There was a time when if you'd suggested one of the mainstream kit manufacturers would produce a Japanese WW2 softskin vehicle in 1/48 scale, anyone would have thought you were joking. But, in what's hopefully a great sign that quarterscale is really beginning to catch on with vehicle modellers worldwide, we now have not one, but two, within months of each other; first, Hasegawa's Japanese fuel bowser and now Tamiya's Kurogane 4x4 light vehicle.
Acclaimed as the world's first practical four-wheel drive vehicle, the Type 95 Kurogane was to Japanese forces what the Jeep was to the Allies. Tamiya first issued their Kurogane in special edition boxings of some of its existing Japanese aircraft, but now they've released it as a kit in its own right too.
The kit arrives in typically stylish Tamiya fashion in a sturdy little box, with all the sprues bagged separately. The Kurogane is a simple little kit and comprises just:
39 x sand coloured styrene parts
A sheet of 4 x etched parts (2 unused)
A small sheet of decals for the instruments and radiator badge.
As you'd expect with a new Tamiya kit, the moulding is superb - crisp, without a trace of flash, minimal ejector pin marks and the only hints of sinkage on areas of thick detail hidden where they'll be invisible on the completed model. Construction looks very easy, with basically a two-part main body clipping neatly onto a one-piece chassis. The moulding of the body is excellent, with finely detailed grills and trim lines, but there is a price to pay for this simplicity; Tamiya have persisted with their policy of moulding the doors shut and the interior of the body shell is devoid of any detail, barring two faint lines marking the outlines of the doors. Admittedly, separating the doors would have made for a flimsy shell, but it would instantly add so much extra "life" for diorama possibilities.
The floor/chassis is very impressive with deep, precise detail onto which are added the suspension and exhaust. This is a kerbside model, so there's no engine detail and the wheels rotate on simple pass-through axles. The wheels themselves have nicely moulded hubs and there's some tread detail around the edge of each tyre, but the tyres are otherwise totally bald which surely seems unlikely on a cross-country 4x4?
The interior is simple, with three seats and basic driving controls, but there are no floor pedals, so things will look a bit empty unless you fit the driver figure provided. The windscreen/dashboard has separate drop-in glazing, but the windscreen wipers are unfortunately moulded on and the instruments are disappointing with no moulded dials, just a decal.
There's an option to build the kit with either a raised or folded canvas roof. The folded roof is fair enough, with separate side frames which are moulded quite delicately. The raised roof is a real curate's egg, i.e. good and bad in parts. It's split into three parts and moulded in clear styrene so there's no hassle fitting the windows, but Tamiya have elected to mould the side frames integrally, making them harder to paint and they're also really clumsy compared with the separate items for the folded version. Why Tamiya moulded them this way is hard to understand, because they'll also be devils to trim off to replace with truer-to-scale items.
The clumsy approach to items like the windscreen wipers and roof supports is made all the more odd because the kit includes a vinyl sheet of etched metal parts. A nice touch is that the etched parts are separate items, not attached to frets, so there's no trimming needed or stubs to file off. The idea's hardly new - ironically, it's the way some of the earliest commercial etched parts were made - but it's really nice to see Tamiya return to this method as I much prefer it to the frets we've become accustomed to. That said, etched parts are really wasted in this kit. True, there's a lovely little anchor badge and registration plate, but neither are required for this version, and that just leaves two disks - one for the driver's mirror and the other as backing for the radiator badge. If Tamiya had made the most of using the opportunity and provided etched wipers, roof supports and other small details, then including etched parts would have been justified - as it, the two disks could be made perfectly simply with foil and the etched set just bumps up the price of the kit while adding no particular value for the modeller.
Two figures are included with the kit - a seated driver and a standing officer. Both are nicely sculpted and detailed, but rather "formal". The driver is sat rigidly holding the steering wheel with both hands, but the figure has separate arms and head, so some simple surgery will allow him to interact with the officer who is stood leaning on a ceremonial sword.
The instructions are classic Tamiya - clearly laid out and beautifully illustrated, leaving little margin for error. Tamiya paint matches are keyed to most stages and the simple painting guide for a single vehicle.
If I seem a little harsh on Tamiya's Kurogane, put it down to frustration at some of the design decisions evident. Don't get me wrong - it's a lovely little kit, beautifully moulded, but the simplified and missing details knock it back from being an outstanding kit that could have set new standards for an injected softskin in this scale, to "merely" a very good one. Nevertheless, I still recommend it as an ideal accessory for WW2 Japanese aircraft vignettes and dioramas. Anyone wishing to add more detail to their Kurogane can find a lot of help with an excellent set of walkaround photos on Prime Portal
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