|Character Design||Shoji Kawamori|
Review by VF5SS
The 2004 television anime Genesis of Aquarion was the next project for Shoji Kawamori's Satelight Studios after cutting their teeth on the OVA series Macross Zero. Aquarion utilizes familiar anime gimmicks mixed with imagery derived from mysticism and mythology in addition to scenes of the main character sniffing everything like a dog to become one of the quirkier robot shows to come out of Japan.
As a mechanical designer, Shoji Kawamori is known as one of the pioneers of "perfect transformation", or the ability to create a fictional machine that can be replicated in a physical medium such as a toy or model kit. Every since the VF-1 Valkyrie, he has been using things like simple wooden models and later Lego blocks to help plan out his transforming robots. With the titular robot from Aquarion, Kawamori sought to emulate the iconic three form combining ability of the classic Getter Robo in a way that wouldn't require Studio Halfeye to spend many sleepless nights casting resin parts. The precursor to this was the two form combiner called Twinzam V from the Capcom fighting game Tech Romancer (known as Choukosenki Kikaioh in Japan). The Aquarion itself is one of the few multiform combiners that actually works with very little animation muckery. This is especially helpful for Satelight Studios as they deal mostly with animating robots with CGI. Three spaceship thingies called Vector Sol, Vector Mars, and Vector Luna merge through the power of good vibrations into either the strong Solar Aquarion, the lithe Aquarion Mars, or the mostly neglected Aquarion Luna.
Like any good robot show, Genesis of Aquarion received a fair amount of merchandise. The most infamous of these was Bandai's DX Chogokin Aquarion and its subsequent retool, the Assault Type Aquarion. While in some ways the toy was a technical marvel with how it could configure itself into all three forms of the Aquarion, it failed a very basic requirement of being able to stand up. Without the use of a large plastic A-frame, the DX Chogokin Aquarion's soul is overcome by gravity and is mostly confined to being a static display piece when combined in any form. Rumor has it that much like with Macross Frontier, Bandai wasn't committed to the show until late in its development, which lead to the flagship toy being less than stellar. Bandai did not forget about their past mistakes, however, and showed renewed interest in the license when they announced the start of their Super Robot Chogokin (SRC) line.
Enter the Super Robot Chogokin Solar Aquarion. Years back when Bandai announced the line, they proudly displayed a DX Chogokin Aquarion with the hopes of rendering the character in a smaller, cheaper form.
The SRC Solar Aquarion is a non-transformable figure. With their mantra of making smaller and more affordable versions of popular robots, it was only natural that this Aquarion be a fixed form toy. Even without its signature gimmick, Solar Aquarion is still a solid design and the toy reflects that. As a huge Armored Core fan (and fan of Kawamori's works in general), I really enjoy the overall look of Aquarion's main form. Vector Sol forms the upper body, Vector Mars forms the lower body, while Vector Luna becomes the "wings." Solar Aquarion decidedly qualifies as a Chogokin brand toy as it has a good amount of diecast in its chest, shoulders, shins, and feet. The lack of transformation mechanisms and a smartly planned distribution of weight means this Aquarion has no issues standing on its own two feet.
Solar Aquarion is roughly sixteen centimeters tall.
Unlike Getter Robo, the Aquarion proudly displays the nature of its combining gimmick. Each component is highlighted with a basic primary color while still appearing as a functional part of the whole robot. The Aquarion's overall modular functionality draws a lot from Kawamori's work on the Armored Core franchise, where he designed dozens of separate components that a player could arrange in thousands of different combinations while still retaining a unified design. Each Vector is essentially a torso with a head and limbs that act either as arms, legs, or "wings" for the combined mode.
All major paint applications are done adequately with all the whites and color highlights done with a gloss finish. The tampo printed symbols on the Aquarion's body are all perfectly applied.
On its chest is the DEAVA (Division of Earth Vitalization Advancement) symbol. Again, this is perfectly applied and matches the glossy paint underneath it.
One thing I am not too pleased with is the lack of paint detailing around the eyes. Solar Aquarion has six eerie looking eyes, but only a single pair is clearly visible on this toy. I can understand some detail will be lost on a smaller figure. The combination of Samurai mask style features and an angelic halo still gives the head a rather mythical appearance.
As the character started as a CGI model, it was easier to capture most of Solar Aquarion's details in physical form. Even the small thruster assembly on Solar Aquarion's posterior is here and even serves as the attachment point for a Tamashii Stage or other compatible display stand like Max Factory's Di:Stage.
Unfortunately, this part was not glued down on mine. It does easily go back on, though. I am not too excited with the prospect of the entire figure being supported by one tiny glued on piece. It feels like an odd choice when the upper body has plenty of space for a plug in stand or cradle style adapter.
I would like to address one other issue I've heard is common on these toys. The two halves of the main "wing" joint can come undone while posing. These do go back together with little trouble and I understand that due to how the part moves, gluing each half together may have gummed up the joint.
The main "limbs" of Vector Luna come separate in the box and must be attached via a Figma-style universal joint. While the joint is not exactly fragile, it is tiny. Fortunately the whole assembly is made of plastic so only a minimal amount of weight rests on these joints.
Another odd design choice is the way the Kawamori Hip Thingies are attached. They slot into a simple keyhole style hole and are still movable. While they aren't meant to articulate like skirt armor, they can rotate and pop out. Again, they go back in easily but I have to wonder why they didn't go with a traditional ball and socket setup.
Aside from some odd hiccups in the design, the SRC Solar Aquarion has a lot of neat touches when it comes to articulation. The two panels on the collar can move in and out to give the shoulders more clearance.
The elbows have a basic ninety degree bend with the shoulder armor being separate from the ball-jointed shoulder joints. A small part of the shoulder armor is also hinged as a nod to its function in the original fully transformable design. The hands pop on and off a simple ball-joint with no fuss. You get the standard pair of closed fists by default. The toy also comes with splayed hands and accessory holding hands.
The ankle guards slide up and down a small track to allow the ball-jointed feet room to move. The upper ankle assembly is diecast metal.
Each knee guard can move up and down.
The waist is constructed with a small hinged arm that ends in a hinged ball-joint. This allows the SRC Solar Aquarion to retain the idea of a robot constructed from three components as the upper body (Vector Sol) appears "separate" from the lower half (Vector Mars).
Even though Vector Luna is relegated to being a backpack, it is still mostly realized as a separate non-removable component attached to Vector Sol. The "limbs" even have a decent amount of articulation such as the ability to tilt Solar Aquarion's "wings" up and down slightly.
Despite the small size of the joints, the wings are sturdy and can be posed in a multitude of ways.
For me the minor faults cannot overshadow the amazing articulation of the toy. The range of movement on the legs is downright heavenly as the knees have a ratcheted pivot in the lower part with a normal hinge in the upper. A simple swivel in the thighs and diecast universal joints in the hips let the Solar Aquarion do a some robot yoga. The Solar Aquarion is a simple and clean design that translates really well into a highly articulated toy.
Without the top heaviness of its DX forebear, the SRC Solar Aquarion can be posed standing on one leg. While this isn't Aquarion's typical form for bringing some South American soccer arts, the ability to get its gams above the waist is definitely appreciated.
To further drive home the three form nature of the design, the Aquarion has some obvious feet all around its body. One really nice touch is little molded fists on the feet and wings of Solar Aquarion as a nod to how each Vector's limbs function as arms or legs. Sadly this toy cannot do the strangely fascinating "3D Attack" from the show.
For whatever reason, one of the more memorable moments from the series was when Aquarion demonstrated that it was crucifixion-proof. This is not shown in the manual and I've yet to see it on any other review, but I was able to pop the arms off of their ball-joints and swivel Vector Luna's limbs into an approximation of their arm mode. Vector Luna's fists are mounted on simple pegs and can swivel into place. There's even little knuckle and thumb detailing embedded in the folded up wrist guards. For me this is a neat bonus and a testament to the adaptability of the Aquarion.
Solar Aquarion comes with its appropriately fire-themed sword so you can replicate that stock footage of it battling the heavens 12,000 years ago.
When it's time to get hot blooded, the Solar Aquarion unfolds Vector Luna's limbs into the halo-like Solar Wings. The gold chromed inner layer of the wings really pop against the primary colors of the main body.
Even though the Aquarion itself strives for some sense of physical realism, its signature move involves pure animation wizardry. Most of us nerds are familiar with the character of Dhalsim from Street Fighter, who through mastery of yoga is able to stretch his arms and legs to extreme distances. It turns out this is a real thing and the Solar Aquarion can in fact punch someone TO DA MOON, ALICE!
In order to give some semblance of the Aquarion's hand extending to eternity via an infinite number of copy-pasted CGI parts, the SRC comes with a scant four components. You may notice each is shaped differently. Please note that the parts must be attached in order going from left to right with the largest piece being optional (I'll get to that in a bit). While it is hard to tell at a glance, the left most part is the smallest and has a sloped edge so it can conform to the Aquarion's wrist area. The plastic on these parts is as light as possible so they can replicate Solar Aquarion's major gimmick.
With the three normal sized components you can achieve a quaint little MUGEN PUNCH! In addition to being a popular fighting game engine, "mugen" is simply a Japanese word that means infinity.
Now, you're probably wondering what that large distorted looking Mugen Punch part is all about. Well, some designer at Bandai decided to use an old perspective trick that once made a giant out of Ultraman to give the Mugen Punch some more presence. As such, the SRC Solar Aquarion comes with a ridiculously awesome oversized fist.
This thing is probably too big to even fit on the larger DX Chogokin Aquarion. It's kind of heavy too, so we have to bring in another set of parts to help out.
With the addition of a crude three piece stand, the fully realized Mugen Punch dares to bring some perspective on the state of outrageous robot attacks.
With a little imagination and liberal use of your camera's focusing abilities, you too can create the illusion of a hand that dares to reach from the earth to moon just as the great warrior Tom Hanks did many eons ago.
Now, please join me in something that might have happened in a Super Robot Wars game.
"Are these dark angels? They don't smell right! Let's bust them up!"
"Not bad, whaled-faced jerks!"
"Hey Sirius! I can do this sword waving thing too!"
"You overextended your swing, Apollo!"
"Shut up, Sirius!"
"Damn they're fast!"
"Uh... I can't take out two with just one sword."
"My attack doesn't have the spread to hit both..."
"YOU FOOLS! A HAND AT YOUR FACE IS AS LARGE AS THE FOES IN THE DISTANCE!"
"I think I've got it! That old junk is right sometimes!"
"It's time to finish you grinning clowns off!"
The Super Robot Chogokin Solar Aquarion is a great figure with a few small flaws. None of these things are really crippling issues, but for me they make the toy straddle the line between a sure buy and something for fans only. Oddly enough a lot of its flaws could have been fixed if the toy was simply bigger, which runs into the problem of reaching outside of the SRC line's typical size and price point. Still, I was glad to get a satisfying representation of Solar Aquarion without having to wait another 12,000 years.
|Posted 29 May, 2012 - 13:34 by VF5SS|