Aurora has never been considered in the same league as Tamiya, but some of Aurora's 1/48 armor produced in the 1960’s is as good, if not better, than Tamiya’s offerings of that era. Whereas their PzKfw V Panther, PzKfw VI Tiger II, IS-3 (T-10?) Stalin and M-46 Patton are considered toys in need of complete rebuilding, Aurora’s Japanese Medium Tank, the Type 97 Chi-Ha, is one of the better kits.
To be accurate, this model is the Type 97-Kai ("improved") or Shinhōtō Chi-Ha ("new turret" Chi-Ha) armed with the high-velocity Type 1 47 mm gun.* The Chi-Ha Type 97 had the roundish-squat turret with a short 57 mm cannon.
Your reviewer offers photographs and defers to Imperial Japanese armor experts as to the accuracy of shape and details. For those with a critical eye and detail references, this model can certainly be improved. Most notably the front half of the fenders.
Aurora issued this model in three main phases, in the sturdy original long box, in a square box, and the 1970's small box featuring a photo of the built model. Atlantis is using the artwork of the square box release.
This kit consists of 117 parts (one hundred eleven including the four figures) of hard khaki styrene and a pair of vinyl rubberband tracks. Seventy-four of these parts are the bogies, drive sprockets, return rollers and idlers. The parts are crisply molded with some flash and seam lines. Surprisingly, visible ejector marks and sinks are absent. Perhaps the worst parts are the tracks, with some areas of excess material filling in the links. Instead of cutting that excess out I will hide it with mud. For those concerned about vinyl attacking plastic, the model pictured below was built in the mid-90s from an original Aurora issue, and the tracks have not started melting.
In the early 1970s Aurora tried to upgrade their kits by reworking the tooling with texture to simulate armor plate; no attempt was made to simulate any weld seams but considering most of the Chi-Ha was riveted, no problem. These are the molds Atlantis acquired. The armor segments are molded with recessed edges while the rivets are raised. Almost all detail is molded on: the seesaw-type suspension system; fine grab handles on the engine access panels; cooling louvers are molded solid; some basic straps are molded onto the storage lockers. There is hinge detail for access hatches but none for the turret hatches - they open and close via snap-tight fittings. Modelers may want to hollow out the 47 mm gun muzzle. The radio antenna is horribly oversized; except for the Chi-Ha with the horseshoe rail-type antenna I have found no photographs or information of the Chi-Ha using a whip antenna. U.S. Navy's CinCPac - CinCPOA Bulletin 5-45 Japanese Radio Communications and Radio Intelligence documents the Type TM Model 305 Mobile Radio Set as used in tanks but without mention of the antenna, while a "whip" antenna is noted for the TTK Model 147 Mobile Radio Set "B", although it is not mentioned for tank use.
The vehicle scales just three inches longer than the prototype. The figures are inconsistently scaled and are marred with mold marks. Their detail quality is pictured for you to judge. The two Arisaka rifles appear too short. One bayonet is broken off. Still, they look good compared to figures by other companies of the era.
Finally, the late 1960’s square-box releases of Aurora’s kits were shaped to accommodate a vacuform terrain display base. If you have one, for ideas of what can be done with the vacuform base, take a look Here.
Decals and Painting
Aurora included markings for three tanks, two for the Imperial Japanese Army, one of the Imperial Japanese Navy. No unit identity is suggested. The ‘license plate’ is the same, while the hull and turret markings differ. Three camouflage schemes are described: overall olive, olive with patches of dark green and brown, and olive and brown with khaki-yellow bands. No paint brands are referenced.
The decals look top-notch - sharp edges, minimal carrier film, opaque. I was puzzled by the red stars until I recalled the Soviets and Red Chinese used captured Chi-Has after the war. Kudos to Atlantis for providing this option. However, I think the star in the black "license plate" should be white.
Assemble is guided through three easy-to-follow illustrated steps, with one sub-assembly. I will build this one and post the progress. I built an original Aurora Chi-Ha years ago and it assembled easily. Here it is:
I praise and thank Atlantis for reissuing Japanese Medium Tank, Type 97 Chi-Ha. It is a fun model that builds up into a respectable Shinhōtō Chi-Ha. As far as I know, it is the only injection-molded 1/48 Imperial Japanese tank in town. Building it is well within even a beginner's ability and for those who enjoy super-detailing, it is a good canvas to start your masterpiece. Sure, it has molded-on detail, flash, and some oversized parts, but the lack of mold marks balances that in my eyes. The figures are interesting and feature dynamic poses.
Since Atlantis started boxing kits I have hoped this would be one of their releases. This old friend rekindles the joy of simple and enjoyable modeling and I can't wait to show you progress with it.
You bet I recommend it!
Please remember to mention to Atlantis and retailers that you saw this model here - on Amorama.
* Shamelessly taken from Wikipeda.