Bandai 1/144 Flug Armor FFA-02 Schwalg

That doesn't look like any Gundam I know... That's because it isn't a Gundam! The mecha in Dragonar, Especially the Schwalg, have a distinct design sense that makes them feel both familiiar and foreign all at once!

That doesn’t look like any Gundam I know…  The mecha in Dragonar, Especially the Schwalg, have a distinct design sense; they feel both familiiar and foreign all at once!

It’s hard to create a hit. Whether it’s a TV show, a car or a plane, creating something that’s got real staying power is something that’s more often an accident than a planned outcome. The DC-3 was never intended to be around for more than 70 years, and Ford never expected to sell as many 1964.5 Mustangs as they did. The same is true for anime.  No one at Sunrise expected Gundam to become the cornerstone of an empire that would span more than three decades, with no signs of going away any time soon.

In the late 1980’s Sunrise assumed they’d gotten lucky with Gundam hanging on as long as it had, and figured they’d better create the “next big thing”. However, like so many others who’ve tried to create a classic, it didn’t work. The result was a decently animated and entertaining show called “Metal Armor Dragonar”. It was typical ‘80s stuff: a civil war between space and earth; the bad guys having some advanced mecha that the Earth didn’t; the main enemy pilot had a sister on the good guys’ side… wait… am I talking about Dragonar or Gundam?

And that was the problem. Sunrise stole too much from itself for Dragonar to look like much other than a “me too” show. Usually, that kind of thing doesn’t have much staying power, and Dragonar was no exception. It has faded into time, largely forgotten, while Gundam gets reinvented every couple of years. It doesn’t seem fair, does it?

The good news is that Bandai kitted the snot out of Dragonar, so fans of the show had, and still have, a lot of neat models to choose from. Bandai decided to kit both the main Dragonars and key Giganos machines as well as some of the lesser ones. One such second-stringer is the Schwalg. The Schwalg is similar to a Valkyrie Gerwalk from Macross; a mech that is part plane and part robot, except that’s all it is; it doesn’t transform!

It's a plane! It's a robot! No, it's a... Gerwalk? Nope. Uh... okay, I give up. What IS it? The Schwalg is a Flug Armour, something rather unique!

It’s a plane! It’s a robot! No, it’s a… Gerwalk? Nope. Uh… okay, I give up. What IS it? The Schwalg is a Flug Armour, something rather unique!

Bust out the leg warmers and boom boxes, and get ready for some good old ‘80s modelling, straight from Japan!

The Kit:

The Schwalg is a decent kit, if not rather simple. For a full review, check out the Out of Box review.

Building the Schwalg:

My much-loved grandmother (the one who gave me the Stargazer Gundam) had a saying she would often level at a misbehaving individual (often my also much-loved grandfather): “<Name>! Be half yourself!” Clearly, it meant to behave, but it was a cute Britishism, I think. Well, Grans would be right at home telling that to the Schwalg! It’s not that the Schwalg needs to behave; it’s a decent kit. However, if there’s one way to describe it, it’s being half itself!

Everything in this kit, it seems, is more or less in halves. Granted, the wings, skirts, rifle and other “thin bits” come as a single piece, but the major subassemblies are good old-fashioned halfy goodness! This means there is a considerable chance for buildaround; however, the Bandai design team really went all out to make sure this is minimized. While simple, the Schwalg uses the tried, tested and true method of “Post A into Hole B”; in other words, to join subassemblies after they’re built, one end has a post, the other a simple polycap ring. This means all the subassemblies can be built ahead of time and stuck together at the end. The only thing that’s a bit dodgy is the knee blocks are separate pieces that have to be built into the lower leg. It’s really not a problem for painting, though; there’s enough clearance to mask or just hand-paint those bits once they’re in.

One thing that does make the Schwalg a bit difficult, though, is the body. Because the Schwalg has no separate “head”, the faceplate builds into the top front of the “fuselage” of the plane part. It’s recessed such that it is not possible to just install it after painting. Thus, it has to be built into the body. This does make painting a bit more complicated, but it ensures that things go together right the first time! The main hip “bars” also need to be built around, but they barely show anyway, so that’s not a concern.

The Schwalg's

The Schwalg’s “face” is nestled right in there, and would be impossible to install afterwards. Note the Olive Drab magazines, and how close the grey is to the polycap colour!

While the surface detailing and panel lining are decent, the Schwalg does need some help. The most obvious problem with the kit is the vertical fins. They are the right size and shape, but they sit on the fuselage decking ALL WRONG. In the anime, the fins are built off an extension of the body that follows the body’ contours below the wings. In the kit, they’re just vertical. Or not. What? If you mount the fins in the holes on the back of the body, and position them such that the fins are vertical, the below-wing part doesn’t follow the lines of the body. Also, the fins are then inset to far on the fuselage, and cover the boundary layer bleed vents!

You can see the lower part of the vertical fin follows the body's contours and angles in. That's not how the kit came moulded...

You can see the lower part of the vertical fin follows the body’s contours and angles in. That’s not how the kit came moulded…

The solution was for me to chop off the locating tab and move the fins to such that they are located at the outer edge of the body, on the wing. Then, to get the lower pieces to contour better, I cut off the lower piece of the fin, sanded an angle on it and then glued it in place at the proper contour-following angle. This moves the fin to a more proper position and makes the kit much closer to the animation model.  I did all this gluing to the assembled but unpainted fuselage, so that things would really stick. It worked like a charm!

Before doing all of that, though, I had to fill the hole that the original locating tabs used. To quickly fill the rather large and deep holes, I shaved a toothpick down to wooden shavings. These shavings were the “body” of the filler; a quick and cheap way of taking up space (like the wheat in an old Schneider’s Steakette meat patty). I used Zap-a-Gap thick gap-filling CA to glue it all in place, and then sanded the concoction down. The CA made a good, level top layer.

You can see the wood/CA filler as a dark brown patch just inside the newly scored and bent-in lower fin. this is how it SHOULD look, according to the anime.

You can see the wood/CA filler as a dark brown patch just inside the newly scored and bent-in lower fin. this is how it SHOULD look, according to the anime. Note the hacked off nozzle locator, leaving a nice hollow area!

The other thing that was kind of lame about the Schwalg was the exhaust nozzle. Well, actually, the nozzle is pretty nice. It’s got passable “turkey feather” petals, but the inside is blank. The big issue is that it just glues to a plug on the body, so it’s also not deep. The nozzle terminates in a flat plate, and looks like a mould for a peanut butter cup. I could have just painted the circle at the “bottom of the well” (so to speak) black. However, I thankfully had a better solution at hand! I dug through the spares box and found the exhaust turbine from my 1/48 Attacker! It had come detached when I shoved a stick up the Attacker’s butt for painting, and there was no way to put it back in afterwards, so I just left it out. Turns out, it’s just the right size for this!

Here's what I started with: The Attacker's turbine on the left, and the Schwalg's original engine nozzle on the right. I smell some sawing action coming!

Here’s what I started with: The Attacker’s turbine on the left, and the Schwalg’s original engine nozzle on the right. I smell some sawing action coming!

I cut out the “bottom” of the engine exhaust to create a legitimate “hole”, and then, after a little trimming, I was able to get it the right depth and diameter to take the turbine face. Unfortunately, to make it all fit, it wasn’t that simple. I had to cut off the raised locating step on the body. This was pretty simple, and once it was sanded flush, everything fit well. The great thing is that all of this can also be put on when the main body painting is done!

Yeah! That's what I'm talking about! Much better now!

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about! Much better now!

Painting and Finishing:

The Schwalg, despite its apparent mission of air superiority, is finished in a tan and white scheme, rather than the air defence grey of its earlier stablemate, the Dauzehn. Of course, if you’re a Macross fan then you instantly recognize tan and white as the colours of airborne cannon fodder, and it isn’t as surprising anymore!  The kit comes moulded only in tan and grey, so if you want the white, you have to paint. Ah, the good old days, when mech kits demanded modelling skill!

So, yeah... I'm tan and white and I fly. What do you mean I'm likely dead meat? Man, being cannon fodder SUCKS...

So, yeah… I’m tan and white and I fly. What do you mean I’m likely dead meat? Man, being cannon fodder SUCKS…

In an interesting piece of foreshadowing, though, the Schwalg does come with some decals to help with the “whitening”. The leading edges of the wings are provided as decals, so the most major white parts can be done without paint. However, to me, this is sacrilege. Also, it doesn’t help you when it comes to the white cuff bands and the white at the base of the vertical fins, or of course, the missiles on the wingtips. I mentioned foreshadowing at the start of this paragraph. Why? Well, because the way this kit is laid out, colour- and sticker-wise, is very much like the new 1/144 HG Iron Blooded Orphan (IBO) kits. The Gushion Rebake that I reviewed is very similar, not only in colour, but in how there are some stickers for detail colouration, but not enough to negate the need to paint, if you want the kit to look like the box. I find it funny how, almost 30 years later, Bandai has gone back to this to save some coin.

I didn’t have a tan that would do the job, so I mixed some MMA Dark Tan, Radome Tan, Blue Angels Yellow and Flat White to get the colour just right. The white is Tamiya XF-2 Flat White, mixed with MMA white and a (literally) drop of Tamiya Purple and some Testors light blue. While it might sound odd, I painted the white AFTER the tan, since I did everything by hand and was not looking to mask anything. Touching up a bit of white slopped onto the tan was far easier than the other way around.

From the top, you can see all the white that the Schwalg uses. Just having SOME of it would be lame. That's why painting is better than stickers: every single time.

From the top, you can see all the white that the Schwalg uses. Just having SOME of it would be lame. That’s why painting is better than stickers every single time.

In most Gundam kits from about 1990 forward, the polycaps have been moulded in a darkish grey that is almost a dead-ringer for Gunship Grey. However, the Schwalg, and all Dragonar kits for that matter, don’t follow this, being earlier kits. Instead, the polycaps are a weird purplish grey, still dark, but not like Gunship at all. Thankfully, it is almost exactly the same as MMA F-15 Dark Grey. This is akin to a lighter version of Gunship Grey but with a larger amount of purple in it. I was astounded just how perfect a match it was. Thus, all the “jointy” bits were painted this colour. I also used this colour for the feet.

The gun was done in MMA Panzer Dunkelgrau with a Citadel Nuln Oil wash over it, but the magazines (including the arm-mounted spares) were painted in Olive Drab, just for contrast. I like doing the magazines of mech rifles a different colour for visual interest. I used some MMA Jet Exhaust for the engine and the cannon muzzle on the starboard wing root, and MMA steel for the “armadillo” armour at the shoulders and a bit on the feet and legs. All metal shades were given a wash of Nuln Oil to bring out their texture and add depth.

The inside of the engine, you’d think, would be orange. That’s my go-to for a mech’s exhaust nozzles. However, it’s clearly not a rocket, so that was out. I could have done it in Jet Exhaust and been fine, but I painted it light grey like the ceramic linings on modern engines, including those of the F-35. This adds an air of modernity to the mech, and is not what most people are expecting. I wish that there had been some kind of detail on the inside of the jet nozzle, but I wasn’t up to scribing it myself.

There are a few verniers on the Schwalg, and they're done in the traditional

There are a few verniers on the Schwalg, and they’re done in the traditional “orange inside” scheme. the main engine though, is a pure jet, and is painted as such. Note the steel “shoulders” and how nice those canted fins look, all mated up to the body like that!

The entire mech was coated in a light coat of Future to seal the outlining (which was done with a Sakura calligraphy pen) before final finishing. This consisted of a coat of Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish to make the mech completely matte, and then a second coat of the same, but cut with Future, to give the final product a “low” semi-gloss look.

A full rear view showing how the engine nozzle looks from above. I painted the bleed vents steel and drilled the holes in the wingtip missiles just for a bit or realism.

A full rear view showing how the engine nozzle looks from above. I painted the bleed vents steel and drilled the holes in the wingtip missiles just for a bit or realism.

Conclusions:

It might not have been a great success, and the fansub I’ve seen has some questionable spelling (don’t most of them?), but overall, I really liked Dragonar. I think it was nicely drawn and even though it was clearly slavishly derivative, still had some merits. It is a great “lost” mech show that deserves more love on this side of the ocean. It’s from my favourite era of anime and didn’t disappoint me, like Layzner did.

Because of this, finding out that there had been a whole raft of Dragonar kits was bittersweet; I wanted them all, but it was about 30 years ago… where would I find them? Well, thanks to Hobbywave.com and a more recent-repop, I got my wish and DID get all the 1/144 kits going. They’re all very similar to the Schwalg, too, which is good.

The Schwalg, despite being simple, built up nicely. It was far less trouble than a Gundam from the same time period, and the minimal build around and lack of fiddly bits made it a joy to work with. Sure, it needed some improvements to make it more show-accurate, but you can build this right out of the box and most people won’t know any difference. The mobility of the kit isn’t great, and the big wings and lack of head mean that dynamic poses are out. However, that isn’t a big deal for me: it’s a model, not a toy, and should be displayed as such, I feel.

This would be a great kit for a new mech builder. A novice modeller could handle this easily, and if you’ve never built a mech, but have experience with other kinds of kits, you’ll have no problem with this model. Because the kit is from an obscure series, it lends itself to kitbashing and customization, too. You can do whatever you want and it’ll still be a simple and fun kit.

From below, the simplicity of the Schwalg kit is apparent.

From below, the simplicity of the Schwalg kit is apparent. “There ain’t no full frame on me!” it says!

This kit is a perfect example of a “scalable” kit. It’s simple enough for the uninitiated, but it makes a fun project for long-time builders, too. I made it more complicated than it should be, for sure, and I enjoyed “accurizing” the kit. I like that in a world with too few Schwalgs in it, mine is unique! There’s not a lot of paintwork that’s too complicated, but like all mecha, some care and detail work will make a world of difference.

I can’t recommend the Dragonar kits highly enough. They’re simple and fun, and the designs are just different enough from what we’re used to seeing that they will make people do a double-take. The use of jet packs (and those lower leg designs!) was popularized by Seed and Seed Destiny, so all of a sudden these old chestnuts don’t appear so out of date anymore, either!

If you like Sci-Fi, and anime in particular, you owe it to yourself to pick up one (or all) of the Dragonar kits. They’re definitely something differently familiar, and they’ll have a lot of your friends scratching their heads trying to figure out what series they’re from. That’s worth the price of admission alone!

One of these things is not like the other... The Schwalg is about the same size as a typical Gundam, but its wings and general desig aesthetic set it apart in a display!

One of these things is not like the other… The Schwalg is about the same size as a typical Gundam, but its wings and general desig aesthetic set it apart in a display!

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