Naval diorama kits from Fujimi

Fujimi has a series of interesting products in 1:3000 scale which are a great introduction to naval dioramas. Each kit depicts a Japanese naval port and includes a base with docks and buildings molded in one piece, as well as a selection of ships. Any number of diorama scenes could be created with the supplied parts.

The key benefit of these kits is the professionally designed base, which gives the novice diorama builder a good head start. Coming up with the overall design for a diorama is probably the most daunting task for the novice.

The Fujimi bases can be enhanced in a number of ways. The one piece molding of the base makes painting difficult but not beyond reach for those with lots of masking tape and patience. You’ll want to stock up on fine brushes and a good magnifying glass before detailing the tiny ships. A more ambitious upgrade would involve replacing the sea (which is molded in opaque styrene along with the rest of the base) with clear acrylic or some other material to create a more realistic water effect.

The possibilities for diorama scenes are endless. The small scale of these kits affords the possibility of creating an all-out naval battle involving several ships, without needing a model railroad sized space. The diminutive scale chosen by Fujimi was no doubt influenced by the fact that residential space is at a premium in much of Japan. For those with more space, extra ships and sea level extension panels can be bought separately.

Fujimi’s Japanese language website isn’t the easiest to navigate if you don’t speak Japanese, but their naval port kits are available through HobbyLink Japan at http://hlj.com.

-Ivar

Dioramas in film – Ronin

Ronin (1998) is a classic espionage flick featuring exotic European locales and first-rate performances from Robert De Niro and Jean Reno. It’s the only film I know of whose title is explained with a diorama. The diorama is not a special effect but an actual “character” in the movie.

When Sam (De Niro) is wounded during a mission, Vincent (Reno) takes him to the country mansion of his old acquaintance Jean-Pierre (Michael Lonsdale). After treating Sam’s wound, the kindly Jean-Pierre recounts the tale of the 47 ronin—masterless samurai—of feudal Japan who avenged their master, sacrificing themselves for his honour. We see Jean-Pierre at work in his study, putting the finishing touches on a miniature samurai figure. He then places the figure in a diorama depicting the climactic battle waged by the 47 ronin. The diorama is fairly large and features several beautifully detailed samurai figures engaged in battle.

The famous ronin displayed in the diorama are of course paralleled by Sam, Vincent, and the other mercenaries depicted in the film. Sam is portrayed as ex-CIA, and Vincent is presumably a retired agent gone freelance as well, making them both ronin of a sort. Like the ronin of old, they are masterless, but continue to devoutly follow a shared warrior code. Through Sam, we learn some of the strict rules of this code. Whenever asked to reveal vital information, his response is “I don’t remember.” When asked who his contacts are, it’s “We went to high school together.” You get the idea.

What makes the film especially satisfying is the camaraderie which develops between Sam and Vincent. Through their easy banter, we learn about the unspoken discipline which governs their world. In the final scene of the movie, the two men are having a coffee in the same café where the story began, and we hope they’ll stay friends. But the code prohibits it. So when Vincent picks up the tab and Sam says “I’ll get the next one,” we know there won’t be a “next one.” And as Vincent leaves the café and turns up his collar against the cold, we get one last glimpse into the secret code of these modern day ronin.

-Ivar

The return of the box diorama

Browsing through the Pegasus Hobbies website, I noticed something in the Featured Products section I haven’t seen in a long time: two box dioramas, one ready-made and one requiring assembly. Both dioramas are based on the film War of the Worlds and depict battles with alien “tripods,” tall, gangly invaders that fire powerful energy beams. Pegasus already offers a War Machines Attack Diorama from the same movie, but it’s not in the box diorama format.

A box diorama, as its name implies, features one or more subjects displayed in a square or rectangular box with an open front and top. The three vertical sides of the box form the background (usually printed on cardboard) and the bottom panel acts as the terrain. The box diorama’s simple shape makes it easy and inexpensive to produce, and the inclusion of background panels makes the product more appealing than a standard base-only diorama. I talked about the many advantages of box dioramas in a previous post.

What I like about these offerings from Pegasus is that they provide an accessible entry point into diorama building for modellers who have thought about making a diorama but never got around to it. They’re educational in the sense that they provide the modeller examples of how combining good design with the right number and scale of subjects creates a compelling scene. Chances are that after finishing one of the Pegasus dioramas, the budding diorama modeller will have enough experience and confidence to start building his own dioramas from scratch.

Pegasus is not the first company to offer box dioramas. The concept has been tried by various kit manufacturers, but never gained enough momentum to become a permanent fixture of the scale modelling world. Pegasus has set the price point for these products at a level which should be accessible to most hobbyists, and that should broaden their appeal. Time will tell if these two offerings gain enough traction to become heralds of a long term trend.

-Ivar