by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Arguably the most unusual releases - but certainly the cutest! - to land on my review desk of late are a pair of Bonsai trees from Platz. Don’t worry, these didn’t need any complicated import licences, because they are model Bonsai trees in kit form.
Each one arrives in an attractive conventional top opening box, but from that point on it’s very much a step into unknown territory, because the parts are presented in a sealed polystyrene foam tray. The reason for this is to support the sprues in transit and give sufficient clearance around the parts of the trees, because what makes these kits rather unique is that they come with the foliage ready attached.
The kits are life-sized and very simple - tree No. 1 comprises 5 parts, and No. 2 just 6. Additionally, each kit comes with a plastic pot and a moulded base. (The sample of No.1 also includes a small piece of good quality wood, but this isn’t shown in the instructions so I don’t know if it’s standard.)
The moulding is very good, with the mid brown styrene parts showing no flash or sink marks. The "foliage" is like the fine “grass” used in dioramas and model railway layouts so, although it looks attractive, it doesn't really replicate the miniature conventional leaves you find on most real bonsai trees. It seems firmly attached, with no tendency to come adrift but, obviously, you’ll want to handle it with care during assembly.
The trees have quite a convincing bark texture which you can enhance with painting. The danger will be getting paint onto the foliage (normally, you’d paint the trunk and branches of a model tree before applying leaves), but convenience in one direction almost inevitably involves a compromise elsewhere. I’d at least dry-brush the parts with a lighter brown to give some variety and highlight the texture, and finally airbrush a matt coat to kill the shine of the styrene without harming the foliage.
The instructions are as unusual as the kits themselves, printed in colour as a comic strip in “manga” style with a young girl building the kits. The captions are totally in Japanese, but the illustrations are pretty much self-explanatory so modellers of other nationalities should have few problems. On the reverse of the instructions is a brief overview of real bonsai trees, this time bi-lingual Japanese/English and including links to bonsai websites for the green-fingered among us.
Going beyond the educational value of the kits and their appeal as attractive ornaments when finished, the model trees could find a use in some dioramas and vignettes. Obviously, they will look too stylised and out of place for traditional military subjects, but they could work very well for sci-fi/fantasy settings - where, of course, you could let your imagination run riot in terms of what colour you paint them.
ConclusionPlatz’s bonsai trees are great fun, be it as inspiration for a new generation of modellers, as something decidedly “different” to allow a break from your usual modelling diet, or for a source of scenery for sci-fi settings. While they are simple to construct, they will offer a satisfying challenge if you choose to paint them realistically.