Monday, 30 July 2018

MENG Model Sd.Kfz.182 King Tiger with Henschel Turret [WIP - Upper Hull Armor & Misc. Details]

Having survived the link-and-length tracks, it was time to move on to relatively easier assembly processes namely the King Tiger's upper hull armor and its detailed parts. In this series of steps, the main challenges revolved around the use of photo-etched and extremely tiny parts. In the previous steps when it was being prepped for zimmerit decals, the upper hull had only the bare essentials assembled. Now it was time to add more details to it beginning first with the engine cooling vent covers and grilles as well as the tow cable for the right side of the hull.  

MENG King Tiger work-in-progress: Upper hull armor attached with miscellaneous details

To achieve finer details that molded parts could not, the square and round-shaped grilles came in the form of photo-etched parts. Apart from being careful when cutting these off the sprue, it was pretty straightforward working with the photo-etched grilles as there wasn't any bending or shaping required (this came later). Meanwhile, the tow cables comprised the molded plastic variety. In comparison on the T-55A Russian medium tank I worked on previously, a simple mesh was used to simulate the engine deck grilles while its tow cables made from out of a sewing thread/string. 

Step 14: Attaching the King Tiger engine cooling vent covers/grilles and tow cable

My doubts about the instructions being not 100% accurate is unfortunately slowly being confirmed. It is inaccurate not in a major way but enough to slow down proceedings unnecessarily. For you see, in the previous post I had left something out - the number of links actually used to assemble the tracks never tallied with the number called for in the instructions. I wrote this off as a minor oversight but discrepancies have resurfaced again. The latest involved the driver's compartment hatches (parts D1 and D2) seems to have been mixed up in the instructions so I used D1 in place of D2 and vice versa.  

Step 15: Assembly of the engine deck and driver compartment hatches

In a reoccurring issue, tiny parts in the form of handles for the driver compartment hatches and a rounded grille for the engine deck as well as minuscule hooks for both proved to be a handful (see above). I've broken my fair share of tiny handles or lost them when they've 'pinged' across the room. Luckily MENG sometimes provide extra backup handles in such emergencies. And while the hooks were less fragile than the handles they were far easier to lose due to their relatively smaller size. Lastly the rounded grille seemed almost easy to work with in comparison to the handles and hooks.

Step 16: Attaching engine deck and driver's compartment hatches as well as tow cable and misc. tools

With the engine deck and driver's compartment hatches assembled, there remained the left side tow cable and pioneers tools. These required no assembly but were difficult to prep because of their fragility. Once cleaned, the tow cable and pioneer tools together with the drivers compartment and ending deck were glued onto the King Tiger's upper hull at the side and top. 

Step 17: Attaching pioneer tools onto the top and right side of the upper hull

Inaccuracies in the instructions happened again one more time. Worse still, this time around the repercussions would've been bad if I had not taken the time to assess the instructions before diving in. To understand the issue here, it should be noted that the trapezium-shaped grille had two different kind of textures on either side. Long story short, it's my believe - based on my research - that the instruction has mixed up parts W7 in place of W10 and vice versa. However, this is just my take on Step 18 (see below) of the assembly process and not a definitive final word on the subject.   

Step 18: Assembly of more photo-etched grilles for the engine cooling vent covers
Step 19: Attaching grilles, more pioneer tools and miscellaneous upper hull parts

You would think I would've learned by now that being impatient during the assembly process never ends well. Ahh well. For some unfathomable reason be it a loss of concentration or a misplaced overconfidence I could quickly complete the presumably simple Step 20. After all, I only had to glue the upper hull to the lower hull. How hard could that be! To spare you the boring details, the end result was a gap of about one millimeter or so on the front glacis when there should've been none. It seems trivial but it bugged me enough that I had to fixed it using Vallejo plastic putty (see below).   

Step 20: Combining the upper and lower hulls; and using Vallejo plastic putty to fix the resulting gap

So far, almost each step of the assembly process has thrown up its own little unwanted surprise. For someone used to the quick assembly of miniature figurines, the comparatively longer drawn out affair for AFV (armored fighting vehicle) model kits is rewarding in its own masochistic way. To a modeller, the sense of accomplishment is higher before even a drop of paint has been applied. Not everyone's cup of tea granted. But I've found it to be rewarding despite the occasional setbacks. And as long as the brain keeps churning out dopamine for every completed step, the project continues!

Monday, 23 July 2018

MENG Model Sd.Kfz.182 King Tiger with Henschel Turret [WIP - Rear Hull Armor and Tracks]

With zimmerit decals already applied on the rear hull armor, next to be attached were accessory parts for the said section. From here on out, one can perhaps begin to better appreciate the details inherent in the molded parts. Based on MENG model kits I own, I've noticed that this level of detail extends to offering modellers choices of parts to use on a particular assembly step. And the choices made will be determined by a specific version of the King Tiger you're trying to build, within limits of course. In this model kit there are four variants of the German heavy tank from which to choose from.   

MENG King Tiger work-in-progress: Rear hull armor with detailed parts on top of zimmerit coating
King Tiger's exposed lower hull with its front tow hooks, rear hull armor and tracks attached

On the rear hull armor, a decision had to be made as to which the exhaust pipe cover version to use. I made my choice based on a historical photo of Tank 124 of Pz.Abt. 505 that presumably saw action in Poland during September 1944. (Actually even as early as the first step - wheel assembly - MENG had provided modellers a choice of different types of wheel hub.) Apart from historical references, I also used online references of David Parker's excellent model work of a 1/16 scale Tank 124. Steps 6 through 9 set things up for the more difficult task of putting a link-and-length track together.

Steps 06 through 08: Attaching detailed accessories on the rear hull armor
Step 09: Assembly of rear hull armor and miscellaneous bits to the lower hull

While putting on link-and-length tracks wasn't as hard as I expected it to be, it wasn't exactly a walk in the park either. The kit came with a custom jig which took the guess work out of shaping the sag on the track's upper section. Using the jig itself was straightforward enough with only one note of caution. If you're using thin plastic glue that works based on capillary action then there is a likelihood the glue may seep into the holes on the jig and glue the tracks to the jig. As long as you're looking out for such occurrences, you should be able to pry the tracks loose from the jig before the glue sets.

Step 10: Assembly of link-and-length tracks using a jig to help shape the upper sag  
Track pieces of the King Tiger range from individual links to longer sections and the jig
Upper track sag was shaped by gluing the individual pieces/sections with the jig as a guide
Once the glue dries, the track is then removed from the jig with a perfectly shaped sag
Reverse view of the sagged upper tank track clearly showing links with and without the guide horn

After the upper section of the tracks had been assembled, then came the tricky part of matching the shape of the sag to the top of the wheels. Once happy with the alignment between sag and wheels, I proceeded to wedge the tracks firmly in place on top of the wheels by using wads of tissue paper. Following this, the rest of the links as well as sections of tracks were then glued around the wheels.  

Sagged upper track was held in place by wads of tissue prior to attaching the rest of the track sections and links

Two major issues arose during the assembly of the link-and-length tracks. Firstly, the inward tilt of the wheels became more pronounced with the tracks glued on. It remains to be seen if this issue can be mitigated after painting and weathering. Secondly, engineering design of the tracks is such that  every link containing a guide horn for the wheels is separated by a plain intermediate link. However, the assembly of the track on the right side didn't go to plan resulting in two guide horn links being placed side by side (see last two photos). In my defense, more experienced modellers have encountered similar issues with both the inward tilt and the lack of an intermediate link.       

Front view of the tracks after they had been attached to the swing arms of the lower hull
Unfortunately there is a noticeably tilt inwards on both tracks, more so on the right one
Inward tilt is not as obvious when the tracks are viewed from the side
... but the tilt is still noticeable towards the back-end of the track on the right

For painting purposes, the tracks and wheels were removed as a single combined unit from the lower hull. A disadvantage of link-and-length tracks is it's almost inevitable you'll end up assembling the wheels and track together before painting them. That's not to say you can't still paint the wheel and links individually first before gluing them together but I rarely see them done that way in such cases.

After the individual track links and sections had been glued onto the road wheels ...
... both the track and wheels could then be removed as a single combined piece

But painting the track-and-wheels as a single unit will entail the modeller having to accept the fact certain parts of the wheels will be positioned in such a way that paint will never reach them. Some modellers won't condone this and fair-play to them as I used to be like that. Nowadays I'm okay with leaving certain sections of the kit unpainted, but only if they will be completely hidden from view anyway. Moreover the track and wheels of a tank tends to see significant weathering at the latter stages, which will in turn further conceal any trace of the unpainted sections.

Side of the tank tracks which faces outwards away from the lower hull
Side of the tank tracks which will be hidden from view i.e. facing the lower hull

As mentioned earlier, due either to an inherent faulty kit design or modeller error during assembly, two guide horn links ended up side by side without a flat intermediated link between them. And in a double whammy, this actually causes the tracks to tilt ever so slightly more inwards. Thankfully though, this error won't be that visible once the tracks have been painted and weathered. 

There should be an intermediate link positioned in between two guide horn links ...
... but there wasn't enough space for one on the right-sided track; possibly an assembly error on my part

So the worse for me - assembling link-and-length tracks - is over. At least I hope it is. So it's going to be pretty much smooth sailing in the King Tiger's assembly process from now on ... I think. Well, I guess I'll find out soon enough as the week's has only just begun. Carpe diem and all that jazz!

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Anime Review: Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (機動戦士ガンダム サンダーボルト Kidō Senshi Gandamu Sandāboruto)

Regardless of whether you're a fan of giant robots/mecha or not, it's inconceivable that you haven't heard of Gundam (ガンダム) before. And if you're a scale modeller, you would almost certainly have come across a Bandai Gundam kit in your local hobby store. Truth be told though, I was never a fan of this anime series. Sure I had watched the original Mobile Suit Gundam series (first shown in 1979). But I had never felt the urge to watch subsequent follow ups to the main narrative arc i.e. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985) and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (1986) although I did catch the conclusion to the said arc in the movie Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack (1988).

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt occurs in the Universal Century timeline, concurrently with the original 1979 series

So what's changed? Well, it took an unrelated movie to get me to revisit the Gundam franchise again. In Steven Spielberg's science fiction film Ready Player One, there was a cool cameo appearance by the RX-78-2 Gundam - the first ever to grace anime or 'Grandpa Gundam' if you will. It got me thinking to give the franchise another chance. As I wanted to stay in the original 1979 series's story timeline namely the One Year War of Universal Century (U.C.) 0079, yet view an anime with updated animation, I soon settled upon Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (released in 2015).

Spanning two seasons so far, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt actually only comprises four episodes per season with each episode running between 18 to 20 minutes. A theatrical compilation of the first season was released in June 2016 as Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky while the second season saw its own movie released in November of last year as Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower. While the manga of this series is still running, there has been no news of a third season being planned - none that I'm aware of anyway.

MS-06 Zaku II sniper ...
... slowly scans the Thunderbolt Sector for prey ...
... and spots an enemy RGM-79 GM in flight

So what is Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt all about? Let's start at the very beginning. In the futuristic period of U.C.0079 there is war between the Earth Federation (the faction that utilizes Gundams) and the Principality of Zeon (a space colony seeking independence). The anime series in question takes place in a specific theater of war namely the Thunderbolt Sector, a zone of space littered with debris from destroyed space colonies and in which electrical discharges frequently occur. And in this sector, two military units - Earth Federation's Moore Brotherhood and the Principality of Zeon's Living Dead Division - are engaged in combat for strategic control of the area.

Principality of Zeon sniper fires a shot off
And with the MS-06 Zaku II's aim being true ...
... yet another Earth Federation mobile suit bites the dust

At it's core the plot of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt revolves around an intense rivalry between Federation Ensign Io Fleming and Zeon Ace Sniper Daryl Lorenz. Rather than a run-of-the-mill good vs evil story structure, the characters inhabiting this little corner of the Gundam universe face many grey areas of ethical behavior that are part and parcel of being at war. In a well executed show, don't tell technique, the director managed to portray the horrors of war without being preachy about it.       

Io Fleming of the Earth Federation vs Daryl Lorenz of the Principality of Zeon

But what really attracted me to the series was how music forms a critical component of the story. One scene depicts Io Fleming furiously air drumming to the chaotic beats of an original jazz number while in another scene a pop oldie is playing soothingly from Daryl Lorenz's radio. Acoustically, it's a stark contrast between the two main characters. In addition, it serves as a clever story telling tool to distinguish between the personalities of Io Fleming and his arch-rival Daryl Lorenz. 

Io Fleming in the cockpit of his mobile suit
Music is an important part of Io Fleming's battle ritual
And jazz is music of choice playing on Io Fleming's radio receiver
Daryl Lorenz also has his own music related battle ritual
And that involves listening to pop oldies ...
... on a retro-style radio that he owns

While animation throughout the series was of the highest quality, there was one minor issue which kind of spoilt things for me. Animated characters here had 'fairly regular-sized' eyes which dovetails nicely with stories of this nature (as opposed to big-eyed characters in Sailor Moon). All characters, that is, save one in particular i.e. Claudia Peer whose eyes were so disproportionately big to the point it became an unwelcome distraction to any immersive experience the show might have offered.    

First glimpse of the Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam, a prototype piloted by Io Fleming
EFSF symbol on the Gundam's head stands for Earth Federation Space Force
Superb animation sees the digital displays on the cockpit reflect off Io Fleming's helmet

As is the case of any Gundam series, the mechas will eventually take center stage. In this respect Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt doesn't disappoint. This series has some of the most bad-ass mechas I've ever seen namely the Living Dead Division's High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku" and the Moore Brotherhood's Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam. The former has this insanely huge rocket booster attached to its back while the latter is armored with not one but four shields.

An experimental High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku" prepares for launch
Closeup of the Psycho Zaku's head and its mono-eye camera system
Daryl Lorenz in a contemplative mood inside the Pyscho Zaku's cockpit

Personally for me, the highlight of this series so far occurs towards the end of Season One (or the theatrical compilation December Sky) when both the High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku" and the Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam clash in a final epic battle.  

Principality of Zeon's High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku"
Earth Federation Space Force's Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam

In the second half (or season) of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, a new faction is introduced into the mix, i.e. The South Seas Alliance. A radical cult that emerges in the aftermath of the One Year War, this third faction capitalizes on people's post war need for guidance and religious faith. But as history shows, this is not necessarily a good thing. So cue more mayhem in the Gundam universe.

What's Gundam if not the introduction of yet another new mobile suit variant i.e. the RX-78AL Atlas
Second season of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt sees the entry of a third faction i.e. South Seas Alliance
Pyscho Zaku makes a comeback in the Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower

As an interesting side note, not only is Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt and arguably my all-time favourite anime Cowboy Beebop developed by Japanese animation studio Sunrise Inc. but they both contain main characters with more than a passing resemblance. Of course I'm referring to Cowboy Bebop's protagonist Spike Spiegel and Gundam Thunderbolt's deuteragonist Daryl Lorenz. Add that to the fact that music in both anime series are dominated by jazz, I couldn't help but wonder if someone in Sunrise had decided to do a Cowboy Beebop version of a Gundam story.      

Daryl Lorenz from Thunderbolt (above) and Spike Spiegel (below) from Cowboy Bebop

My rating for Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt is inevitably going to be influenced by the fact it bears thematic similarities to my all-time favourite anime, Cowboy Bebop. But more than that, it's the combination of cool jazz music, great animation as well as an intelligent and mature storyline which makes for a must-see anime. As for ratings Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky gets a 9/10 while Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower gets an 8/10. So overall, the series in its entirety as it stands today, after eight episodes and two theatrical releases, gets an 8.5/10.

Bandai MG 1/100 scale Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam [Gundam Thunderbolt] Ver.ka
Bandai MG 1/100 scale High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku" [Gundam Thunderbolt] Ver.ka

Inevitably for me though, it's always about the creative art projects a show can inspire, be it in the form of portrait drawing or miniature/scale model kit painting. In this regard, Mobile Suit Gundam Thuderbolt doesn't disappoint. Bandai has two 1/100 scale model kits from this series namely the Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam and the High Mobility Type Zaku II Pyscho Zaku. While I plan to kickoff my mecha projects with the RX-78-2, I must admit to being sorely tempted to start with the Pyscho Zaku instead, which is technically harder to built but relatively easier to paint. But regardless of which mecha takes center stage it's exciting times for me hobby-wise. On that note, here's wishing you a work table full of projects and the health to see them to completion!

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