Since emerging from her relative isolation in the mid 19th century Japan had rapidly modernised many aspects of her society, including the army, which was equipped, clothed and trained along Western lines. In 1894-95 Japan fought a short war with China, which was humiliated by the new modern army. In 1900 Japanese troops were back in China, this time in response to the Boxer emergency. While no regular Japanese infantry were present during the siege of Peking or the first relief attempt, around 9,000 Japanese troops participated in the second, successful, relief expedition, and over 20,000 were committed to the Boxer campaign as a whole.
The uniform of a Japanese soldier in 1900 dated largely from the 1880s. A five-buttoned single-breasted tunic (blue for winter and white for summer) was worn with trousers and gaiters on the lower leg. On the head was a peaked cap of French style, which in summer was covered with a white cloth that included a rear neck guard. The figures in this set seem to largely conform to this pattern, with the tunic (which is a little long in the body) being the blue winter type (we would have preferred the summer type given the heat of China). At least one pose seems to have a cloth neck curtain, but it is very hard to be sure on these poor figures. Officers would often wear an Attila jacket, but photos of the time suggest a more simple model much like that of the private was quite common and the officer figure in this set is dressed in this manner. As a result then there are no major problems with uniform in this set.
Basic infantry equipment was a waist belt supporting two ammunition pouches on the front and a larger one in the middle of the back. These figures have the two front pouches, but are missing the one at the back. All the men also have a knapsack of appropriate design, although they are without the rolled greatcoat often found attached round the knapsack or rolled around the body. Most have a blanket rolled on top, however. Many figures have a small haversack on the right hip, which is correct, and in some cases another item appears in the same place, which by a process of elimination is probably a water bottle, although again the poor quality makes it very hard to make anything out. Most have a bayonet scabbard on the left hip, which in most cases includes the bayonet stilled sheathed. The officer figure has a thin crossbelt over the left shoulder supporting a small pouch of unknown purpose, and his waist belt supports his sword scabbard. He also has a crossbelt over his right shoulder which seems to serve no purpose at all.
The sculpting of these figures is really poor, with many areas where it is very hard to discern any detail at all and a generally rough quality almost everywhere. Some faces are virtually unrecognisable as such, while other areas all too readily dissolve into a vague mass of plastic from which little can be made out. If you want flash then this is the set for you, because it can boast an abundance of excess plastic all over the place. As the seam often runs down the middle of faces or other areas of detail retrieving a decent figure from this mess is particularly challenging. On the positive side at least the height of these figures is perfect for the diminutive Japanese soldier.
It must be said that all the poses are entirely appropriate. There is a high proportion of firing poses, which is not necessarily a bad thing although we would have liked to have seen a marching pose too. The man in the top row apparently attaching his bayonet is the only unusual pose but nevertheless useful. The inclusion of an officer is unusual for a RedBox set, although he is very welcome if in a rather unimaginative pose.
Japan provided the largest contingent of troops to the allies during the Boxer campaign, but within four years she was fighting a major war against one of those allies – Russia. This is the first set to provide troops for these campaigns, and as a result is an important new addition to the era. However the really poor quality of these figures is very unsatisfactory and an opportunity wasted.