On the surface, “Unrelenting Tenderness” feels like an odd title for the latest episode of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury. It’s a straightforward, action-packed outing with multiple characters engaged in mobile suit battles, shootouts, and infiltration missions on several fronts. But undercurrents of tenderness run throughout the episode: in some strange way, a deep concern for others drives the extreme actions of Suletta, Guel, and other characters. If any theme ultimately dominates “Unrelenting Tenderness,” despite all the chaos and noise of its action, it’s self-sacrifice.
This week wastes no time setting the tone in the teaser and never letting up, throwing us right into the battles initiated at the end of “The Woven Path.” Out in space, Eri uses the Aerial Gundam to assault Suletta, while Lauda confronts Guel to force him to atone for his past sins. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast undertake a risky mission to board Quiet Zero and disable it from the inside. It has the same feel and fast tempo as many late-series Gundam episodes before it, with echoes of SEED, 00, and even Zeta, and even though it’s well-trod territory, it still manages a few surprises. It also helps that the episode gives all three battlefields solid screen time and execution.
Considering how rough the Jeturk family has had it lately, Lauda’s duel with Guel stands out for its genuine tension, even though it’s a personal grudge match cut off from the bigger conflicts. It’s compelling enough to make you wish the series had developed it more in earlier episodes. We’ve seen hints of Lauda’s inferiority complex, but this marks the first instance (better late than never) of the sibling rivalry boiling over, and the battle represents an adolescent need to step out of Guel’s shadow and be accepted. But Lauda also makes some strong points about his brother’s arrogance and insistence on bearing responsibility for everything, and his comments effectively highlight how Guel shares many of his father’s traits, no matter how much he rebelled against him in season 1. Like Vim, Guel attacks problems directly, rushing in and trusting his instincts rather than planning ahead, and he also treats Lauda and others with a similar brand of possessiveness and paternalism.
The conclusion of the duel, on the other hand, is notable for the sheer surprise factor, and for showing how different Guel really is from his father. Whereas Vim embraced a “kill or be killed” attitude until the bitter end, Guel takes the opposite approach and gives himself up so that his brother can live—an act of “unrelenting tenderness,” and a vastly different outcome from the similar fight between Guel and his father in episode 12. Just when it looks like Guel’s Dilanza is about to explode, though, Felsi arrives in her Dilanza, blasts his mech with cooling fluid, and scolds both brothers for their stupidity. It’s honestly hilarious, since it’s the trope of the “last-minute rescue” coming in to subvert the even bigger trope of “self-sacrifice/tearful goodbye/dramatic death.” Not that I’m complaining, though—giving the brothers a second chance might be a happy ending, but I’ll take that over another tragic parting, which this series has seen a lot of.
The battle between Suletta and Eri is also a sibling rivalry of sorts—in this case, Suletta trying to stop Eri from causing a global calamity—and it also works well as a display of contrasting attitudes towards Prospera. By this point, Suletta has clearly moved away from her mother’s control and is doing what she thinks is best, while Eri, still a child, relies on her mother to decide what’s right and wrong. Eri is a great foil for Suletta’s newfound assertiveness in that regard, especially considering how tightly Suletta was in her mother’s grip not too long ago. But Suletta also makes it clear she’s doing this out of genuine care for both Prospera and Eri—again, “unrelenting tenderness.” Despite everything that’s happened, she still loves them both, and is willingly risking her life to save them. Miorine is even able to recognize this, actually begging Prospera at one point to “love your daughters equally.” But Prospera is unable to do so, and her rigidness comes across as more pitiable than anything else.
The most expansive battlefront takes place inside Quiet Zero itself as the Earth House members, Belmeria, and Avery sneak on board and attempt to shut it down. This provides a nice change of pace from the mobile suit battles that dominate the series, and while a lot of it is standard heist movie fare—bypassing locked doors, hacking computers, and the like—the shootouts with squadrons of gun-wielding Haros strike a perfect balance between terrifying, ridiculous, and cute. Naturally, stopping Quiet Zero from inside isn’t as easy as they initially hoped, evil Haros notwithstanding, and the situation looks even more hopeless when Prospera arrives in the control room, final boss-style, and reveals she changed the lockout code.
Prospera’s standoff with Miorine, Belmeria, and Elan succeeds as a pretty tense scene with some eye-widening moments. While Miorine tries to bypass the lockout and access Quiet Zero’s computer, Elan engages in a shootout with Prospera and the Haros, bouncing off the walls in low gravity as he tries to find an angle. Belmeria even gets a moment to shine as she finally stands up to Prospera and shoots down the Haros. Like the sibling rivalry between Guel and Lauda, it’s a breakthrough moment that you wish had come earlier, but I’m glad the writers added a little more dimension to Belmeria’s character. Again, better late than never.
Admittedly, the resolution feels scripted, since it turns out Quiet Zero’s administrator password is the genetic code of Miorine’s tomatoes that her mother left for her, and which she conveniently discovered only a couple of episodes earlier. It’s definitely too easy—why not a more personal detail about her mother that she’s known her whole life, or hinted at earlier in the series?—but the idea that an act of love from mother to daughter can defuse a superweapon fits the episode’s theme pretty well, so on that level it actually works. It also gives Elan an opening to shoot Prospera’s mask clean off her face, which feels weirdly satisfying after a season of Prospera’s machinations. Gundam has had a lot of headshots over the decades, and even though Prospera ultimately survives, this one is a stunning moment that really makes you hold your breath.
For a brief moment it looks like all is well, but of course we know it can’t be that simple. After waiting on the sidelines, the Space Assembly League finally makes its move and activates its own superweapon: the “Interplanetary Laser Transmission System” (“ILTS”), a giant laser cannon in the Gundam tradition of the Solar System and GENESIS. Using Quiet Zero’s attacks as evidence the Benerit Group has grown too powerful, the ILTS fires on the station, hoping to wipe out Benerit’s leadership and jumpstart their own rise to power. The situation seems hopeless until Eri uses the Aerial Gundam and its drones to form a shield, sacrificing herself to absorb the blast and protect everyone.
It comes from out of left field, and the fact that Eri is the episode’s only casualty caught me completely off guard. But in the end, it’s an appropriate closure for a story so focused on self-sacrifice out of love for others. “Unrelenting Tenderness” leaves you with the image of a four-year-old child, smiling sadly, as she willfully chooses to give her life to save her mother, her sister, and countless other people she never knew. The shock of Eri’s death hits hard, but the gravity of her unselfish choice that saved so many, even if it meant her death, hits even harder.