Special Interview

Hiroshi Kobayashi (Director) ✕ Kana Ichinose (voice of Suletta Mercury) ✕ Lynn (voice of Miorine Rembran)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury has finished airing; thank you for the hard work! When did you truly realize that the show was over?

Ichinose After the live broadcast of the final episode, my head was in the clouds – it still didn’t feel like the show had ended. A little bit of time passed and I had the opportunity to get together with everyone again. While having various conversations, the feeling of “It’s really over now, isn’t it?” finally began to sink in.

Lynn For me, it was during the last narration of “Witch Fest” (the Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury Festival ~Asticassia School Assembly~). When I heard the line “The Witch from Mercury has finished broadcasting,” I felt myself slump down with melancholy – that’s the moment I realized, “Ah, this really is the end.”

Kobayashi The staff all had the chance to greet each other and express our thanks during the wrap party – I think it makes sense for most of us to call that the endpoint.

But we’re still working on the drama CD, other promotions, and various materials, so in that sense I still haven’t come to the realization that “It’s over.”

― Let’s take a look back to when the show was ongoing. First, could you talk about what auditions were like?

Kobayashi Both Suletta and Miorine were difficult to cast, though for different reasons.

During the audition process for Suletta, I was still considering, “What else can we add to the character?” At that point, we had only established that she was from the middle of nowhere – a country bumpkin who had no experience with interpersonal relationships. So, I think that the actors who auditioned for the role of Suletta had to contribute something of their own to the character.

Miorine, on the other hand, was a character with a very clear strike zone: with her good looks and tendency to take opinionated stances when speaking her mind, the actors who auditioned for the role could pinpoint her character perfectly. With her, the problem was deciding how to choose from so many options. (laughs)

Ichinose & Lynn (laugh)

― So how did you make the decision and choose Suletta and Miorine from the pool of auditions?

Kobayashi We based our initial decisions on the audition tapes that were submitted. But for the final part of the audition process for Suletta, we had actors come into the studio to perform. At that time, I was able to see a lot of variations on the character, which was very useful and enriching.

Based on my experience working on other original productions, I thought it would be a good idea to let the actor have a hand in creating the character. With this in mind, we decided to ask Ichinose to take on the role.

Ichinose In addition to the scripts received beforehand, we were given material on the day of the studio audition itself. I remember how challenging it was to go over the new script and perform immediately.

Kobayashi Lynn’s name had been brought up by Co-Director Ryo Ando[1] and the Sound Director[2]; ultimately, we made the decision based on the fact that her audition was not overly forceful. Since Miorine is still just a 16-year-old girl, you cannot expect her to always carry herself perfectly.

Behind the strength displayed in her performance, there was still an immaturity and fragility – we asked Lynn to take on the role because she was able to portray the character’s flaws and vulnerabilities well.

Lynn Since Gundam is such a big franchise, I assumed that naturally there would be in-studio auditions – so when they told me that I’d landed the role of Miorine based on my tape submission, my reaction was, “Seriously? What the…?!” (laughs)

I tend to get nervous when I go into the studio, so it probably helped that I only had to do a tape audition – it let me relax and just perform.

― What was your impression of Director Kobayashi once you actually started recording?

Lynn Before the recording session for episode 1, the director gave a detailed explanation: “This is the kind of setting we want and this is how we build up these characters.” I got the impression that he had a measured and calm manner of speech, which belied how passionately he felt about the show.

Kobayashi That was during the coronavirus crisis, so the staff felt it was best to minimize unnecessary talk with the actors. Unfortunately, it was not possible to bring in all the actors at the same time for recording sessions and I regret that we had so few chances to converse compared to pre-corona productions.

Ichinose Speaking of impressions: my image of the director has flipped 180 degrees since that recording session. First of all, his hairstyle is completely different now!

Kobayashi (laughs)

Lynn And when we all got together the other day, I didn’t recognize him for a moment because he wasn’t wearing his glasses! (laughs)

Ichinose Exactly! The director sat next to me then, but I didn’t know who he was initially. (laughs)

Lynn Only when I heard his voice I realized, “Oh, it’s the director.” (laughs)

― So he went through a major transformation, I see. (laughs) Were there any noteworthy instances of direction during the recording process?

Ichinose In episode 4, Suletta’s test is sabotaged by some of her classmates. For the scene where things go so poorly that she begins to cry, I received the direction to “wail like a child who got lost at the mall.” Did that note come from the director?

Lynn I’m curious about that too! Whenever we were given performance notes, we wondered whether they were from the Director or the Sound Director.

Kobayashi That one was my fault. (laughs)

For that scene, I wanted us to avoid the typical anime-style way of depicting a girl crying. We wanted to have girls watch and enjoy the show too, not just boys – making a girl character who solely appealed to boys would not work.

Girls have many different aspects, so rather than just focusing on cuteness I thought we could highlight a different side. That is why I made the request for Suletta’s crying to not be pretty, but to be unsightly and miserable instead.

Ichinose The direction was very easy to understand. I think that Suletta, who grew up in the isolated community of Mercury without any other children of the same age, will always possess a childlike heart. It became clear to me[3] why she would cry like that in that scene.

Lynn On the opposite side, I was told to “act like a mother pulling along their child who cannot stop crying” in that scene. (laughs)

Kobayashi That’s right. Someone with zero sympathy in the moment, sorely tempted to give the child a spank on the butt… that kind of an image.

― Conversely, for Director Kobayashi: were there any scenes you directed where the actors’ performances came back and were particularly memorable?

Kobayashi Mainly Miorine’s scenes in episodes 7 and 11. Within her typical forceful demeanor, there are a lot of different shades and nuance in the way she acts towards Suletta. In episodes 1 to 6, Lynn was probably still coming to grips with Miorine’s subtleties, since the character is far from black-and-white.

Lynn That’s exactly right…

Kobayashi I got the impression that Episode 7 was a turning point, which allowed her to more confidently approach the character.

As for episode 11, the Miorine that Lynn had been building up clashed a little with the Miorine I had envisioned in my mind. I was struck by how clearly her intentions for the character came through.

Lynn In the scene where Miorine tells Suletta her feelings, I cried so much – I put a lot of overt emotion into it. But the director then said to me, “Miorine is the kind of girl who would still have difficulty expressing herself,” and I realized that was certainly true. I’d let myself get a little too carried away.

― Please talk about the recording sessions for critical moments from seasons 1 and 2 respectively. Let’s start with season 1 first.

Ichinose For Suletta and Miorine scenes, we have to talk about episode 11. That scene is the first time the 2 of them have a serious heart-to-heart and reveal their feelings for each other, which brings out emotions in Suletta that she’s never experienced before.

Initially, I performed that part by just frankly blurting out my feelings, but was directed to act sulkier and pout. I understood then, “Suletta’s feelings for Miorine have grown so much – more than even she realized.”

Lynn That episode 11 scene was also a peak moment for me.

Though personally, I spent the most time practicing for the scene in episode 7 when GUND-ARM, Inc. is founded. During the recording session, Kana told me, “Lynn, you look different today. It’s like you’re in the zone.” (laughs)

Kobayashi (laughs)

Ichinose I remember saying that! (laughs)

Lynn It was an important scene, so I wanted to do it properly. Since Miorine was making an announcement regarding Gundams, I put a lot of pressure on myself.

Kobayashi As the 2 have mentioned, episodes 7 and 11 are important turning points – both for the narrative and for the actors – their characters undergo major changes at those moments. I think you can clearly see the differences before and after.

― What about season 2?

Kobayashi For season 2, outside of the recording process I had to focus on how to connect the story of episodes 18 through 20 together – how to coordinate 4 characters’ endings in particular: Miorine, Guel, Prospera, and Shaddiq. I remember that time because it was so stressful.

Lynn Episode 16 was memorable to me because that’s when Miorine reunites with Suletta. There’s the scene where they talk in the greenhouse, which prompts Miorine to confront Prospera.

Also, the part in episode 17 when she says to Suletta, “Goodbye, my Mercurian country bumpkin.”[4] Miorine is destroying everything they’d built up together and has to harden her heart[5] – that scene was agonizing to perform.

Ichinose Regarding Suletta: before and after she pilots the Calibarn. I felt that was the moment when she truly comes into her own as the protagonist. Taking Calibarn to confront Prospera – that’s the first time she is able to speak her own mind and stand up to her mother. You could tell how much Suletta has grown to reach that point.

― For Director Kobayashi, were you conscious of anything specific when depicting Suletta before and after she pilots the Calibarn?

Kobayashi Portraying Suletta’s determination to pilot the Calibarn, even at the risk of her own life, was straightforward. However, the lead up in episode 22 – the part when she goes to see Miorine and convinces her to come out – was challenging.

Up until that point, Suletta did not have to do anything on her own because she just went along with her mother or Miorine. Finally thinking for herself, Suletta decides that she will no longer be passive – first and foremost, what she wants is to be there for Miorine.

This time, standing at the threshold of the “greenhouse” that is Miorine’s heart, Suletta knocks at the door properly, makes her statement, and hopes that Miorine will come out on her own. It was difficult to nail down the exact words Suletta says there.

― After all the hard work, the reunion scene at the door turned out wonderfully! Now that the story is over, could you talk about the appeal of Suletta and Miorine’s journey and how they have changed?

Ichinose Speaking of growing up: the biggest change that Suletta and Miorine undergo is the decision to lead a life together. They went through many trials, at school and in battle, so the 2 of them know that “In the future, no matter what happens, everything will be fine as long as we’re together.” I think that’s lovely.

Lynn Suletta’s impact on Miorine cannot be understated. She now has someone precious to protect, gained friends, and found a chance to receive something like parental love from Delling again… Meeting Suletta completely transformed the way she sees the world, I think.

― For Director Kobayashi, how did you intend to portray Suletta and Miorine? Did anything change over the course of production?

Kobayashi I think that the protagonists from recent non-Universal Century Gundam series, such as Setsuna from Gundam 00 and Mikazuki from Iron-Blooded Orphans, have tended to be damaged and sharp. Therefore, I decided from the start that I wanted Suletta to be a “lively”[6] character unlike them. For Miorine, I wanted a character who is pulled in by Suletta’s vivacity.

The way Miorine is drawn in, leading her to get caught up in the heresy surrounding Suletta, changed to some extent. But it was decided from the start that they would ultimately lead a life together – the ending never changed.

― Are there any characters or relationships that you wanted to see more of in the series?

Kobayashi I didn’t have a preference for any character over another and tried to prioritize them properly, but I wish we could have put Godoy into more episodes. Also, I would have liked to see a conversation between Suletta and Delling.

Ichinose I wonder how that would’ve gone!

― We have questions from the 2 cast members here for Director Kobayashi. Ichinose asked: “At what point did you come up with the idea that Aerial, the main character’s machine, would become the final boss?”

Kobayashi We can trace the idea back to 2 specific points.

First, the show was planned in conjunction with merchandise: the mobile suits were designed with the intention of turning them into plastic models before we completed story development. During that period, I floated the idea that the main character’s machine could be the final boss – everyone at the meeting thought it was an interesting and exciting possibility.

Second, we thought of basing the story on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. If the Gundam is Ariel, then Suletta would be Miranda and Caliban. Who opposes Suletta/Caliban? Aerial/Ariel and their master, Prospero (in our case, Prospera).

Once we made the decision to use The Tempest as the foundation of the narrative, we locked into the ending with Aerial as the final boss.

― When did Ichinose learn that Suletta would ultimately fight against Aerial?

Ichinose I’m trying to remember exactly when…

Kobayashi It was difficult to decide how much to share with the actors. Particularly for Suletta, who is a character unaware of her origins – I intentionally withheld certain information from Ichinose.

I think I might have told you about it around episode 9?

Ichinose Eh? That seems way too early!

Lynn (laughs)

Ichinose When Ericht first appeared during season 2, I remember asking, “Will we be seeing more of Ericht from now on?” and the response was, “Well, she is the final boss after all.” That made me go, “What do you mean by ‘final boss’!?” (laughs)

Kobayashi Then I must’ve really been trying to only give you information little-by-little. (laughs)

― Lynn asked: “Throughout the entirety of the show, was there a specific part that you were particularly worried about?”

Kobayashi Since the show aired on Sundays at 5 PM, we were conscious of the fact that preschoolers and elementary school students might watch. While it would probably be difficult for them to follow all of the story, I took care to make the 5 W’s and H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) as clear as possible with respect to Suletta and Miorine’s drama.

― Here's another question: “Were any parts of the show’s direction or animation influenced by or changed based on the actors’ performances?”

Kobayashi Honestly, we relied completely on the actors’ performances. We would first have the actors record their lines to motionless, colorless footage and then craft the characters’ expressions and movements based on their voices.

So, it’s not really a question of “which parts were influenced by the actors?” since they directly impacted nearly 100% of the show.

Ichinose & Lynn Wow!

Kobayashi Suletta in particular was an abundant source of hilarious voices – it was a unique situation that gave us a lot of material to play with. (laughs)

Lynn I’d like to ask 1 more thing… Why tomatoes?

Ichinose Good question!

Kobayashi I started by considering the following: what can be grown hydroponically, is not too season-specific, and is also aesthetically appealing to draw…? When I thought about it, tomatoes seemed like the perfect choice.

― I did not expect tomatoes to play such an important role, such as holding the password to shut down Quiet Zero.

Kobayashi The code is not supposed to be anything out of the ordinary – it’s like a label saying “This tomato was grown by ‘Blank’ Family Farms.” Basically, instead of writing her name, Notrette left a message that said “I designed this tomato” in the plant’s genes. It ended up becoming a crucial trigger beyond its original purpose.

Ichinose Incidentally, was it always the plan for Mr. Cool and Mr. Hots to be important items?

Kobayashi No, initially I didn’t think that far ahead. (laughs)

Ichinose & Lynn (laugh)

Ichinose So they started just as ordinary keychains for Suletta and Miorine.

Kobayashi The Mr. Hots keychain itself is not Ericht. It’s more like a stuffed toy embedded with a piece of Permet crystal, to which Ericht’s biometric data is transmitted.

In the final episode, you can briefly see Calibarn reaching for something that looks like a glowing stone, which is actually Permet. That crystal is quite large – so when we made the epilogue, I thought about establishing the fact that it’s stored in the suitcase that Miorine brings along with her.

Lynn Everyone certainly noticed that suitcase – but it looks rather unassuming to be holding something so important. (laughs)

― Finally, please give a message to all the fans who supported the show!

Lynn Everyone, how are you doing? Still feeling the loss of The Witch from Mercury being over?

While Miorine was the most challenging character I’ve ever played, I also had the pleasure of watching the show every week as a fan. Because people all over enjoyed and discussed the show, I could see how the fanbase grew throughout the broadcast – thank you. I’m grateful to have experienced something so wonderful.

In the future, when the question “What is your favorite anime?” comes up, it would make me very happy if someone answers “It’s The Witch from Mercury!”

Ichinose Suletta drew a lot of new experiences and emotions out of me. Whenever I received a script, I really enjoyed figuring out “How will I act here?” or “How should I do this part?”

Seeing all the reactions on social media and such, I realized that we were receiving support from such a large outpouring of fans. Thanks to the way you engaged with the show, The Witch from Mercury spread further than I ever could have imagined.

I hope that in the future, Gundam will mean The Witch from Mercury to someone.

Everyone, thank you so much!

Kobayashi First of all, thank you to everyone for watching! While this was my first time working on a project with merchandise, we were able to reach the finish line thanks to the efforts and support of each and every staff member.

I hope that the takeaway for Ichinose, Lynn, and all of the cast and staff will be, “I’m glad to have worked on this show.” I hope that the takeaway for the audience will be, “I’m glad to have watched this show.” To what extent were these feelings successfully fostered? The answer to that question will become clearer as the years pass, I think.

The conclusion of the story is not a 100% happy ending – as in reality, there are still negative aspects and unresolved issues. It’s important to give voice not just to praise and positive opinions. In a world that tries to force black-and-white frameworks on people, I hope that diverse and critical thinking can lead us to a better future.

Translation Notes
  1. Co-Director Ryo Ando (安藤 良)
  2. Sound Director Jin Aketagawa (明田川 仁)
  3. Ichinose uses the idiom 腑に落ちる (fu ni ochiru, literally “to fall into the gut”) here. It means “to understand, to be convinced, to be satisfied.”
  4. さようなら、水星のおのぼりさん (sayounara, Suisei no onobori-san, original JP) / “Goodbye, my Mercurian country bumpkin.” (CR Sub) / “This is goodbye, my Mercurian bumpkin.” (CR Dub)
  5. Lynn uses the idiom 心を鬼にする (kokoro o oni ni suru, literally “to make the heart into a demon”) here. It means “to harden one’s heart.”
  6. Kobayashi uses the adjective 健やか (sukoyaka, literally “healthy”) here.