In anime, as in any medium, there are some characters that go beyond being simply well recognized or ‘famous’ and become icons; instantly recognized by people in different lands, of different cultures and even across generations. One such character is Captain Harlock, the space pirate forced to abandon his home on Earth and wander the sea of stars.
Captain Harlock is one of the all time greatest characters to be found in any anime. The fact that he is the creation of master story teller and mechanical designer Leiji Matsumoto also means that the good captain is guaranteed a cool ride. This takes the shape of the space battleship Arcadia, which is a chimera of ancient and ultra-futuristic design influences. It has everything a good Matsumoto ship needs: huge triple turrets, pointy bridge windows and too many masts. It also has everything a brooding, yet impossibly honourable space pirate needs, including a stern that looks like it came from a Spanish galleon, complete with bay windows and gilding, and a lot of REALLY BIG skulls-and-crossbones in bas-relief on all sides of the ship!
There are two different styles of Arcadia to choose from. One is the “blue Arcadia” that was seen in the old Captain Harlock TV series. This ship has a very pointed nose, and kits of it are very rare and expensive. The second Arcadia is the “green Arcadia”, as seen in just about every other Matsumoto work involving Harlock. The Green Arcadia made its first appearance in the first Galaxy Express 999 movie from 1979, and has since become an icon in its own right.
The green Arcadia is the one closest to my heart, since it is the first Arcadia I ever encountered. I first saw it sailing to life in the classic anime movie “Arcadia of my Youth”. This film was, and still is, one of the most powerful and epic anime movies I have seen. The Arcadia is a symbol of people’s hopes, dreams and determinations, and really is the indomitable human spirit given mechanical form. For this reason alone, I have always wanted to build a model of it.
I finally secured my own Arcadia, but it took me a while to get around to building it. I wanted to make sure that I had built up enough skill to at least try to do it right. It wasn’t until I awoke on the morning of Saturday, November 26, 2005, that I felt I should start the kit. That was the morning after my Ph.D. defence. I felt that I had a new kind of freedom, and if it’s one thing the Arcadia symbolizes, it’s just that!
The Arcadia is, despite its size, a fairly straightforward kit, and anyone who has built a space battleship before will be right at home. The kit comes moulded entirely in a dark green plastic, and there are no stickers, decals or any other kind of decoration provided with the kit. Well, actually, that’s not quite true: the Jolly Roger that the Arcadia so proudly flies on her flagpole actually comes with the kit. However, it’s right in the instructions! You have to cut it out and mount it to the flag pole. A better idea is to scan it or photocopy it a few times, because you’re definitely going to mess it up the first time.
The plastic the Arcadia is moulded in is very much unlike almost every other Bandai kit I’ve ever built. In fact, it reminded me more of the plastic that the old 1/48 Monogram P-40 or B-17 came moulded in. Unlike most Bandai plastic, the Arcadia’s is quite soft, and this means that it glues together quite easily. This is a welcome change from a typical Bandai, where getting the pieces to stay glued is actually a bit of a challenge.
The main part of the hull comes in halves, right from stem to stern, and the back plate is separate. The bottom part of the hull is included in the halves, but the top decks are not. That having been said, the “mailbox” at the front of the ship is fully moulded on the hull halves, except for the endcap with the skull and crossbones on it.
Most other major subassemblies come as halves as well, such as the bridge, wings, wing roots, drop tanks, engine pods and turrets. The gun barrels are all single pieces, as are the engine nozzles, main radar mast and side guns. There are two single-piece top decks for the ship as well.
This is not a new pressing of this kit, and it shows. The single piece guns and masts all show significant seams on them, and a dry fit showed that there were going to be some fit and alignment issues. None of the round components (guns, engine nozzles) are actually round, either.
The detail on the kit is quite good given its age, however, and the planking on the deck was nice and straight. Unfortunately, due to the age of the moulds, all of the panel lines were very soft. Thus, they all had to be re-etched. This was done using the trusty old ‘pin in an X-acto knife handle’ that I use for all my other re-etching tasks. This was the first anime kit that I’ve had to completely re-etch, and I was glad I’d had practice on some of my old FROG airplanes.
Building the Kit:
Building the Arcadia’s main structures is quite easy; you simply glue the halves together and sand when finished. This holds for the hull, bridge, engine pods and drop tanks. As mentioned before, the fit is less than stellar, but for these assemblies, some normal heavy sanding is all that is required to get them into shape. On this kit I used Ambroid ProWeld for glue; it really fused the soft plastic well.
The real problems in building this kit come in when you try and attach endcap pieces. One example of this is the back plate. It doesn’t really fit into the cutout in the bottom of the hull very well, and a lot of putty was needed to get it to fair smoothly into place. However, this was NOTHING in comparison to the horrible fit that awaited me at the front of the ship! The endcap of the mailbox, which bears the Arcadia’s trademark skull and crossbones, is a separate piece. This is, on the surface, a good idea, since it means you don’t have to sand the complex contours on the skull or bones. However, the endcap doesn’t fit worth a toot.
There was a very long battle to get the endcap to fair smoothly into the rest of the mailbox. The first few attempts at getting a fit used Zap-a-Gap cyanoacrylate (CA) to fill gaps and give some structure to the tenuous join of the two assemblies. After this, lots of Tamiya putty, Squadron Putty and even thick Mr. Surfacer 1000 were used in an effort to get a seamless join.
Just as poor in the fit department was the ‘horse collar’ at the back of the mailbox. This collar fits around the back of the mailbox and is responsible for creating the many openings that can be found here on the finished kit. Matsumoto loves holes, vents and intakes of all kinds, and the Arcadia is no exception. Unfortunately, the collar fits so poorly that most of the splitters that separate the holes don’t actually connect to the hull!
Getting the collar to fit on and stay attached was difficult and copious amounts of pressure, glue and swearing later and the thing was in place. Once the glue had dried, it was apparent that a lot of sanding and filling would be required. A heavy application of Zap-a-Gap cyanoacrylate (CA) was applied to fill in the many gaps, and after it was sanded down, several applications of Tamiya putty were needed to fair it in smoothly.
The rest of the kit didn’t build too badly. The turrets were straightforward, and the ventral scoops and fins all fit amazingly well. However, there were a few disasters. The most shocking involved the wing roots. Upon fastening the wing roots to the main hull, I found that one of them didn’t seat well, and that there was a huge gap between it and the body. This was right where the engine should be attached, and it would show because of how the engines go on. Thus, I had the brilliant idea of simply pouring on the glue and forcing it into place. For a while, it actually seemed to be working. The Proweld loosened up the original glue at the root/hull junction, and I was able to pull the wing root to the hull and hold it there. However, the pressure needed to do this was exceptionally high, and eventually the lower surface of the wing root gave way!!
I was treated to one of the most sickening sounds a modeller can hear: the loud and sudden report of snapping styrene! I felt the shock as the plastic gave, and stared down in horror at what I had done… The wing root had broken and collapsed in a way not intended by the folks at Bandai. In short, I’d blowed it up real good!!
Using some dental tools, I pried the broken wing root back into place and poured on some glue to hold it. In so doing, I ended up with a ‘dent’ in the wing root, which took some Tamiya putty to fill. The end result was actually quite good, and, in a great twist of irony, the hull/root junction was perfect after all was said and done!
Painting and Finishing:
There is almost no one who will sing the praises of the first generation of Testors Model Master Acrylic Paints. However, I’ve always been a fan of these grey-lidded orphans for several reasons. Granted, the paints are very difficult to get smooth, but they always cover well and are extremely tough. These last two qualities endeared them to me for painting the Arcadia because I knew I’d be handling it quite a lot during the painting and final assembly processes.
Thus, the green parts of Arcadia are painted in three different shades of first generation MM Acrylics. The mailbox is done in FS34102 Medium Green, with some white added. The bulk of the hull is done in FS 34079 Dark Green, and the ventral fins and small details (including the guns’ thermal sleeves) are done in FS36081 Euro 1 Grey (which is a very green grey). The decking and ‘galleon’ part at the rear are an old brown I mixed years ago, and whose composition has been lost in the mists of time.
While airbrushing these old MM Acrylics is impossible, they can be hand painted once significantly thinned with distilled water. Approximately 8-10 coats of each colour was applied over a layer of Wal-Mart Colourplace grey primer, and a good sanding with 2000 grit was undertaken every 4-5 coats. Once they’re sanded though, the paints look just as good as anything else. With the paint done, the black Gundammarker was brought into action. This ship has a lot of outlining, and most of it required touching up.
The windows are all done in a mix of various yellows with white primer. Painting the windows was quite a challenge, especially on the bay windows, all of which had to be re-etched before they could be finished. However, the bridge windows gave me the most trouble. Because of the thickness of the paint already applied, the thin bridge windows had been all but obliterated. I tried, in vain, to resurrect them, but eventually had to give up.
Of course, I couldn’t give up on having windows, so I had to think of another way. This presented itself in the form of 2mm Modeler’s brand masking tape. I cut a strip of this tape in half, and then cut windows to size from that. I then stuck the tape onto the now-filled face of the bridge, painted the tape to match the other windows, and outlined the tape when done. I was very impressed with how well this trick worked. In fact, the only way to tell that something’s wrong is to really know your Arcadia: because of the width of the tape, there’s one less window than there should be in each row. I doubt most people would recognize this at first glance though…
Once the painting and outlining were finished, I tried to gloss the entire ship with thinned Future floor polish. However, because the Arcadia is so big, this didn’t really work out. I originally wanted a high-gloss finish, because so often the Arcadia is drawn with a heavy ‘shine’ type of lighting. After several attempts, though, it was clear that this wasn’t going to work. Since glossing using an airbrush is too rough, I decided to go with a more warlike flat finish. After much piddling around (this was long before I figured out how to use the Delta Ceramcoat flat) I got the final finish to a satin-like sheen.
Final assembly included attaching the various fiddly bits (bridge, masts, etc.) and painting the stand Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black. The stand is a nice sturdy affair, and the pitch angle of the ship can be adjusted by loosening a screw at the top of the stand’s neck.
The Arcadia is typical of a lot of older Bandai models: it seems easy when you first look at it, but it harbours some nasty pitfalls along the way. This is particularly true when the kit has long seams, as Bandai never seems to have mastered the fine art of making big pieces fit well. However, another feature of older Bandai kits is that they are really fun and interesting to build, so long as you have the patience and the ability to persevere!
This kit is, in and of itself, nothing special in terms of extra features, gimmicks or detail. However, it is the biggest mainstream kit of the green Arcadia that has so far been produced, and that alone makes it worth getting for any serious anime fan. Just knowing you are building a replica of such a great ship really does ease whatever pains this monster throws your way. Oh, you also get a cardboard standee of the good Captain himself in the box, in case that matters.
In the end, I’m really exceptionally pleased with the results I got. With its unmistakable ‘mailbox’ prow complete with massive skull and crossbones to the Jolly Roger flying form its ancient galleon aft deck, the Arcadia is one of the most easily recognizable ships in all of anime history. Getting a chance to build one is both an honour and a privilege. If you have the opportunity to build this piece of history, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.