today is known by modelers below a certain age as a company that produces sci-fi military models, sci-fi movie models, and general sci-fi genre. Yet those of us who cut teeth on X-Actos of the 1960s and '70s know of a Bandai that was a serious contender of historic military models. Bandai issued a large selection of 1/48 armor, infantry, and ordnance models; like Tamiya, Bandai issued large scale tanks, although scaled in the imperial unit of 1/24 verses Tamiya's metric-oriented 1/25. Thus Bandai's tanks were the same scale as the large 1/24 scale Airfix aircraft series. And bringing a taste of the orient to Airfix's occidental aviation, Bandai kitted a 1/24 A6M5 Zero and a N1K2-J Shiden
(Violet Lightning) - the subject of this review.
Why spend bandwidth on an out-of-production model? First, this model is fun. Second, if you like 1/24 aircraft and Imperial Japanese aircraft, this is one of only three models I know of. Third, it's fun! Long has this fighter fascinated fans of Imperial Japanese aviation. Decades ago I built Bandai's big A6M5 Zero but never could find (or afford) this N1K2-J kit, and it soon passed into the realm of the discontinued and the collector.
Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden
Graceful as a sumo wrestler, the N1K1-J Shiden
was a private development by Kawanishi of their air superiority floatplane fighter, the N1K Kyofu
(Strong Wind) "Rex", into a land-based interceptor (hence the "-J" suffix). A unique feature was the aircraft's automatic combat flaps that adjusted automatically. Shiden
is widely considered the best Imperial Navy fighter of the war. Built around the powerful 1,990 hp (1,480 kW) Nakajima Homare
NK9H 21 eighteen-cylinder radial engine, extremely maneuverable, packing devastating firepower ( up to two Type 97 7.7mm machine guns and four Type 99 20mm cannons), and able to withstand heavy damage, Shiden
was as threatening as its thunderstorm allegory...
...when it could fly. Shiden’s Homare
NK9H was unreliable. Japan's lack of high octane avgas limited performance. The aircraft retained the mid-mounted wing of the floatplane and the large propeller necessitated long, stalky landing gear. The gear was complex and prone to failure – both before flight and, particularly distressing, upon landing!
Just four days after the Shiden's
first test flight a redesign was begun to remedy defects, primarily repositioning the wings to the bottom of the fuselage to solve the long, complex landing gear issue; the fuselage was lengthened, the tail redesigned, and the whole airframe was made much simpler to produce, eliminating some 18,000 (wow!) parts. The troublesome Homare
engine was retained because there was no real alternative. Thus came to being the re-designated N1K2-J Shiden kai
, ‘kai’ being short for kaizou
( 改造 ), meaning 'modified'.
entered combat for first time in spring 1944. They proved to be excellent dogfighters at low to medium altitudes. N1K-J fighters were mainly used by few units including the elite IJN 343rd Air Group (343 Kokutai), Japan’s "Squadron of Experts" similar to Germany’s JV-44, commanded by Genda Minoru. 343rd Kokutai pilot Muto Kaneyoshi reputedly shot down, by himself, four Hellcats in one dogfight. Had reliable Shidens
been available, the Allies would have had a tougher time over the Pacific. However, the powerful Homare
rapidly lost performance in the rarefied air of the B-29's domain, thus "George" struggled at the high altitudes the war had moved up into.
Intriguingly, a captured George 11 evaluated by the Technical Air Intelligence Centre (TAIC) showed George's potential. (Please see the evaluation charts at Click here for additional images for this review
at the end of this review.) A N1K1-J showed speeds over 400 mph at 20,000 feet! That said, the same sheet stated that due to new test results, a revised sheet would be issued. One must consider if there had been errors in calibrating the test equipment?
Like lightning, Shiden
was a beautifully dangerous flash, then gone. Production problems slowed production and air raids ended it with only 1,435 built. Unknown numbers failed to get airborne. Impressive as Shiden
was, those that got into action only brought obsolescent pre-1942 low to medium altitude performance into an arena moving higher and faster and only eclipsed by the dawning jet age. Shidens
that did engage the enemy eventually ended in the shattering boom of thunder that follows all lightning.
This model arrives in a big box. Not as big as some of the new large scale models, but big for the time. Inside are 10 sprues molded in color:
Sprue A (black): Homare NK9H radial engine and exhausts, Type 99 20mm cannon.
Sprue B (Atoke): interior structural components, undercarriage doors.
Sprue C (silver): pilot and cockpit parts, main gear struts, engine accessories, props and drop tank.
Sprue D (exterior green): stabilizers, cowl, gun bay covers.
Sprue E (clear): canopy and gun bay covers.
Separate (exterior green): fuselage halves and three-piece mainplane.
Vinyl tires and vinyl spark plug wire.
Sprues and parts are all bagged and held in place by a decorated card strap stapled across the middle of the box.
Bandai molding was high quality for the time with minimal flash. Despite that, there are some sink marks, too many visible ejector marks, and some mold seams. Parts fit together well along most (but not all) seams. Sprue connectors were hefty, leaving burrs where the parts are removed, but that bedevils some big name kits even today. Slide molding was not then used by Bandai and thus the cowl is molded in four parts.
A pilot figure is included. Detail and molding are...well, let's just say you can identify the parts as representing a human.
By and large these parts have distinct edges instead of the soft detail of some models of the era. Surface detail is superior even by today's standard, with fine recessed panel lines and thousands of to-scale simulated flush rivets.
Bandai did not engineer the model with separate control surfaces as Airfix did - a shame in my opinion. (Nor are the flaps positionable.) Yet, the prototype fabric surfaces are simulated with fabric texture and sag between internal structure.
Four Type 99 20mm cannon are included, each with ammo. They are fair in detail; unfortunately the gun bays are lacking detail. For what appeal they have, Bandai provides access panels on their clear sprue so a modeler can build the Kawanishi with visible weapons.
Also lacking internal detail are the landing gear bays and inside of the gear doors. Inside the fuselage is very basic stringer and former detail.
Cockpit detail is disappointing. Consoles are provided yet the detail is toy-like. The instrument panel is a level above terrible. Perhaps I am wrong but I recall the big Bandai Zero panel had bezels molded around open instrument holes for a clear plastic instrument cluster with dial details molded on it. I recall that is the formula for the big Airfix kits, too. About the only redeeming quality is the separate reflector pane for the Type 4 gunsight.
The NK9H radial engine is reasonably detailed. The vinyl plug wires are a nice touch. An interesting feature is the set of exhaust pipes. Each has a separate end molded with a concave tip so the modeler need not drill out the stacks. Additionally, the supercharger and two expansion/feed tanks are included. These assemblies are housed in a cowlings devoid of any interior detail. However, the propellers are individually molded.
Clear and not distorted. Sharp raised framing detail.
For such a big model the lack of interior detail is disappointing. At least there is plenty of room for detailing. However, for such a rotund fuselage, the cockpit is pretty small, restricting what can be seen. Shiden
was no Raiden
in that regard, especially if you stick a pilot into it.
Instructions and decals
A well-illustrated conventional-fold instruction sheet includes the history of the Shiden
. While Bandai mainly illustrated the instructions with line art, they also included some photos of assembled components.
A big decal sheet looks clear and clean even after 30-40 years. Unfortunately, the decals are surrounded by clear film. The decals seem to be reasonable thin. Colors are good and registration is, too.
Decals for several airframes are included:
, IJN 343rd Kokutai
(Naval Flying Group) 301st F.SQ., SQ. Leader Lt. Naoshi Kanno, Matsuyama A.B., April 1945.
(backwards "E") 105
, Yokosuka Kű.
, unit unknown.
4. 343 Kű
): three aircraft with A, B or C codes, plus 10, 12, and 33.
Camouflage is "S1", N1 black-green over N10 light grey, and "S3" N1 black-green over natural metal.
Four full color painting examples are included.
See the photo of my holding the fuselage halves together. There will no doubt be a need for some filling or careful melding of the edges together. Perhaps one can overlook any mis-match as authentically simulating problems of manufacture?
It has been some 40 years since this model Violet Lightning was released. "George" was impressive then and is impressive now. With the growing number of big aircraft available, there is a noticeable lack of Imperial Japanese subjects. Aside from the Bandai A6M5 the only one I can think of is a 1/24 A6M2-N "Rufe" Zero floatplane.
This model features beautiful surface detail and sharp detail. The flaws of the injection molding process of the era - sink marks and ejection pin marks - takes some thunder away from this model. Interior detail is a mixed bag. Fortunately, the cockpit is difficult to see through the small opening. Yet, scratchbuilding detailers have a great deal of room and surface area in which to apply their skills.
Despite the unsophisticated interior, Bandai's sizable Shiden
is an imposing model. With its rotund dark green shape and blazing red hinomarus, it can certainly be electrifying on your shelf or in a contest. If you are a large-scale aircraft modeler and have some extra coin lying about, pick up one of these models.
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