An aggressive foreign policy and a politically powerful military meant that Japan spent much of the 1930s in armed conflict, specifically in China, with the occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and the formal declaration of war with her giant neighbour in 1937. That experience was to bear fruit when Japan attacked the United States and the British Empire in 1941, humiliating both despite their low opinion of her soldiers. Nonetheless the combined weight of these three enemies was soon to prove too much and over the next four years vast numbers of Japanese soldiers died in a war that resource-poor Japan ultimately had no chance of winning. However her much maligned soldiers won much praise for their courage and devotion (and also disgust for their treatment of civilians and prisoners).
Several sets of Japanese infantry already exist, including several very good ones, but first impressions of this one are also very positive. The figures are nicely proportioned and considerable use has been made of multi-part moulds, allowing more complex and natural poses than usually seen in this hobby. Weapons are in true scale, meaning they are slim and well done, although this does also mean they are prone to bending, both while in the box and after their release. However the fairly soft plastic means nothing shows signs of breaking off. We can have no complaints about the detail, which is perfectly clear and naturally also benefits from the more sophisticated moulds. None of the figures require any assembly, which will please many, although in a few places there is still some excess plastic in partly hidden areas, although this is no more than would be expected in most figure sets. Flash is all but non-existent, so this is a very attractively engineered collection.
All but two of the poses wear a 1938-pattern tunic with open collar, and all wear short boots and puttees, mostly with crossed tapes in the normal Japanese style. The officer and one soldier are in shirt sleeve order, which is also a quite acceptable costume. One third of the poses wear the field cap, although only the officer also has the four-piece sun shield round the neck, which is not a problem. The rest obviously wear helmets, although the shape of this is not always quite as it should be in our view. Kit differs between figures, as indeed it should as supply was almost always difficult, but everything is authentic and reasonable although some of the ammo pouches are surprisingly deep. Our only problem with the uniform is that in places, particularly the officer’s trousers, this is sculpted too tight for the usually loose and comfortable garments of the real thing.
Any World War II set excites interest in the weapons that are provided. Here the usual selection of riflemen are joined by a number of other weapons that were taken into battle. The second figure in row two holds a light machine gun, either a type 96 or type 99 (which were very similar), to which he has added a bayonet for which a lug was provided, although clearly this was far from an ideal close-quarters weapon. Next to him is a larger machine gun mounted on a tripod. We found identification of this difficult but it probably represents the common Type 92, which has already been depicted in several previous sets, although if so then it has been done noticeably too large here with an overall length of 19mm (1.37 metres) rather than the correct 1.16 metres. Finally on this row there is a 50mm grenade launcher - another old favourite that has been modelled before - but this time the operator is resting his foot against the base and loading a projectile into it, as the weapon was only fired at a 45 degree angle.
Continuing with the weapons review, the second figure in the bottom row has a flamethrower - in this case a type 93 as the gun length (18mm -1.3 metres) is much longer than the newer type 100. Beside him is a man with a radio, and then the officer, who to no one’s surprise is carrying a pistol and his shin-gunto sword.
The poses are quite OK, although we were not that taken with the man holding a small flag on a rather fat pole. If the flag had been drooping it would have looked more plausible. The multi-part mould means such things as the one-piece heavy machine gun and operator still work well, so a lot of worthwhile effort has gone into the design of these figures.
Any complaints are pretty minor. Enormous supply difficulties meant many troops, particularly those at the extremes of the Pacific territories, quickly became ragged and non-regulation in appearance, but these are still doing quite well (which is true of most figure sets really). The heavy machine gun has no ammunition feed (again a common feature of figure sets), and the grenade launcher is not a great piece of sculpting. Also the average height of these figures is a little on the high side for the average Japanese man. Still this is a very good set and well worth consideration.