If any anime could turn “Happy Birthday” into the saddest song in the world, it would be a Gundam series.
Episode 6 of The Witch from Mercury is a direct follow-up to the events of “Reflection in an Icy Eye,” giving us the duel promised in last week’s epilogue while continuing to focus on Elan Ceres and his sponsor company, Peil Technologies. If last week’s installment simply ramped upped the tension, though, “A Gloomy Song” darkens things considerably, especially in its final act. From the new revelations about Elan, to the duel itself, to the haunting epilogue, we’re treated to a grim half hour that hearkens back to the “Kill ‘em all Tomino” Gundam series of 1980s. This is easily The Witch from Mercury’s heaviest outing since the Prologue, and perhaps the most chilling installment of the series thus far.
Considering how the episode starts off, one wouldn’t necessarily expect “A Gloomy Song” to be such a downer, despite its title. Much of the first half is dedicated to the buildup to the duel itself, which plays out in the kind of “school anime” fashion we saw in Episode 4. The banter between the Earthian House members as they tune up the Aerial Gundam, for instance, makes for some easygoing, low-key comedy. Similarly, Suletta’s clumsy attempt to reason with Elan the day before the duel, as she barges into his dormitory in the Aerial, unannounced, is simultaneously endearing, head-shakingly funny, and perfectly in keeping with Suletta’s kind-hearted, but naïve personality. This episode also continues the show’s recent trend of Miorine’s “tough love” towards Suletta, which we know by this point comes from a place of genuine concern for her well-being, despite Miorine’s bluntness. While all of this succeeds at setting up the duel, it also effectively continues to develop the relationships among the various students, especially those in Suletta’s circle.
The initial slice-of-life action soon takes a serious turn, though, as we learn more unsettling details about Elan’s existence. We knew previously that he was known as Peil Technologies’ “Enhanced Person No. 4,” but “A Gloomy Song” reveals that he is actually a doppelganger of the original Elan Ceres, who still occasionally likes to check in on his “surrogate.” Meanwhile, the surrogate Elan’s previous identity has been erased, his memory wiped, his face altered to look like “Master Elan,” and on top of that, if he keeps using the Pharact Gundam, the augmentations will ultimately kill him, giving way to another doppelganger (presumably “Enhanced Person No. 5”). What’s especially striking in this scene is that even “Master Elan’s” promise of a Citizen’s ID and restoring Elan’s original appearance doesn’t faze him, as he seems tragically resigned to his cursed fate as a small, expendable piece in Peil’s Gundam project. For all his skills and promise, Elan feels devoid of any real purpose, stymied by hopelessness, and ultimately resentful at his existence.
Elan’s bitterness is on full display during the actual duel, and it’s here that the audience truly feels sympathetic for the character. His usual cool-headedness is noticeably absent as he furiously contrasts his own lot in life—as a “disposable pawn” for Peil’s Gundam initiative—with Suletta’s blessed existence, which includes friends, family, past memories, and future aspirations. While Elan’s comparison is obviously simplistic and based on very little knowledge of Suletta’s life, we can ultimately still understand where he’s coming from. For someone who has no memories of his own, no purpose except being a company’s tool, and limited time left as he continues to destroy himself piloting the Pharact Gundam, Suletta’s existence must seem luxurious by comparison. Elan’s plea to Suletta, “why can’t you spare me this victory,” reeks of painful desperation simply because this is literally all he has. The tragedy of Elan’s existence is driven home as the fight drags on, too, as the strain exposes the instability of both his body and the Pharact, causing him to make several mistakes and ultimately lose to the Aerial.
And as for the ending? Calling it “dark” would be putting it mildly. After Suletta wins the duel, she reassures Elan that there are people who care about him—and she even offers to celebrate his birthday with him, despite his insistence over the last two episodes that he never had one. Elan seems to have a change of heart after being shown genuine kindness, but any hope for a better future is soon dashed, as Peil Technologies opts to dispose of him due to his “imperfections” and his failure to win the duel. On a broader level, the scene adds another layer to Peil’s ruthlessness, as even life itself is apparently disposable if it doesn’t benefit their business interests. But the juxtaposition of scenes in the epilogue—Suletta cheerily waiting for Elan to meet her in the park, and Elan passively waiting for his execution, as both characters sing “Happy Birthday”—is utterly harrowing, and it easily rivals some of the bleakest death scenes in the Gundam franchise’s long history.
Compared to much of what’s come before it, “A Gloomy Song” is an absolute gut punch. It concludes the rivalry between Suletta and Elan Ceres—or, at least, this iteration of Elan—in a particularly harsh manner, and firmly establishes Peil Technologies as an especially cutthroat company in Delling’s conglomerate. Given the shock of Elan’s death and the impact of the ending, though, one might almost forget a detail of the duel itself that’s bound to have significance later on. At a moment when Elan has Suletta at his mercy, the Aerial activates a new type of weapon that renders Pharact’s drones inactive, and Elan sees a glowing silhouette that’s heavily implied to be the Aerial Gundam’s AI, or perhaps even its consciousness. It’s unclear what Elan (and the audience) ultimately saw, but Suletta’s gratitude towards the Aerial afterwards, and her comment, “I feel like I could hear your voice more than ever today,” suggests that there are many secrets about this Gundam that have yet to be revealed.
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