Bandai M61A5 Main Battle Tank “Semovente” Phantom Element
KIT #: 0157471
PRICE: $95.99
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Greg Ewald
NOTES: The best fit of any model I have ever built

HISTORY

The Earth Federation has spread across the limited bodies of the solar system, to the moon, to some asteroids, and to some engineered compounds that can sustain human life. Unfortunately, the people back on the third rock from the sun want to take much of the products being developed by the other satellite states, and rest on their laurels (anyone see a parable here?), depending on them to deliver quite a lot of goods to the home world.

  Well, of course, you end up with a bit of revolution, in this case the Zeon Republic, who decide to take the battle to the world of Terra. Defending the Earth Fed are a hard-core group of marine-types (jarheads-and I mean absolutely no disrespect-many were in my family) who don’t take kindly to being told what to do by some snotty off-worlders !

Yeah, the newbie’s might have new Mobile Suits, originally developed to work in space for construction, and now outfitted with “lasers”,  but these tank drivers know their stuff, and with dual barreled engines of mass destruction, feel more than able to head to the battlefield and take on the walking mechs! You guessed it, they pretty much lose. I do feel bad for all of the tank crews, those MS guys can’t shoot straight for losing, but they seem to kick the rear of any tank they come across for the most part.  Rommel always said it was a matter of elevation, and the MS’s are far taller than the already overweight tanks.

The Gundam universe is a fascinating alternative timeline (at least I hope so), with some of the best combat animation around. Lots of whiny corporals and tough as leather DI’s. Those of you who have been in the military will feel right at home watching the episodes.

The Type 61 twin barreled (150mm’s) tank was the earth standard heavy tank , used for wreaking destruction on all sorts of foes. Separate elevation and ranging for each barrel meant that they were basically “land battleships”. Of course, in the Gundam universe, missiles are almost completely useless due to jamming systems, so combatants have to go head to toe with each other in combat, and the 61 was the mainstay for many a year…until the Mobile Suits arrived. Game over.

THE KIT

: (see the preview here for a brief bit: http://modelingmadness.com/reviews/misc/scifi/previews/0157471.htm

The styrene is molded in a light tan, and the figures are molded in a variety of flesh and gray. The quality of the plastic is superb, easy to cut and sand. I found no flash or sink marks in any of the castings, though the sprue injection points are rather large, so hedging shears, sharp blades, or a “laser” are necessary to remove the pieces from the main sprue.

The instructions, as noted in the preview, more resemble a well published anime book than the old newsprint stuff I am used to. Glossy paper, colour photos, and a plethora of illustrations. They remind me of the old Shep Paine/Monogram instructions in quality, even though I can not read Japanese (my fault, I should have studied harder), they are very easy to follow, and as you will see, you will want to follow them exactly!

CONSTRUCTION

With tanks, you start at the bottom and work your way up, so we begin with the under-hull, the part that makes the tank move.  The lower hull is not molded in one piece, like most tank kits, but has the tightest fitting side plates I have seen yet in a model. The two pieces go together with a satisfying “click”, sort of like sticking your knuckles from each hand together, weaver-style.

Typically, the axles and wheels are the most dreaded part of a tank build, due to the monotony of making endless sets of bogies, wheels, and struts. Bandai has definitely passed that bar, this almost falls together quickly. Watch a few re-runs or a movie, and “viola” ! you have a bottom. Wait, that sounded off, sorry. Do pay attention to the numbering of the shock struts, they are slightly different from front to back, and from side to side. Don’t rush this!

Veering off from the instructions, as is normal for me, I decided to not attach the steps and railings on the rear of the tank upper hull at this time. We can always attach them later, when they won’t be subjected to model handling that leads to carpet monster dinner.

Wheels:  Each of the wheels has a vinyl insert to hold it to the axle, which is quite nice, they fit into place snugly. Looking at the ‘toon, it seems that the desert tanks had steel wheels, so I did not do a black rubber rim. If you decide to do the urban fighting model, you may want to.  The wheels fit firmly on, and need no cement. Do, however, pay attention in step 5 to keep the front and rear sprocket wheels separate, like I didn’t. It will lead to much confusion ! (I did finally get it figured out)

Tracks:  Interesting job on these, possibly the first vinyl tracks I have ever liked on a tank model. Each track is made of two segments, held together by metal pins, and extremely well detailed. With the rear sprocket wheel on, you manipulate the front into the grooves of the track, and simply slide it onto the front mounting axle. Ingenious. I did, of course, do my standard paint job on the tracks prior to mounting (see below).

The Hull:   Getting the massive hull parts together is a bit of a chore, and hopefully, you haven’t glued on all the little do-dads yet, because it will require some elbow grease. Hint: put a little bit of lubricant on the mounting pegs, mineral oil works fine.  The clear parts for the driver’s bay fit in snugly, if you want them anything but clear, paint prior to snapping the part in. I usually test fit clear parts, but in this case it was to my undoing, as once these things are in place, good luck trying to get them out. There is a finality to the “click” of this kit that can not be persuaded to be undone, no matter how much lube you have used. Hmmm.

The hatches of the upper hull are pose-able, and if you are so inclined, the instructions include a plethora of illustrations of the interior. This kit would be a super-detailers dream !  I painted the upper engine intakes chrome silver, then fastened on the mantlet covers for them.  The lights have covers too, you can have them up or down…my attitude is down, as I want to show off as much stuff as is possible.

The engine exhausts, parts I 1 and 2, were painted a dark flat gray before being assembled into the rear housing and mounted on the deck. I’ve always felt that painting tank parts separately makes for a more interesting model, rather than another amorphous blob of olive drab or khaki.

If you are not going to add on the side armor in step 13, there a bunch of shovels, picks, and things used for digging you can glom on. I would imagine for quick latrines, because digging out this tank would be pointless. A squad of fifteen couldn’t make it hull-down in a day. I think a thunder-bucket would be a better addition to the tank’s side supplies.

Personally, adding on more armor to a tank is a given, so of course I built the panels to be attached. I did paint them slightly off from the main hull colour, so they looked like they were field applied. And, I wanted to. There are also foot steps that you can pose up (boring) or down (yes!) on each side. The only plus to this would have been if they were photo-etched also, like the bits on the turret. The upper front mantlets cover all of the stuff on the nose of the tank, once again, if you have a roto-tool and the will, there is a ton of room for detailing.

Tow Cables:  I only had one in my box, but that was o.k. Using some steel picture hanging wire, and the measurement chart so thoughtfully placed in the instructions, I made my own. I don’t know how realistically useful these would be on a real tank, this thing would outweigh the Maus.

The Turret:  May I wax poetic for a moment? My oh my, this is really something else, almost another kit in and of itself !

Follow the instructions very carefully however (and take note, because you know how little I usually do), the assembly sequence for the turret is quite precise. I can’t believe I am saying this.

I used a roll of masking tape as a mounting jig for the turret during construction, once you sand off those pesky mounting tabs, it fits right in. (You know, the tabs that hold the turret to the hull- trust me, you won’t need them, gravity will work just fine)  I painted the entire interior of the turret a dirty white, to get rid of the blah’s, and then began assembly of the unit. I did pick out the commander’s chair with some olive drab and tan. Once again, there are a number of lovely illustrations of the tank turret interior for those of you moved to go nuts. The barrel mantlet/receivers of the twin 150’s slip nicely into place, I checked them, then removed them again until the final stages. This is my only beef with the kit, I think aluminium barrels with plastic add-ons would have been better, but a little bit of scraping and sanding…hey, not much sweat.

The rear of the turret has a catwalk ( I did say this was a large tank, right?), made of several styrene bits and some photo etch grating. I tried assembling it two ways:

My way: glue the main bits separate from the turret, and then attach the PE.  Attempt to mate this to the hull turret.  WRONG

Their way: glue the styrene bits onto the turret, and then add the PE. RIGHT. Dang people at Bandai really know their stuff. I guess I will have to start paying attention to directions.

The rest of the railings fit into place in a rather irritatingly fashion, that is, perfectly smooth. The ladder that goes at the rear can be placed in a folded or unfolded position, though I think an able lad would be agile enough to jump from the deck to the hatch when faced by an oncoming Mobile Suit.

The lights and cupola rings fit in snugly, I am being spoiled by this model. The same thing goes for the clear commander’s ring as did the driver’s…if you want it anything else but clear, paint it first.

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em !  The smoke discharger tubes are wonderful, and incorporate PE chains, though the location is a little dubious for the metal. I hit mine with some CA glue onto the tube bases, and let them dry for an hour or so, then bent the chains up to meet the tube tops. Hit that with some glue, let it dry, then use your trusty silver Sharpie marker to highlight. Very, very, very convincing.  

Machine guns:  What is a huge tank without some .50 cals? O.K. , this one has two machine guns that are easily assembled, in fact, the breech top is molded separately on the commander’s gun if you want to pose it open. Again, the parts seem to almost fall together with a sound “click”.

The Big Barrels: The reason you have a tank is to haul some serious ammo, and this one does it double time!  The barrel halves fit together nicely, and only required a bit of psr to make them smooth. The fit into the receiving slots is amazingly tight, but easy enough to do with a bit of oil and a firm grip. Get your mind out of the gutter.

There are two different holding jacks for the main guns, ostensibly the “hull down” for in transit, and the “free willy” for when you are in a gunfight. A tank without a moveable turret is like a dull Sunday morning to me, so this particular beast is free, loose, and full of juice ! This means I used the lowered gun jacks for those of you not used to my diatribe.

The ends with the flared out bits snap on satisfyingly , and definitely add a certain “pizzaz” to the barrels. I gather it is some sort of uber-modern anti-backlash thingy-mo-bob. (who cares, it looks really cool)

The turret has two antennae, but only the stubs are included with the kit, so I just lit a candle, and stretched some sprue, leaving the base end fairly thick so I could trim it to fit. If you want a curved job, hold the section (after it has cooled down of course) in one hand, and apply pressure with your thumb to the side you want swept back, and pull quickly  while pinching. The thin sprue will bend towards the most pressure.

COLORS & MARKINGS

Painting and Markings:  As with most of my tank models, I like to begin by painting all of the sprues flat black from the get go. During the assembly, I use a double action Badger to fade in the olive drab and light tan, working from a center point out towards the edges. I suppose you could use a black tint to make the lines, but this is far easier ( a tip from IPMS Stockholm).   It is really quite easy to do, just don’t try to apply much paint all at once. Spray a bit, then go watch a vid or something. If you are health conscious, jog around the block. Then come back and lightly hit it again. Repeat this step over and over until it looks like you want it to.

I used pastels to weather the panels a bit, but didn’t go too heavy, sometimes it is better to leave well enough alone

Decals:  The markings are for three vehicles, two of the desert battalion, and one of the more urban brigade.  I chose the second of the desert tanks, number 142. The decals are super thin, and settle well with just a touch of solvent, but be careful, I destroyed one of the markings by using too much!

I did hear a comment about this tank being somewhat of a “super merkava”, and I have to agree, even the markings are similar to the Israeli tanks being used today, with the Delta markings and all.  It certainly does lend itself to the idea of an open area conflict.

I did find that they silvered after drying, but a few coats of a clear satin knocked that down a bit. Using a floor finish works wonders, and though I have used Future in the past, I have become a fanatic supporter of Jasco acrylic satin clear finish. You can pick this up in any good flooring or hardware store. Those of you in Europe may want to check into the fine Swedish wood floor finishes such as Bona.  It sprays without thinning, and has a luster that is just perfect.

Tracks:  I painted the vinyl tracks matte silver using a rattlecan enamel, and set them aside to dry for a night. A light sprinkling of salt after being spritzed with water, and a light coat of Krylon almond enamel spray ( I use the stuff made for appliances as it holds up to abuse) was applied. Let this dry once again overnight, then lightly scrub off the salt.  Wet brush with a decent wood stain, I still like Minwax “cedar”, and buff a bit. Hey now, we have worn tracks !

I used rattlecan metal colours for the gun barrels and what-not, I like the automotive Krylon series because they are buffable. Of course, one could use any of the metal finishes available on the market, my personal favourite is Testor’s metalizer, but the others are creeping into my paint stash.

I always like to hit the ends of the interior of the barrels with a silver Sharpie marker lightly, though you could use a silver pencil too. I like that little bit of extra “worn-ness”.

Figures:  Three figures are included, the driver,  a tank commander, and a one-eyed psycho in a beret. Why do they always have the left eye with a patch? The only thing I can figure out is that most actors are right eye oriented, so they have to blind out the left…wait a minute, this is a cartoon. Hmmm.

Yes, the figures are as well molded as any I have seen, including resin pops. The Psycho-cyclops does need some filler on the left arm, but that is about it.  Interestingly enough, Bandai molded the parts in different colours on the same sprue, similar to a snap-tite kit.  This does give you the luxury of painting the different body parts prior to assembly, saving a lot of touch up work.

Full colour profiles are in the instructions for each figure, yeah, you guessed it…hey, how about khaki? There are several little fiddly bits to be attached to each one, the commander gets earphones, the other guys get an assortment of hand guns and things that look like pacemakers. Universal Sol…wait a minute. I did add a piece of foil to replicate the earphone band on top of the beret, using a thin bit of sparkling wine stuff I had in the spares drawer, for some odd reason, it is much thicker than regular wine bottle foil, and suitable for 1/48th-1/35th application. Pressure, I suppose.

Since I wasn’t building the 144 tank, I left off the Piratical figure, the commander serves to give a sense of scale to the vehicle. I can’t imagine being the gunner in this beast, two 150’s going off less than a meter above your head must be quite something!  Hence, the hatch was left shut.

CONCLUSIONS

 I have built a lot of models. Thousands perhaps. This one would stand out in the top ten for sure. Yep, it is very expensive. If it had aluminium barrels it would be perfect, but it is 99.9 % there as is.

If you are into super-detailing, this kit is worth it’s weight in Troy ounces, seriously. The amount of information given to you in the instructions is easily enough for you to really go to town and make a complete interior, I am sure there will be some aftermarket items heading down the pike in those regards also.

I guess I can’t say enough about how much this kit was a pleasure to build, it really stands out in the realm of scale models as one of the best ever. Thanks to Hobby Link Japan for sending me this beauty!

REFERENCES

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki /Type_61_Tank#Type_61_Tank

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gundam_-_The_08th_MS_Team

Sources:

HobbyLink Japan: http://www.hlj.com/

 Bona Finishes: http://www.mybonahome.com/Home.aspx

Greg Ewald

April 2009

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