Though the samurai warrior was in existence for many centuries, it was in the 16th and 17th centuries that he reached his zenith, and it is this period that is covered by this set. In particular this includes the Sengoku period ('age of the country at war'), the longest period of almost continuous warfare in Japanese history, and the years that followed, including the battle of Sekigahara, when the nature of samurai armies changed considerably.
This set contains not only samurai but also ashigaru, which means it is a good representation of the armies of the time and therefore very versatile. The first figure as seen above is the commander, resplendent in his tall cap and surcoat. Next to him is a man with a flag (nobari) in a very common style, though other three-dimensional objects were also used. The third figure is identified as nodachi, which is the very long sword often described as a samurai sword today. In his other hand he carries a much shorter sword, a less well known mark of the samurai. The last figure on the top row is an ashigaru (literally 'light feet') with a pike. Many different lengths were used, and at 60 mm (4.3 metres) this is a legitimate length but one of the shortest seen on the battlefield. This figure is the only one with any serious constructing to do, and even this is very simple compared to earlier sets. The right arm and pike fit into the shoulder of the figure, and as usual the fit is perfectly engineered, being easy to make and very firm without the need to use glue. The pike too is straight (without kinks) and blemish-free.
The first figure on the second row is a 'noble samurai' with a trident-like lance, and the second is a samurai with a polearm featuring a long sword-like blade. The third figure is using a shorter spear, again with a long blade, and the fourth is of course wielding his sword.
The third row begins with two arquebusiers who are using matchlock muskets first introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the early 1540s. Though many families looked down on such unworthy weapons, their effectiveness was amply demonstrated in 1575 at Nagishino, forcing their widespread if sometimes reluctant adoption. The arquebus required less training than edged weapons or bows, and therefore many arquebusiers were ashigaru. However here the standing figure is a samurai while only the kneeling one is ashigaru.
Finally there are two archers. In ancient times it was the bow that was the most important samurai weapon, though by this period it was seen by some as a cowardly weapon. Both have an unusual-looking but nonetheless accurately modelled quiver of arrows, and one is bareheaded - an unusual condition but one which allows the classic hairstyle to be seen.
In addition to the figures the set comes with a number of wooden shields behind which arquebusiers would have sheltered while reloading, sometimes sitting on the ground. Though styles of such shields would have varied greatly, these match a contemporary illustration perfectly, and are a nice added touch.
We have spent a lot of time discussing each figure as each represents a particular part of a samurai army. There was no uniform as such, but there was certainly fashions and styles that are typical of the time, and all these figures reflect the period in which they are set. The ashigaru have a much simpler armour, while the samurai have much more complicated and impressive costume. Many of the figures carry the small flag (sashimono) that was attached to the back of their armour, and these are naturally separate, though they too fit well into holes in the back of the figure. Detail is as good as could possibly be achieved given the scale, which with such complex and intricate costume as this is just as well. Samurai had their swords thrust into their belts when not in battle, but wore them suspended by straps from the belt when in a fight. Some of the figures here do not seem to have theirs correctly suspended, but this is a very minor issue. Absolutely no flash to be seen, and a lot of really active poses. We particularly liked the charging samurai with the two swords, but all the poses are very good.
Many manufacturers produce technically excellent sets, but Zvezda seem to manage to include an extra quality in many of their sets - the 'Wow!' factor when that first box is opened. This is certainly one of those sets, and merely reinforces the very high reputation that this company has forged for itself in the plastic soldier market. By representing such a diverse range of warriors there is no room for some poses that we would have liked to have seen like advancing ashigaru spearmen, but as a collection of figures this set is beyond reproach and opens up a whole new area of Asian history that had previously been almost completely ignored in this hobby.