Scale: 1/48

Manufacturer: Tamiya

Kit No.: 54

Price: MSRP - $32.00 (shop for mail order bargains)

Media: injection-molded plastic

Decals: tail numbers for all six that ever made it onto an I-boat.

Accuracy: They made this from the one being restored at NASM.

Overall: see review.

Review by: Thomas McKelvey Cleaver (THE AERONUT)

For those of you who, like me, are uncertain what an M6A1 Seiran is, (its involvement in the war was so peripheral it never received an Allied code name) here is a description from Donald W. Thorpe's "Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings," the definitive book on the subject so far as I am concerned:

"Two versions, the SEIRAN (Mountain Haze) and the NANZAN (Southern Mountain) were developed: the first with detachable floats and the latter with detachable landing gear. The SEIRAN is important in that although it never saw combat, it had been developed to be carried aboard submarines designed for a combat mission against the Panama Canal. In fact, this submarine task force was underway to carry out its mission when the war ended."

In the kit instructions, Tamiya says that the mission to bomb the Panama Canal was changed to bomb the Pacific Fleet base at Ulithi Atoll. Whoever made that decision was seriously stupid: most of what was needed to invade Japan that November was still coming through the Panama Canal from Europe; likely the aircraft would never have made it past the CAP to drop a total of six bombs on a hundred ships at Ulithi. Six bombs on the locks of the Panama Canal would have been a different story altogether.

Now we know what it is. How's the kit? SEIRAN is a good-looking airplane., one of the few Japanese aircraft with an in-line engine. It's reminiscent of a Schneider Cup Trophy racer in shape and altogether quite aeronautically-elegant. There is a Seiran at the Paul Garber facility of the National Air and Space Museum, and its restoration began this year. This must be the source of information to Tamiya for this model, so I assume it is entirely accurate.

So far as assembling the kit is concerned, it's Tamiya - what more needs be said? The cockpit is the best-detailed cockpit from a Japanese kit manufacturer I have yet seen. A very nice touch is that Tamiya provides a weight to be put in one of the floats, so the airplane will sit right. (I learned that secret the hard way with their Rufe; likely, so did they).

I remember that my friend Bob Richards, the West Coast King of Kit Collectors, had a Japanese 1/48 resin "garage kit" of a Seiran several years ago. Some sort of limited-run resin kit or a vacuform would have been my guess as to the only way we would ever see this airplane in kit form. But here we are, with a beautiful injection-molded kit of an airplane of which only 24 were ever produced, and only six ever made it to a combat mission: three each aboard I-400 and I-401 in August 1945, on a mission that would have had no influence whatsoever on the outcome of the war.

If Ed Maloney at Planes of Fame didn't want this for the museum's Japanese Aircraft collection, I wouldn't have touched it, to tell you the truth. When I consider that this kit is being produced when important aircraft like the Spitfire IX, a "razorback" Thunderbolt, or any version of the Hurricane - aircraft that actually had an effect both technically and tactically on history - have yet to be given the definitive touch the Japanese give to plastic models, this kit is a waste of plastic. I assume the Japanese want us to know they made good airplanes. How about an A5M4 Claude at a price normal people can afford?

Overall grade: maybe the best plastic model Tamiya has ever produced. The question is: Why?

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