A common use for aircraft at sea, even before WWII, was to act as reconnaissance and spotting aircraft for fleets of warships. Usually the types of planes used for this were floatplanes, so that they could land on the water for retrieval after their sorties. Of course, floatplanes were notoriously slow; their large floats and the associated rigging and support pylons doing nothing positive as far as aerodynamics were concerned. Generally, this wasn’t seen as a problem by most combatants. However, the Japanese, with longer distances to cover and more enemy interceptors to worry about, wanted more.
To this end, the Navy asked for a high-performance recon floatplane with the ability to outrun land-based fighters. The outcome of this specification was the Kawanishi E15K Shiun two-seater, a floatplane with a centrally mounted float with two wing-mounted stabilising floats. This configuration was similar to the A6M2N fighter, the float-equipped version of the Zero, and similar performance was hoped for. To improve the top end, the wing floats were both inflatable and retractable; if even more performance was needed, the central float could be jettisoned adding around 90 km/h to the top speed.
The ideas behind it were excellent, but as is so often the case, theory didn’t match reality. The Shiun (violet cloud) was actually quite slow, despite its fighter-like looks. The retraction mechanism was troublesome and was eventually eliminated, and despite wind tunnel testing, the central float didn’t separate as required. These faults lead to the first six machines, all of which were deployed to Palau, being shot down when they could not escape Allied fighters. In the end, only 15 Shiuns were built, making it one of the rarer IJN operational types of the war.
Of course, just because it’s an obscure plane doesn’t mean that there isn’t a kit of it. However, there aren’t all that many to choose from. Recently, RS models has issued a Norm in 1/72. Long before that, though, Aoshima made a kit of the Shiun in (nominally) 1/72 scale. This kit dates from either the late 1950s or early 1960s. In order to break into the model kit market in North America, Aoshima created an “export brand” of kits under the name “Farpro Japan” in the early 1960s. If you want to experience retro-modelling in all its glory, like I do sometimes, then this is definitely the kit for you!
Let’s face it; the old adages about making a good first impression are all true. Whether it’s a job interview or a sales pitch, the importance of looking good, and “selling the sizzle” cannot be overstated. That’s one of the reasons that old Japanese model boxes looked so good. With very dynamic artwork, great colour and bold lettering, the old LS and Aoshima boxes were really something to behold. Even if you knew the kit inside was bad, the art was very compelling, and likely sold more than a few iffy kits to those swept up in the visual spectacle.
However, when Aoshima wanted to bring their kits to the US, it seems they made a conscious decision to completely ignore the sales power of box art. They must have thought that the Japanese characters on the box would put North American buyers off, so they didn’t just straightly export the kits. Instead, they made a new company to handle the “English Language” versions. This company was Farpro Japan. I’m sure it means “Far from Professional”, since that definitely applies to their presentation of the Aoshima kits.
Like all Farpros, the Shiun has an Avocado green box lid of only mediocre rigidity stapled in the corners. On the top of the box is a white panel with English writing telling the modeller, in a decidedly no-fancy-fonts-here way, what is in the box. Of course, you still need a picture of the plane on the box, right? Well, rather than reuse the Aoshima art, the Farpro division got the least talented people on staff to heavy-handedly draw an approximation of the plane on the lid. This is only in black and white, or white and black in some cases, and in the case of the Norm, only sort of conveys what the plane looks like. It actually looks pretty cool, based on the art, but you can’t guarantee that’s what the product of building the kit will actually look like!
All Farpro kits are, to be kind, rather rough. The Shiun is no exception. This little beast comes moulded in a bluish-grey plastic with clear parts for a support stand and the cockpit canopy. Well, they’re supposed to be clear parts, at least. Maybe translucent is a better word. The canopy does let light through, so in that sense it’s somewhat on the money. However, it’s really thick and distorted. If the canopy was this thick to scale, there wouldn’t be room for the crewmen’s heads in the cockpit!
The rest of the kit features such great classic touches raised panel lines and lots of rivets. There are very few pieces in this kit. The fuselage halves and wing halves are the bulk of the pieces. The large central float also accounts for a lot of the plastic in the rather full box. There is absolutely no cockpit detail at all; neither floor nor seats are present to obscure the view of the inside of the wing pan! There is also no kind of instrument panel or sidewall detail, of course. There are, however, two pilot figures that come with this model. These barely human-looking lumps are horrifyingly appropriate additions to the chasm that is the cockpit, but that’s all that can be said to them. Like doomed souls being sucked into the abyss, I consider abandoning these guys to be the best course of action.
There are occasional sink marks on some of the pieces, not huge, but definitely noticeable. There’s also some flash, or perhaps just large seams, on the prop blades and spinner. The blades themselves look almost too small; the ones on the RS kit of the Shiun seem to be more realistic. If you wanted, I’m sure you could replace the Farpro’s blades, but then again, if you’re going to go to all this trouble, then I’m thinking a better and less frustrating course of action is just to buy the newer kit! Just like on the Saiun, the tailplane is designed to be installed in the fuselage before it’s glued together. However, with some sanding, it should, I expect, just slide into place once the fuselage is done.
Instructions and Decals:
Like all Farpros, the instructions are very simple, and all on one side of a surprisingly large, and surprisingly delicate-feeling, piece of (now) yellowed paper. The drawings are not precise in any way shape or form (kind of like the kit itself!). They do review the very basic construction of the Shiun, and there are a few notes on there in English to “clarify” the order of operations. I used quotes around clarify because these instructions are a bit wordy, and really don’t help much without careful reading and re-reading. It’s a case of less would likely have been more. In all honesty, even if you were missing the instructions completely, I don’t think you could fail at putting this aircraft kit together. There aren’t enough pieces to worry about the sequencing of things, and everything is pretty obvious.
The one place where the instructions COULD have been useful was on the assembly of the central float’s rudder. While the rudder itself is actually nicely shaped (if not a bit thick), the instructions just show it as a random trapezoid. This is beyond useless, not only because the rudder is NOT trapezoidal, but the drawing doesn’t give any indication to the proper arrangement/orientation of the rudder. It’s pretty much intuitive, but it’s still worth double checking. Well, thank goodness for the RS kit, because the pictures on the RS boxes help.
The decals for the Shiun are as basic as the kit itself. There are 6 Hinomarus. Okay, that was easy. There are no unit or aircraft markings, no options for prototypes or service aircraft and stencils… well, let’s just say that they aren’t welcome around these parts. Remember, this is a basic kit, and fancy stuff like that aren’t part of the equation. If you’ve got a spares box with some Japanese stencils in it, I’d say this is a good place to use them. If the decals are like those on the Saiun, though, they will work. I still remain shocked that, 50+ years after they were made, the decals on that bird worked so well. I’ll cross my fingers for these ones!
I have a perverse love of old, crappy, inaccurate and generally forgotten/unloved kits. That’s why the Farpro Japan line gets my blood boiling. There’s literally no reason to care about these kits at all, at least if you’re of completely sound mind. But then again, how many of us are? You can only inhale plastic cement for so long before something gives, right?
Personality quirks aside, though, if you’re a serious, semi-serious or even half-arsed modeller interested in a perfect result, the Farpro Shiun is NOT a kit to waste your time on. To make it even borderline presentable will require considerable effort. If you’re used to “shake ‘n’ bake” kits like we’ve seen in the last 15 years or so, this is more likely to give you grey hairs than to make you remember why you love this hobby in the first place.
However, that doesn’t mean the Shiun, indeed any of the Farpro kits, are without value. Yes, they are rough, crude, simple and perhaps a bit inaccurate. However, that won’t deter younger modellers? You want to work on a kit with a child? Why not one of these? They have no real value collector-wise (I wouldn’t think), have very few small/fiddly parts and actually fit quite well, at least in spots. Childred don’t care if the prop blades are too small, or if the lines are raised or recessed. It’s a great canvas to practice the basics of cutting, gluing and sanding, all without risking an expensive and valuable kit.
In short, the Shiun and its ilk are great trainers. You can use them as slap-togethers to try new weathering or painting techniques. They’re a good basis for crazy What-Iffery, or for scribing practice or even to test new combinations of chemicals on. You can trash them, and not feel guilty or like you’re throwing money away
Or, you can be like me. (Warning: The Surgeon General does not advocate this. Being like me is a course of action undertaken by someone at their own risk.) I intend to make the most of what I can out of what I’m given. I’m not going to add aftermarket, PE or resin. I’m not going to go out of my way to correct issues (like the small prop and lack of cockpit interior) that require too much effort. I’m going to take this blue-grey lump and try to make a decent example of an aircraft out of it. The subject is interesting, the kit is cheap and my interest is piqued to see if I can end up with a kit that looks nice on a shelf and that will have people at a show asking “What is that?”.
I intend to make it a combination of a full-on retro modelling experience combined with a chance to continue to hone my skills. For that, this kit is a perfect canvas.
All in all, then, the Farpro Shiun is a passably bad kit of an interesting yet not-really-passably bad aircraft. They both started out with high hopes, but ended up disappointing those involved. This model is certainly not up to modern, or even recent, standards, but it does have potential. I choose to see the potential, but that doesn’t mean everyone will.
I guess it’s a question of whether you see that the glass is half-empty or just half-formed.