This review contains spoilers
And just like that, it's over. The Witch From Mercury has been a hot topic ever since it debuted last year with a stunning prologue episode that got everyone talking, not least because it has a killer name!
With two seasons covering 24 episodes in total, the series as a whole concluded on Sunday with a finale that put all the characters to rest, for good or ill. And while you can certainly say that the finale packed an emotional punch, it was also replete with many of the series' lesser qualities, making it feel like too much candy - sweet, but not as satisfying as you might like.
What's split the fandom on the second half, in my opinion, is quality of presentation over quality of writing. For some, the sheer gloss of the visuals, stellar direction and thumping soundtrack papered over the cracks enough to leave the series enjoyable. For others, the complete lack of in-world logic, consequences and payoff for earlier setup has soured them on the show. Both views have their merits - does it really matter if the show doesn't stick the landing if it makes you feel good anyway? Can we not live in a world where mass-murdering maniacs get to just chill out and enjoy life when it's all over? It put me in mind of this meme actually.
One of the major issues is pacing. We had a slow build up in season one, along with what seemed like smart machinations from Shaddiq and his harem of hot girl pilots from Grassley House. The evil Peil association, with four old hags using physically altered substitutes for their young Lord, was also trying to take over the running of everything, using forbidden technology and murdering any pilots not good enough to cut it. Suletta makes for an appealingly naive protagonist, very much in the Harry Potter vein of finding herself in a social world that's completely alien to her, while simultaneously possessing the skills to dominate it.
The introduction of the Earthian terrorist group, Dawn of Fold, gave the series some real teeth - Sophie Pulone, the self-appointed Witch from Earth, was a cackling ball of murderous energy, and easily my favourite character in the show. I had high hopes for her and Norea in season 2.
Sadly for me, Sophie didn't make it through the first two episodes of the new season, which gave me a bit of headache - without that punishing presence, the focus dropped off, with the series moving all of our characters around the board, dislodging friendships, partnerships and anything else it could do to mess with the status quo, separating everyone in order to play their roles and build them up with some bitter life experience. Headstrong Miorine loses her confidence, Guel undergoes a maturation process powered by tragic death at every turn, Prospera initiates a mass murder on Earth, Suletta gets abandoned, we find out the truth about Ericht and everything goes apocalyptic with the introduction of Quiet Zero, the whispered threat of the first season writ large.
So about 50 episodes of plot boiled down into a breakneck 12, so that literally nothing makes any sense if you really stop and think about it.
The show excelled in showing tragedy, whether it was the fallout from the attack on Plant Quetta, the desperate plight of the Earthians or the fallout of the shootings at Astacassia, you saw horrors that were truly moving, and naturally some form of justice was strongly called for. Except, we didn't really get any. Of all the characters, only undercover Dawn of Fold mole Nika served any jail time of note, with Shaddiq taking the fall in order to free his harem (not that he seemed bothered). Nobody, no matter how awful, paid for anything. Even the dead are shown smiling away, seemingly forgetting what they fought and died for.
So the story had no real teeth in the end, it was a coming-of-age story with tragedy and social inequality nothing more than background noise for the main characters and providing motivations where needed.
It really needed more room to flesh out the story beats, actual consequences to provide stakes that kept you guessing, and far more explanation for the political machinations. The resolution effectively ended up being the filing of some paperwork and a corporate reshuffle, leading me to wonder why that was never done before everyone just started dying.
I'd be remiss if I didn't admit to having had a blast with WfM. I've greatly enjoyed the fan discussions, theories and arguments each week. It's been a real "water cooler" show, where even the bitching and moaning has been highly entertaining. There have been standouts in every area, whether it's specific characters (Chu Chu, Sophie, Guel) the variety of mecha on show and even the music - oh that score, it is just sublime - there's so many good aspects to the production that it seems almost selfish to want the story to make any sense. A triumph of style over substance, even the failures feel like a deliberate attempt to fuel engagement.
Knowing what I now know, I can watch The Witch from Mercury with the correct level of expectation, enjoying all that wonderful animation and design work, both visually and audibly, without expecting the sort of mature political drama of the Universal Century series. It had the potential to be far more, but I think Bandai underestimated the massive appeal the series clearly generated and only gambled on a short 2 cour presentation that ultimately falls short.
I'll always have a place in my heart for Suletta and her friends, but a tinge of regret will always accompany them for what could have been following that incredible prologue episode.
But let's be honest - after all that insane yen flowing into the coffers, do we really think we won't be back in this universe again? Fat chance.