The Witch of Mercurythe last entry in the long run Gundam franchise, not only features the series’ first main female protagonist, but also proudly centers a queer romance. In GundamOver 40 years of history, there have been plenty of gay subtexts, gay secondary and tertiary characters, and fan submissions, but never anything as explicit as The Witch of Mercury and its lesbian protagonists, Suletta Mercury and Miorine Rembran.
So when Bandai Namco Filmworks recently attempted to steer the series away from its queer connections, fans were understandably furious and pointed to a queer-coded anime story being stifled by companies trying to maintain a cultural status quo.
The Witch of MercuryThe series finale aired on July 2, 2023. It delivered a clear and very weird ending for Suletta and Miorine, much to the delight of fans. But not even a month later, a furtive and searching edition of an interview in Ace of Gundam magazine was followed by a Bandai Namco’s completely backward PR statement on the Witch of Mercury official Twitter account claiming that the relationship between Suletta and Miorine is now “up to the viewer’s interpretation”.
The Witch of Mercury returns queer representation
In the print version of the interview from the September 2023 issue of Ace of Gundam, Suletta’s voice actress, Kana Ichinose describes being moved by the closeness that Suletta and Miorine share “as two married people”. Two days later, an edit was made to the digital version of the magazine, removing the word “married” from the interview and changing Ichinose’s statement to read more like “the closeness of the two.” The change was immediately noticed by Gundam passionate on social media, and spread so quickly that Bandai Namco thought it better to clear the air, saying a rogue publisher at Ace of Gundam added the word “married” to the interview as their “own interpretation”.
The idea that the word “married” was added by the editor and not spoken by Ichinose herself seems unlikely. The enthusiasm and obvious emotional investment of Ichinose playing Suletta and discussions with her co-star Lynn (who voices Miorine) on the radio program of the show majo raji indicate that she understands what their relationship is. In the final episode, Suletta and Miorine are seen with matching rings which the hosts chose to shine in the sun, drawing more attention to their status as a married couple. While it’s hard to prove if Ichinose actually said the word “married,” it’s clear she’s supportive of Suletta and Miorine’s romance, and the removal of the word certainly raises some eyebrows.
Kotaku has contacted Bandai Namco for comment.
The Witch of Mercury has wooed a passionate fanbase since its debut last fall, many of whom are queer. The official Twitter (or X) account of Witch of Mercury has the largest number of fans of any Gundam series, sales of Gunpla mobile suit models are at an all-time high, with Witch of Mercury kits that are selling like hotcakes, and the series brought in new fans to a franchise that was struggling to grow its viewership. By all metrics, Witch of Mercury is a success and should have the full support of Bandai Namco. And yet, a series of insane PR moves that match Japan’s baffling conservatism and lack of recognition of same-sex marriage are fed up and frustrating fans.
2019 poll numbers indicate that 10% of Japanese identify as LGBTQ+ which is actually higher than in the United States (7.2%). Yet representation is stifled and positive portrayals in the media are undermined by senior officials and politicians, despite the artists behind a project knowingly injecting queer themes into their stories. Weird themes like Suletta’s fingernails, as seen in The Witch of Mercury‘s final. The artist who drew a close-up of his hand leaves his index and middle finger nails shorter than his ring and little finger. Shorter nail length, especially on some fingers, is notoriously considered a marker of homosexuality among people who identify as female. So it’s implied that Suletta is keeping those nails clipped for Miorine’s benefit.
Japan has a troubling history when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights and protections. The courts of the country have been divided over still-respected ban on same-sex marriageTHE has just adopted the law on equality is at best a half measure to recognize that gay people deserve basic human rights, and transgender people face a series of archaic barriers on the path to legal gender recognition. Individuals often remain locked in to avoid workplace harassment or discrimination where a lack of protection can create toxic work environments. Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that the media likes The Witch of Mercury would be subject to a conservative attempt to reframe its narrative. It has happened before.
THE Yuri! On the ice effect
What happened to The Witch of Mercury is unfortunately too familiar. Look no further than the 2016 hit Fate Yuri! On the ice, which tells the story of a struggling figure skater, Yuri Katsuki, who is driven to success by the charismatic and undeniably handsome Victor Nikiforov. Similar to The Witch of Mercury, the couple’s relationship is explicitly defined in the story, and the characters also exchange rings. It was, and still is, celebrated as a landmark anime for LGBTQ+ representation. It received acclaim in Japan, winning Animation of the Year at the Tokyo Anime Awards as well as a number of fan-voted awards. It was consistently named as one of the best anime of the 2010s by IGN, Anime News Networkand here at Kotaku.
In what seemed like an obvious decision to capitalize on the show’s success, a feature film Yuri! On the ice the movie was green light almost immediately. But six years later, a statement from the CEO of Studio MAPPA Manabu Otsuka is basically saying that despite the success of the show, the company hasn’t made a lot of money from Yuri! On the iceand as such, the movie probably won’t happen.
Back when Blu-ray sales mattered to the anime industry, Yuri! On the ice set the competition on fireselling nearly double the number of records of its nearest competitor, the juggernaut franchise love live. The dazzling success of Yuri! On the ice led to MAPPA’s increased awareness in the industry, which helped her secure the production rights The attack of the Titansthe endless final season of the hugely popular Jujutsu Kaisenand the second season of Makoto Yukimura’s Viking masterpiece, Vinland Saga. For MAPPA to claim that the Yuri! On the ice the film is not financially viable is dishonest and contradicts industry standard measures for success. MAPPA could release the Yuri! On the ice movie tomorrow and it would be a guaranteed hit. Which begs the question, what is the delay?
Speaking out against anime production committees handing out work to animation studios is a dangerous game. In most of his press for Yuri! On the ice, Creator and director Sayo Yamamoto performed well, answering softball questions that never directly addressed the very obvious on-screen love playing out between Yuki and Victor. But, in the Yuri! On the ice fanbook “Come on Yuri Come on!” Fsince 2017, Yamamoto claimed that Yuri! On the ice had been censored out of her control and that she had to fight to keep a kiss between Yuri and Victor in the final cut of the show.
Since then, Yamamoto has not obtained any other projects. Having arguably the biggest hit of 2016, receiving critical acclaim from your own industry, and then not receiving a job doesn’t add up. MAPPA linked Yamamoto to the Yuri! On the ice movie project and basically put her on hold for six years, leaving her in some sort of anime purgatory. In an industry where the slightest scandal can lead to blacklistthe idea that Yamamoto is being punished for wanting to go all-in on a queer narrative isn’t so far-fetched.
The Witch of Mercury is always weird
One of the major themes that the Gundam candor comes up again and again is acceptance and understanding. The father of Gundam himself, Yoshiyuki Tomino, has been writing stories for decades, imploring audiences to find that understanding and embrace it. The Witch of Mercury feels like a big step towards realizing that dream, especially when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community.
The Witch of Mercury delivered on what he promised from episode one. In this first episode: Suletta is named Miorine’s groom after winning a mobile suit duel. When Suletta asks Miorine if the two can even be married, Miorine states “it’s common around here, I guess where you’re from is a bit more conservative.” Now, with the entire series wrapped up and the PR mess left in its wake, that line carries even more weight, and it seems increasingly likely that the team behind The Witch of Mercury fought with manicured teeth and nails to give us as much homosexuality as possible.
Just say that Suletta and Miorine are married. There is no reason for it to be so difficult. Still, the anime industry seems to be beholden to a few crusty conservatives who don’t want gays in their media. The response to Bandai Namco fumbling the bag was a complete beating on social media. But while setting the company on fire is satisfying (and certainly justifiable) for fans who feel betrayed, there is an urgent need for tangible change, which can only come from within those companies that create the content. that we like to watch.
The Witch of Mercury represents just the latest example of how queer narratives in the media are still marginalized. If you’re going to greenlight a giant gay robot and a political show, let it be a giant gay robot and a political show.