Japanese military aviation during the 1930s and 40s was split into air services for the Army and Navy – there was no independent air force as there was in most other countries. As a result they tended to each back the operations of their parent body, rather than conducting their own missions. The role of the Japanese Army Air Service, which is the subject of this set, was to provide support for ground troops and to conduct counter-air force operations. As was common at the time, the West had a low opinion of Japanese aviation; an opinion that was to be drastically revised as the Japanese made sweeping gains in Asia and the Pacific using excellent modern aircraft and well-trained, battle-hardened pilots and ground crew.
Our top row shows the pilots in this set. Pilots wore either a summer weight or winter weight flight suit, the former being two piece and the latter one piece. However at this scale, and with other kit also being worn, it is not possible to distinguish between these two items on these figures, and the same goes for helmets, which differed only in that the winter version was fur lined. However everything here looks fine – the pockets are in the right place, the helmets are properly done and the shortish boots are correct too. The first figure in the top row looks to be wearing his ordinary uniform and not a flight suit, as he clearly wears a jacket and breeches, but he still wears a harness as well. All the other pilots also wear the harness, but none have a parachute attached, although the fourth figure carries his (a type 0), along with a sword (which was often taken into the cockpit by the pilot for good luck). Basically then all the pilots are perfectly authentic.
The remaining two rows are the ground crew, and such men wore ordinary Japanese uniforms. As you might expect, these men are dressed for work rather than parade, and so wear a variety of basic items including undershirts, work tunics, three-quarter length trousers and shorts, while one man is stripped to the waist. One man wears a T-shirt type garment, while another has a vest or singlet, neither of which were regulation but photos show some Japanese wearing such items. The general impression is of service in tropical areas, particularly as one man wears the cork tropical helmet rather than the field cap, but that is not necessarily so, though everything here looks fine.
Returning to the pilots, there are two poses of men sitting in the cockpit, which is nice to see as such figures are rare. We particularly liked the walking man, and the one apparently painting something (a record of victories perhaps?). However we thought all the poses were great, and that pretty much applies to the ground crew as well, as they are in a variety of working poses with various tools. It is a simple pose, but the man wiping his hands on a rag (second row, far right) just looks so natural that he became our favourite.
The quality of the sculpting is really good, with a completely natural look throughout, expressive faces and good detail in the few areas where this is required. The poses are far from flat, which again goes to show what can be done with a simple two-piece mould when the design has been properly considered. The sole assembly task is to potentially marry the bomb shown in the bottom row with one of the crew, but otherwise these are ready to go straight out of the box. We were a little disappointed with the flash, for while it is completely absent in many places there is still some to be seen, particularly around the seated pilots for some reason.
Air crew make a refreshing change from the usual infantry sets for World War II, and with this set RedBox have produced a very attractive collection of figures which offer something of everything. Some aircraft enthusiasts will appreciate the pilots in the cockpit, but anyone can enjoy the standing and working figures because these are beautifully produced and accurate, with a little flash only marginally spoiling the show. A very nice set indeed.