The Softer Side (and Larger World) of Plastic Modeling

Oh sure, most folks have heard of Revell and Monogram. And, depending on where you are in the world, you’re probably familiar with makers like Airfix, Heller, Aoshima, and others. And if you’re a modeler? I’m sure you’ve heard of the big dogs, like Dragon, Tamiya, Hasegawa, and Italeri. Of course, there’s a bunch of other "household names" for modelers out there such as Trumpeter, Hobby Boss, Academy, Bronco Models, Minicraft, and literally dozens more. And that’s just for real-world subjects. When you start going into sci-fi, names like Polar Lights, Aurora, Bandai, Takara, Wave, Kotobukiya, and others are likely to show up high on the list.

They all produce models for mass consumption. Models that you can find on the shelves of virtually any hobby store in the world. Models that tread familiar–and popular–ground. I wouldn’t say that they’re the tip of the proverbial iceberg. They’re more like the floors of a building that you can observe above ground. Exposed to sunlight, and recognizable. There is a basement, however. It’s the place that most people don’t see where objects aren’t as familiar for some. But for those of us looking for the things you don’t "normally" see, it’s the place where we often end up.

This is where you find kit manufacturers like ICM, MPM, AeroPlast, and–to a lesser degree–Eduard. Sure, they make little dents in the mainstream. Eduard kits are easy enough to find, they licensed the kit for the movie "Flyboys", and their recent F6F Hellcat has certainly caught the eye of many modelers. And you can find ICM figures in some Tamiya boxings. On the whole, however, they’re not as well represented. And that’s a good thing. These are plastic kit makers that aren’t trying to run with the big dogs, so they can afford to focus on subjects that might otherwise be overlooked, and certainly never be given recognition in plastic.

I’ve previously built one ICM kit–a 1/72, Polikarpov I-16 Type 24; and I’m currently working on my second ICM project: A 1/72 Polikarpov I-15bis. The kits are just different from mainstream offerings. The sprues aren’t quite up to the same mass-production quality as you’ll find in a Tamiya kit, but the detail tends to be even better than what you’d find in similar, more readily available kits. Whereas a mainstream kit might have three pieces for fuselage halves and the front of the engine cowl, my I-15bis has seven. The cockpit for the I-15bis consists of eight separate pieces. When was the last time you saw that on a 1/72 propeller aircraft kit with a price tag under $10? But it’s not about the numbers. "The devil is in the details"–and that, in combination with the obscurity of the subject matter, is what sells these kits.

Speaking just of my experience with ICM kits–and observation of others–like MPM and AeroPlast, they do things wrong and they do things right (just like everybody else). The engraved detail tends to be a bit more shallow, and the plastic is a bit thicker on parts like the fuselage, but there’s just more detail there. For example, if you wanted to build the kit with a panel removed for engine maintenance, you’d have some engine making to do, but the kit itself would require a lot less surgery. Not only that, but they give you options right in the box. In this I-15bis, there are no less than three different landing gear options. On the other side of that coin are Hasegawa and Dragon–who absolutely love issuing new kits for some airplane or tank that rolled off a 1943 German production line on a Thursday versus the one that rolled out on the previous Monday.

The moral of the story is that there’s a lot more plastic scale models out there than you’re aware of, if you’re new to this. And if you’re not new to this, you may want to give some of these "little guys" a try some time. Some aspects of these kits will most likely impress you, while others–like the shallow engraved lines–may very well distress you. The challenge is greater, but so is the reward.

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