the complex morality of what it means to take lives and pilot something like the Gundam—is a fascinating, gutwrenching idea that Witch From Mercury seems like it’s going to play with when the series begins in earnest next month. When we meet Eri, now Suletta, again, it’ll be very interesting indeed to see just how she approaches this moral quandary that has haunted generations of Gundam protagonists since the very beginning.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury is set to begin airing in Japan this October, with a simultaneous worldwide broadcast planned through a currently undisclosed platform.
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