Suletta Mercury is stuck in the Old Testament. I’m not talking about the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth revenge plot stuff, though the mecha dueling system runs on that kind of logic; nor do I mean the smiting and wiping out of enemies, though we definitely see that too in all its tomato-splat glory. No, I’m talking about the way she goes about relationship, or rather, the way she fails to do relationship, never quite taking that crucial step beyond the letter of the law into the realm of personal connection. In short, Suletta lives according to lists, contracts, and binding agreements that keep her from engaging directly in genuine relationship.
The first time we meet the seventeen-year-old titular protagonist of space mecha series Mobile Suit Gundam: the Witch from Mercury, she’s checking things off a list. Sure, she’s also piloting her mecha, Aerial, on the way to register at school for the first time, but the focus of the frame and the dialogue in this opening shot is fully on her absorption with her list. This is no throwaway detail, but is instead a vital character moment attesting to her way of navigating the world. We soon learn that Suletta’s list consists not only of practical items but more importantly, of her dreams and aspirations for her new life. In the episodes to come, this list is her constant companion, guiding her decisions and actions, and providing reassurance that yes, she is handling this whole “being a teenager with a social life” thing correctly. Suletta’s list provides her with the rules of engagement in the battlefield of life.
Don’t get me wrong: lists are great. They’re a useful tool for navigating the multifarious demands of life, and making intimidating tasks approachable, breaking them down into manageable chunks, baby step by baby step. What’s more, lists can be an invaluable coping mechanism, especially for an INFP personality type like Suletta (and myself!) who needs a bit of a hand when it comes to keeping her head out of the clouds or at least getting her feet to touch the ground occasionally. But the problem with Suletta’s list is that she treats it like the be-all and end-all of how to do life; Suletta’s list mediates her interactions with the world, keeping her from relating directly with others.
This really becomes clear in episode 10, which focuses on Suletta and the Earthian gang with whom she is working to develop mecha tech. She’s been tip-toeing nervously around the fringes of this friendship group for much of the season, and this episode finally sees her join in with them fully, taking the lead in a classic “friendship and bonding” montage that climaxes with her cracking a joke that only she could pull off, to the delight of the Earth House crew. Finally, Suletta has made some friends! No wonder she’s excited, right?
Not quite. Instead, in a quiet but telling moment after deploying her successful Dad joke, we see the real reason for Suletta’s happiness: she can now tick “make a joke” off her list. Rather than being set aside so that Suletta might live and connect fully in the moment, her list remains the focal point of her day and the directive force behind her actions. As she hunches over her tablet alone in a dark corner, trembling with glee as that triumphant checkmark materializes, Suletta resembles nothing less than an addict, laughing nervously when Nika catches her.
Suletta’s closest friendships are even more instrumentalized: they are founded on legally binding contracts won through combat. This isn’t the usual “friendship through fisticuffs” trope we often see in anime though (such as the entire Nanoha franchise). The battle scenes that typically play out in anime as a display of raw emotion that triggers a character bonding moment, instead establish a contractual relationship in G-Witch. Through her victories, Suletta secures the right to make a claim on both Miorine and Elan.
In the case of Elan, Suletta essentially forces a gesture of friendship from him by requiring as her boon in their duel that he tell her about himself. When it comes to Miorine, it’s more accidental. Suletta inadvertently wins a contractual relationship with the girl, learning after the duel that the victor would be granted Miorine’s hand in marriage. After a moment of flustered panic, Suletta is elated: she has secured the top item on her List for Success in Life—the coveted Best Friend Forever. She does not understand that a contract does not a relationship make.
Miorine, on the other hand, gets it. Yes, she uses Suletta as a shield to protect against unwanted advances from scheming young men (and meddling from her father), but her interactions with Suletta also demonstrate that she does not take relationship for granted. Miorine refuses to hold Suletta to any kind of relationship beyond what they are cautiously forming for themselves, first as social (and political) allies and eventually as colleagues on the mecha tech project. Rather than assuming any long-term commitment from Suletta, Miorine repeatedly releases her from the implications of their contract, encouraging her to date, pursue her own interests, and generally live her life. Suletta reads this as rejection of her friendship, not understanding that they did not, in fact, have any such relationship yet. Pretty much all of their interactions play off this fundamental misunderstanding as the two persist at cross purposes, with Suletta thinking that they are much closer than she has any real-life grounds to believe. With a contract in place and a check on her list, Suletta assumes relationship where it does not yet exist.
Here’s the thing though: a contract can be the starting point for genuine relationship, and so too can a list. In fact, this is essentially what the Old Testament is all about, with its contracts or covenants between God and his people and the list of dos and don’ts that made up the Israelites’ religious laws. But the catch is that these lists and contracts were never intended to serve as the complete picture of relationship between humanity and its Creator, but rather as a prompt toward personal connection.
Let’s consider this for a second. There are four covenants in the Old Testament (OT), each building on the last to form the over-arching agreement referred to (among Christians) as the Old Covenant, which is another way of translating “Old Testament”. The first covenant was with Noah, where God promised never to flood the earth again, but instead to withhold judgment until the end of the age, with the rainbow being a sign of his commitment. The next was with Abraham, where God promised to make a nation of his descendants and adopt them as his own people. The third one, with Moses, expanded on the Abrahamic covenant and formally invited the Israelites to become “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation,” and gave the law as a sign of this commitment. Finally, the Davidic covenant promised King David that it would be through his descendant that the promises of God toward Israel (and the world) would be fulfilled.
What’s incredible about these four contracts is not just that the cost fell almost exclusively on God’s side, but that God would even enter into such agreements. And that was the point: these covenants were intended as a dramatic reveal of God’s nature that would captivate people as they pondered what kind of divine being would make such promises.
Just think about it: what creator would tie his own hands and promise away his right to use the most effective means of ensuring his creation’s obedience—that is, lethal threat—like God does with the Noahic covenant? What kind of deity would commit to blessing a man and his family beyond reason, and the world through them, all without demanding anything in exchange, as God does with Abraham? What Almighty Father would choose a “rebellious and stiff-necked people” as his children and give them his own good name as their inheritance knowing they would drag it through the dirt, as with the Mosaic covenant? And why would he humble and limit himself for the sake of reaching out personally to imperfect human beings, as he promises to David that he will do? Who even is this?! Why is he so different from the pagan gods and from kings and queens and generals? The agreements of the old covenant were unexpected, undeserved, and reckless in their generosity. They were intriguing and invitational.
And as such, the old covenant should have been the starting point for the most enriching, life-changing, wondrous relationship of all time. And it was, for a few people—a handful who would become known as friends of God and men and women after God’s own heart. But not for the nation of Israel as a whole, who instead—much like Suletta—tended to stop at the metaphorical signing of the contract and checking off of the list, considering the matter of relationship to have been achieved. Although this pattern played out in different ways across the Old Testament period, a key moment was when Moses shared with the Israelites God’s invitation to become his priestly kingdom. Their response was to remain at a distance and ask that Moses serve as their intermediary, as they felt that hearing God’s voice directly would be the death of them. When Moses shared the details of the law—the terms of the contract, if you will—they nodded their heads and chimed their agreement.
If you’ve heard the story of the golden calf, then you know how that turned out. But the vital point here is not so much that they broke their covenant with God (pretty much straight away), but why they did so. They did it because they had taken the law and their agreement to it as the sum total of the matter, rather than as an invitation to throw themselves into the relational adventure God offered them: “come be my priestly kingdom, a people with the right to enter God’s most holy presence and speak with him, who reign as royalty in life.” “We’re good, thanks. Moses, you go for us, yeah? Maybe appoint some priests too to help out with that.” And so it is no surprise that, with a little too much time on their hands, they pursued other gods instead.
The reality is that we still often act a lot like the ancient Israelites—and not all that differently from Suletta—in our interactions with God. It seems easier, after all, to go about the life of faith as if it were a checklist of to-dos (and not to-dos); it’s more efficient to let religious leaders and voices of wisdom and authority in our life tell us what to do and define things for us, as the Israelites wanted Moses to do, and as Suletta does with her contracts, letting them determine for her who will be number one in her life. We too instrumentalize our relationship with God, like when we equate having daily “quiet time” or hitting up church on a Sunday and maybe even mid-week small group, with living the life of faith. These things are great, and they can lead us into deeper encounter with God, but they can also easily turn into a checklist that isn’t actually accomplishing what we think it is. Like Suletta, we can get to the end of our List for Success in Faith Life and find that we don’t actually know or trust God personally. We still feel distant from him, or consumed with unworthiness, or we’re still constantly guessing at what it is he wants from us—much like Suletta in episode 11 when all her relationships fall apart. It leaves her feeling devastated and alone, as she realizes that she did not know her friends after all; the checkmarks didn’t create relationship. We too can sometimes find that, even when we’ve done all the right things and followed all the advice from preachers and teachers, we don’t actually know who God is. But still we default to the lists and law and good practices because of the simple fact that relationship is hard. It’s messy and demanding; it’s vulnerable and humbling; and most of all, it requires a giant leap off the cliff into uncertainty and the unknown, even when we know that the person is trustworthy; even when that person is God.
But God knows this. And he has compassion for us even in this state. Because the good news is that the old covenant agreements were not the final word in God’s quest to draw us to him. Instead, he took yet another, even more unfathomable step toward us and became a man in order to demonstrate that it was relationship he desired and not just interaction mediated by the law. Jesus came as God incarnate to tell the world about God the Father. He fulfilled the old covenant and the law that came with it, clearing the way for a new covenant, a new testimony of who God is. He served as the living Word of that new contract, and wrote it with his body and blood. That covenant—the final one, never to be superseded—is this: “Believe in me and you will have everlasting life.” There is no way to miss the relational heart of that, now is there?
But what of Suletta? In episode 11, she begins to realize that her lists and contracts did not secure her the relationships she sought; that the checkmarks and binding agreements weren’t enough. It terrifies her and she hides away. But Miorine seeks her out, and more to the point, calls her out, and they have a much-needed heart-to-heart during which Suletta begins to understand that relationship needs to be tended for it to grow, that it does not arrive into the world fully formed. Yet still, she hasn’t grasped a new way forward, and can only nod along with Miorine’s orders, much like the Israelites, saying what she’s told to say and when. It’s going to take time. And tragically, with the events of episode 12, time may just be the one thing Suletta is denied, at least with Miorine. After Suletta’s shockingly lighthearted killing of a man, what threads of trust and friendship had newly been spun between the two girls have now been strained to breaking point, and if Miorine’s father dies and she is emancipated, it’s likely that she will dissolve their contract and put some distance between them.
So who then remains to extend true relationship to Suletta, and guide her beyond her lists and agreements? Who will sacrifice to save her from the dark path she is now on, alienated from those she would call friends and from her own humanity? Who could ever reach out to the monster she’s become? (If only Suletta lived in the real world, I would know the answer!) Perhaps Aeriel will find her voice and her own lost humanity and become the (adoptive) big sister to Suletta that she probably is. (Ahem, aERIel, ahem, Prologue episode, cough.) Or maybe it will fall to Guel “Bob” Jeturk, with whom Suletta shares at least two points in common, now that both of these skilled pilots have blood on their hands. It remains to be seen in the next season.
But one thing is certain: Suletta needs a new covenant, and one that makes it impossible for her to keep living by that list of hers or running from the invitation to discover genuine relationship. Move forward and gain two, O derpy space tanuki!
Mobile Suit Gundam: the Witch from Mercury is streaming on Crunchyroll.