The history of weapons and warfare is an interwoven tapestry of revolutionary ideas and their evolutionary implementations. Every time something new comes along, it takes a while for the people using it to figure out just how to do so to the maximum effect. Perfect examples of this are the machine gun and the airplane. Both started out as simple additions to the conventional arsenals of armies, only to be misused and misunderstood for a time. There are lots of other examples of the same kind of thing, and one of the most important is the aircraft carrier.
Looking at the importance of carriers now, it’s almost impossible to believe there was a time when they WEREN’T the centrepiece of their respective navies. However, in the early days of naval aviation, the capabilities of the available aircraft didn’t really outmatch those of opposing warships. Thus, it’s no surprise that there was some trepidation on the part of several navies to fully invest in carriers. Of course, there was also the problem that no one had figured out the best physical arrangement for a carrier, either.
Enter the Lexington:
This is where the Lexington’s history began. Orignally authorized as a battlecruiser during the First World war, she was less than a quarter completed by the time the Washington Treaty of 1922 came into effect. Thus, the US Navy decided to complete her as an aircraft carrier. Thus it was that the Lexington became one of the biggest carriers of the time period, and had the hull and propulsion system of a more conventional warship. There were other trappings of her original design that were retained as well; she had a very interesting armament suite.
It was realized early on that there was no loss in saving the weight of the four 16-inch, two-cannon turrets, and their removal from the design saved enough to bring the Lexington within the limits of the Washington treaty. However, unlike many other carriers that came after, she retained her anti-submarine warfare armament, as well as four twin-cannon 8-inch gun turrets. It is this armament that makes the Lexington such a curiosity. It really is somewhere between a true carrier and a cruiser, and while the armament isn’t up to battleship standards, it is clearly far heavier than anything seen on carriers since.
Thankfully, the Lexington was not at Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, as she was ferrying planes to Midway. She was involved in several other actions, including an aborted relief of Wake Island and, most famously, the Battle of the Coral Sea. Sadly, as is well known, the Lexington was sunk in that battle; history records that after sustaining heavy damage from torpedoes and bombs, it was scuttled to prevent capture.
The Lexington was a very important ship and helped the US Navy refine its aviation practices throughout the ‘30s. It is a very large and attractive ship, and given its history, it has long been the subject of model kit makers. This should come as no surprise. Nor should it be a surprise that new, well-made and well-detailed kits of it continue to be produced. However, if you’ve looked at my Ships and Tanks page, or the Out of Box page, you likely have noticed something. There’s not a single surface warship among the kits arrayed thereupon. I have to admit that I do not find warships an interesting modelling subject, as I find them far too reliant upon aftermarket photoetch (PE) sets to look even half-decent, and they just don’t interest me the way planes, tanks and cars do.
So, then, what would make me decide to buy a kit of the Lexington now? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. The reason I bought this particular kit isn’t because of Meng’s good reputation, or the fact that I got it for 40% off at Hobby Lobby (love those coupons!). Nope. It’s also not because I’ve had a change of heart and am now a big boat aficionado. The reason is plain and simple: this particular Lexington was just too darned cute to pass up!
Normally, “cute” is not an appellation attached to warships, regardless of their scale. However, in this case, it is absolutely the right word. For this kit is the first in the Meng “Warship Builder” series, and it seems as though this series is one of Super Deformed (SD) or “Egg” ships. Most of us are familiar with SD aircraft thanks to various “egg planes” from a variety of makers. Gundams have been available as SDs for about 30 years, too. However, to my knowledge, SD boats is something completely new.
One look at the box tells you something’s up. The front art is a bit cartoony for such a serious subject, almost like something from a “Weird Oh’s” kit, albeit nicely up-to-date. The Mighty Lex is there, plowing through the ocean, and upon her deck arrayed some of her ship’s compliment of aircraft. One is even in flight, as though to escort her through whatever action she finds herself in. The water is beautifully rendered, as are the clouds. There’s some kind of cliffs in the background, but you don’t notice them aft first.
The art is crisp and colourful. It also looks…short. My first impression was “Meng made a new Lexington? Wait… what’s wrong with that picture?” I picked up the kit and the compressed proportions of the SD Lexington were apparent, but not so much as I’d have first thought. Once it hit me, a couple of seconds in, I started to chuckle and how good it looked all SD’ed up!
There’s a big contrast between the art and the rest of the box top, too, and this dichotomy adds to the fun. There is a very bold title in the lower right corner, telling you that this is the “Warship Builder Lexington”. Above is a very stark, almost authoritarian black and white drawing of some warship hull with forceful Chinese and English characters to reinforce that this is a Warship Builder kit. Of course, I had no idea what that meant.
What got me was that under the (barely) deformed F4F it says that waterline and full-hull options are available, and that it comes with three types of aircraft. Okay, that’s all big-boy stuff. Seems good. It also says that it has a positionable elevator and has press-fit assembly. That last point means nothing to me, since the Perfect Grade Millenium Falcon also says it’s glue-free, and it’s a serious kit. Only under the MENG title block does it get confusing. On one hand, it’s saying that this is for 14+, and that it is NOT A TOY. However, it then says it is a “ready to assemble cartoon model kit”.
Talk about split personality! At this point, you can’t help but be intrigued, and I was too. I was mostly interested in the planes, and I turned the box over to see the side. On one side is a write up about both the Lexington herself and the kit. Here, we learn that this is definitely not something to be taken too seriously. The three SD planes they show are cute as a button, although they are not as SD as I might have though. If anything, the F4F looks more streamlined than the real thing!
The description of the kit is priceless, being a fairly good, but somewhat-loveably-clumsy English translation from Chinese, I’m sure. This kit transforms the cold war machine into a cute warship model, thanks to bold design. I can’t argue with that! Flipping over to the other side of the box makes it apparent what that means. A side view of the Lexington can’t help but give a buyer pause, and juxtaposed to it is the AK Interactive colour call outs. It’s so cute, but so serious at the same time!
That odd duality is the defining characteristic of this kit, as you’ll see. It’s something fun that you have to take seriously; it’s a serious project that can’t help but be fun. You decide, if you can, which way you want to see it!
Inside the fairly compact box (about the size of an MPC car kit) the builder is greeted by a big bag of sprues. There are ten of these, with three loose parts as well; the two hull components and something that appears to be a soap dish, but is actually the stand. There are nine medium grey sprues, one dark red and two dark grey-black. There’s also a sheet of stickers and a full-colour instruction book.
The parts hammer home the duality of the kit perfectly. On one hand, many of the parts are largely quite simple and look easy to handle. However, there are a good number of very small parts, too, and the 14+ rating makes sense when you see them. While they may be cartoony in proportion, the detail on them is excellent. This is what blew me away. I was expecting a cute, but simple and rather undetailed kit. NOPE.
The deck boards are beautiful, there are little portholes, stairways and doors moulded on the island, and the planes are more than just plane-shaped blobs! In fact, the planes are worth the price of admission! I was floored to find that they all had control surfaces marked in. Even more amazing was the trademark perforated dive breaks on the Dauntless. I expected small depressions on the brakes at most, these would serve to represent the holes normally seen. NOPE. The dive breaks are drilled. Through. They are really and honestly fully drilled!
Add to this that two of the three types (the Dauntless and the Wildcat) can be built with their wings folded or deployed, and that even the folded wings on the SBD have through-drilled airbrakes, and you can see that Meng hasn’t shortcut anything. I was astounded as well to find that the main 8” gun barrels are also DRILLED. Yep. This kit, while an SD/cartoon/loveable-not-so-cold-war-machine maintains the highest of standards. Granted, it’s not a cheap kit, but how often have we been disappointed by what should be a nice kit, when it turns out otherwise?
Part separation seems to be quite good, and there should be no problem getting inside to paint areas that might show before assembling the kit. I’ll likely still use glue, but it don’t know if it will be truly important. In fact, I was curious to see if that was the case…
Testing the Quality:
One thing I had to do was admire the fact that this has a waterlined hull, and that the entire bottom can just be popped on or off as you see fit. I have test fit many a Bandai kit, including their newest Gundams, and the fit is usually excellent, but tight. On the Lexington, the bottom fits on smoothly, with little effort. There’s no pushing, just guiding. However, it’s also not impossibly tight to get off (unlike a Gundam), and with only the same force can be detached. This is a godsend for painting, clearly, but it also shows the level of precision in the moulds.
Good work, Meng. You’ve done well. When you can best Bandai at making a non-glue kit, you have officially kicked some serious styrene backside.
Instructions and Decals:
The instruction book is a gem. It’s almost the size of the box lid, and is a stapled booklet. There is a rack breakdown on the first page (inside of the front cover) and painting guides and colour callouts on the last page. There are colour call outs for AK Interactive and “Acrysion” colours (don’t know them). The colour plan of the ship shows a side and top view, with written calls to what colours are what.
The instructions themselves are clearly 3D computer drafting images doing double duty. This is fine as far as I’m concerned; they are definitely accurate (unlike many other, drawn instructions… Zvezda… Grrr…) and very clear. The instructions are well laid out, like the kit, and I didn’t see anything that looked too confusing. That having been said, though, there are a few issues with the instructions that I think should have been fixed.
First, and foremost, they are DARK. Man, it’s like a cave in those pages! The dark grey frame (with cool rivet detail) is supposed to give you a feeling of strength and solidity inherent to warships, but it really just makes the book dark and hard to use. The black backgrounds of the illustrations are even worse; the instructions feel like they are literally sucking the light out of the room around them. Everything seems just a bit dark and muted, and it makes what could have been a homerun of an instruction booklet a rather forboding, and even tiring-to-use, disappointment.
Second, and just as important, but not as immediately apparent, is MENG’s choice of font for the English callouts. Rather than use a nice, blocky font on such a stark background, they use a cursive script. Thus, it looks like someone has hand-written the small notes. If the page was white and the ink black, this might be okay. However, the small font is also bold, and it makes it hard to read. Add to this that the English is sandwiched between Chinese and Japanese characters, and the cursiveness just makes the words get lost. It is actually a CHORE to read what’s being said, although it is important at times. Those with tired eyes or a proneness to headaches will find this booklet something to read only when absolutely necessary, I fear.
Now the decals. Well, they aren’t decals. They’re stickers. Granted the box does say this, but I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, we’d get both stickers and decals, since this isn’t a toy (by MENG’s own admission). However, that’s not the case. Instead, we get a sheet of plastic self-adhesive decals. These aren’t even my first choice for toys, but they are certainly inappropriate for a kit of this caliber, even if it is a comedic, cartonnish rendering. I can almost bet they will suck, and I won’t be using them.
In this case, the toy/model duality is actually in conflict with MENG’s vision for the kit, and the stickers provided are a massive and unforgivable failure.
If it’s one thing I’m increasingly attracted to in kits, it’s oddity. While it’s a fairly orthodox subject, I’m pretty sure that no one can argue with the oddness of the presentation that this kit embodies! As someone who doesn’t like ships, I’m really excited to build it, and that says a lot for the marketing geniuses at MENG!
At first, it may seem ridiculous and even sacrilegious (in a way) to represent such a famous and important fighting ship as the Lexington in such a silly and irreverent manner. However, I disagree. I think it’s a blast, and it’s a nice, non-threatening way to get people who might not otherwise even look at a ship kit to give it a chance.
I do worry, though, that people won’t take the 14+ rating seriously, since this is an SD model. If you’re a junior with a lot of modelling under your belt, this kit will be fine. However, it’s not a beginner’s kit, since the sprue gates on some of the smaller bits are quite large, and care will be required. I also have a deep-seated worry that this kit is going to require more research than a “fun” build should, but that’s because I know very little about warships.
Overall, this kit looks like a fun cross between a bathtub toy and a serious warship model. I’m deeply impressed by the sprues, but do find the instructions a letdown and the stickers, quite frankly, are criminal. However, neither of these are deal breakers, and I would encourage anyone suffering from AMS (advanced modeller’s syndrome) to consider giving this one a go.
This kit is WB001. If first impressions are worth anything, then I hope MENG makes enough different kits in this series to warrant the first two zeroes! I’ll buy ‘em all!