This Japanese design started in 1939 for the Imperial Japanese Navy. The first prototype was designated J2M1, and it took flight in March, 1942. Prior to this maiden flight, the Japanese were well under way to engulfing all of the Pacific countries and had brought the United States into the war. Engine difficulties plagued the aircraft from the start of production in December 1942 with the J2M2 Model 11. 131 were built and deployed to pilots in December, 1943. Many of these were taken off the line were sent backl for testing as engine difficulties became severe in the field. This led to development of the J2M3 Model 21 (307 built) that reflected changes to the armament design. The machine guns were scratched, giving way to two 20mm cannons and two short-barrel cannons in the wings. By the time these were deployed to pilots in February 1944, Japan was fighting for survival one island at a time in the Pacific Theater. The aircraft never met its high expectations. It had an inadequate supercharger flying against the US B-29s at high altitude, and it was not maneuverable against US fighter aircraft. You can view the only existing J2M3 in the world today at the Planes of Fame air museum in Chino, California.
When this J2M3 Hasegawa kit was released, I went to my computerized model inventory list to find I had two old Revell 1/32 scale kits. I pulled out one for comparison. The Revell kit was a nice model for its time, with recessed panel lines but a very sparse cockpit, that can’t compare to the new generation of detailed models produced today.
This Hasegawa release is a blessing to the 1/32 scale modelers. There are extra parts and somewhat confusing instructions from section 7 through 14 that indicate build choices for a  or , but not committing to using either one. Look at the instructions inside the back pages of the profiles and you will find a  and . Maybe there is a connection here. Back in the 1970s, I was purchasing Japanese KoKuFan publications on individual aircraft. They were similar to the Squadron books published today, but in a smaller book format, all in Japanese script. According to this book, this model can be built as a J2M2 if you do not plug up the cowling machine gun ports in step 10, use the structure brace  in step 14, eliminate the short barrel cannon in the wings, and use the standard prop in step 9.
But this kit is about the J2M3 and that’s what I focused on. The cockpit was a kit in itself, with thirty-four parts. The instrument panel was very nicely detailed, tempting me to dry brush the instruments, but the four decals supplied looked nice. I decided to apply them to see if they would match up to the raised instrument panel dials and they did. Solvaset had to be used, since the decals were thick and had to sink into the raised dials. Both cockpit walls and instrument panel were completed separately. The floor, seat, and back deck were completed as a subassembly. All were then weathered with a dark wash before assembly and mounting to the fuselage. I added Eduard’s Japanese seat belts.
Wow, the kit comes with a two-headed pilot! Well, it does, but the heads are separate – one with and one without the mask on his face. There is also a choice of a right arm resting on his lap or saluting before takeoff. The pilot detail is extremely nice, but again, if you use the pilot with his parachute attached, you leave out the padded seat. Since I was going to detail the cockpit to show it off, I left out the pilot. I have to say that the pilot detail is some of the very best I have seen. He will not be wasted. I’ll reassign him to another J2M aircraft.
Moving along, this Raiden has structure supports like bulkheads in the fuselage and spars in the wings. I wasn’t sure if the purpose was to help align the fuselage and wing halves together or stiffening to avoid finger pressure when gluing. Whichever the case, it helped with both. Hint: use a little tube glue – yes, I said tube glue – on all of the fuselage bulkheads on one side. Put the fuselage halves together without any glue and rubber band it. This will give you time to make sure the bulkheads will align while you ensure the seams match. Let the tube glue cure for a while.
There are wing machine gun access doors to insert onto a solid inner surface. As mentioned before, I had a Revell kit that included low profile wing machine guns, whereas this kit did not. I decided to cut out the solid inner surface and install the MGs. The machine gun barrel tips have a slight dimple but not deep enough, so I drilled into the barrels further.
As usual, lining up the complete wing assembly to the fuselage had to be test fitted several times to trim away bits of inner plastic hit points to get a good fit. But when you get it right, it fits nice and snug in the wing roots. The stabilizers fit perfectly but, before you attach them, there is a dimple on both sides of the fuselage under the rudder. You need to fill them in smoothly.
Since I was building the high performance aircraft, I used the associated prop and drop tank. The KoKuFan book has a picture of a pilot and an air squadron of J2M3s with drop tanks attached before a mission, so I built my model with it on.
I apply the delicate and fragile parts at the end so I can flip and grasp the model like in a wrestling ring. The instructions indicate the wing long barrel machine guns to be elevated four degrees outward from the wing root. If you are a fan of the TV show “Big Bang Theory” and are like the actors, I expect you will find a way to use a protractor for accuracy. Four degrees is so very slight for such a short piece and probably not noticeable. Just don’t overcompensate.
The engine is very nice but not necessary to paint, once in place and with the cowling covering it. I painted mine for the purpose of this review. Without glue, test fit the engine funnel assembly, the engine assembly, and cowling in place on the fuselage. My cowling was pushed away from the fuselage due to the buildup of parts inside it. A little trimming may be required for a good fit.
Japanese Navy aircraft areas such as wheel wells and inside doors were finished with a metallic blue translucent glaze. To represent this, I used flat aluminum, very thinned down metallic blue, then a dark wash for wear. I used Testors Japanese Grey paint for the aircraft underside and Japanese Navy Green for the upper surfaces. The wing leading edge yellow is a mix of yellow and a few drops of mango. Not real fruit juices, but a color mango, difficult to find.
I decided not to use any aftermarket decals. Kit decals were applied with heavy doses of Solvaset to soften them up. Once dried, a dark wash was used to enhance the recessed details, then an airbrushed light Mud color for a dust effect. I may do a little more weathering on it later.
Hasegawa has not focused most of their kits on separate ailerons, moving parts, or open hatches. If so, I’m sure the prices would be way higher, but they do produce fantastic detail that makes for impressive overall kits. I highly recommend this to your build collection.
Thanks to Hasegawa and Hobbico for the kit and IPMS/USA for the opportunity to review it.