by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
I'd almost given up on ever buying any 21st Century Toys kits (even friends searching for them on my behalf while on holiday in the States had drawn a blank) when I spotted them by chance on one of my now regular on-line visits to Model Hobbies. Here they were in the UK at last - just like I'd read about! Except, hold on... the kits for sale were different to what I'd seen listed on 21st Century Toys' website:
# 22106 - Bf 109G-14
#22113 - Macchi C.205.
#22114 - A6M3 Zero Type 22
Was I curious? You bet! What else could I do? - I bought the lot!
So, what do you get? Well, the first obvious difference from conventional kits is that none of the parts are attached to sprues. The long, quite thin boxes contain most parts sealed in a strip of plastic pouches, in the style often seen in Eastern European resin kits. Added to this is a moulded clear plastic tray containing smaller details. Don't ask me why these are packed differently... they simply are.
In each kit, there's also a small packet of metal screws and spindles - because the other big difference from ordinary styrene models is that that 21st Century Toys kits are partly screw-together.
The kits are all quite simple in terms of the number of parts and are moulded pretty cleanly. There's little to worry about by way of flash or sink marks, but the surface finish can vary, with a few blemishes, mould marks and patches of roughness to take care of - plus a prominent maker's stamp that needs removing.
I'd heard previously that the kits feature "trench-style" engraved panel lines, and they really are that heavy in most cases - if they were scaled up, you could poke a finger in them, and many also have rounded edges which accentuate the slightly toy-like appearance. Of course the other thing to worry about, exterior surface-wise, is those screws - sometimes placed "helpfully" on panel lines - intended to be hidden under a plastic cap. Fabric surfaces vary from one kit to the next, but are generally rather heavily handled. Trailing edges are generally very thick, while the the Zero and Macchi also have slightly square-sectioned leading edges to the wings - but that's nothing that can't be sanded and fixed fairly easily.
Test FitThe kits were originally designed for mass-assembly as display models, so I must admit that I expected them to simply fall together. This proved not always to be the case and, while the fit is mostly very good, don't be surprised to find some quite stubborn joints and locating pins. That said, OOB they are going to be quick and simple builds, but with plenty of scope for filler where the fit is sloppy.
General overviewWell, rivet counters will probably run a mile at mere the sight of the panel lines but, if you can live with those, the kits aren't bad when viewed in basic terms:
The Bf 109G-14 measures a little small against plans published by Kagero - and obviously is rather simplified compared with Hasegawa's 1/32 scale kits - but it looks basically like a 'G-14, with cowl Beule, small wheel bulges, an Erla canopy and tall tail. The kit includes underwing cannons and a choice of drop tank or bomb for the centre-line ETC rack.
The C.205 is the disappointment of the trio. Sadly, the kit doesn't actually match the model on the boxtop, and the fuselage has simply been taken from 21st Century Toys' earlier C.202 and fitted with a new lower nose section. Thus, it lacks the C.205's more bulbous spinner and retractable tail wheel.
I don't have many detailed references for the Zero, but the kit matches the description of the Model 22 in Robert Mikesh's book "Zero Fighter", with a long cowl, standard exhausts and the short barrelled cannons fitted in early aircraft of this type.
Considering the extremely low price of the kits, they have quite a fair amount of detail, with quite decent cockpits and a multi-part radial engine for the Zero. The landing gear on each kit is designed to retract, which probably means a slightly "stilty" appearance with the gear down and the oleos uncompressed. A stand-out point in every model is a quite superb pilot figure with separate arms and head - these figures are easily the match of any I've seen much more expensive kits in this scale from the"majors".
The canopies are designed to open and the transparencies are exceptionally clear. Against this, there are some hefty locating tabs as a legacy from their quick-build display model origins and, unfortunately, some of these will be visible after assembly. On both the C.205 and Zero, the instructions indicate to attach the canopy before joining the fuselage halves, which goes against standard modelling practice, so I expect many builders will try to find a work-around to fit the parts in a more normal sequence.
Instructions and decalsThe kits are simple, but they are intended for modellers from 10 years old and upwards, so a good set of instructions is important. Happily 21st Century Toys don't disappoint and the instructions are very clearly illustrated (if rather on the large side) with colour notes in English keyed to most stages and include a very useful general guide to model building and applying decals.
The decals supplied with 21st Century Toys kits have attracted a lot of praise and there are plenty of stories of the kits being bought simply for their decal sheets (and also of the sheets miraculously growing legs and vanishing from store-bought kits...). Having finally got the chance to examine them, I can understand why - they are superb! Thin and glossy, beautifully printed in perfect register and with accurate colours.
Each of the kits is supplied with markings for three schemes:
Messerschmitt Bf 109G-14:
"White 1", 13./JG 4, Rhein-Main, Frankfurt, Germany.
"Black 10", 11./JG 5, Rhein-Main, Gossen, Norway.
"Yellow 25", III./KG(J) 55, Straubing, Germany.
The Bf 109 sheets also include a comprehensive set of stencil markings. The only downside is that no swastikas are provided. A minor mystery is a set of extra markings for a fourth aircraft - "Red 12", which aren't mentioned in the instructions and appear to be in 1/72 scale.
"Red 18", 1a Squadiglia, 1 Gruppo Caccia, flown by Maj. Adriano Visconti, May 1944, Reggio Emilia, Italy.
"Red 9", 2a Squadiglia, 1 Gruppo Caccia, early 1944, Udine, Italy.
"White 17", II./JG 77, November 1943, Lagnasco, Italy.
A6M3 Zero Type 22:
"UI-105" flown by CPO Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, 251st Air Group, Tainan, Formosa, 1943.
"7-101", Rabaul Flying Group, 1943
"168", 582 Kokutai, Kahili, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, 1943.
Conclusion21st Century Toys kits won't appeal to the out-and-out detail fanatic - but for anyone looking for big, simple - and above all, almost ridiculously cheap kits, they are excellent. Concerns over accuracy (particularly in the case of the Macchi) must be balanced against the fact that, for a fraction of the cost of other kits in this scale, you can quickly assemble an impressive model. They are ideal to encourage youngsters and newcomers to the hobby, whilst being perfect for more experienced modellers to practice on without fear of trashing an expensive kit. With some refinement you could definitely produce finished models that will belie their low price. Plus, of course, they are simply great fun! I love 'em and the wait to see them in the UK was definitely worth it.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.