by: Doug Hallet [ ]
"Doug Hallet (Budgie) gives us an in-depth, detailed look at this super-detail upgrade set from Lionroar."
Of all the plastic injection models released over the last fifty years, few subjects have had as much popularity or captured the popular imagination of model makers as has the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato. Well over 130 kits of Yamato, sister ship Musashi and carrier conversion Shinano have been produced to date, in scales ranging all the way from 1/1200 to 1/200. This does not even include paper models, made-to-order displays, museum ships of up to 1/10 scale, and even Lego-style sets of blocks that build into oddly jagged, pixilated versions of the world's largest battleship.
Of these kits, perhaps the most popular is the Tamiya 1/350 kit, available in either an April, 1945 Yamato, or October, 1944 Musashi version. Originally released in about 1982, the kit helped to popularize 1/350 as a standard scale for ship kits and has continuously been one of the best-selling ship models since that time. At its release, it was considered to have set new standards for detail and authenticity and was immediately popular with model makers.
The kit has not, however, stood up well to the test of time. Of all warships, the Yamato was probably the least documented. Originally a secret weapon that was not even announced to the Japanese public, undoubtedly thousand of pictures of her were destroyed by the Japanese military immediately prior to their surrender, with not one official photo surviving. Although Tamiya worked with what knowledge and details were available at the time, a slow but steady stream of additional pictures found in the collections of the former crewmen, careful photo analysis and 3D mapping, and the deep-sea submersible examination of the wreck has in recent years filled in many previously unknown details and brought us a much better picture of what the Yamato looked like.
Normally, the result of all this additional information would be the release of an updated and corrected kit, and such has been the case among the offerings in 1/700 scale. In 1/350, however, the original Tamiya kit continues to be the only option available (there is one other 1/350 kit long out of production). One assumes this to be a combination of the reticence of other manufacturers to compete directly with Tamiya, plus an unwillingness on Tamiya's part to allocate the funding and research necessary for such a project, when the current kit still sells amazingly well.
As a result, corrections and additions for this kit by third party manufacturers have become a small cottage industry unto itself. Over the last decade, photo-etch sets have been released by three of the major PE companies, GMM, WEM and Eduard. However, a new standard was set in 2006 when newcomer Lionroar, of Shanghai China released an incredibly extensive set designed to correct many of the problems that other manufacturers had avoided due to cost considerations. Originally selling at a list price of $149, Lionroar included not only highly detailed PE for items such as fully detailed open 25mm AA mounts and a complete degaussing cable for the hull, but also very well done turned brass replacements for the 460 mm, 155 mm and 127 mm canon.
Lionroar has now built on the success of their set, and has released an updated and expanded version. Rather than just increase the number of items available, they have gone back and completely revamped the set, with virtually all parts redesigned and enhanced. In addition to the PE and brass barrels, the set also includes a number or resin replacements for parts that are best suited in this medium. The result is a set that is breath taking in both its scope and quality. It will now be the standard by which all other sets are judged.
My good friend Guido Hopp, who acts as a contact for Lionroar (and of course Mr. Lin of Lionroar himself) have afforded me the privilege of reviewing this set. Packed in a cardboard box, it consists of 14 different types of resin replacement parts, three types of turned brass gun barrels, twenty-two sheets of PE (two of which are duplicates), and a thirty-five page instruction booklet consisting entirely of step-by-step drawings:
The title page is listed in Chinese and English. However, the booklet uses a system of icons to indicate required actions, such as the removal of segments of the original kit, or where items need to be folded, bent or attached. Each PE part shown in the booklet is numbered according to its sheet location. When several steps are needed, each is shown in sequence and are very easy to follow, even for some relatively complicated processes. Bear in mind that the order presented in the booklet will not necessarily be the order you build this kit, so some pre-planning will be necessary to avoid any dead-ends.
Turned brass barrels
These are similar to the ones in the original Lionroar set, and are in fact the only items in the package that are essentially unchanged. However, instead of just 12 replacements for the covered 127 mm AA turrets, the set now includes brass barrels for the 127 mm open mounts as well. On a side note, both the brass propellers and anchor chain included in the original set are not included in this one.
127mm gun mounts
In addition to the brass barrels, Lionroar provides complete replacements for the mounts themselves. These consist of two resin parts, with additional detail parts included in the PE sheets that will be reviewed later. Although not quite as detailed as some other replacement versions, they are quite good and can be used without any additional scratch-building, at a considerable savings in cost. The difference between these and the kit pieces is quite impressive.
25 mm enclosed gun turrets
These are very similar to the kit parts, except they have the rear hatches attached and the indented area forward of the barrels is flanged. The PE parts which were in the original Lionroar set are not included in this one. The gun barrels for the 25 mm mounts are suitably slender, but are too long and should be cut back to about half their size. The "late" model turrets with the sharp edge along the top are not included in the set but could conceivably be built up with putty, not that anyone is likely to notice the difference.
There are resin parts included for two different types of ammunition boxes; a taller one suitable for placement inside open gun tubs (e.g., the 127 mm mounts) above the main deck where space would have been at a premium, and lower ones that were typically bolted to the deck. The original Lionroar PE parts, which were folded and glued over the "Tamiya" boxes are not included in the set, and those featureless rectangles should be removed. This will not quite give you enough boxes (there are 20 of each type) to represent what Yamato probably carried, so additional ones might be obtained elsewhere if you're so inclined.
There are nine binocular stands included in the set. These can be used to fill in locations in the air defense command station after removal of the stands in the original Tamiya part. Bear in mind that this area also included gyroscopes and sighting equipment that is not included in this set.
There are four additional motor launches in two styles included as resin parts. The canvas crew quarters for one of them is molded as a separate piece. Additional detailing for ventilation funnels and hand rests are included as both resin and PE parts. In addition, PE boat carriages are provided to rest these boats within the boat hangar, assuming you have the hangar doors in an "open" position. You can always have them adjacent to Yamato in the water if you are modeling a sea scene.
Rudder and Emergency rudder
Lionroar has included a complete replacement rudder and emergency rudder. Both have the series of stripes worked into them, allowing you to avoid the difficulties of aligning the brass strips included in the original set.
460 mm gun canvas covers
Much better detailed than the original Tamiya parts, these will also allow you to avoid problems associated with successfully clipping the bags off of the molded gun barrels.
Aircraft catapult parts
These are several small parts representing the compressed air tubes located inside the catapult structure.
The PE Sheets
All PE sheets come individually enclosed in plastic contact sheeting which can be peeled off easily before accessing the parts. This ensures that no damage occurs by sheets becoming entwined with each other during shipping. Except for a couple of small bumps on the large aircraft handling deck piece (which can be ironed out), everything arrived intact after a two-part journey 2/3rds of the way around the world (China to Germany to Seattle).
PE Sheet A
Sheet A consists mostly of parts for the two aircraft catapults, with a few parts intended for the aircraft handling crane. The horizontal surface of the catapults has been completely reworked from the original Lionroar version, and the main body of the two catapults are cast as single pieces of PE, so that they can be folded into shape without the need to glue along the edges. A large number of interior pieces makes this a miniature model of its own.
PE Sheet B
Sheet B includes two-part bases for the 150 cm search lights, the main body of the boat crane, replacement parts for the doors to the aircraft hangar, grid pattern walk-surfaces for the open five inch AA mounts, and a number of davits. The hangar doors fold over to provide both front and back sides. You may want to consider gluing these to the original doors (after sanding that piece of molded-on details) to provide a little more 3D appearance. All davits fold over to provide detail on both sides and allow more depth. Braces to attach the davits to the hull sides are included.
PE Sheet C
Sheet C contains deck surfaces for the searchlight platform and superstructure wings, parts for the 460 mm turrets, the stern 25 mm AA gun platform, and the supports holding up the two extensions of the airplane handling deck, where they extend beyond the hull sides. These parts are folded over to allow for a full 3D appearance. Other parts include a vent cover and the catwalk for one of the main gun directors.
PE Sheet D
This contains several long-sought after items; detailed siding for the 155 mm gun turrets, and gangways for both sides of the ship, plus some detailing parts for the superstructure. The ventilation grills along the sides of the turret are all individually represented on all sides.
PE Sheet E
Sheet E includes more open hatches than were included in the original set, including several that are double sided, allowing them to be displayed half-open. There are also parts for the funnel and the crew hatches located on the main deck, several of which can be displayed in open position. The very tiny triangular pieces are gussets intended for the deck shields around the open 25 mm gun positions.
Good luck keeping track of all of them, although at this size, replacement pieces of plastic stock will work in a pinch. Two mesh containers for life preserver rings are included, although instructions for folding them are not included and I did not notice the life rings themselves.
PE Sheet F
This sheet includes the tracks for the aircraft handling deck, plus several pieces of the degaussing cable and replacement ship anchors. Modelers may wish to refer to the Super Illustration Yamato book for the degaussing cable terminus, which looks amazingly like a sea shell and was only recently discovered by deep-sea submersible examination, but is not included here.
PE Sheet G
This sheet includes davits in both the extended and stowed positions, and beds for the four new motor Pinnaces that will be located in the boat hangar. These probably rested on tracks similar to the location used to store the ships whaleboats, but this tracking is not included in the set.
PE Sheet H
Sheet H includes the single most impressive addition to this set - a complete replacement for the aft aircraft handling deck, which takes the place of numerous individual pieces in the original PE set. It includes welding lines for the individual metal plates located on the deck. Using this piece will require you to remove the rectangular air vent just aft of the rear 460 mm turret and the four barbettes for the wing 25mm AA gun turrets.
Rather than reuse the latter (a dicey proposition at best), I would recommend saving the original round Tamiya pieces intended to act as gun shields on top of the forward and rear 460 mm turrets and use here instead. Hexagonal replacements for those parts are included in this set, so they will not be missed in their original locations.
PE Sheet I
This includes jack stays and some vertical ladders for the funnel. In reality, these jack stays went between the steam pipes and the funnel. However, unless you are prepared to scratch-build new pipes that do not touch the funnel body, this is an acceptable compromise.
PE Sheet J
Sheet J is comprised entirely of vent coverings for various positions around the superstructure. All are designed to allow you to fold over the grating for additional 3D effect.
PE Sheet K
This sheet includes aircraft handling deck railing, parts for the radar display on top of the main range finder, and the gratings on the wings of the aircraft handling deck.
PE Sheet L
Sheet L is actually the only one that fits the traditional definition of PE - railing for the main deck areas. A number of parts are individually sized to allow specific fitting around intervening items. Gone is the 2D look of the original railing, where Lionroar attempted to simulate chain links.
PE Sheet M
This tiny sheets adds a few single rail hand bars.
PE Sheet N
Sheet N includes replacement parts for the suspended boat handling track. A large number of supporting gussets (included) will need to be attached to them. The track is divided into two section so it can be extended into the boat hangar, where your new resin boats will likely be located. Also included are the much-needed wind baffles for the main superstructure to replace the badly oversized Tamiya pieces, and replacement pieces for the aircraft hangar ventilation windows. These pieces include individual fan blades.
The catwalk around the front of the funnel has both forward and rear railing attached to it, so you will not need to glue it around this curved surface. Also included are windows for the superstructure tower and latticework gun calibration supports. Although larger windows are included for the portion facing towards the stern, these are still not in the hexagonal shape they should be.
PE Sheet O
Sheet O consists mostly of deck grid for the stern and aircraft hangar. Although this area has an acceptable grid already, sanding this off will allow you to use the much more realistic tracks for the boat storage area and hangar. Also included is grid deck for the air command station, so you don't need to worry about mistakes while cutting off the existing stands prior to adding the resin binoculars.
PE Sheet Q
Sheet Q consists of replacement pieces for the capped portholes on the hull. There are 300 on this sheet, of which 200 (100 per side) are currently represented on the kit. However, Yamato actually had an additional row of capped portholes close to the waterline at both the bow and stern, and the additional pieces should allow you to include them. Those additional spots are not however mentioned in the instructions, so some reference materials will be necessary. All pieces are completely separated from the main brass sheet and merely need to be slid off with a knife or razor blade before usage.
PE Sheet R (2 copies)
There are two copies of Sheet R, which provides components for the open mount 25mm triple and single mount 25 mm AA guns. Rather than a single piece of (oversized) PE, the single mounts will now require you to salvage the stands from the original Tamiya pieces and add them to the PE parts included here for a much better 3D appearance.
The bases on which the stands sit are also redone and no longer over-sized. Although there are 16 single mounts included, by April 1945 Yamato only carried 6 of them. The shield behind which the forward 4 were positioned is not included in the kit and will need to be scratch built (it was in the original set). Be aware that the locations shown in Lionroar's photographs for these guns are incorrect. Also included are badly needed replacements for the flag boxes, although care might be needed when attaching stretched sprue to these pieces, as they are quite thin.
PE Sheet S (2 copies)
There are two S sheets, which include parts for the open mount 127 mm guns to go along with the resin parts, support frames for the 150 cm searchlights, and deck shields for the triple 25mm open AA mounts. Also included are the calibrating attachments for the 460 mm guns. Bear in mind that these would not have been attached while the ship was under way, as one round of the main battery would have mangled them into metal spaghetti. The small work platforms adjacent to the attachments are also included, although these would also have been dismantled before the Yamato cast off.
PE Sheet T
Sheet T is oddly the only PE piece done in steel rather than brass. It includes deck matting for the air command station and the small passive radar detectors located at several places on the superstructure.
PE Sheet U
This includes a number of individually sized railings for the superstructure and tops of the gun turrets. Also included are jack stays for the 155 mm barbettes.
So, what's missing?
Well, not a whole lot. We are now getting close to the point where 3rd party manufacturers have provided virtually an entire new Yamato kit by default. There are still some major errors in the angles and size of some superstructure parts of the Tamiya kit, but unless you are well versed in scratch building and have sufficient reference materials, you may want to forgo making the attempt.
As mentioned, there are a handful of items from the original Lionroar set that are not included here, but except for the brass anchor chain (easily available in most hobby shops), none of them are essential to an impressive build.
What if I already purchased another PE set?
Regardless of which set you already have, this set will be essential for completing a 1/350 Yamato that comes up to today's standards for detail. Swallow hard, and plunk down the additional cash this set will cost, and it will be money well spent. However, don't throw away your old set out or sell it on EBay.
Even as extensive as this is, there are areas where more PE will come in useful. For example, use some of the additional carriage track you have to extend it into the insides of the boat handling hangar, where your new motor pinaces will probably rest. Some railing can be trimmed and used as jack stays (Yamato was covered with them), and extra vertical ladders can be added to the main mast.
There are numerous places where more gussets from the original Lionroar set can be utilized. If you bought the WEM set, there are a number of detailing pieces not included in either Lionroar set that can be used to even further detail your model. Some reference materials are a must if you have already spent this much money for the set.
This is easily the most extensive and impressive PE set designed specifically for a particular model that has ever been released. It should be considered as absolutely mandatory for any modeler who wants to get as accurate and detailed a model as possible from the Tamiya kit. Be forewarned, however. This set is huge, will be very time consuming, and is not for the beginner. If you pass on these qualification, happy modeling to you, indeed. Let's hope Lionroar update #2 comes out before I start on Musashi....