As a primarily naval power, Japan realized early on that the projection of airpower from aircraft carriers was going to be a lynchpin of their success in establishing, and maintaining, an empire spanning the vast area of the Pacific Ocean. To this end, the aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) were all designed to have ranges nearly unheard of in any other country. This allowed carrier strike groups to launch attacks effectively “over the horizon”, minimizing the chances for defenders to be ready for the murderous sword slash that was being flung their way.
Thus, the aircraft used at Pearl Harbour were all long-legged. However, the Japanese were never ones to rest on their laurels, and long before the “Day of Infamy” had issued a specification for a new naval dive bomber to replace the then-in-service D3A “Val”. At the end of 1940, a new Yokosuka dive bomber made its first flight. The radical D4Y had been under design since 1938, and was very much unlike any other IJN aircraft; fighter, bomber or recce type at the time. Its most distinguishing feature was its engine; whereas every other IJN plane used some kind of air-cooled radial engine, the Suisei (Comet) was powered by an Aichi Atsuta engine, a liquid-cooled inline engine which was a copy of the German DB-601.
Thanks to the slim profile of the engine and its high power output, the Suisei (Judy in the Allied reporting system) was extremely fast and long ranging. It was, in fact, faster than an A6M Zero, and by sacrificing armour and self-sealing tanks, the Suisei also had a range of nearly 1000 miles. Careful aerodynamic tailoring helped with this a lot as well; the main armament of a 550lb (1000kg) bomb was carried in an enclosed bomb bay to improve drag. The Suisei proved to be a good and stable platform for dive-bombing, and was also used for recon and, eventually Kamikaze missions. In this last role, its combination of range and speed, boosted by three solid fuel rockets for the terminal dive (D4Y4 variant only) made it a particularly terrifying and effective weapon.
Sadly for the IJN, issues with the complex and cantankerous inline engine prevented the Suisei from reaching service in any numbers until the carriers from which it was designed to operate had been largely lost, and they operated from smaller carriers and land bases for the rest of the war. Eventually, the D4Y3 was developed, and this used a Mitsubishi Kinsei radial engine. While this created more drag, it made up for it in simplicity and thus improved aircraft availability.
Given the technical excellence and abilities of the Suisei, it’s no surprise that there has been a considerable number of kits, most of them by Japanese manufacturers. One of the odder and lesser-known kits is the old LS kit, in the most unusual scale of 1/75. A few months before one of London’s landmark hobby shops, McCormick’s Hobbies, closed its doors, I went in to find that the owner had been digging around in the basement. He had found a veritable treasure trove (to me) of really old kits that had been in stock since the store’s earlier days. This included a number of LS and Farpro Japan kits. I stupidly didn’t get them all, but I did manage to get some of them, and one was the LS Judy!
I do not collect models for their box art, but I know that that is something that others do. I also believe that there is a certain collectability to older Japanese model kits due to the art on the boxes. However, I’ve never really run across something of the right age and maker, I guess, since I find most Hasegawa and Tamiya boxes to be very boring and uninspiring. Just having a photo of a model on the box usually doesn’t work; ask 1990’s Monogram about that. That having been said, I definitely appreciate a nice box; one with exciting graphics or displaying a considerable amount of artistic talent is always nice, or something that just goes so over the top that it’s irresistible also tends to grab my attention.
Well, despite the very small size of the 1/75 Suisei’s box (smaller than many 1/144 planes!), you cannot help but notice it. This is a true work of the Japanese box artist’s craft! The box is colourful, shiny (still!) and crammed so full of action, excitement and enthusiasm, you’re bound to want to at least peek inside!
The top left corner has the “LS Laboratories” logo in a prominent and blockily-coloured and well-defined explosion of unreadable-to-non-Japanese-speakers Japanese characters. This only adds mystique to the kit; if you can’t read something, it automatically looks more exotic and important, I find. I do have sheet to translate that particular script (Katakana), and it really is a buzzkill. The four characters below the logo do, in fact, phonetically spell out “LS”. So, yeah, sometimes it’s better and more exciting not to know.
However, one thing that’s exciting regardless of what you know is the main box art. This sees a Suisei in mid-attack, its bomb bay open, and its deadly payload already on its way to its intended target. The real action, though, is in the background. Firstly, and most obviously, is the burning (likely American) carrier and the clear implication is that Judy and her sisters have been at work already. The sky is filled not only with smoke from the carrier, but puffs of Flak as well, which really helps to bring the action, the “life and death” of the struggle, if you will, home. More impressive, though, is what you CAN’T see. If you look, it seems odd that the Suisei is attacking a target not shown on the box lid itself. No one knows what it is, but we do know that it is maneuvering, and HARD. Take a look at the wake beside the carrier’s own. There was something there, and it is now performing high-speed, and violent, maneuvers. Is it the ship throwing up the Flak?
Just like any good box art, the action is palpable and intense, but what makes it interesting is that it shows the action from a Japanese standpoint. To North Americans (or others of Allied nations) it seems odd to see a box glamourizing the efforts of “the enemy” of the time. This very “pro-Japan” trend in box art didn’t seem to last long either; likely the companies were told not to blow the horn for Imperial Japan too hard. That’s why this box is so impressive. It shows the pride of the makers in the subject material and their home country, regardless of the war’s outcome. I’m sure it was controversial, but of course, it was also never intended for export! This kind of thing doesn’t really happen now, and a box this gleefully pro-Imperial Japan would never get through the censors today. There will likely never be box art like this again, at least on a mainstream kit!
The action continues even onto the side of the box, where the turning ship’s wake is the background for a display of the action features of the kit! Of course, back in the time the Judy was made, it was almost de rigeur for model kits to have some kind of toy-like action features. In this case, it is raising/lowering undercarriage and an opening bomb bay with a droppable bomb! I can only imagine children re-enacting the scene on the box lid as their hastily built model was flown crazily around their bedrooms. Who knows, maybe they used the box lid (and the carrier displayed thereupon) as a target? Normally, I don’t give two hoots for action features, but this one looks so fun that I can’t help but be drawn in by it.
At the time I picked the Judy up, I wasn’t aware that LS kits were well-known for being excellent little models; if I had, I would have snapped up every single one that was available. <Sigh…> Hindsight is 20/20, as you know!
What’s also 20/20, though, is the detail on this kit! Given that this is from the early to mid-1960s, I wasn’t expecting much. Heck, my only exposure to Japanese kits from this time is the collection of Farpros that I’d picked up. Those, as you likely know (if not, follow the link!), are total garbage. Well, maybe that’s a bit strong, but they’re basic and torturous to build. This, though… this is something altogether different! The Judy is almost the antithesis of the Farpros in every way possible. It is amazingly well cast and has a tonne of detail lines – THAT ARE RECESSED!!!
Yes, you read it right, they are recessed. There’s not a raised line or rivet on this kit. It’s absolutely wonderfully fine for its size and age, and it is better and cleaner than even the 1/100 Tamiyas that came much after. Compared to other kits of the day, this LS is three or four levels above. It’s the difference between a Rembrandt and a child’s finger-painting, the fineness of this kit vs. others of its time.
The Judy doesn’t have a lot of parts. It’s also pretty small, but then again it is 1/75. All the parts are moulded in dark blackish-green, and there is a clear canopy that is packaged in with the parts. It’s fairly thick, but it’s still amazingly good for the time. In addition to that, there’s a white, two-piece stand, a decal sheet and that oh-so-Japanese mystery tube! It’s supposed to be glue, I think, but I’d wager it’s dried out by know. Still, I’m not about to open it and find out!
One thing that is a strike against this otherwise superb little model is that it does, unfortunately, follow the early ‘60s trend of ‘moulded in’ markings. American kits often did this, having the markings actually moulded onto the kit. Thus, air force roundels and the like were actually raised details. The reissue of the Monogram F-94C still had these, and they’re awful. Now, on the Judy, the ‘engraved’ markings are only the Hinomarus, so it could be worse.
Making it worse, though, is that the Hinomarus are (as implied) also recessed panel lines. At least with raised markings you can sand them off. With the recessed ones, you either have to use them, or you’re in for some interesting re-scribing and putty-throwing. I know I’ll be doing the latter; the last thing I think ANYONE wants or expects to see is a nicely detailed wing or fuselage with a completely flat Hinomaru on it. Face it, if it were a decal, and it was being judged at a show, you’d lose marks for not contouring the decals to the panel lines. Thus, it’s not okay to have the same effect if you just paint it.
Other than that, though, the model is solid, and looks very nice. If you’re a cockpit detail fan, you’ll be disappointed with the “floating chair”-type of pilot mounting. This is another kit with no real interior, so you’ll either have to make it yourself or just paint the inside of the plane black. I have no idea what fit will be like. I am sure I’ll need some putty, just because of the age of the thing, but I might be speaking out of turn. If the kit fits like it seems to be engineered, then it should be a good experience!
Instructions and decals:
The instructions consist of a single sheet of paper that’s been folded 6 times to get it into the box. This sheet opens up to be quite large. This is good, since the entire assembly sequence is a single exploded diagram, albeit with some details around it. There’s a lot of Japanese text, but I have no clue how to read Japanese, so I hope it’s not important! The instructions are very clearly and precisely drawn. I see no problems they could pose, even for those like me whose Japanese skills stop at ordering sushi.
There is a standard “what’s on the rack” diagram of the kit, too, which I always like to see, and I do wish North American companies would adopt this more. There’s also a series of diagrams explaining how the bomb bay works, and showing how to load the bomb so it can be easily deployed. In addition, there’s a diagram of the stand being mounded to a wall, allowing the Judy to “dive bomb” your carpet! This reminds me a lot of the Frog Skybase units, and while I won’t be using it, I do applaud LS for including this with the kit. The instructions are clear and well-drawn and should pose no problem for building.
The decal sheet, though, is going to be a problem. It’s a basic decal sheet, although it is better than the Farpro ones. There are more than just the Hinomarus on the sheet, and you get some tail numbers, the yellow leading-edge recognition strips and a weird star decal that goes on the stand. While simple, they are well printed and in register. Unfortunately, they’re also yellowed as all get out. Will they hold up? Only time will tell, but time is definitely something of which I fear the decals don’t have much left.
The Judy has always been one of my favourite IJN planes. It has a purposeful pudge to it, but it’s still more like a menacing heavy fighter in appearance than most of its contemporaries. I also love most of the IJN/IJA inline engined-machines, just because they’re so different from the host of other types used during the war by Japan.
Given that this kit is now more than half a century old, it is quite an amazing piece. The quality and detail hold up well against other, decades-newer kits. Sure, it’s got some issues, like the recessed markings, and that might be a bit of a detraction, but overall, this thing looks awesome. The fact that this kit has absolutely gorgeous box art doesn’t hurt it either. This is one of the few kits that I am just as glad to have as an unbuilt example, although, truth be told, I’ll likely build it anyway.
This is a great kit for a beginner, although that might seem a bit of a waste. It would be a shame to see such a fantastic and classic kit turned into a gluebomb, but then again, that is what it was for in the first place! With the low part count and interesting action features, I imagine the LS Judy would be just as attractive to, and as suitable for, an inexperienced modeller today as it was 50 years ago. Still, it’s a kit that will benefit from the application of time and skill. Correcting the recessed, moulded markings is going to add unnecessary difficulties to what is an otherwise simple kit.
In the end, then, this Judy is an awesome piece of history that represents an awesome piece of history. If that sounds circular, then so be it. It’s a fine example of what can be achieved with care and diligence on the part of the mould makers, and it begs the same from a prospective builder. It won’t cause you a lot of headaches due to piece count or detail work, but it will, I believe, offer up some challenges that are as distinctly old-school as it is.
If you like IJN or WWII naval subjects, this is clearly one for you. If you’re a kit collector, then I would think this awesomely glossy and energetic box art would be a great thing to have in your collection. If you’re looking for a “Shake and bake” kit, though, you should probably look elsewhere. Like all great classics, the Judy is fundamentally excellent but needs some love and attention to turn out right.
Get one, if you can find one!