Saturday 3 February 2024

LS and Judy Part 1

LS aircraft kits will be familiar to veteran modellers of a certain age from when they first appeared as 1/75 scale kits from Japan in the 1960s, and are still available to them and to new generations of modellers under the Arii Microace brand to this day. Back in the 1960s they presented a little more finesse than the contemporary Aoshima kits and indeed a finesse in the context of the time which gave several of their 'only kits in town' an impressive longevity when it came to certain Japanese aircraft types. For example their Ki-67 kits ruled that roost from 1966 until the Hasegawa kit of the type was released in 1999. 

The company was founded in 1946 by Kan'ichi Kimura as the Sunlight Science Model Factory and with 'SL' adopted as a monogrammed logo from 1954, misperceived as 'LS' because the 'L' was larger than the 'S'. Mr Kimura, who in 2006 at the age of 90 received an Aviation Age Award from the Japanese Aeronautical Association, had worked as a designer for Maeda Seisakusho, manufacturing gliders at Fukuoka before the war and afterwards established his own company to produce educational teaching materials including wood and paper aircraft. When the first miniature electric motors of Mabuchi type became available in 1954 the company, then based at Gifu as the Kimura Gliding Research Institute, began produced motorised ship models in addition to aircraft. The first plastic aircraft kit in their 1/75 series was the D4Y2 Model 12 Suisei 'Judy' (shown as the heading image above) released in December 1961 but was rapidly discontinued the following year when the company went out of business due to the cost of moving from wood and paper to plastic injection moulding. With regeneration as エルエス (Eruesu - LS) in July 1964 the company released six ground breaking 1/75 injection moulded aircraft kits including their original 'Judy' in a box of revised design but with the same box art (as shown below).

The 'Judy' then became kit No.3 in the 'Masterpiece Machine' series which consisted of:-

  • No.1 Hayabusa Type 1
  • No.2 Hayabusa Type 2
  • No.3 Comet Carrier Bomber Type 12 
  • No.4 Type 2 Seaplane Fighter
  • No.5 Zero Fighter Type 21
  • No.6 Zero Fighter Type 52

The No.1 Hayabusa 1 kit was rather different to the No.2 kit, being heavily rivetted and with moveable flying surfaces compromising scale fidelity. The No.2 Hayabusa 2 kit was more cleanly moulded without rivets and with only the prop, canopy and ailerons being movable, but both kits had engraved Hinomaru locations. They are now considered crude by modern standards but in fact were more faithful representations of Hayabusa's slender shape than the 1/72 Revell kit released the same year. The cowlings are cylindrical but perhaps the worst parts are the canopies which appear under scale even for 1/75th. More about the two LS Hayabusa and other initial kits in a future article.    

The 'Judy' was identical to the original kit, moulded in dark green plastic with crewmen moulded to their seats à la Revell box-scale style, with opening bomb bay doors and a loose bomb which was supposed to drop as they were opened. The propeller was designed to rotate and the main undercarriage to retract but there were no other moving parts. It had refined surface detail with engraved panel lines, a presentation only spoilt by engraved positions for the fuselage and wing Hinomaru. The support for the optical sight was moulded integrally with the fuselage halves but no separate sight was provided and the engine intake, although open, had no internal detail. A very clear and crisply moulded single piece canopy with clearly delineated raised frames was included, together with a clear stand bearing the LS logo and 'Made in Japan' in English. The decal sheet in this release (shown below) was glossy, and although the white borders to the Hinomaru were not consistently in register, it provided yellow leading edge strips, undercarriage warning bands and the white tail code with twin yellow tail bands for ヨ-201 - Yo(kosuka)-201. It also had a decal for the stand in the form of a yellow star on a white circle with the four red characters for 'Suisei Kanbaku' (Comet Carrier Bomber) presented two on two. 

The only English on the box was '1/75 Series' and 'Suisei (Judy)' whilst the instructions on a single sheet (shown below) were entirely in Japanese.

The next release of kit No.3 was in 1968 with a new design of box and presenting as 1/72 scale with fresh box art by T Ogawa (as shown above) and perhaps geared more towards export. Indeed my example still has a price sticker for Argyle Models of 65p (13 shillings in old money!) so sold post-1971. The kit, which was also numbered as 103:100, and instruction sheet were unchanged, but the stand was now a curious affair in white plastic which seemed to be designed to accommodate motorisation, although there was no reference to this in the kit itself. An insert sheet in English was included (shown below), plus a tiny metal tube of glue and the decal sheet with same ヨ-201 option was enhanced with two sets of alternative yellow numerals from 0 to 9 and the yellow Katakana unit codes カヤ (KaYa for Kanoya) and タイ (TaI for Tainan).

In 1965 these six LS kits were being sold for 6/11d by importers like BMW in Wimbledon - their advertisement in the February issue of Flying Review International shown below - together with imported 1/50 Marusan kits, relatively expensive exotica at 12/6d and18/6d. The wording of the advertisement suggests that the LS kits sold out quickly. I recall Aoshima kits in a local hobby shop around that time but cannot recall seeing LS kits sold there - that might be because I couldn't afford them on 2/6d weekly pocket money!

By circa 1970 the LS Judy kit had come down in price in UK to 5/11, its box art featuring in another BMW advertisement, this time in Aircraft Illustrated Extra No.4 (shown above). In 1972 the kit was re-released in a completely revised form which will be explored further on Part 2.

To be continued . . . 

Image credit: LS box art, etc., © LS Co., Ltd © 1961, 1964 &1968; Magazine advertisements © 1965 BMW Models and Flying Review International (Purnell & Sons Ltd) and © circa 1970 BMW Models and Aircraft Illustrated Extra (Ian Allan Ltd)


Anonymous said...

Interesting history Nick. My first introduction to LS were the Arii N1K1, J2M3 , and the Ki-61 in the early-mid 90s, then I was an early teen and in my prime model building days. I think playing Aces of the Pacific (does anyone remember that game?) was what hot me interested in Japanese aircraft, What I especially enjoyed about the kits were the small posters that accompanied them, which I tacked onto my bedroom walls. Looking forward to part deux.


Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Hi Woody

Thanks for that memory. Those Arii kits you mention, in 1/48 scale, were actually ex-Otaki rather than ex-LS. Arii took over and released both LS and Otaki kits. The Otaki N1K1-J was first released in 1972 and re-released by Arii in 1986 with the same box art. LS went out of business in 1992 after a long period of diversification, releasing many car kits and a range of 1/1 scale firearm kits. From 1975 LS also began releasing a range of 1/144 scale Japanese aircraft kits with B7A2 and B6N2 - eventually to include Ki-43-II, Ki-84, D3A1, Raiden, A7M2 and Shiden-kai, - and in 1982 a 1/144th scale Emily flying boat, re-released by Arii in 1994.


Baronvonrob said...

Fascinating stuff once again Nick, thank you so very much!…. I never knew the story of the SL transposed LS moniker of the Sunlight Science Model Factory… and the biographical notes about Mr. Kimura-san are even more intriguing.

Indeed, the 1/75 LS kits were groundbreaking at the time, and I am still captivated by the marvelous box art so many years later…. And yes, I also can fondly recall those tiny tubes of glue included with the kit… unfortunately, the contents were usually petrified by the time I acquired the model :))

Looking forward to Part 2 !

Jim Anderson said...

This is a good one with fleshed out historical details. The Judy was my introduction to LS Models c. 1973ish with the Nell following next. Those were the only two I built from that firm. I still have the cool looking Peggy in the stash. The Judy and Nell were among the first kits to receive the then new paints from the dedicated Humbrol and Pactra Japanese AF sets that Nick brought to our attention recently.

Sunlight Science Model Factory, wow!

Mark Smith said...

Thanks for this one, Nick. This company had vision, and from the numbers of types they produced when I first saw them at MAL Hobby Shop in Irving Texas, I wouldn't have guessed that switching to injection plastic had originally put them out of business.

This company's departure from the business left a hole. RIP LS. They weren't scared to tackle exotic subjects. They were always improving. The Emily they produced in 1982 was a masterpiece then - a description that still holds. The Dinahs that (I think...) preceded them were fine models too, and they made all four variants - the rare trainer version in a blinding orange for my copy!

Fine post, Nick - looking forward to Part 2.

Jacob said...

Nice post Nick!
Bought these kits in the early sixties in Rotterdam,
Some are gone but but about eight of them still survive.
I kept some of the boxes because of the Nic box-art
Looking forward to your next post!

Jacob Terlouw

Alex said...

I've never seen any reviews of LS kits. Just great and thank you so much!