Thursday, 17 February 2011

Fine Molds 'Ultimate' 1/72nd A6M5 Zero

The latest Fine Molds "magazine kit" arrives to what seems like a deafening silence. The "De Luxe Magazine & Kit 2 in 1, Ultimate Zero Type 52", Volumes One and Two, have now been released. As with Fine Molds previous Zero kits, it is attached in two parts to the February and March issues of the Japanese 'Model Graphix' magazine. This irritating marketing method makes no concessions whatsoever to overseas interest in these aircraft and if you want one of these small, plastic, 1/72nd scale kits means that it will cost you £22.64 (USD $36.47) for the privilege, not including post & packing - or customs charges. Dragon's Meteor begins to look like value for money. For Japanese aircraft modellers the "bonus" of the two magazines is of dubious value. They are almost entirely in Japanese and full of robots, armoured fighting suits and those female figure kits that are either cute or creepy depending on your point of view. The publishers seem to have missed the opportunity to produce a pair of Zero 52 special issue magazines to go with the kit.

The Zero kit parts are sealed in plastic bags, lost inside large, impractical boxes designed to match the A4 size of the magazine. For hoarders there is no convenient, compact box to store the whole kit and for those who appreciate it, as I do, no box art to admire. Is this the future of Fine Molds Japanese aircraft kits? I hope not - but thank goodness their excellent Ki-61 series was released before Model Graphix hove into sight! In terms of attractive, tempting presentation Sweet is far and away ahead, albeit in 1/144th scale. Unfortunately the Fine Molds parts do not fit into the Sweet box! In the FM A6M2 release a "do-it-yourself" box and box art were provided - but not with this one.

But what of the kit itself?  Those who have purchased the previous "Ultimate" A6M2 and A6M3 kits will know what to expect. It is "molded in color" - well almost - in this case predominantly dark green plastic which gives it a surprisingly archaic look and is perhaps not the best colour to show off all that exquisite detail. Cockpit parts are molded in olive green, the engine and prop in silver and the cowling in a very dark grey. The cowling was the first thing that struck me about the kit parts. I immediately thought how small, slim and tapered it looked, almost underscale, reminding me, most unfortunately, of the old Revell kit in this scale. Some of the photographs of built-up kits reinforced this impression (although to be fair others look ok). Either the prop seems a little too big or the cowling too anaemic - or something. Something looks not quite right about the set up here and this is reinforced by a photo showing the A6M5 in profile against the previous A6M2 model. Somehow the A6M2 cowling manages to look more robust and beefy! These are preliminary impressions and could well be wrong as I have not yet compared the kit parts to plans (!) or the workmanlike Hasegawa kit. Comments from those who might have are welcome and I'll happily update or correct this review as necessary.

A nice touch are the optional open or closed canopies which will benefit the spares box, optional dropped wing flaps and optional open or closed engine flaps. The cockpit is highly detailed, with awesome for its scale sidewall clutter and separate decals for each instrument in the panel, but if you set store by such additions you will need to find photo-etch seat belts elsewhere. One of the magazines contains a two page colour walkaround of the Yasakuni Zero and a couple of poor paintings but if you expect two magazines stuffed full of useful Zero 52 reference material you will be sadly disappointed.

Sweet also excel in interesting markings options, the three offered in the Fine Molds kit, all Mitsubishi-built examples, being somewhat uninspiring. In fact, at this price and given the A4 presentation one might have reasonably expected an A4 sheet with a multitude of interesting schemes for the aircraft of notable pilots. Japanese hobbyists seem to have settled on RAF Sky as the required undersurface colour for the A6M5, whether Misubishi or Nakajima (and RAF grey-green for the interior - those stocks of RAF paint at Rangoon must have been enormous). The upper surface greens are looking very green in some images, perhaps not out of place in a St Patrick's Day Parade, although the instructions suggest GSI Creos (Gunze) 124 Dark Green (Mitsubishi).

That's about it. An "ultimate" 1/72nd A6M5 that leaves me slightly underwhelmed by its presentation, price and the lingering doubts about that cowling and prop.


A comparison of the Fine Molds kit parts with parts from the Hasegawa A6M5 Type 52 ('Super Ace' issue #00919) appears to confirm these preliminary impressions. The Hasegawa cowling is larger, deeper, slightly less tapered whilst the Fine Molds spinner is slightly smaller than the Hasegawa example in base diameter and profile. The Fine Molds cowling is slightly shallower in profile, narrower in plan and has an overall smaller base diameter, with a slightly more tapered shape towards the front. The fuselage halves match almost perfectly so it does not seem to be a scale issue. It is tempting to think this might just be due to fidelity of scale thickness as the Fine Molds cowling is thinner plastic, but the slightly odd look of the made up models suggests not. Will try to post comparison images later.

Image credits: All ©2011 Model Graphix & Fine Molds


Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,
I see what you mean on the cowl seeming to be under scale- especially the profile image makes the cowl appear too narrow from top to bottom.

On the colors, I have always found GSI #124 too verdant and bright a green and I do not believe I would ever apply it to a Mitsubishi built Zero model.

Thanks for posting the images and thoughts,

Anonymous said...

Several things to consider about the Japanese market place:

1. The Japanese population is highly literate. There are many bookstores; many more book shops than model shops.

2. Japanese model shops very often discount model kits. They do not discount magazines or books. These FM kits are not sold as kits but are premiums to boost magazine sales.

3. Distribution for these kits becomes an issue for the magazine publisher and not for Fine Molds.

I think it makes sense for FM to market these kits this way. In the book stores, the kits' sales potential is much greater because there are many, many book stores. Within a 20 minute walking distance to my home there are 3 bookstores, all of which offer Model Graphix. The nearest hobby shop is a 45 minute train ride to Yokohama.

While the decision to offer these kits in this manner is not particularly good for "overseas interest", it does make a great deal of sense with regard to the Japanese market. I'd wager that FM sales are almost entirely to the Japanese market. I don't have any data to support this, but I'd be surprised if FM sales outside Japan reach 5% of total.

As to prices, these are expensive kits in Japan. Fine Molds' 109 kits usually cost around ¥1850. Their A6M kits are around ¥3200. Much of the added cost is for those Model Grapix magazines. Or in the case of the Type 32, a single issue of Scale Aviation at the same ¥3200. As to the worth of the magazines, I think you are being kind regarding Model Graphix, but are doing disservice to Scale Aviation. Model Graphix offered no add-on value to this kit. Sorry, a couple of photos of the Yasukuni Shrine restoration does not cut it. For an example of what could have been done, Armour Modelling late last year issued a Type 89 tank kit. The kit came in 3 issues. The first issue had a review, a couple of builds, and reference photos. The remaining 2 issues had more build ups and reference materials. There was also a couple of articles suggesting ways of improving the kit. The Type 89 model kit is really expensive at ¥9600. The added value the magazines impart make this price reasonable.

I'm not sure what point bringing Dragon's Meteor into this discussion is. At ¥2010, I consider this kit reasonably priced. I suspect it is even more reasonable priced in Hong Kong. I certainly consider it a better value than Revell's Hunter FGA9 at ¥3000.

Incidentally, I purchased my Type 52 in one of the bookshops near my home. This saved me the ¥820 round trip train fare to the closest hobby shop. It was more convenient for me. Perhaps convenience for the local customer may have been a factor in Fine Mold's thinking.

John Bank

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Hi John

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. All fair and valid points bar one.

I think, however, that your explanation of the marketing advantages for FM in Japan underpins, rather than contradicts, my view that they make no concessions to overseas interest. You are lucky to be able to buy these kits conveniently and relatively cheaply within Japan. That is not the case for many modellers outside Japan who find it difficult and expensive to acquire them, however much they might want to.

It may indeed make sense for FM to market the kits this way and their domestic market is clearly of far more importance to them than their overseas market. This curiously insular outlook in Japan in todays global markets is not restricted to kits but extends to other things too. But it is indeed reflected in Fine Molds approach as any builder of one of their kits will know. The paucity of English language assistance is in contrast to Tamiya, Hasegawa, even Fujimi and in the case of the "magazine kits" even more pronounced.

As to the "bar one", far from "being kind" to Model Graphix I was making the same point as you and did not mention Scale Aviation at all - so your comment about this puzzles me. Had Model Graphix adopted the approach of Armour Modelling and offered two magazines with copious Type 52 references and details my view might have been different.

As to mentioning Dragon's Meteor. Why not? This is a personal blog, a personal view, and that kit's price was the subject of much consternation and comment when it was announced. A direct comparison between the two kits is an interesting exercise in contemplating value for money.

Thanks again for the comment. They are always welcome.

Kind regards

Ruy Aballe said...

Hi Nick,
Many thanks for your report on the new FM 1/72 A6M5. I too had my doubts about the cowling and your text seems to confirm them. While I understand the points put forward by John, I still think FM should consider a more orthodox release format for their A6M "magazine kits"...

As for the lack of sizeable A6M5 content in the two issues of Model Graphix that must be bought with the kit, what a waste! After some hesitation, a friend with a keen interest in Italian, Soviet and Japanese armour took the plunge and ordered the three issues of Armour Modelling needed to get the 1/35 Type 89 kit. Despite the high final price tag, he gladly reckons the whole package is well worth the effort, with all the reference and builds material provided in the three magazine issues. He also remarked that some exclusive multimedia 1/35 armour kits are equally expensive and come with no reference material whatsoever. Perhaps he is just trying to sublimate the fact that he paid so much for a small 1/35 scale tank, but I do see the point.

As for Model Graphix and the A6M5, the reasoning behind the publisher’s approach seems strange to say the least, unless one argues against the inclusion of relevant material about the aircraft on the grounds that it can be found elsewhere, in a wide variety of Japanese sources (both out-of-print and currently available), but that seems a rather lame excuse to me.
So, will we see normal, boxed versions of FM A6M kits in the future? Only time will tell, but I don’t think so.
Kind regards,


P.S.: Just a small note regarding Dragon’s Meteor: it can indeed be ordered from HK at a lesser price than elsewhere.