Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, the first Gundam animated TV series in about seven years, has just come to an end. For the first time in the franchise’s history, the main character was a woman, and the show created a lot of buzz for the new directions it took Gundam, such as including elements of school life and inter-company warfare.
The show’s writer, Ichiro Ohkouchi (also responsible for Planets, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, SK8 the Infinity, and more) were asked to “create a Gundam series that could be enjoyed by newcomers to the franchise, including young viewers.” This, he explains, is why he added new elements to the anime. “I’m not that young myself, so I thought that if I just tried to match the sensibility of the story with that of the young, I’d end up missing the mark. Instead of just lowering the target age, I widened it – up, down, left, right – with the hope of making a series that would also appeal to younger viewers. Traditionally, Gundam is mainly about tragedy, battles and wars, but this new series also involved school life, society and romance.”
However, he could not turn his back on the traditions of the franchise, which began in 1979. “I wanted to create something that was true to Gundam. I added new elements to the excellent foundation established by previous Gundam shows. However, it also made it difficult to control the amount of information. Keeping the balance was a struggle.” Ohkouchi did this out of respect for Gundam fans and for the traditions of the franchise. “The reason Gundam is so famous is because countless people have created an uninterrupted chain of works that contain the things that makes the franchise great. I couldn’t just ignore it and do something completely different.” “One thing I can say is that one of the key elements is a certain hard-edged tone. When the first Mobile Suit Gundam came out, most of the viewers of the new series weren’t even born yet. The viewers knew a lot of people who themselves had lived through war, and so war was still something that still felt real and familiar. When I thought of what struggle meant to today’s generations, I thought ‘corporations.’ People experience factional struggles, they are called to oppressive meetings and harassed by superiors . I thought I could use those kinds of battlefields to create something that wasn’t so separate from modern audiences.”
Matching the series creator’s wishes to share Gundam with even more people by expanding its audience, YOASOBI (a musical duo known for producing songs inspired by novels) wrote the show’s opening song, “The Blessing.” YOASOBI consists of two artists, Ayase and Ikura. Formed in 2019, its debut song, “Yoru ni Kakeru”, took first place in Billboard JAPAN‘s 2020 year-end “Hot 100” songs chart.
YOASOBI’s Ayase recalls, “Honestly, there was a lot of pressure. However, I wanted to create a great song that would live up to the high expectations. At first, I had these ideas for concepts that I thought would be interesting, but in the end I decided to make a powerful, straightforward song that reflected my image of Gundam.”
ikura added, “It’s the opening theme, so you hear it every episode. That’s why we talked about making a song that could be interpreted in different ways as the story progressed. We hoped to make a song that would stay fresh , with new things to discover every time you listened to it, rather than just retaining the impression it made when you first heard it.”
Each of YOASOBI’s songs is based on a novel. The “blessing” is based on Cradle Planet, a novel by Ohkouchi. “When I first heard their song,” says Ohkouchi, “I was surprised. The novel is not happy, so the song they wrote could have ended up as a witch’s curse, but their imagination made them come up with an answer in the form of of ‘The Blessing’.”
Cradle Planet is written from the point of view of Gundam Aerial, the mobile suit piloted by the show’s protagonist, Suletta Mercury. Ohkouchi explains why: “Suletta starts off unaware of what’s really going on, so I thought a song based on a novel about her would end up being really vague. Writing about the adults around her would result in a song that doesn’t really match the series. The show is about Gundam, so I thought ‘Why not make a Gundam the main character?’ I suggested writing about how Suletta would look from the Gundam’s perspective, and they took my idea.”
The name The witch from Mercury conjures up images of “curses” and “spells”. Ayase talked about the creation process that led them to the “Blessing.” “At first I just kind of thought, ‘What’s the opposite of a curse?’ I’m not sure if it would be a blessing, but reading through the novel and other materials, there were these different situations where people encouraged and supported each other, which I felt threw the curses into sharper relief. I always struggle. naming songs when we’re done with them, but this time the process went surprisingly smoothly. ‘Curse’ is such a strong word, but it’s also commonplace, something you can feel in all sorts of places. ‘The Blessing’ is, of course, about world of The witch from Mercurybut I also think it is in a way related to the actual society.”
In the past, vocalist Ikura has decided on delicate song nuances before starting the recording, but this time was different. “I didn’t think too much about it, but instead read the novel, listened to the music, and then decided to throw all the power I felt from them. The lyrics are powerful even compared to other YOASOBI songs, and I’m singing about really sweeping themes , so I thought that instead of trying to load the lyrics with my own delicately detailed feelings, it would be better to sing the words as they are written and express the feelings I had when I read the story.” “Suletta is doing her best to survive in the environment she’s been put in, but it’s a curse her mother has placed on her. She doesn’t realize this, but her partner, Aerial, knows all about it. At the end of the novel, when Suletta chooses to confront her situation head-on instead of running away, Aerial tells her ‘I’m here with you.’ I hope the antenna’s kindness and Suletta’s power come through in the song.”
Upon hearing the song, Ohkouchi says, “I was moved by how accurately the image of the original novel was preserved and how it was opened up to make the song.” At the same time, he also points out how the texts can be interpreted differently after watching each episode. The song itself changes as the story progresses.
“That’s what we focused on the most,” explains Ayase. “The season consists of 12 episodes. I wanted the viewers to listen to the opening every time without skipping it. I wanted to make it a song that developed with the heroine so that it felt different as the story went, and its emotional impact flowed with the story.”
“I’m surprised they were able to write it that way,” Ohkouchi says. “Originally it’s a song about Suletta, but for example, after you’ve seen episode 7, it becomes a song about Miorine. Then at some point it becomes an encouraging song for the audience. It’s wonderful how its range of interpretations blossoms like that . When you try something new, at some point you will be tempted to give up. If ‘The Blessing’ appears at a time like this, it will inspire you to keep pushing forward.”
—This interview with Takuto Ueda first appeared on Billboard Japan.