Q: When is a droid not a droid?
A: When it is a mech…
The history of FASA’s Battledroid board game from 1984 is complex and convoluted to say the least. From its creation until this very day, the game has been through a number of iterations, as well as some tough legal wrangles, the story of which can be found here.
However, what matters for us is that when FASA was designing the game they hooked into an interesting development in the model scene that has not seen its like since, to take advantage of the developing fascination for Japanese animation.
Between 1983 and 1985, model shops around Europe and the US were suddenly offered massive numbers of unusual Japanese robot kits which appeared to be connected to animated films and television programming. Without a word of a lie, in these years model shops in the West were flooded with cheap kits of the most intriguing mechanical designs ever conceived.
It transpires that, in the wake of the success of the Bandai Mobile Suit line of kits (especially the MSV line) from Bandai, Japanese companies producing other Real Robot series also struck deals for model kits, fully expecting the sort of sales which Bandai/Sunrise had experienced.
Sadly this proved to be a fool’s dream, as – at least on first run – even Macross, though popular, did not have quite the power to force the market in the same way that Gundam had. Consequently, many Japanese distributors were left with large numbers of unsold models and toys, and eventually started offering large consignments to overseas buyers at almost peppercorn rates.
(This is not to say that the series involved were not popular; far from it. Rather the error seems to have been in correlating the type of fan who bought into the merch-type of Gundam with the type of fan who went with Macross, L-Gaim, or Dougram.)
Indeed, in 1984, when visiting my old summer haunt in the superb seaside town of Skegness (Brits will understand) I discovered that the usually-dour model shop in Chip Alley had gone over almost completely to selling Macross, Orguss, Southern Cross, Mospeada, and Dougram kits without understanding what they were.
I now ask all collectors of classics to bow their heads in reverence, and imagine walking into a little shop and walking out with a 1/72 Glaug, a set of character figures, and a wonderful set of ‘green goo’ looking ships. All for a few quid…
With all the modelers growing interested in these transforming mechs there were, of course, industrial types looking to exploit the matter for a few bucks. Robotech and Transformers are the best known examples of this, but FASA’s attempt deserves special mention not only for its longevity, but its pure cheek.
FASA licensed (I think… I’ll bow to the more informed, but I can find nothing to support the notion that they just ripped off the mechs in the first gen) a number of mech images (as well as 1/144 to 1/200ish scale kits) from a variety of very different series to create the first version of their now almost-ubiquitous mech fighting game.
Dougram was a clever choice for the game, as it had a number of very industrial designs available, kits already existed in roughly the right scale, and molds could acquired very easily. As a result, along with the Round-Facer, the Soltic and, others, the Dougram itself was pressed into the service of the Inner Sphere as the ‘Shadow Hawk.’
Whatever you might think of the game or the direction it went in later years, it cannot be denied that along with Robotech, it helped open the eyes of many an eager young gamer/modeler and dug much needed fertilizer into the garden of modern mechdom!
I have to be brutal out of the gate. I do not like the consistency of the styrene in this kit.
Some of it (the white) is a little on the brittle side to be sure, but not so badly formulated that careful handling cannot get around the way it splinters when cut.
However, I contend that the colors used on some of the other sprues (red and blue) have changed the nature of them in ways I have not see for years – almost unacceptably so.
The blue is so brittle and hard that poly cement hardly makes a dent in it. I ran foul of it because I like to use thinner poly, run into assembled joints and key points – which normally saves cement and minimizes potential spills (I remember the days of carefully running airfix cement right around the fuselage of an aircraft, only to find the completed joints looked like they had been bogied on by Nurgle himself). However, in this case, no matter how I did it, the ruddy stuff ran off like water.
Here, the material was just not taking the cement properly, having perhaps been granted some resistance to the nature of the chemical by the amount of additive which gives the vivid colour.
The red, on the other hand, was so soft and delicate that it would suck up huge amounts of liquid poly, then rot from the inside as all that cement went to work as intended…
Bit of a facer for poor old Robodaz…
And not a new problem, either.
When I was a teen and Bandai had first introduced System Injection at the end of the ’80s (my first such kit was the 1/144 RX 78 NT1, with its multi-colored parts) there were many such problems with the formulation of the styrene used. This was down to the fact that the compounds used to provide color would affect the properties of the material to one degree or another.
This was to be expected in a ‘new’ process, and – as all Bandai fans now know – has been improved dramatically over the years. Today, any HG, MG, PG or Re-100 kit has a consistency which can be counted upon.
Therefore, it seems to be a little bit of a step backwards to be having to wrestle with such materials.
A minor quibble to be sure, and possibly the result of a small company (for, though one of the Old Guard, Max Factory is not one of the Giants of injection modeling) having to source materials where they can.
It also gives you something of a clue as to how the rest of the review will go, as I have lead out of the box with my most worrying niggle… 😀
However, there is an answer to the cement matter which is visible on the first page of the instructions…
Perhaps I am perverted and desire to splash cement around on everything.
However, there it was in black and white: “snap fit kit.”
I cannot brain today. I haz the dumb.
Not my best moment, to be sure… Still, it does raise an interesting.
I’ve been making a good deal of modern Bandai kits, all of which are essentially snap-fit these days, and well done – even the Nightingale, the Hi Nu, and supposedly the Neo Zeong, but I’ve not worked up the courage to crack that last one yet.
However, there is a part of me that sees ‘snap fit’ and thinks back to those cheap, knock off Monogram kits of the ’80s which held together like custard and more often snapped than they did fit.
Hence the insane passion for cement…
Still, with this kit being so erratic with regard to cement, I was forced for the first time in a long while to rely on friction to do the job.
And generally the impression has been very favourable. Take the pieces directly above, for example. Molded with vents which nest into other parts so firmly that they will never come undone.
Here is a nice touch, which I was happy to see copied over from recent MG and RE-100 kits. Putting those hinges into the shoulder allows the poly-cap to swing out and makes the finished model more poseable.
That pesky ‘glue here’ circle… Go away! You are not wanted. You mock me!
Seriously, halfway through the kit and I have not needed a drop of cement.
Except on the cockpit, just to keep the pilot in place.
And here we see the pre-painted canopy in place. Not badly done at all.
Uh oh… Is that some cement, I spy?
Sadly, yes. One of the leg plates was badly molded, or warped and required some cement and banding to get the joint to sit correctly. A minor gap to be sure, though.
The level of articulation in the limbs of the kit is impressive, especially considering the scale.
With four points in the foot/ankle alone, the range of movement is very broad indeed.
It is clear that Max Factory has learned lessons from Bandai.
No paint, you see.
On this build, considering that the kit is molded as it is, I fancied having a go at seeing what could be done ‘old school’
Thus, I have just been using aromatic solvent to seal and mask joints (which I perhaps should have used as cement) and Mr. Hobby flat coat as a clear undercoat before going in to detail, wash, and highlight.
I like painting, and that cannot be denied, but I have always been fascinated by these pre-colored, semi-finished kits which are able to cross many boundaries of skill and expertise.
Go to the Bandai Gunpla World Cup and you’ll see kids working with raw plastic and Gundam markers standing shoulder to shoulder with the airbrush masters and not doing too badly.
It is quite comforting.
And, as you can see, the results of simply a spray down with matt varnish, followed by a wash, a drybrush, and some minor edging/weathering are quite good. Oh, and Gundam Markers. Got to do the panel lines with the markers! 😀
There is some paint in there, I will admit (trim, finger joints, left shoulder and so on), but other than that, it is all raw plastic just taken down using Mr. Hobby UV Cut Flat.
I’ve never been one for shiny Real Robots, though that’s just a personal thing coming from my time as a WWII armor builder. I think a mech should be flat, grim and mucky.
Mind you, I also think Super Robots should be as shiny and ピカピカ to the max… So sue me. 😉
You will also note a few glaring errors. None of them are intentional; I just messed up. The knees are especially daft, and double damning as they were one of the very few spots to which I committed cement, making it impossible to remove the ruddy things once I had realized the error.
In closing… I MUST BUY ALL THE DOUGRAM!
These are wonderful little kits which pack so much into their 1/72 frame that I can barely comprehend it.
Don’t let the pictures fool you. These ARE 1/72 scale… The detail is so crisp, fine and consistent that it might be a much bigger scale.
I love it!