Unlike most of the other major powers in World War II, the Japanese did not have an independent air force. Instead both the Army and Navy had their own forces, and these have been modelled in several other sets before this one, including the WWII Pilot Figure Set also from Hasegawa. The Naval Air Force was naturally primarily concerned with supporting the operations of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), which during the years of the China War were fairly minimal. However with the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941 this task became enormous, as Japan sought to conquer and then defend a vast empire. The small and highly-trained IJN Air Force had to expand to manage this new challenge, but this occurred too slowly, and the decision to keep most of the experienced flyers in theatre to support the war effort meant they soon lost a high proportion of their best crews. Replacements were quickly trained and rushed to the front, but were not of the same quality, and this, coupled with increasing difficulties in providing serviceable aircraft, meant the impact of the Japanese Naval Air Force declined markedly as the war developed, while the American flyers grew in experience and numbers.
We need to explain what this set offers. In the box are four sprues (see our image), each of which contains four figures. These figures are kits made in a hard plastic, and each figure comes in four parts: torso/legs, left arm, right arm and head. This gives some freedom to mix and match parts to let you design your own poses, so the four poses pictured above are merely examples of what can be done (in this case they are all following recommendations on the set leaflet), and it would be possible to produce 16 different poses from a set. Basically three of the torsos are seated and the fourth is standing but stooping. The first three are of course for pilots, navigators and gunners while the last is for the side gun position in a bomber. The set leaflet also helpfully provides illustrations of where each man should be situated in a G4M, a typical IJN bomber. The four figures we have pictured exactly use every component on a sprue, so you get some idea of the parts that are available, but this method works really well for figures that could be adapted to precisely fit a particular model, and the separate arms allow a realistic grip on their weapon or instrument. The result works very well, and is a smart way to deliver such figures when crewing any aircraft, bomber or not.
With kit figures it is important that the parts fit together easily and don’t leave ugly gaps. In this set the arms and head are simply flat surfaces, so can be at any angle, but the join is excellent, and while gluing is necessary the hard plastic is easy to work with, making a very strong bond. The parts are very well sculpted, with all the detail you could wish for, and very realistic in terms both of clothing and faces (which have excellent Japanese features). While the box must be showing painted examples in a larger scale, it gives a good idea of the quality of these figures as well as the range of poses. The arms and heads are quite small, as they should be, so a bit fiddly for some, but the result is well worth the effort, and we really liked all of these figures, which do not suffer any flash at all.
All the men are dressed in the same manner, wearing flight suits with cargo pockets above each knee. They have the typical short boots as well as scarves at the neck, and the flying helmet is properly done too. On the painted box picture these look like the winter version, with fur lining, but on these small-scale figures it is impossible to see any difference. All wear gauntlets, as they should, and all have goggles, but as you can see these are all on top of the head rather than covering the eyes, which is a surprising choice (if nothing else, Hasegawa could have offered alternative heads with goggles down). None have an oxygen mask, worn or not, but all are wearing the kapok-filled life jacket, so are on a mission over water (as was usual of course).
Another observation is that none have a parachute, which seems to have been quite common. In part it was an act of bravado to go into combat without the security of a parachute, but also if bailing out over enemy territory then a safe landing might entail capture, which was a disgrace to be avoided at all costs, even by death. Similarly many pilots armed themselves with pistols when operating over enemy territory, but these were primarily a means to commit suicide if in danger of capture rather than for self-defence. Such pistols were often worn on a lanyard or otherwise externally, but none are visible on these figures.
None of our observations about goggles, parachutes or pistols detract from the historical authenticity of these figures; all are perfectly accurate and usable. Also all are very well sculpted and can be posed in a variety of useful and realistic positions. The flexibility of such kit figures offers much for such a subject, and this is a terrific set which delivers everything it promises.