For the Japanese in WWII, the emphasis on aircraft design (at least in the early years) was on range and maneuverability. The world famous, and for so long world-beating, A6M “Zero” was the epitome of that philosophy. Designed by a team lead by Jiro Horikoshi, the Zero was a light, long-legged and supremely aerobatic fighter. Amazingly far-sighted, the Japanese realized that it didn’t quite have what it took to counter high altitude bombers. Thus, in 1939, there was a call for a design of a point-defence interceptor.
However, the interceptor, with its much higher straight-line performance at the expense of maneuverability was something of an alien concept to Japan’s fighter industry. Nonetheless, Jiro Horikoshi’s team rose to the challenge to create a machine that was as different from the Zero as the Zero was to what had come before it. The resultant aircraft was the J2M Raiden (Thunderbolt), named “Jack” in the Allies’ reporting system.
Whereas the Zero was all flowing lines and lightly-loaded controls, the Jack was short-winged and tubby, with a lot of the airframe given over to engine. It looked more like an air racer than a traditional Japanese fighter, but the trademark Horikoshi design elements were all still there, just in different proportions. Unfortunately for the Japanese, engine problems and issues with the main gear legs resulted in delays, and the Raiden only first saw combat in June 1944. Also, the engine, despite its size, wasn’t equipped with a supercharger, so its performance at altitude (where it was needed) suffered.
Armed with four 20mm cannons, though, the Jack could hit like a Mack truck if it could get to the target, and tactics to make the most of the interceptors strengths were developed to this end. Ironically, the Raiden relied on diving and zooming attacks; this was the same approach used by less maneuverable but more heavily armed American planes (like the F4F and F6F) earlier in the war against the Zero!
While produced in small numbers (less than 800 were made) and never a significant player in the air war over Japan, the Raiden has, nonetheless, been the subject of kit makers’ efforts for quite some time. The aircraft’s small size has made it more of a target for the 1/48 crowd, though, and finding a Raiden in 1/72 has proven challenging. The new SWORD kit rectifies this, but at a price that is more commensurate with a 1/48 kit! I personally wanted to get my hands on a 1/72 Raiden, but I am just not willing to pay what people want for the SWORD kit. If you look at the size of a 1/72 you’ll understand why!
However, I was equally unwilling to pay what shops want for the various 1/48 iterations. Thus, I resigned myself to having to be patient and wait for a Raiden to add to my stash. Then, at the 2016 HeritageCon in Hamilton, Ontario, my prayers were answered! In the vendors’ section I found a Raiden I hadn’t seen before. Sadly, it was 1/48. However, it was made by Arii, a make I more usually associate with Macross kits, so I was intrigued. I was also intrigued by the price: $10. Okay, so I can get a 1/48 for less than half the SWORD in 1/72? Done!
With my money spent, all that was left was to pop open the box and see what I had gotten for my money. Would there be gut loads of etching and scribing? Was it an olive-green, brittle piece of slag? Let’s find out right now!
Before we get to the kit, let’s look at the box. The Arii box art isn’t the most impressive I’ve seen on Japanese plane kits. A lot of the box, in fact, isn’t art at all! There’s a lot of grey background and a lot of text along the bottom, most of which I can’t read (of course). What was really worrying to me was that there was no date in the normal way. I know that from Gundam boxes, if there’s no “19xx”-style date, that means it’s from sometime before about 1983/84. Thus, I assumed the same from the Raiden.
The art that is there is a nice portrait of a Raiden having just broken through a dark cloud, likey with its assigned target-to-defend over the pilot’s shoulder in the background. The dark could be cloud or smoke from an enemy bomber, but it isn’t made clear. Unlike a lot of box art, the Raiden isn’t show “in action” attacking something , although it is clearly going “all out” since it is pulling vortices and the tail numbers are leaving a blur behind the plane! All in all, it’s not the most exciting art I’ve seen, but it does give you a good feel for what the plane looks like, which is kind of like a Brewster Buffalo on steroids.
The side of the box shows two alternate marking options, the paint schemes being basically the same for all the variants shown (IJN Green over light grey). The other side of the box shows other kits in the same series as the Raiden, so you know when you’ve collected them all. There’s nothing on the back of the box, which is a typical top-opening affair. So, not the greatest box. By this point, I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope for the contents…
Prying the none-too-exciting box top off the kit, I was greeted by a single bag of parts, three sprues of grey plastic and one of clear for the canopy. Looking through the plastic of the bag, things started to look promising. I ripped open the bag, and I was very pleasantly surprised.
There are, as mentioned three individual racks moulded in a light, dove grey plastic. It isn’t soft, like New Airfix’s “moulded mozzarella”, but it’s also not as brittle as the dark green stuff used by Monogram in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It feels about the same as a Hasegawa. There’s very little flash, although some of the detail pieces will need a cleanup for mould seams. What amazed me was that there was no raised detail! To my joy and teary-eyed relief, everything was recessed. Now, there’s a price to pay for that, and its rivets. The Raiden is some kind of rivet sanctuary. It’s as if all the rivets in the world decided to hang out for some great “global rivet hoedown”. That being said, it’s not as bad as it could be.
The rivets are recessed, and they’re very fine. With some primer and paint on here, and some sanding smooth, they’ll be minimized. With a light wash of pastels, a bit might go in and highlight the rivets, but they won’t be too pronounced. In fact, I think they will look pretty good, especially at this scale. It’s a lot better than an old Airfix, like for example the He-177, where the rivets are all raised and the scale-size of a 14 pound bowling ball.
As for size, the size of the kit shocked me. I know the Raiden is small, and I have other 1/48 prop-driven fighters, but this model drives home how short the plane is. The wings looked “normal size” for a 1/48 WWII fighter, if not a bit small, but the body, moulded as it is with the engine cowling separate, is so short and dumpy! My previous comparison to the Brewster Buffalo stands… The canopy is also very oddly shaped, although it looks correct. It’s very wide for its length, and that does seem to be the general theme of the Raiden’s design.
Overall, the model looks beautifully formed and there’s no flash anywhere. The moulding is crisp, clean and precise, and you can tell what everything is supposed to be. To me, the kit is a perfect mix of simplicity and complexity. However, most 1/48 builders will, I am certain, be disappointed. Firstly, the interior detail is very Spartan. There’s a moulded instrument panel and some minor cockpit detailing, but overall, the cockpit is very Spartan. The canopy cannot be positioned open without cutting it, and none of the control surfaces can be moved or positioned during build.
The Engine looks nicely moulded and has nice cooling fin detail. The part that houses the extension shaft has pushrods moulded on it, so there’s some extra detail there, and the cooling fan is also a separate piece. For hardcore 1/48’ers though, it likely won’t be enough. At this Scale, it’s easy to see and look into a lot of places. The detail is fine, but I doubt it’s enough to satisfy most people working at this larger scale. Also, the engine bay/cowling cannot be opened, so superdetailers are going to do a lot of work for no real return.?
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions come printed on a single, two-sided, folded piece of paper. Oddly, they are printed in brown on a beige-y piece of paper. This slight lack of contrast is more jarring than you might at first think, and it makes photographing them rather difficult. As is typical for Japanese models, there is a list of the parts that should be in the box, something I very much like to see, especially when I’ve bought the kit second hand!
The instructions themselves are quite simple, as is the kit, and there’s nothing that is confusing or misleading to be found in them. There’s a little bit of English, which will make some people feel better, but there are normal numbers on all parts, so figuring out what goes on is not hard. I do like how Arii misspelled “Interceptor” as “Intercepter”, though. That adds a lot of character to the kit.
The decals are minimal (Hinomarus and tail codes for all planes, plus fuselage markings where appropriate) but look good. The colour looks “thick” and everything’s in register. The decal film around the white lettering has yellowed a bit, but this is to be expected. I have no idea how they’ll work. Arii’s decals for their Macross kits seemed to work fine back in the day, but these decals are likely older than that. I’ll try one I’m not using on a test mule first, and I’ll likely hit them with Testors deal bonder spray just to be sure.
One nice thing that surprised me in a kit of this age was the full colour profile artworks in the box! There is a glossy piece of paper at the bottom of the box onto which the two profiles from the side of the box are printed. Having these in a much bigger size is very nice, and the artwork itself is excellent. If you look at it, you can see all those rivets I mentioned earlier. The drawings have only minimal text, so not being able to read Japanese won’t detract from their usefulness to the modeller, or from their beauty as artwork.
The Arii Raiden is, in short, a nice kit of an interesting subject. The moulding is crisp and clean and there’s lots of nice recessed surface detail. It is far better than I thought it would be, and is well worth what I paid for it, which was a pleasant surprise.
I can recommend it to any modeller. It is simple enough for beginners, and would make a good kit for an introduction to 1/48 WWII modelling. It has enough detail to let novices have a go at getting the most out of a kit, while it eschews unnecessarily high parts count and annoyingly fiddly components. For an experienced modeller, it’s a blank canvas of super-detailing potential. I’m sure there must be aftermarket kits for 1/48 Raidens out there, and this is a great place to use them.
The Raiden is, in a nutshell, a good meter of both the good and the bad of modelling as a hobby. The kit itself looks, to me, to be excellent, and will more than suffice in terms of detail and accuracy. However, people now demand so much more; both as individual modellers and as judges at a show. That means that this kit, while excellent, really can’t stand up to modern sensibilities and criticisms. It’s a statement of how far we’ve come, on one hand. On the other, it’s a bit sad, because I think modellers, as a whole, might take things too seriously sometimes.
Personally, I think this kit is a very nice model from a time before superdetailing was de rigeur, or even expected, at the larger scales. For someone wanting a nice outline of the Raiden in 1/48, this kit will do a wonderful job. If you’re expecting to win an IPMS Nationals event with it, you’re going to have to do a lot of work; likely more than it’s worth. Still, the overall quality of this kit cannot be overlooked, and for someone wanting a cheaper alternative to the more modern kits of the Raiden, it’s an excellent choice.
I am glad I lost my patience waiting for a 1/72 Raiden and grabbed this one when I had the chance. If you see one, I’d suggest you do the same!