1/144 MS-09RS Rick Dom Custom
Awakening, Escalation, and Confrontation were the titles of the three Mobile Suit Gundam novels published by Yoshiyuki Tomino between 1979 and 1981. Usually novelizations are released either before or after a piece of visual media but, interestingly, Tomino-san made sure these novels were published during the run of the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV series to give fans a more mature perspective on the events of the show.
The story of the One Year War is a tragedy with complex moral themes, and the anime was forced to filter that story through a child’s medium and blunt some of the sharp points. The MSG novels didn’t have that limitation. Without revealing the major twists in the storyline, some major differences between the TV show and the novels include the destruction of the RX-78-2 (as well as Char’s Zaku II) at the Texas colony, after which both Amuro and Char are both granted new mobile suits. Amuro straps into the cockpit of the RX-78-3, “G3 Gundam;” a grey-toned brother of the original Gundam equipped with upgraded joints. Char, on the other hand, receives a tuned-up Rick Dom unit and command over Zeon’s freshly-minted “Newtype Corps.” The novels were also the first example of a Gundam “alternate universe” (AU). Interestingly, the battle between the G3 and Char’s Rick Dom at A Baoa Qu does not show up in any future adaptations of the One Year War. The AUs in Gundam Thunderbolt and Gundam: The Origin both depict the battle, but G:TO sticks with the anime showdown of “RX-78-2 vs. Zeong” while Thunderbolt completely avoids mentioning Amuro or Char altogether. So, what gives? Well, to those familiar with the ending of the Gundam novels, maybe that decision was intentional…there can be no Zeta Gundam after the ending depicted in the novelizations.
But on the Gunpla logistics side, the G3 and Char’s Rick Dom are simple color swaps of existing model kits. Bandai has released a number of 1/144 and 1/100 versions of both despite their appearance in only one AU. These suits are practically legendary!
So, of course, I had to build them. This entry will focus on Char’s Rick Dom.
I mentioned that Bandai released kits of the G3 and Char’s Rick Dom as recolors of existing HGUC, MG. and RG models. These are great kits, but their origins made them too intertwined with the TV series’ to truly represent the suits in the novelization. This is how mecha modelling becomes like historical scale modelling—we both consult reference pictures for inspiration. For historical armor and plane modellers, those reference images will probably be photos of contemporary machines. For mecha, we look at art.
For the Rick Dom, I found an old piece from an indeterminate source. The silhouette is nearly identical to the Rick Dom II with major differences in the areas of the chest, shoulders, head, forearms, and feet. Most importantly, this art is very different from official art of the Rick Dom, which will make it stand out among other models.
The Char’s Rick Dom line art compared to the Rick Dom II and O.G. Rick Dom art. This comparison shows the clear similarities between the Char’s custom version and the MS-09R-2…and also how much cooler the novel version of the Char’s custom looks compared to the old standard MS-09R.
With the similarity in the art, the obvious starting point is the Rick Dom II, at least for the arms and legs. No 1/100 Rick Dom II exists but, luckily, I prefer 1/144. I originally planned to use the Rick Dom II front skirts, as well, but the differences in the side-skirts made me reconsider—I would need to re-sculpt the original Rick Dom front skirts to match the waist. So that’s the answer: I would start with the HGUC Rick Dom for the core (waist, head, torso) and use parts from the HGUC Rick Dom II for the arms and legs.
Now that I had a plan for the build, I could break it down into key modules: legs, arms, skirt, and scribing. I’ll do the same thing here.
Don’t Skip Leg Day
So, here’s the thing. The core of this kit (waist, torso) come from the HGUC MS-09R, but the legs are from the MS-09R-2. Both kits use ball joints at the hips, but they have different-sized “balls.” [I invite the reader to insert their own mad-libs-style testicle joke here; I couldn’t decide on just one].
First, I carved out the interior of the Rick Dom II thigh so that the Rick-Dom-I-sized polycap could fit in there. But once I assembled the legs, I realized that the distance between “balls” was a lot shorter on the Rick Dom II! Easy fix—I drilled a hole through the entire waist (to later insert music wire for stability) and cut down the pegs. It’s a perfect fit after trimming, pinning, and reinforcing with additional plastic plate.
Diagram showing the sequence of events for cutting, shortening, and pinning the Rick Dom waist to fit the Rick Dom 2 legs.
Annotated photo of the waist after painting shows the junctions where the pegs were roughly shortened as well as the plastic plates added for reinforcement. Sure, it’s crude-looking…but that’s because it’s completely covered by the front skirt armor. Save your A-game for presentation pieces!
“If I wanted to scare people, I’d have really huge forearms.”
The Rick Dom II arms actually fit pretty easily onto the Rick Dom shoulder pegs with a simple polycap swap and a slight widening of the rotational slot. That was a nice way to start this section, because the rest of the work on the arms gets…complicated.
See, the problem is really with the shape of the forearm. The forearm shape on the Char’s Rick Dom line art is similar to the Rick Dom II forearm, but also completely different. The R-2 has a forearm-mounted cannon that will need to be covered up and the ornate elbow guard would have to go.
The strategy here was to prune down the R-2 parts as much as possible with my hobby knife until I achieved a shape similar to the Char’s custom art, and then use files and sandpaper for the precise sculpting. The very last features I added were the two large grooves on the outside—I needed to understand the shape of the new forearms before I could plan and cut those. The first set went off without a hitch, but I cut too deep on the second set which required some sculpting on the inside of the forearm. Oops!
Comparison between the modified forearm and the original HGUC part from Bandai’s 2008 MS-09R-2 kit. It’s an old kit, but it really holds up in a lot of ways.
Skirt Armor Modification
The elongated skirt armor in the reference image contributes a lot to the sleek look of the kit. The only problem is, the front skirts are shaped more like the Rick Dom II skirts while the rest of the waist is more similar to the Okawara design...and the RDII skirts absolutely do not fit onto the RD waist. What do we do? Well...we build a frame and then add milliput!
The trick here was to cut the bottom of the original RD skirt and extend the frame with plastic sheet. The white "filler" in there is milliput I pressed into the gap and sanded down. I'll show you the front of the skirts in the next section, since I scribed additional details on...
...like so! See? I told you I would show you what they looked like!
Using various MadWorks scribers and tiny drill bits, I went about covering the surface of the model in scribed lines. I really like the "Real Grade" style--it's highly technical, and I want my big stompy anime robots to look more "realistic." The legs are primarily the Rick Dom II legs, with a few modifications to use a modified pair of regular RD feet. The legs were scribed up very heavily.
The leg scribing was critical to the "realism" of the kit--giant armor panels like these would need to be broken up somehow, especially if those armor panels were covering up nuclear reactors that needed regular maintenance! It just makes logical sense. (ASIDE: Go listen to our episode of The Cutting Mat about storytelling for more information about realism in sci-fi modelling).
Assembly and Paint
It's really starting to come together, now! In this state, you can get a feel for the different parts I used (note: that cockpit hatch is a piece of the shoulder from a 36-year-old Zeta Plus kit!)
I'm never happy with commercial paint colors, so I mixed up two colors to use on the red parts to achieve some good contrast and add complexity to the armor.
I used Tamiya solvent-based acryls for this build. Tamiya paints normally come in pots, but I prefer droppers for easy addition to my airbrush cup.
Here are some WIPs of the paint setup. I was still using my old airbrush booth, which I built out of foamcore and duct tape.
I'm very happy with how this thing turned out. The Vallejo matte varnish and various decals really make this thing look like a war machine (despite the fact that it's red and pink!) Next up: the Gundam Novelization RX-78-3.