Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, the first Gundam animated TV series in roughly seven years, has just drawn to a close. For the first time in the franchise’s history, the protagonist was a woman, and the show generated a lot of buzz for the new directions it was taking Gundam, such as including elements of school life and inter-corporate war.
The show’s writer, Ichiro Ohkouchi (also responsible for Planetes, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, SK8 the Infinity, and more) was 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 all that young myself, so I thought if I merely tried to match the story’s sensibilities to those of young people, I’d end up missing the mark. Instead of simply lowering the target age, I expanded it — up, down, left, right — with the hope of making a series that would also be appealing 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 couldn’t 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, that also made it hard to control the amount of information involved. Maintaining 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 that countless people have created an uninterrupted chain of works that feature the things that make the franchise great. I couldn’t just ignore that and make something totally different.” “One thing I can say is that one of the central elements is a certain hard-edged tone. When the first Mobile Suit Gundam came out, most of the new series’ viewers hadn’t even been born yet. Viewers knew many people who had lived through war themselves, and so war was still something that still felt real and familiar. When I thought about what fighting meant to today’s generations, I thought ‘companies.’ People experience factional struggles, they get called to oppressive meetings and harassed by superiors. I thought I could use those kinds of battlefields to create something that wasn’t all that divorced from modern audiences.”
Matching the desires of the series’ creator 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. It was formed in 2019, and its debut song, “Yoru ni Kakeru,” took first place in Billboard JAPAN’s 2020 “Hot 100” year-end song 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 those high expectations. At first, I had these ideas for concepts that I thought would be interesting, but ultimately 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 you could interpret in different ways as the story progressed. We hoped to make a song that would remain fresh, with new things to discover each time you listened to it, instead of just keeping 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 amazed. The novel isn’t a happy one, so the song they wrote could have ended out like a witch’s curse, but their imagination led them to come up a response in the form of ‘The Blessing.’”
Cradle Planet is written from the point of view of the Gundam Aerial, the mobile suit piloted by the show’s protagonist, Suletta Mercury. Ohkouchi explains why: “Suletta starts out unaware of what’s really going on, so I thought that 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 protagonist?’ I proposed writing about how Suletta would look from the perspective of the Gundam, and they took up my idea.”
The name The Witch from Mercury conjures to mind images of “curses” and “spells.” Ayase talked about the creation process that led them to “The Blessing.” “At first, I was just kind of thinking, ‘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 involving people encouraging and supporting each other, which, I felt, threw the curses into sharper relief. I always struggle with naming songs when we finish them, but this time the process went surprisingly smoothly. ‘Curse’ is such a strong word, but at the same time it’s commonplace, something you can feel in all kinds of places. ‘The Blessing’ is, of course, about the world of The Witch from Mercury, but I also think it connects, in a way, to actual society.”
In the past, vocalist ikura has decided on delicate singing nuances before going into recording, but this time was different. “I didn’t think too hard about it, but instead read the novel, listened to the music, and then decided to throw in 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 emotions, it would be better to sing the words as they are written, expressing the feelings I had when reading the story.” “Suletta is doing her best to survive in the environment she is thrust into, but that’s a curse placed on her by her mother. She doesn’t realize this, but her partner, the Aerial, knows all about it. At the end of the novel, when Suletta chooses to confront her situation head-on instead of fleeing, the Aerial tells her ‘I’m here with you.’ I hope that the Aerial’s kindness and Suletta’s power come through in the song.”
When Ohkouchi heard the song, he says, “I was moved at how accurately the image of the original novel was retained, and how it was opened up to make the song.” At the same time, he also points out how the lyrics 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 viewers to listen to the opening every time, without skipping it. I wanted to make it a song that developed along with the heroine, so that it felt different as the story went along, and its emotional impact flowed with the story.”
“I’m amazed that they were able to write it that way,” says Ohkouchi. “Originally, it’s a song about Suletta, but, for example, after you watch episode 7, it becomes a song about Miorine. Then, at some point, it becomes a song of encouragement for the audience. It’s wonderful how its range of interpretations blossoms like that. When you try something new, at some point you’ll be tempted to give up. If ‘The Blessing’ springs to mind at a time like this, it’ll inspire you to keep pushing forward.”
—This interview by Takuto Ueda first appeared on Billboard Japan.
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