The Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, also known as the “Zeke” in the Allies coded naming system, is one of THE most famous aircraft of WWII, if not ever. Designed by a team led by Jiro Horikoshi, it was built to replace the A5M “Claude” on Japanese Navy carriers. A beautiful and refined design, the high-performance, long-range Zero was a shock to all Allied pilots that encountered it in the Pacific Theatre. The Zero’s only weak point was the fact that it had no protection for the fuel in the wings and fuselage tanks. This caused them to be very easy to defeat; IF you could hit them!
With the Zero being so famous, it is no surprise that everyone and his brother has kitted at least one or two versions of this nimble and beautiful fighter. Right from the time that plastic injection kits began to make their way onto the shelves of hobby shops, department stores and variety stores everywhere, it was possible to find some kind of model of the zero. Needless to say, this is still true today; it is not hard to find many very nice Zero kits.
However, as with all things, I find the older, more obscure kits to be more interesting. There’s something about old kits that calls out to me; I can’t really describe it, but I’m a bit of a “sprue archaeologist” I think! Well, on a visit to my local hobby shop, I managed to come across a stack of some very unusual (and if a Google Search is to be believed, fairly rarely seen) model kits. These were old kits made by “Farpro Japan”. Among them was an A6M2 Zero. Let’s take a look at how the Zero was represented WAAAAY back when, shall we?
From what I can tell, the Farpro Japan brand is the “export version” of Aoshima. However, whereas the old ‘60s Aoshima box was a very colourful affair, rich in character and Zeitgeist, the Farpro box is, to say the least, somewhat more reserved. Well, okay, it’s actually super-boring. The box lid consists of an Avocado Green frame around a white background. This in itself is actually somewhat eye-catching, and was a favourite colour combo for house décor in the ‘60s and then again in the ‘70s. Where the package falls down, rather hard, is the box art.
I normally expect old kits to have really cool, really visceral box art. Old Frog, Airfix and LS kits have the art of box art nailed down cold. The folks at Farpro don’t. Instead of a grittily realistic, yet still stylized, high-action drawing of the Zero in action, there is… a cruddy black line drawing.
It’s a black and white drawing that is, oddly, more black that white. The somewhat amorphous blob of ink on the box top does look vaguely Zero-like, but not excitingly so. There is some writing on the box, and it’s all in English. This is odd, given that the company is Farpro Japan. Clearly, this is not a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) kit; it would never stand a chance of being noticed on a shelf full of old LS and Hasegawa kits. That’s what I meant about Farpro being the “export version”; just like the Russians downgraded aircraft for their “lesser” customers, so too, it seems, did the people at Aoshima.
The Zero’s box is not very big, about as big as the 1/144 Mig 1.44. The box is not particularly solid, but is stapled at all four corners, adding some strength. It is a top-opening affair, so at least there’s a place to put your pieces as you work on the kit. However, other than telling you the kit is a Zero, the box doesn’t do a lot else. Despite all this, though, the box does INDEED show up; I picked it out on a crowded shelf right away. Maybe less is more?
I believe that this model is the same as the Aoshima Zero of the early to mid-1960s. When you consider that, then you are less likely to be disappointed by what’s in the box. However, if you’re expecting anything else, you’re going to be in for a shock.
This particular kit is moulded in a solid-looking bluish-grey, and is complete on only a couple of sprues. There is a pair of canopies in this box; one open, the other closed. Neither is particularly clear, and the moulding on them looks, quite frankly, rather poor. The moulding on the Zero itself seems much better. The detail is all raised, including very fine rivets and panel lines.
The moulding on the kit isn’t bad, but it gives an impression of likely needing a lot of sanding, and I get a feeling there’s some flash waiting for me somewhere. To say that the kit is basic is an understatement. To say it’s accurate might be a stretch, but overall, it doesn’t look terrible, shape wise. It might build up otherwise, though. Sadly, there’s no cockpit in this thing, so you’re going to have a turquoise pit, with a malformed “pilot” in it if you decide to go that route.
Because of the age of the original kit, there are gimmicks galore. On this one, the landing gear are designed to be retractable, and the flaps can be dropped as well. If it’s one thing I’ve come to fear in kits, it’s “working features”. These almost never actually work, and in almost every case, the accuracy, simplicity and often all-around-buildability of the kit are sacrificed. All of this in the name of making something that almost none of us will ever ‘play with’ actually be ‘playable’. Still, by trimming some pins and shimming some areas, I’m sure that a modeller with some experience with older kits will be able to make things work.
One other gimick is partially present. That’s the motorized prop. It seems that there was a real fetish back in the ’60s for model planes that had turning props. This model is made to accomodate a small (I believe a Mabuchi Baby-type) motor to drive the prop. To do this, a special switchbox/battery case and some wiring is provided. It seems that the Japanese didn’t export the motors with their kits, so the modeller is left to his/her own devices if they wish to motorize the kit. The battery case is not particularly attractive and can’t really be put anywhere unobtrusive. Overall I find the turning props thing to be unecessary, and this kit only proves to make it impractical too! Still, there’s got to be some use for the battery box. Maybe an H-bomb for a Luft ’46 project?
The instructions are all written in English, since this is an export kit. The illustrations are all hand-drawn, by the looks of things, and are fairly clear. There’s not a lot to the kit, so there aren’t many steps in the instructions. There are notes about not gluing in the action features, which is good; it tells you exactly where you DO need to glue!
The instructions are written on a surprisingly thin sheet of paper, folded into six box-area-sized panels. This is very inconvenient for handling, and they are going to be a pain to work with in a small modelling area. My advice; if you can somehow tack them to a wall with magnets or something, do so. It will really help to keep things simple. Strangely, while the instructions aren’t the best, they aren’t as annoying as Revell Germany instructions. Maybe it’s because I expect sketchy hand-drawn stuff when I open a kit from the ‘60s/’70s, or maybe it’s because there’s only one page so I don’t have to hunt around for a bunch of loosely folded pieces of newsprint.
Speaking of simple, the decals are simple in the extreme. There are Hinomarus and a couple of unit numbers, but that’s it. Due to the age of the kit, they have suffered quite badly, and won’t likely be useable. I might try them just for fun, but I doubt they’ll survive their swim in a bowl of warm water! They are also irreparably yellowed/browned where they should be clear. However, I might be surprised, so we’ll have to wait and see how these decals work whenever I get the courage to tackle this thing.
With a kit like this, what you see is what you get. It looks like a pretty harsh mid-‘60s model, replete with too many rivets and too many gimmicks; and that is precisely what it is! To say it’s rough would be an understatement, but to say its junk wouldn’t be fair either. It’s exactly like a cross between a Heller (finely raised surface detail) and an Airfix (Rivets! Rivets everywhere!), with the plastic thickness and quality of a FROG. Thus, for me, it’s the perfect kit! Well, it’s another day at the front, at least.
While the box art is not that great (okay, it sucks) I will admit that it has its own appeal, and it’s more so when it’s piled onto others of its kind. I got a bunch of them all at once at one of my local hobby shops, and I must say that when you put all the blandness together, it looks kind of cool!
Sure, it needs work, but think of it like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree. Either you put a lot of work into it, or just leave it for someone else to pick up!