KIT REVIEW: AOSHIMA 1/72 N1K1-Ja SHIDEN (GEORGE)
by Mike Driskill
This new kit is a ground-breaker in two ways. Number one, it is the first really good rendering of this excellent Japanese naval fighter--a subject surely about two decades overdue for a decent kit in the little scale (upuntil now the only reasonably buildable kit was the MPM effort of a couple of years ago). Number two and even more significantly, it is the first new aircraft kit from this particular manufacturer since the mid-1960's! And, in contrast to Aoshima's much-maligned and oft-re-released dogs of that era , surely some of the very worst kits still offered for sale today (my personal fave is the "Myrt" recon plane with the folding wings--which the real thing did not have!), I'm happy to report that this is a worthwhile effort indeed. This is the early fat-bodied, mid-winged "George," which was unique in that it was derived from the N1K1 "Rex" floatplane design.
The normal evolution was the other way around. Developed by Kawanishi as a private venture, and initially rejected by the Imperial Navy, "George" was ordered into production as the war situation worsened for Japan. It proved to be a fine interceptor, if somewhat mechanically unreliable due to problems with the eighteen-cylinder Homare engine and complex telescoping main landing gear struts. It ultimately pointed the way to the excellent N1K2-J Shiden-Kai, which was the best fighter used in quantity by the Japanese Navy. The kit has a very Hasegawa-like presentation, using the same size box as most of their current 1/72 stuff and similar box art, depicting a 341st NAG machine picking off hapless Hellcats at leisure. It represents the first production version of the George, with the characteristic underwing cannon gondolas. Accessories include a large drop tank, and, unusually by today's standards, a decently detailed pilot figure ready to take his seat in the cockpit.
The parts are contained on three trees of gray plastic, plus one of clear parts. All are thinly and crisply molded, with sharp trailing edges and nice recessed panel lines, though the latter are perhaps just a touch less impressive than Hasey's current world standard. Fabric detail is slightly exaggerated, though in this scale this can be cured easily enough with a few swipes of sandpaper. Overall fit, based on a quick tape-together, is quite acceptable. Interior detail and small parts are a bit of a mixed bag. The cockpit also shows a Hasegawa influence, with a floorboard, seat, stick, rear bulkhead, and instrument panel with decal detailing. Only faint ribbing is molded into the fuselage sides. The wheel wells are much too shallow, though with at least a respectable shot at some molded-in detail. The landing gear struts don't really do justice to the distinctive, highly complex assemblies on the real thing, and could do with some added detail and hydraulic hoses. The main landing gear cover panel is rather thickly molded onto the strut. Wheels and tires are acceptably good.
The engine insert looks a bit like a copy from the old Hasey N1K2-J kit, somewhat oversimplified though thankfully obscured by the nice crankcase molding and small cowl opening. The prop dispenses with the separate blades seen on many recent kits, though mounting into a good two-part spinner/ backplate assembly. Clear parts are thin but in need of a modicum of polishing; a nice touch is the option of either a one- piece closed canopy, or a three-piece one for mounting open. The decal sheet is, again, similar in quality to other recent Japanese kits.
Markings for three aircraft are provided, though only one is illustrated on the instruction sheet. This is a shame as one highly innovative option is for a captured aircraft, complete with chalked-on cautions in English! I guess you're just expected to troll your library--which truly needs to include the recent Koku- Fan "Famous Aircraft of the World" issue on the N1K family--for this particular bird.
All in all, this is an exciting effort from what
is, in effect, a completely new manufacturer. Unfortunately,
distribution of Aoshima's new kits in the US has been poor up to
now. Their line presently includes, or has announced , no less
than eleven kits: four variations of thes early mid-wing Shiden,
three of the late low- wing Shiden-Kai, and four of the
redoubtable Focke-Wulf Ta 152 H series. The former include the
rare N1K1-Jb variant, which had all four cannon enclosed in the
wing and dispensed with the gondolas; and the 152's are reputed
to be somewhat more accurate and immensely easier to build than
the ill-fitting DML kits. Most of the kits are just box art/decal
variants, some in a series called "Ace Legends" which
give markings for specific pilots. The two Ta 152's, for example,
are available in generic versions, or in the markings of JG 301
aces Walter Rose and Josef Kyle. It appears that only this
initial George variant is being imported at the
present time, by Sentai, which is a real shame. Our fearless leader can obtain them from this source for a price in the low 20's. The only option for the rest of the line is to order them direct from Japan (which, if you have an on-line computer, is not as hard as you might think--see me at the meeting!). Hopefully, Sentai or Squadron will see the light and give this excellent new line of kits the treament they deserve soon.
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