Monday, November 1

Construction Review: Soujou Combined Fleet Space Submarine I-401 from Suyata

Will Vale is a great modeller who loves space and Sci-fi models. So this "Soujou Combined Fleet Space Submarine I-401" from Suyata is right up his milky way! He has built, painted & weathered the kit to a great standard in today's article, a great tutorial for any modeller...

Soujou Combined Fleet Space Submarine I-401
By Suyata
1/700th scale (approximately 18cm long)
Type: Polystyrene, and waterslide decals multimedia Kit
Price: $14.36 USD from Hobbylink Japan
Many years ago, I bought Tamiya’s lovely kit 89776-5800 of the Japanese Navy’s I-400 long-range carrier submarine, and the reading and background research this prompted made me fascinated by the whole concept of the submarine aircraft carrier.

Somewhat more recently, I discovered Space Battleship Yamato, initially through Bandai’s range of SBY 2199 kits, and later through the live-action Japanese movie and the 2199 animé series. Known as "Starblazers" in the US, "Space Battleship Yamato" is a mix of adventure and naval warfare in space.
Coming right up to date, earlier this year I found out Suyata were to release a pair of “space submarines” in their 1/700 scale Space Rengo Kantai line as a companion to their space battleship kits. Kit SRK-003 is a mine-laying configuration, with dangling robot arms for precise placement of space mines, and kit SRK-004 replaces the arms with external armour plating made from asteroids.

You can probably understand how this felt like a culmination of my earlier fascinations and I was delighted to get a chance to build and review SRK-004. Before we get into that I should confess that I still haven’t started my Tamiya I-400, although I did almost finish a model of the Surcouf, a French submarine carrying a spotter Besson floatplane in a small hangar. But I digress.

What’s in the box
The kit comes in a small end-opening box with excellent pastel-toned box art showing the sub launching a camouflaged torpedo. 
The back of the box lays out all the sub’s fictional features in Chinese, Japanese and English, and amusingly many elements of the text are redacted for security reasons!
The IJN influence on Suyata’s design is clear from the model numbers – the minelayer is I-400, and the armoured version I-401. The kit designer is listed as Newton, and while the subs have a hint of the style of Leiji Matsumoto (designer of Space Battleship Yamato) about them, it’s not too much. Suyata are creating their own take on the “IJN in space” concept, with lots of strongly curved hull shapes and an almost organic look from the twisty pipes and cables.

I was pleased to see that the designer’s name isn’t moulded onto this model – I wasn’t a fan of that on the battleships. I can see that it’s a nice touch, but the text “NEWTON’S WORK” is a bit distracting and could have been provided as a decal to allow the modeller to choose.
Hull parts are moulded in dark grey, with one sprue of superstructure parts and two hull halves. Two sprues of details are provided in black. 
The meteor armour and its support frames are on a separate dark grey sprue, it looks like this is the only difference between the two versions. The kit also includes four poly-caps (of which more later) and a small decal sheet with Chinese characters.
There’s also a clear stand in two pieces to support the finished model, including pegs to allow the space mines to be deployed mid-drop.
The sprues are bagged separately to keep them from scratching each other, and the plastic is a tiny bit soft. The overall impression of size, parts and price is quite like one of Bandai’s larger Mecha Collection kits. Like other Suyata kits, the instruction manual has clear CAD-derived drawings and is themed for the model rather than following a house style, which is neat.

This is a traditional glue kit rather than a snap-together model, which in my opinion is a good thing. Snap kits are easy to build and tend to have a good parts breakdown for painting, but they can also make it hard to cleanly deal with seam lines, and the joints put stress on the plastic.

With the relatively small number of parts, construction took a couple of evenings. I used Tamiya Extra-thin Quick for most joins and a little super glue mixed with talc to fill a few seams after construction. I took particular care to close up the engine housing and get perfectly smooth curves on all sides.

During assembly, you need to install the poly-caps in the hull halves and then seal them in place with parts C9. I found the locating tabs on these parts were tight and trimmed them off, relying on glue to keep them in place. I also didn’t paint the catapult bay/hangar lift or mine bay before installing them, but you could definitely do that. There is a decal to apply to the hangar lift, but I found it easy to drop that in place from the outside later when I applied the other decals.

I left off the deck guns and hoses from the bow and engine parts to be painted separately later. The deck guns are a good keyed fit, as are the engine hoses. The bow hoses are less securely located and might be better installed during construction and painted with a brush.

The conning tower and hangar is constructed from two halves plus a roof and fits nicely onto the assembled hull. Since the fit was good, I left it off to make painting easier. I did attach the hangar doors (which are supplied open or closed) to the hangar since it allowed me to get the joint tidy.

The instructions would have you install the rear deck B14 along with the engine, but you can install B14 to the hull and still clip the assembled engine into place, which let me leave that whole section separate for painting. Without the engine as a location aid, take care to get B14 exactly in place if you follow this route.

I did encounter one problem with construction – partly of my own making. The meteor armour fits onto “metal” frames, which are glued to posts. These are supposed to slot into the prepared poly-caps, allowing them to be fitted after painting. When I fitted the posts they felt a bit tight, and I heard a pop as one of the poly cap retainers detached inside the model. With no way to retrieve it, I opted to glue the posts and armour frames in place permanently.
If I’d test-fitted the armour before closing the hull I could have avoided this by trimming down the pegs. It’s not a big problem for this design but I would check if you build the minelayer version, where the poly-caps are important for articulating the arms.

I also realised belatedly that I’ve got the armour posts the wrong way around – I built the armour so it’s parallel with the hull, but it should be a bit wider at the back. So take care when removing and fitting parts F4-F7! It looked “right” parallel with just the frames, but probably would look better as designed with the armour fitted.

The meteor amour parts have totally flat rear faces, so I built them up with Milliput to give thicker rounded edges, leaving recesses on the rear sides to clip the framing into. Once it had dried hard, I sharpened the rock detail I’d sculpted with additional carving, sanded everything smooth, and sealed the edges with CA to prevent the Milliput cracking away from the plastic parts later.
With everything assembled, I primed the hull and rock parts in Alclad grey filler-primer, and the mechanical parts in black. A little Tamiya levelling lacquer thinner helped keep the primer smooth, and I sanded back any imperfections and touched them up in the usual way.
I airbrushed Tamiya LP-27 German Grey over the hull, and LP-25 JGSDF Brown over the armour and torpedoes. I wanted a clear cold/warm separation between the rock parts and the ship, and the cool dark grey really helped with this. I considered a splinter or dazzle camouflage but decided it would be more masking than I really wanted, and there’s already quite a bit of visual interest for a small model.
To add variation to the monotone paint, I build up highlights on the grey with heavily thinned XF-77 Sasebo Arsenal Grey and XF-23 Light Blue. Similarly, the rocks were highlighted with XF-59 Desert Yellow. I added further heavily thinned layers of X-23 Clear Blue to the hull, with shading in X-19 Clear Smoke. To unify the lighting, I sprayed both the rocks and the hull from below with thinned X-25 Clear Green.
With the basic colours sealed by the clear layer, it was time to pay the price for my unorthodox construction – masking! Masking the openings for the catapult and mine bay was easy, masking the armour frames took a bit more work, and more tape. Because I was going to be applying Alclad I made sure to cover every surface, using cling film to save tape away from the borders, as the overspray gets everywhere.
I sprayed a couple of coats of Alclad Steel into the apertures and around the frames and posts and removed all the masking. While I had the metallic paint in the airbrush, I also painted the engine. The framework is steel, but for the round housing, I used a graduated blend from Alclad Jet Exhaust to Alclad Copper, with a tiny hint of Pale Burnt Metal. I shaded over the transition with Hotmetal Violet to create a heat-damaged effect.
With basic paint colours complete, I applied the kit decals. I couldn’t find placement information for the decals in the instructions so copied them from the box artwork. The bow numbers are composed of separate characters, so they need careful attention. According to Google Translate, I have got them in the right order for “401”, and the large decal at the rear apparently reads “INCREDIBLE”.

To break up the grey, I added a red stripe across the rear deck from a Bandai sheet, stars to the conning tower sides, and a small warning stencil across the front of the catapult bay.
The kit decals have a matt surface, so I took care to pierce any bubbles with a scalpel and applied first Microsol and then Tamiya Mark Fit Strong to settle them into place. When dry I sprayed a thin coat of X-22 Clear with a little Clear Blue and Sasebo Arsenal Grey mixed in to seal them and dull the bright white lettering.

Weathering and detailing
The trick with small scale models is to try and keep the weathering delicate. There’s still a lot you can do, but sharp elements like chips and scratches should be kept very fine or omitted entirely to sell the illusion of size. I started with the basics, shading all the panel lines and around features with Tamiya Black Panel Accent Colour, and adding variation with Brown. Any tide marks or excess colour I blended away with a brush dampened with Winsor & Newton Sansodor thinner.
While the enamel was drying, I weathered the rock parts with Citadel acrylics. I gave them an all-over wash with Agrax Earthshade and deepened the shadows with Black Templar. The upper parts were sponged Baneblade Brown, and the lower Skavenblight Dinge (a neutral dark grey) to kill some of the green shading.

I finished by dry-brushing with Corax White (an off-white) and finally pure white acrylic ink on the high points.
I used more Citadel paints to detail the submarine, painting the interior of the hangar and doors Sotek Green and adding fine edge highlights plus some trompe l’oeil detailing like doors and hazard stripes which are sadly almost impossible to see on the finished model. “Illuminated” details like the landing lights, bridge windows were picked out with appropriate colours and then glazed around with very thin mixtures of Contrast paint applied into still-wet medium to show the light glow.

I shouldn’t forget the spotter plane, which was sprayed with Gunze 4BO Green and then brush painted with more Citadel paints, including the markings! It is extremely small and took a steady hand and a fair bit of touching up.
I weathered the metallic areas with a drybrush of ScaleColor Heavy Metal and painted various details. To age the engine housing, I sponged it with Citadel Wyldwood and dry-brushed a little gold onto the trailing edge. The pipes were dry-brushed Skavenblight Dinge and a little Celestra Grey over black primer.
I also carefully dry-brushed areas of the sub hull with Citadel Celestra Grey and White, to pick out the sharpest edges and details, before attaching the various loose parts with CA and sealing the entire hull with two coats of Testors Dullcote. I left the engine and catapult to attach after varnishing to avoid dulling their metallic finishes. Clipping the engine into place was a bit scary but it does fit! I didn’t forget to add the two engine braces (parts D13) once it was installed.

Final touches
With everything together, I thought the hull was still too clean, so sponged tiny chips with thinned Skavenblight Dinge to break up the colour a little. I blended blotchy white enamel into the upper surfaces, dark and light rust on the decks and mechanical recesses, and dark green to create shadows and streaks. Working on the matt surface made it very easy to create soft effects, and any slight sheen remaining after the thinner dries can be blended gently away with a cotton bud.

I finished by buffing graphite powder onto the deck guns, black soot pigment behind the engine, and applying a little X-22 Clear to the cockpit of the spotter plane.

With that done I placed the model on the stand, which being clear was very easy to edit out in the accompanying photographs. For display in the cabinet, I might make a black stand to match my other spacecraft.
I like this model a lot, it sits perfectly in the intersection of several things I think are cool – aircraft carrying submarines, space battles, and smaller models. The design is quirky but satisfying and it’s a nice companion to my Space Battleship Yamato models, albeit in a different scale – 1/700 rather than 1/1000.
The build process was mostly trouble-free but watch out for the tight poly-caps! As usual, the meat of the project was in the painting and weathering and the relatively large hull area is a good canvas.
Assembling and painting the little plane will test your skills, but it’s such a neat addition and you can see that the designer looked at the Seiran floatplanes used on the real I-400 sub, reimagining the floats as rocket boosters. And pleasingly it’s entirely optional if you’d rather not deal with the tiny parts.
The model compares well to a similar Bandai Space Battleship Yamato kit. The traditional glue construction makes it a less accessible build than the snap-fit – you need tools and glue, after all. But it also makes it easier to get a really clean result with no seams. Some of the detail parts have really good keys making them easy to fit, others (like the bow hoses) are fiddly.
The detail is good too, but there’s a slight inconsistency of quality. For example, the engine, ribbed bulges, aircraft and bow detail is fine and crisp which makes it hard to see why the deck guns and antennae would be so flat. I think adding a little detail there would benefit the finished model.
I still think for Suyata to get so close to the Bandai standard so early in the life of their company is really impressive. I’m glad to have had the chance to build this and since my local model shop now stocks Suyata I can keep an eye out for the other Space Rengo Kantai kits!
Will Vale

Thanks to Suyata for sending this kit to build and review. We found it at $14.36 USD from Hobbylink Japan