|It All Comes Down to the Shovel||by Doug Chaltry|
|9 February 2004||email: doug(at)ontheway.us|
|This year's biennial
"Year in Review" article is a little difficult
for me to write. It seems that lately my creative writing
ability has hit rock bottom, and I just can't seem to
come up with anything interesting to say any more. I look
back over the past two years, and although a lot has
happened both in my personal life and in the small scale
modeling community, I really have no idea how to write
about it and make it interesting to others.
I guess I can start with a heartfelt Thank You to everyone who supported me during my "time of crisis" back in June. The fallout from that entire situation still hasn't completely settled, and there are times when I wonder if I did the right thing by putting my site back on-line. I imagine that this is something I will struggle with always, so there's no sense in dwelling on it. But again, thanks very much to everyone who expressed their well wishes either directly to me, or in one of the modeling forums.
A few days ago, a friend of mine asked what I thought were the highs and lows of the year for 1/72nd modeling, but I never answered him because I was in the process of compiling a similar list for this article. So Jim, here's my answer:
Revell continues their pattern of four to six new models per year. I feel they are still one of the leaders in this scale for plastic models, producing very finely detailed and accurate kits, of mostly-interesting subjects. Their models seem to be a blend of the guaranteed money-makers (i.e., WW II German), and some unusual items (such as modern armor). Will they ever hear the cry of the Sherman fanatics, and finally give us a decent plastic Sherman kit? Actually, I hope not. I would much rather see the entire Sherman series done in a modular form by Mirage, as they have been teasing us with for the past two years. What I truly hope that Revell will give us some day is the M26 Pershing. Although it seems unlikely that they will do it next year, there's always hope for 2005.
Speaking of Mirage, they have given us what I feel to be the best plastic model kit in the past two years (and perhaps ever): the C7P Polish Artillery Tractor. This is simply an amazing kit, with a complexity and finesse thought to be beyond what's possible in this scale. They have also started releasing their series of T-26 variants (hopefully without turning people off with so many versions), and we are still anxiously awaiting their M3 series. The big question is, will we see those before or after the FT-17s? Both of these series are late, and we are not happy about it! :-)
Another company that has continued to amaze me with their productivity is UM (Unimodel). In the last year alone, they have released over a dozen new models, including many that have never before been available in this scale, except as rare resin kits. Their BT series is first-rate, and the Soviet armored cars and other light tanks are also very welcome. Their forthcoming releases are supposedly the entire T-34 series, which has the possibility of being a great benefit for the company, or may hurt them considerably. Although several years ago we were at a loss for decent T-34 kits in plastic, we now have several to choose from, most of which are very good. If UM makes their T-34s into something unspectacular, then their sales may suffer. But if they put the same level of quality into the series as they exhibited with their BTs, then they will have the best T-34s on the market, and a guaranteed spot as one of the best plastic kit manufacturers in this scale.
Italeri is continuing to re-release several of the old ESCI kits each year. But until they actually release something that I'm interested in (Bishop, Matilda, Quad, Marder), it's hard for me to get excited about them. I guess I'm still disappointed that they aren't releasing any new and original kits of their own. But considering the immense popularity of the ESCI series, Italeri is now making many modelers very happy.
ACE. What can I say about ACE? For people who don't like limited-run kits, they don't like ACE. For modelers who like limited-run kits, they love ACE. This company has been releasing the most original plastic kits we've seen this year, and as far as limited-run goes, they are the best out there. Older kits are being revised as new and better parts are developed; new projects are being planned with resin conversion parts; and most importantly, ACE's presence on the model forums is a sure indication that they actually care about the people who build their models, and actively solicit input into their production plans. My dream is that one day ACE will be able to afford graduating to high-pressure steel molds for their models. They will then be one of the masters of small scale plastic kits.
Roden has finally returned to AFVs after their initial foray into the scale with their IS-3 several years ago (despite several critical reviews of that model, I personally really like it). Their new series of German armored cars is aimed at beginners, but are remarkably nice models nonetheless. If they would carry their detail just a little bit further . . . such as open hatches, better stowage, etc., they also would be magnificent kits. As it stands, they make excellent models, which are very fun to build, and I look forward to their future announcements. (I think that special mention should also be made about their new decals that are printed in single colors to eliminate registration problems. This is a brilliant way to deal with a chronic problem in small scale decals. Excellent job, Roden.)
Hasegawa is beginning to stagnate. Their Jagdpanzers are excellent (with one obvious flaw), but they have made no further announcements of future kits. Will we see anything new from them this coming year? And will it have decent tracks?
A company new to plastic kits, though with much experience in the resin arena, is Extratech. Their release of the highly anticipated M10/Achilles tank destroyers generated a lot of discussion on the forums due to their high price, and value for the money. Two things, I think, contributed to their price: Extratech's habit of targeting high-end modelers with quality, limited-edition kits; and their choice of going through Eduard for their plastic production and distribution. The recent Extrapack versions of the kits can now be found for prices lower than the original releases, and if you shop around, you can get them for prices comparable to other mainstream kits. Personally, I don't much care for the "base kit vs. Extrapack" marketing scheme. I feel that the Extrapack versions are the ones that should have been released in the first place, but they are well worth every penny of their price.
Finally we get to Dragon. Did you think I wasn't going to mention them? Assuming that most people reading this article also read my kit reviews, and frequent the various small scale forums, you will know that I am really disappointed in this series of new kits. Most of my gripes have been well aired elsewhere, but I think a good example to illustrate the basis for my disgust is the shovel in the Panther kit. Take a look:
You see that it is missing half of its blade. Why? Well, because it won't fit on the hull side where it is supposed to go if the blade had been complete. Why? Because the mounting brackets for the side skirts are in the way. Why don't you simply move them? Because they are molded directly onto the hull, all of which is die-cast metal. Do any of you really want to put on a welding mask, attach a grinder bit to a motor tool, and bury thousands of tiny metal shavings in your carpet in order to grind it off? I don't.
This is an example of the design mentality that is hampering the initial releases from this manufacturer. Bottom line is, until Dragon gets serious about small scale AFVs, I won't be reviewing any more of their models. Many people believe that it will be coming soon, and I truly hope so, because Dragon has the POTENTIAL for producing the best kits available. Let's just hope that they will some day realize that potential.
Many resin companies are still very active, although some have slowed down considerably. Modelkrak, for instance, used to be very prolific, but have since dropped to releasing one or two new kits per year. I hope they renew their production, because they have always been one of my favorites.
ARMO has impressed me with their new series of Japanese AFVs. To date, they have released several versions of the Type 89 Chi-Ro, and the Sumida armored car. They have also announced several versions of the Chi-Ha, and others. Those who know me are probably tired of hearing me moaning about the lack of Japanese tanks in this scale, so these new kits have me very excited indeed.
But I think the true star of resin companies these past two years has to be MarS. Although they are not releasing huge numbers of new items, the kits that they do produce are absolutely the best available. It used to be that I would always compare resin kits to Al.By (i.e., "it's good, but not Al.By quality"), but now I feel that the standard has shifted to MarS. Their new Sd.Kfz. 222/223 are the best resin kits I have ever seen. They have also released an awesome kit of the Puma, which has always been my favorite AFV of WW II, so that one holds a special appeal for me. In fact, when you go back to their earliest models, such as the Polish and German trucks, you'll see that this high quality has always been present, it's just being noticed more, now that their line of models has been expanding. This is a company for which I impatiently await every new kit announcement.
Two other resin companies that stand out in my mind are MR Models and Modell Trans, two German manufacturers of complete resin kits and conversions. The Sherman series of conversions from MR Models has made me, and whole lot of other people, very happy. Had these been complete kits, they would rival MarS. Their other conversion sets are also highly desirable, and their announcements of future releases has me quite anxious to see them. Likewise, Modell Trans produces some very unique and high quality items; their recent release of several M113 Zelda variants was a surprise, and I can't wait to get my hands on one of them.
There are numerous other manufacturers of both resin and plastic kits who have released several new items these past two years. Many of them are very exciting, others ... not so much. But as I said once before, I feel that with few exceptions, every new release is a benefit to the hobby, and I think that the next couple of years will be quite exciting for all of us.
Three companies are currently producing large numbers of photoetched detail sets: PART, Extratech, and Eduard. I recall that a few years back, Eduard told me that they will only release an occasional set for small scale AFVs, because they make no profit with them. Well, they seem to be trying to reverse that trend by releasing several new sets, all at exorbitant prices. Normally I don't like to discuss prices when reviewing model items, since "reasonable price" is a very subjective concept, with highly varying viewpoints. But the extreme high cost of the newest Eduard sets has me scratching my head wondering what they could be thinking. Have you noticed a lack of reviews on this site of the latest Eduard releases? That is the reason.
PART has given us what I believe to be the best accessory set for the past two years: etched tracks for the Vickers/7Tp/T-26 series of tanks. As I mentioned in the review for this set, these tracks are appropriate for over 30 model kits, with that number increasing almost every month. Can any other detail set claim such a wide appeal?
Popularity of aftermarket gun barrels is also on the rise. For a couple of years, ARMO was the only source of such accessories, but some new companies are now also providing some common pieces. Of course, many of these barrels may not exactly be necessary, but a great many of them are, and if you shop around some, you can find them going for very reasonable prices at several on-line shops.
I feel that decals are still in high demand. While the number of aftermarket decal sets have been increasing, there still is need for much more. Especially with the trend of model makers to provide only one or two marking options with the actual kits. Again I would like to recognize ACE for their "enthusiasm" for giving many decal options in their kits.
You all will laugh, but my absolute favorite new figure set of the year is the Japanese Samurai from Zvezda. I know they have absolutely nothing to do with AFV modeling, but I just can't resist giving them a plug here. They are simply amazing.
Seriously, I am impressed with the advances in figure releases these past two years. I am not a wargamer, so my desire is for highly detailed figures in interesting poses that would be appropriate for display and diorama purposes. There have been several releases of such figures, in particular the plastic figures from Preiser, and the resin figures from MIG, which satisfy my craving. But I truly would like to see more of the same in the future. And please, something other than WW II German...
I don't have actual awards to give out (but perhaps that's something I should think about for the future), but if I did, this is how I would distribute them for 2003:
I'll close this editorial with wishes of peace and happiness for all of my viewers. I sincerely hope that 2004 is a much better year than 2003 for all of us. Thank you all for your continuing support, and happy holidays.