In 1853 Japan was a backward, feudal country, trying to ignore and exclude the rest of the world for fear of what modernity would do to their social order. Once the rest of the world did barge their way in, the country soon began to modernise at an incredible rate, and after winning wars with China (1894) and Russia (1905), she became a regional military power that had to be taken seriously. Her invasion and partial occupation of China in the 1930s, however, was a severe drain on her resources, and as the western powers imposed ever more stringent embargoes to show their disapproval of this blatant imperialism, Japan felt she had to seize the resources she needed to continue the war, and so attacked many Asian countries owned by Britain, the Netherlands, the USA and France. Japan knew a war with such forces could not be successful if her opponents had the time to build up their enormous resources, but when the hoped-for quick settlement failed to happen, she engaged in an often brutal war of early conquests followed by a hard-fought defence of her gains. Ultimately it was an unequal and hopeless struggle, but her armed forces fought ferociously and made sure the victories of their opponents cost them dear.
The Japanese troops that fought in China for so long originally wore the practical Type 90 uniform, introduced in 1930. Although this uniform had much merit, in 1938 the Type 98 uniform was introduced, and this is what we find on these figures, so as usual the focus is on the later years of the war. Every man wears a short tunic with stand-and-fall collar along with trousers and puttees round the lower leg, held in place with straps in the characteristic diagonal pattern. All bar the officer wear the standard helmet, and none show any evidence of a cap underneath or a sunscreen round the neck. This is all perfectly reasonable for the years after 1938, although as is often stated some infantry, particularly those on more remote territories, presented a much more shabby and casual appearance. The officer has long boots rather than puttees, and a peaked field cap with sunshield, so again no problem with accuracy there.
The kit on these men is also good. Each soldier has the two front ammunition pouches on his belt, plus the larger reserve pouch at the back. No one has a pack, but all have the haversack as well as a suitable water bottle, bayonet scabbard and rice cooker. The officer has none of these items, which is fine, and instead has just the holster for his pistol and the scabbard for his sword.
The majority of the poses carry just a rifle, as they would in real life, but two carry instead a light machine gun. The first is running forward with it while the second is firing it from prone, and both look like they are the Nambu Type 96 or Type 99 (which at this scale are indistinguishable). This is a good choice, as is the addition of a bayonet on one of them, for while this might seem highly impractical, this weapon was equipped to take a standard bayonet. Surely unique amongst modern armies of the time, the officer here correctly still grasps a sword, and in his left hand he has a pistol, which would be little more use as a weapon except at very close range. So, like the uniform and kit, there is nothing of concern about the weapons here.
In the past Mars sculpting has been very poor, and compared to that output this set is pretty good. Let’s not get too excited though, because that is not a great compliment, and these are still far from impressive sculptures by most standards. The proportions are not bad, although there are certainly a number of issues, like the incredibly small feet several have. The detail too is not too terrible, although when it comes to the weapons we would still have to use the word poor. They all tend to be rather thick and chunky, and in the case of the machine guns this makes the weapon look far too short. In fact it is the correct length, but with such fat barrels and features that they look wrong. Also the officer’s pistol is so thick that it looks like a flare gun; perhaps not impossible, but probably not what was intended. The clothing is fair and the faces surprisingly good, but the hands are rather too small in some cases. There is a thick ridge of plastic around all of the mould joins which occasionally expands into a serious piece of flash, and there are some issues with mould misalignment, so these will need a lot of work to make them look their best. However what looks like a mess of plastic on the bayonet of the man throwing a grenade is actually a limp good-luck flag!
As design decisions we can accept all of the poses, though one is better in theory than in the execution. The usual advancing and firing poses are joined by one in the act of bayonetting and another about to throw a grenade. The bayonetting man is actually one of the better attempts to make this complicated pose, and he is certainly leaning well into his blow. The grenade-thrower is clearly just at the point of releasing the grenade, although we did not feel this worked particularly well and just seemed awkward. Also he holds his rifle in a strange way, with the point of the bayonet perilously close to impaling his right foot. However with only eight poses to play with these seem like as good a selection as any.
Mars boxes always come with painted examples of the figures on the back, as they know that painted figures always look better, especially if the base model is not so good. From that picture you would never know that the officer is struggling to hold his massively thick and inelegant sword with a puny hand, or that a lot of cleaning up is required before brush meets paint. As we have said, there is much that is positive about this set, and even the standard of sculpting is an improvement for this manufacturer. However all other things being equal, if we were looking to purchase some nice Japanese infantry for this era then this set would not be at or near the top of the wish list, so a fair set with real signs of progress, but still some way to go.