Aurora has never been considered in the same league as Tamiya, but some of their 1/48 armor produced in the 1960’s is as good, if not better, than Tamiya’s offerings of that era. Whereas their PzKfw V Panther, PzKfw VI Tiger II, IS-3 (T-10?) Stalin and M-46 Patton are considered toys in need of complete rebuilding, Aurora’s Japanese Medium Tank, the Type 97 Chi-Ha, is one of the better kits. Your reviewer offers photographs and defers to Imperial Japanese armor experts as to the accuracy of shape and details.
Aurora issued this model in three main phases–the sturdy original long box and square box (both with dramatic box art), and the 1970's small box featuring a photo of the built model.
The kit is built with one hundred eleven parts (one hundred fifteen including the four figures) of hard dark olive styrene and a pair of vinyl rubberband tracks. Seventy-four of these parts are the bogies, drive sprockets, return rollers and idlers! The parts are molded sharp but suffer from mold and ejector marks, some slight sinkholes, and some flash.
There is no texturing to the armor plating. No attempt to simulate any weld seams. The armor segments are molded recessed while the rivets are raised. The seesaw-type suspension system is molded on. Fine grab handles are molded on the engine access panels. The cooling louvers are molded solid. Some basic straps are molded onto the storage lockers. There is hinge detail for access hatches but none for the turret hatches; they open and close via hideous snap-tight fittings. The 47 mm gun muzzle needs to be hollowed out. The radio antenna is horribly oversized.
The vehicle scales just three inches longer than the prototype. The figures are inconsistently scaled and are marred with mold marks. Their detail quality is pictured for you to judge. The two Arisaka rifles appear too short.
Finally, the late 1960’s square-box releases of Aurora’s kits were shaped to accommodate a vacuform terrain display base. For ideas of what can be done with the vacuform base take a look Here
Decals and Painting
Aurora included markings for three tanks, two of the Imperial Japanese Army, one of the Imperial Japanese Navy. No unit identity is suggested. The ‘license plate’ is the same, while the hull and turret markings differ. Three camouflage schemes are described: overall olive, olive with patches of dark green and brown, and olive and brown with khaki-yellow bands. No paint brands are referenced.
Three easy-to-follow illustrated steps, with one subassembly, leads the modeler through construction and to the painting and decaling phase.
Aurora was one of the pioneers of plastic modeling. Their large series of standardized 1/48 models of aircraft and armor evolved from toy-models, to models as prototypes in miniature that we expect today. Some of their molds were acquired and reissued by other companies. Monogram’s 1/48 F-111, A-7, Fokker D.VII, Sopwith Camel and Se-5a are Aurora models. It was reported that Monogram bought the lion’s share of the Aurora tooling but that most was destroyed in a train wreck in the late1970’s.
These models are easy to find. Depending on the issue and box, prices vary dramatically. The reviewer submits photos of a built Chi-Ha for your deliberation. For those with a critical eye and detail references, this model can certainly be improved.