<CENTER>KOTOBUKIYA: JAPANESE CRAFTMANSHIP AT ITS BEST</CENTER> <CENTER> By Ishi Tib</CENTER> Originally a simple retail hobby shop, the Japanese model maker Kotobukiya has grown quickly, becoming one of Japan's main garage kit manufacturers and ranking high in popularity amongst Star Wars collectors worldwide. After Lucasfilm gave the maker the license to carry on with the manufacturing of 1/7 scale soft vinyl/snap fit kits based on the Star Wars films, Koto has been putting out an incredible line which has already awaken the attention of model builders and fans alike. Exclusive only to Japan at this time, the kits can be purchased through several online retailers anywhere in the vicinity of $90 to $150.00. Rumors circulate the figures will be brought to the U.S and sold here; a deal to do so seems to be on the works. This would be well received, since their price and shipping charges will be expected to drop. Consider Kotobukiya to be the cream of the cream, the Marmit of 12" scale model kits. The attention to detail is extreme, the poses are superb and the casting surely assures long lasting quality. Keep in mind, though, these are soft vinyl statues and therefore lack articulation; despite their zero movement though, these are fantastic centerpieces, focal points, assets to anyone's collection. <CENTER>ASSEMBLY</CENTER> Minor assembly is required while putting one of these kits together; usually no more than 8 steps. Best of all they are all offered pre-painted, so those lacking an ability with a brush or air brush will have nothing to fear. There is also no need for glue; the kits are designed to neatly and easily "snap fit," assuring the pieces will remain firmly attached to each other and showing a seamless look once the building is completed. <CENTER>DISPLAY BASE</CENTER> A textured, sturdy base, big enough to balance the weight of the figure, is included with every kit. Two foot pegs protrude from the base, allowing for a secure connection to the peg holes under the figure's feet. The design of every base relates to a piece of the environment the given figure was seen in within the film. We'll take a look at two of them: Clonetrooper's Base: Offers a sand-like texture with terrain irregularities capturing the Arena battle; Although the color of the base is a bit too dark, it definitely adds reality to the overall view of the kit. Some effort is required while attaching the feet of the Clone to the base, thus creating a very tight fit; but once hooked on to it, you know the kit will remain in place. Darth Vader's Base: It is taken right off the movie scene in the Carbonite chamber; grooves and designs of the platform are cut outs and truly authentic. A clear yellowish acrylic piece has been attached under the base, allowing for light to sip through, should one decides to place the kit on a lit column; a fantastic look when properly executed. <CENTER>KITS MATERIALS AND PACKAGE</CENTER> I was surprised by the sturdiness of the materials used on the casting of the kits. Despite the so called term "soft plastic kits," they are in fact made of very strong plastic (PVC) giving the figures a good amount of weight. I had a chance to build both kits, Vader and the Clonetrooper. The Clone is definitely manufactured using solid plastic materials. No soft pieces are found other than his blaster and even this piece is not remotely as soft as one might think. He is one solid dynamically posed figure. Vader on the other hand does have some soft plastic pieces. For instance his cape which, by the way, measures 18" from tip to tip and 11" from top to bottom, is constructed of soft plastic but rigid enough to keep its shape. The head/helmet and torso of the figure seem to be hollow but again, the plastic is sturdy and flexible enough to allow for the attachment of the extremities without going out of shape nor breaking. The kits come packed in strong four window boxes allowing for easy viewing from different angles. The windows have been placed on each side of the box, top and front. Inside the box, the parts are "trayed" and placed separately from the base and in Vader's case, his cape has been "blistered" by itself, protecting it and thus creating a huge package as well. <CENTER>BODY PARTS AND BUILDING TIME </CENTER> Not too many. Again, those lacking an ability to build kits, have not to worry. Torso, legs, arms, head, base and sabers' blades are basically all the parts you will find within every kit to be assembled. There are no halves to these parts, just protruding pieces at their point of entry to the torso; in other words, an arm is just one complete piece, with no front and back to put together. Without a doubt, the Clonetrooper kit can be assembled within 5 minutes. All the pieces went in as easy as 1, 2, 3 without a single problem. There are 7 Clone parts inside: base, legs (one piece), torso, left arm and hand, right arm no hand, blaster rifle with molded on right hand, and head. While the clone was easy, Vader's kit became sort of a hassle and took a little longer to put together, giving me a sore thumb after several minutes of trying. This was caused by the fact the connecting peg under the head was slightly larger than the corresponding opening provided for the insertion at the torso. But this can be corrected by shaving off some of the excess plastic. The figure also presented a bit of a problem holding the cape with the left hand as it is intended. Since the cape was a bit too long, its bottom rubbed against the base, pushing it away from the holding hand. Several tries, moving the cape around, were needed until finally the cape remained within the hand's grip. Other than these two problems, everything else was fine and building time took around twenty minutes. There are 7 parts you will find inside: base, legs with attached skirt and torso, left arm and hand, right arm with hand holding saber's hilt, saber's blade, cape and helmet/head.