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135
From the East - A Brief Consumer's Guide

Introduction
This feature has been written primarily with the newer modeller in mind. By newer, I refer to those who are entering the hobby for the first time or those who after an absence are returning. In the case of the latter, you may find what's on the shelves bewildering with new ranges, new subjects and areas which were never even contemplated five or ten years ago. This is NOT a review, rather a brief guide as to what's available and will concentrate on two manufacturers who are doing some pretty extraordinary things in 1/35th scale. For the more experienced modeller, it should also help by indicating some directions which are worth considering...

Primarily, this Feature will concentrate on figures. However, when there is something really interesting from a manufacturer, I won't hesitate in 'deviating' somewhat from the theme!

At the end, i'll be publishing a series of links to the manufacturers Websites along with links to the (many) reviews which have been published here on Kitmaker Network

East vs. East
Both names may already be familiar to you having seen them featured here within the News or Reviews section. Alternatively, you may have seen them on on-line stores or in your LHS.I chose to concentrate on MasterBox and MiniArt for a simple reason, they are the most prolific of the European manufacturers and they are not endlessly 'recycling' older products as are some of the others from Eastern Europe.

Before I begin with the overview, there are a couple of factors which are worth bearing in mind:

Quality: One of the hurdles which many modellers feel exist, is a huge differential in quality between the 'Far-Eastern' and 'East-European' manufacturers. That was then, this is now. Whilst in areas such as AFV kits the technical 'edge' is (in general) still with companies such as DML, AFV Club or Tristar. However, in figures, the gap has closed.

Diversity: For sound economic reasons, a company produces figures which are in demand. Whether or not this is Consumer or Industry led is a moot point, however, the reality remains that the bigger a company, the more difficult it is to 'specialize' and depending on the location of the manufacturer the regional market is inevitably of primary importance.

The Eastern Europeans
There are quite a number of established companies producing figures from Russia or Ukraine. Several, such as ICM have been in business for years. However the last couple of years have seen two (particularly) signifacant companies emerge. With this I can begin this brief overview...

Masterbox Limited
Beginning with a handful of releases, this is now one of the major 'emerging' manufacturers. The truth is, that at the beginning, their products were not brilliant and suffered from poor-fit, rather 'odd' plastic and their figures did not cover anything which hadn't been done before. However, the last year or two has seen some extraordinary improvements in their product range. Firstly, they started going beyond the 'standard' subjects and began to look to other areas. The 'turning point' was probably in their British Troops, Caen set which although not brilliant, showed considerable improvement both in the subject and quality. Then, last year, they produced a set which had long been wanted but never been done before - German Captives, 1944. This six-figure set was simple in concept, five German POWs being escorted by a Soviet Infantryman. However, the innovation was impressive. Not only was the animation of the figures better than anything they'd done before, but the overall quality was considerably better as well. However, there was even better to come. In january this year, I did a News story covering three future sets, which, going by the box-art, seemed to indicate a much higher level of animation which we'd seen from almost any manufacturer. What was also unusual about these was they were part of a 'linked' series - under the title of 'Frontier Fight 1941-42'. Then, the following month, I went to the Nuremberg Trade Fair and had the opportunity to see the figures for myself. I was also given a number of examples of their new (and future releases) some of which can be seen in the reviews section. What is innovative about these new sets are two distinct areas:

Firstly, the company took a 'modular' or 'multipose' approach to the figures. This basically means that the parts of the figures can be mixed and matched to create totally different poses. Secondly, and this is an area that many modellers have been demanding for years, the figures are much more 'animated' than almost anything we've seen before. The quality (particularly in the case of their Soviet Infantry) also took a leap upwards. At the moment these, in my opinion, amongst the top 5-6 styrene figure sets on the market... However, the company doesn't just do Germans and Russians. Available now (and with more in the future) are U.S. Infantry sets.

MiniArt Limited
Another of the emerging forces in the figures market is MiniArt. However, to describe them as a 'figure-manufacturer' is only telling part of the story. The company produce (plastic) building kits, AFVs, Artillery pieces and even figures in 1/16th and 1/72nd scale. However, concentrating on their 1/35th scale figures, their range is diverse and (more importantly) of excellent quality. They have taken a very different approach with their figure releases by concentrating on the 'gaps' in the market. Artillery and AFV crews (German and Russian) in a variety of situations - rearming, working and resting. They also produce the more 'conventional' sets of Soviet Infantry in a good mixture of time periods and uniforms. Quality is generally very good, and once again, the common theme is 'flexibility' with possibilities to vary the figures considerably. MiniArt do also tend to move away from the more 'conventional' with future releases including a number of seated figures (Soviet, German and Commonwealth). Also on the future release lists are (previously ignored) subjects such as Soviet Naval Infantry. This is a range of figures which are superb value for money and whilst some are lacking 'movement' they nevertheless are a range which deserve to be more widely seen.

Conclusions
These are only two companies out of a number on the market. However, these two were chosen for this feature as, in my opinion, they are doing the most innovative work. Both are improving at a phenomenal rate in many respects - quality, innovation and value are only three areas. Their figures are as suitable for the Novice as for the Expert. They are also, and this is the most interesting aspect of their development, they are now doing figures which are as good as anything available. Previously, a smaller company could be seen as 'gap-filling' doing a few subjects which none of the bigger companies would consider. Now, these two are setting a rythmn which the higher-volume manufacturers would be advised to consider carefully. This also signifies good news for the modeller - more competion means more diversity. Having spoken to directors, sculptors and designers of these two companies their is a quiet optimism for their future and a desire that their products are given equal coverage with the longer-established manufacturers.

The links
Over the last year or two, we've given a lot of coverage to MasterBox and MiniArt, here are links to their review pages here on Kitmaker Network:

MiniArt Reviews Page

MasterBox Reviews Page

Finally, here are the company websites:

MasterBox Home Page

MiniArt Home Page

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About the Author

About Jim Rae (jimbrae)
FROM: PROVINCIA DE LUGO, SPAIN / ESPAņA

Self-employed English teacher living in NW Spain. Been modelling off and on since the sixties. Came back into the hobby around ten years ago. First love is Soviet Armor with German subjects running a close second. Currently exploring ways of getting cloned to allow time for modelling, working and wr...


Comments

Nice work, Jim... What a great idea, mate! From your first NEWS article way back, first announcing MB Ltd., I knew that this was a company to watch for good things to come, and Mini-art, well I feel the same way of their model kits...good stuff, good value (on my side of the pond! ) Thanks for the great read! ~Mark
MAR 12, 2007 - 09:55 PM
Nice post, Jim. I have been purchasing and working on most of the kits you mention in your article. I can tell that each new kit is better than the previous ones. I have found most of the heads a bit square and have often replaced them with a Hornet head which alters the appearence greatly. Some of the clenched fists are a bit crude but the over all workmanship is top notch. Looking forward to the new kits due out this month and others down the road. Thanks for the recap and review, amigo. Ironmike
MAR 13, 2007 - 01:33 AM
Just finished off two Miniart Kits, but I changed there heads, (didn't really need to but I do it with all my figures) anyway I love them, and will be getting all in the future, Your site on them is Great. ED
APR 04, 2007 - 10:24 PM
I have just built the Mini Art Russian Officers at a Field Briefing , Soviet Artillery Crew, Soviet and German Tank Crews in winter dress and I am very impressed at the quality of these kits. The quality of these kits rivals any of the recent DML non-Generation II kits. I love the Mini Art kits and am looking forward to all of the recently announced kits. I have built some of the older Masterbox kits. I found them to be a bit soft in the molding, however the new kits, judging from the pictures, look very nice. Thanks for the "heads up" Jim. Jeff
APR 13, 2007 - 05:23 PM
Great Idea and good job, I would like to see more of these, I've been a figure modeler for quite awhile now but still dont know about everything that is out there. Cheers Ray
APR 13, 2007 - 09:52 PM
Thanks for the kind words This article was really just a 'test-bed' to see how much interest there is in this kind of material. Firstly, there ARE a lot of interesting manufacturers out there who really deserve the 'full-treatment' and a lot of modellers would welcome the opportunity to see something different. Secondly, in the case of figures, both of these companies are 'revolutionizing' the market with low prices and an increasingly high-standard of moulding and subjects. We could easily concentrate exclusively on the 'Big' names in the Reviews and News section but we don't - there are some great things happening out there from some smaller companies, Armorama's job is to give them equal 'billing'...
APR 13, 2007 - 10:07 PM