When I first saw the promo art for Mobile Suit Gundam - The Witch From Mercury, I was immediately struck by the unusual curves possessed by the signature mecha of the show, the Gundam Aerial. With thick thighs, smooth curves and a larger head than we're used to seeing (not quite Super Deform level, but proportionally outside of the norm), it was a decidedly more feminine form than any Gundam I've seen before. I've taken a photograph of the last Chogokin release I picked up, the Yokohama Base Gundam RX-78, and you can see that while the basic form is present, there are very clear design choices that back up these observations.
As it turns out, this aesthetic may be more than just a design choice. Fan speculation is rampant that Aerial is actually some form of the prologue's 3 year-old Eri (mostly referred to as Eri-al in online circles) and I have to say I'm swinging in that direction. The in-canon prologue short story released on the official site shows that Aerial is a full AI and capable of independent thought, possibly more. We'll hopefully get our answers in cour 2, but all of this is to say that the Gundam Aerial is a very intriguing mobile suit and one I've been itching to get my hands on in splendid Chogokin form.
The light-up eyes look great in the right lighting. Menacing...
For those new to the world of high-end mecha, Soul of Chogokin is the brand used by Bandai for premium mecha releases, with alloy parts, superior materials and copious accessories and features. In the case of Aerial, it has a light-up feature for the eyes and the back of the head-crest which is activated by removing the backpack and flicking a switch. The results is quite pleasing, as tampos on the eyes provide extra detail when lit up, and even switched off, the eyes look painted. I'm not an advocate for electronics in display items like this as I rarely use them, but even I have to admit this is well done here, and you can see the life it brings to photos, especially in our banner image.
"If that's the Witch's mobile suit, then...We can’t just leave it alone." ~ Shaddiq Zanelli
Aerial comes with a number of hands, plug-in accessories, gun, Gund-bit parts, beam sabers, weapon effects and a stand. Hands swap in and out on a ball peg, the Gund-bit parts can store across various ports on the Aerial, or combine to form the shield. There are no large add-ons like an Aile Strike Pack or a Fatum 00 unit to provide additional heft, so it really feels like the "core" parts of the mecha (I had hoped for the boosters they add in a later episode, sadly in vain). Everything is well sculpted and fits tightly on the Aerial, there's no floppiness in any of the joints and it has articulation to create some amazing poses. The beam sabers plug into the backpack and can be moved forward and backwards for easy access, the gun attaches to a plastic plug that's also in the box, and the when not stored across the body, the Gund-bits assemble around a clear central piece of plastic with ports to lock everything together - additional connections are revealed in each of the component parts, making it very sturdy.
The range of motion in the joints means that Aerial can access weapons, wherever they're stored, with ease.
So what can it (she) do? The head is on a ball joint with a good range of motion, shoulders have a butterfly joint that looks seamless, the arms have a bend at the forearms, 360 degree rotation at the elbow with a hinge joint that goes well over 90 degrees, upper arm rotation and shoulder articulation. It's very, very impressive, especially as the joints are almost all metal and feel premium. There's a swivel at the waist, at the top of the thighs, a mid-thigh swivel, furl curl at the knees and ankle joints for the foot and heel (independent). In essence, if you need to bend or rotate it, Aerial can do it.
The joints have some nice additional features too - the back of the thighs can collapse to grant additional range to the knee bend, there are sculpted wires in the knees around which the metallic joint rotates, and that forearm bend I mentioned earlier? It looks odd on its own, but add a shield and suddenly it makes sense - you can create far more natural defensive stances thanks to that little addition and it's why the Gund-bits will stay in that formation on my display.
"You can’t run away. The Gundam’s curse is a heavier burden than you think." ~ Delling Rembran
Let's actually take a minute to appreciate the stand, which is a fabulous piece of kit. It features the usual Bandai mounting arm for the main unit, which can be adjusted and locked into position, but it also has 2 attachable rails that can hold everything in the box - this is an absolute Godsend if you want to keep the parts within reach after you've stored the box. Personally I have a drawer at my desk full of Transformer and mecha parts from various toys sorted into little pots, but it's far from ideal. With this extra storage capability, everything is kept pristine and orderly, though it you have no use for the extras, the rails are optional and don't make the stand look gappy if not attached. Very, very smart Bandai.
And it's good to use the stand too. I had a near disaster when taking photos of Aerial, as it fell off the stand and almost snapped one of the antennae. While you get a spare crest in the box, the rear mounted antennae has no backup, and to make matters worse, the tip is separated by a very thin piece of plastic from the main extension, so it's incredibly vulnerable to even a slight knock. Now, I've owned a lot of mecha over the last 30 years and rarely have issues, but this design choice scares me. I would much rather these had been metal, or at least designed in such a way as to be replaceable, but all I can do is advise extreme kid gloves when posing it, and recommend using that stand very strongly if you don't trust it to stay freestanding. Even one minor shelf-dive and this is going to break. Happily in my case, a dab of superglue applied by a needle gave it the cohesion needed to firmly straighten and hold the half-broken antennae in place without any cosmetic damage, but it was a very close call.
The only other nitpick - and it's a small one - is that the beam and firing effects pieces are a little too solid for my tastes. They needed to be a bit more transparent, but when you're using blue as a base colour, it's hard not to make it look like water. It's not a deal breaker, and short of beam sabers I don't really use effects parts, but these just seem a little off for my personal tastes.
"It can fly! It can dance! It's reliable to use - Aerial!" ~ Suletta Mercury, Gund-ARM Inc.
The chogokin Aerial has some very nice design choices; the matte off-white colour is unpainted but, due partly to the lack of shine, doesn't look cheap (though yellowing is always a concern). The gold accents throughout the toy are almost always metal, which provides both heft and a look of quality. The baby-blue seems lighter than usual (though in truth it's no lighter than Freedom Gundam) and it feels less threatening, which is a nice way to make it feel like the wolf in sheep's clothing it's really intended to be. The clear, smokey plastic that runs down the head, chest and legs looks good, but might have been better to be a little lighter so you can make out the details. It would have been even nicer had the electronics extended to these areas to replicate the effect seen in the show, but it would have been a little-used novelty for me, so I can give it a pass here.
Tampos adorn the body, but not so many that it makes the suit look too utilitarian - tampos, panels and additional detail suit Gundams like Strike because it's such a workhorse, but with Aerial you feel the mystique of how it achieves its remarkable functions would be undermined with lots of warnings and markings.
The Gundam "hero" mecha - Aerial fits in well, though she's not as heavy as the others, nor as detailed.
If I have any criticism, it's that - from some angles, notably the side - the proportions for this suit look off. The thin arms, thick thighs and large head make it look cartoonish, and it's really the main reason why I want Bandai to rush through the upgraded Aerial seen in episode 12 of the show, as it really fixes a lot of this imbalance. However, that's not a fault of the figure, which accurately brings this mecha to life from the small screen. I have much bigger problems with other designs from the show, especially the Lfrith Thorn and it's silly looking chicken legs. Slightly unusual proportions pale into insignificance comparatively!
It's worth noting that the upcoming Suletta Mercury SH Figuarts release will include scale figures for both the Robot Spirits and Chogokin releases, so that's worth keeping an eye out for - I already have my pre-order in!
In all then, this is a perfect recreation of the Gundam Aerial, with lots of display options thanks to the clever GUND-bits that adorn the body, form the shield or enhance the main gun. The stand is absolutely incredible for those that want everything neatly stored, especially if you want to keep the antennae safe! Highly recommended if you can find one.