If you had to sum up Episode 4 of The Witch From Mercury in one sentence, it might be “The kids are not alright.” For the Gundam fandom, on the other hand, it’s more like, “Whoa, Chuchu just beat the crap out of those bullies!” Ultimately, both sentences accurately describe “Unseen Trap,” which changes gears a bit and focuses almost exclusively on life at the Asticassia School. It may not have the richer character development or weighty parent-child conflicts of the last few episodes, but it does a solid job delving deeper into the rivalries, studies, and personal struggles of the students. For the first time, we’re really starting to witness just how petty and insecure some of these students can be, and boy do things get messy when tensions finally boil over. It’s rare to see a Gundam series double as a school drama—although the first half-dozen episodes of Gundam Wing do come to mind—but this week’s Witch from Mercury outing makes it clear that this will be a major trend going forward, and one that will continue to have a considerable impact on the characters.
One of the most notable things about “Unseen Trap” is how mundane most of the action and dialogue are compared to the previous episodes. Notably absent are the debates about technology’s impact on humanity, or the drama of seeing a child stand up to a controlling parent. Instead, we’re given several scenes depicting the everyday life of the students—gossip about who’s dating who, mobile suit operation drills, and characters stressing out over exams. While it might initially sound like boring fare for a Gundam episode, it ultimately succeeds at making the Asticassia School come across as much more realistic. Even little details, like the messiness of Miorine’s room, or Suletta’s hilarious first encounter with a goat in the school’s barn, add a sense of liveliness to the campus and make all the characters feel like genuine young adults still figuring out how to find their way in the world.
Despite its focus on ordinary school life, though, the episode’s extra world-building provides a more realistic background for why the students act the way they do. Episode 2 already hinted at the mutual prejudice between the students from Earth and those from space colonies or other planets—dubbed “Earthians” and “Spacians” in the show itself—but “Unseen Trap” reveals that this conflict is rooted in a very big (and very polarizing) real-world issue of Spacian industries exploiting Earthian businesses and workers. Considering these characters are just starting to enter adulthood, it makes sense this Earthian/Spacian conflict would be a hot-button issue for them, and it gives The Witch from Mercury a little more depth than a typical school drama series. The students’ rivalries, likewise, feel much more authentic because they are an outgrowth of the “mature people problems” of the broader world that they’re just beginning to grasp.
This backdrop of Earthian and Spacian resentment spurs the central conflict of “Unseen Trap,” as a pair of Spacian students sabotage an exam in which mobile suit teams need to navigate a minefield, locate the mines, and successfully disarm them. Chuchu, an Earthian student we first saw in Episode 2, is their first victim—an obvious choice, considering she’s been openly disdainful towards Spacians from the start—but later on, they target Suletta, which is especially revealing. Suletta, who is originally from Mercury, may be a Spacian, but since Mercury is considered to be a primitive, backwater world, she’s judged to be just as bad as any Earthian. Clearly, class and upbringing factor into these student rivalries, which adds some engaging nuance and extra layers to Asticassia’s pecking order. It’s also a clever new twist on the traditional “Earth vs. Space” conflicts that have been a perennial staple of the Gundam franchise since the beginning.
The ratcheting tensions, unsurprisingly, reach a breaking point at the end of the episode, as Chuchu walks up to the saboteurs, punches one of them out cold, and initiates an all-out brawl involving several students (including Suletta, who was just trying to break things up). It’s a notable moment for Chuchu in particular, albeit on contrasting levels—it’s cheer-worthy because Chuchu stands up to the bullies, but we ultimately can’t feel too good about it, since her constant insults towards Spacians haven’t made her an especially endearing character, and they might have even provoked the initial sabotage in the first place. As a climax to the episode, though, it’s an excellent way to end with a (literal) bang, while also showcasing just how ugly and absurd these students’ prejudices can be, regardless of which side it’s coming from.
Although the Earthian/Spacian conflict and the final brawl are obvious highlights of the episode, some of the best moments are actually the scenes involving Suletta and Mirione, which do a fantastic job developing their relationship while also reinforcing how different they really are. During their conversation in Miorine’s dorm, Suletta reveals she wants to open a school on Mercury and give something back to her homeland. While this motivation greatly emphasizes Suletta’s kindness and selflessness, Miorine’s response—that Suletta should live for herself and not take on other peoples’ burdens—is perfectly in keeping with her character. As a person who’s only just starting to assert her individuality after dealing with a controlling father her whole life, it makes total sense that Miorine would have reservations about doing things on other people’s terms.
We witness a similar personality contrast when Suletta and Miorine, not realizing their mobile suit has been sabotaged, repeatedly fail the minefield exam after multiple attempts. Miorine, who comes from an upbringing that values competition, winning, and success, refuses to give up and forces Suletta to continue retrying, even though the situation is obviously hopeless and Suletta is at her breaking point. It’s fascinating that, despite her disdain for her father’s ambitious and controlling nature, and her own desire to break free from it, Miorine still embodies those traits to some degree. Suletta, on the other hand, who had a relatively simple and isolated childhood on Mercury, is still adjusting to the intensity of Asticassia’s hyper-competitive culture and her sudden popularity after defeating Guel, and it’s easy to feel for her when she breaks down after several consecutive failures and meekly tells Miorine, “Enough… I want to go home.” As skilled and determined as Suletta may be, she’s definitely a fish out of water at Asticassia, and considering her only goals coming in were simply to make friends, learn new things, and graduate, it’s completely believable when the all the extra pressures finally get to her.
While it might tell a simpler story than the previous episodes, “Unseen Trap” is an effective exploration of the series’ primary setting. It never loses sight of Suletta and Miorine, who have persistently been the core of the show, but it succeeds at introducing “Earth vs. Space” as an important issue among Asticassia’s students and adds some new layers of ugliness to various campus factions. As the episode unfolds, one even begins to feel that the bitter rivalries of the students aren’t that different from those of the adult characters. Despite the budding generational conflict seen in Episodes 2 and 3, the two worlds might actually be more similar than anyone would care to admit. Still, this week’s epilogue offers a glimmer of hope for the next generation, as Nika formally welcomes Suletta into the Earthian dorm and makes her an official member of the House. If “Unseen Trap” leaves us with anything, it’s the reality that overcoming prejudice and rising above petty conflict is a long journey, but if it’s going to happen, someone has to be bold enough to take the first step.