Chuchu Takes The Stage In Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury’s 'Unseen Trap’

The fourth episode of "Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury" slows its roll after last week. Guel withdraws his proposal of marriage to Suletta, claiming it was all a big misunderstanding (or was it?) Last week's exciting robot fight is replaced by a standardized test involving piloting a boring utility robot through a minefield. Rather than risk being expelled if she fails, the worst thing that could happen to Suletta here is needing to take a make-up exam. Even Suletta's mother Lady Prospera fails to make an appearance this time around, as much a sign as any that the show's revenge plot has been put on hold.

You might think that would make this week's episode, "Unseen Trap," a disappointing effort. But "Unseen Trap" is the meatiest episode of "Witch From Mercury" to date. The secret to the show's success so far has been juxtaposing high-stakes anime melodrama (as in last week's "Guel's Pride") with the more granular politics and world-building of a traditional Gundam show. This episode brings the latter elements to the surface, making clear that the Asticassia School of Technology exists within a wider world of inequality and exploitation. Most importantly, though, we are given a proper introduction to pink-haired force of nature Chuatury Panlunch this week. Never fear, Chuchu is here!

School Is Hell

Earlier, we learned that Suletta has a list of things she wants to accomplish at school. These include calling her friends by nicknames, eating lunch on the roof, and going on dates. All things that high school girls in anime and manga love to do with their classmates. Unfortunately, the real world is messier than Suletta's high school hopes and dreams. When Suletta attempts the minefield navigation test, she automatically fails because she needs a mechanic and a spotter. Later, when school bullies tamper with her robot, the teachers force her to continue the exam as is because checking machines beforehand is "part of the test." Everybody who has grown up within the Benerit Group knows these things. But nobody bothered to teach Suletta, who not only grew up far away on Mercury but spent the first few days of her time at Asticassia School of Technology in solitary confinement.

It's the small details that sell how Asticassia is ruled by politics instead of education. Suletta fails a written test because she answers the question "Who creates the processes to mass-produce new MS and MC for consumers?" with "factory personnel." When she wanders the school asking her classmates to help her find a spotter and mechanic, most of them either reject her as an enemy or (as Miorine believes) think of how they can use her to their best advantage. Eventually, Miorine requests that Suletta simply use her as a spotter. But if we learn anything this episode, it is that Suletta needs friends other than Miorine to survive at Asticassia. In fact, Suletta has hopes and dreams that Miorine could never understand as she is now.

Spacian Capitalism Kills!

"Unseen Trap" introduces Earth House, representing Asticassia's Earth students. We've seen members like Nika and Chuchu in earlier episodes, but they take center stage here. Chuchu and her friends work together in a hangar with farm animals. She is training to be a "craft operator," a job that Miorine blithely assumes anybody can do. Her robot of choice is a custom version of the blocky "Demi Trainer" mecha used by Asticassia for standard tests. Chuchu and her friends have been boxed by Asticassia into doing maintenance and physical labor. But Chuchu and her friends take academics seriously, even when Asticassia seemingly has no time for them.

The brief glimpse of Earth we are given this episode brings the contradictions of Asticassia and the Benerit Group to the surface. Asticassia teaches its students that the researchers and astounding wealth of the Benerit Group is responsible for the ongoing prosperity of the military-industrial complex. But we learn here that it is the poor laborers of Earth who did most of the work. At a televised protest against Spacian exploitation of Earth workers, we see signs reading "Work or Resist!" and "Spacian Capitalism Kills!" Meanwhile, television news reporters portray the demonstrators as extremists involved in an "illegal occupation." It's hard not to draw comparisons with the Occupy Movement in the United States, or even with the relatively recent Hong Kong protests (the weapons confiscated by the police pointedly include umbrellas.) A certain kind of anime fan loudly pushes back against the idea that anime might be political, but it's hard not to draw conclusions here as to what "Witch From Mercury" is arguing. As Bong Joon Ho famously said, "we all live in the same country, called Capitalism."

Chuchu Rules

At first, Chuchu refuses to give Suletta the help she asks for. After all, she's just another "Spacian turd" like the others. Miorine doesn't help Suletta's case by arguing later in the episode that Chuchu's disdain for Spacians is a case of "reverse racism." But over the course of the episode, the viewer learns that Chuchu and Suletta have more in common than Chuchu realizes at first. Suletta's Mercury background deprives her of knowledge and resources that her other classmates take for granted. The same bullies who torment Chuchu go after Suletta once they realize she's an easy mark. Most importantly of all, Suletta and Chuchu believe in education as something that has value in itself. Partway through the episode, Suletta tells Miorine of her dream to found a school back on Mercury. Miorine, who grew up with Asticassia's hypocrisy, can't imagine why anybody would think school is important or necessary. But only Suletta knows what it's like to live on a planet without one.

Chuchu is just as aware as Miorine of Asticassia's failures. But as a representative from Earth, she knows what opportunities the school represents to better the lives of her family and friends. She doesn't have the luxury of living in an overheated revenge plot like Suletta. Chuchu and her friends are characters in a Gundam show, not "The Tempest" or "The Count of Monte Cristo." Considering that Suletta is also the thumb of her mother, Earth House also represents the best chance for real institutional change. We'll have to see in future episodes how Suletta's friendship with Chuchu develops. But the fistfight that closes this episode, as deliciously messy as the beatdown from romantic comedy classic "Toradora," is a great start.

This Week's Addendum

Just So You Know: These write-ups are heavy on plot and character rather than other elements that make up animated productions, but the script is carrying "Witch From Mercury" for now. There were plenty of great Chuchu faces in this episode but the storyboarding, backgrounds and character animation remains rote compared to currently airing series like "Do It Yourself!!" and "Bocchi the Rock!" The music continues to be excellent, though.

Suletta's Other List: Proposal ended with Guel, Chuchu is Suletta's new best friend (wife?).

The Suletta and Miorine Power Hour: Suletta visited Miorine in her room, which is full of plants and garbage bags. Trust Miorine to not know how to clean up after herself, having lived a privileged life.

The Robot Watch: This week shone a spotlight on the Demi Trainer, part of a long tradition of standardized grunt robots in Gundam shows. It's not especially flashy compared to some of the other robots we've seen in this series, but it's probably far easier to maintain.

The Utena Corner: We see Suletta with her hair down for the first time this week, fulfilling the "Utena" tradition of characters letting their hair down for intimate bedroom scenes. Also, how does Chuchu's hair work? Why does it fit in a helmet when she's piloting a robot, but fluffs out when it's under a sleeping cap? A true mystery on par with anything from the "Utena" movie.

The Gundam Corner: Chuchu isn't the only Gundam hero prone to punching out her enemies. Just look at Kamille from "Zeta Gundam," or Domon from "G Gundam" even if that's a bit of a cheat.

Friends of Gundam: Twitter has been swimming in wonderful Chuchu art. Take your pick. Here's some nice art of Suletta and Miorine, too!

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