Bismarck Kai – Kantai Collection – Review
Available at the following stores:
Kantai Collection (KanColle)
Good Smile Company
It is I, the pride of Deutschland, the nameship of the Bismarck super dreadnoughts.
Germanic designs are just beautiful and dignified, no? It’s alright, you can praise me more.
I shall be operating far and wide throughout this ocean. You can expect much from me!
Kantai Collection (developed by Kadokawa Games and published by DMM.com) is a browser and Android title that appeared in April of 2013 and took the anime world by storm. More than 3 million players have registered to collect weaponised warship waifus and send them to battle at sea – including today’s subject, Bismarck Kai. The game’s vast popularity has led to a two season anime adaptation (and a film), manga and light novels, and oodles of merchandise, including the figure we’ll be covering today.
Bismarck (seen here in her upgraded “Kai” appearance) is the personification of the first of only two Bismarck-class Battleships. Bismarck (the ship) was a massive super dreadnought built shortly before World War II for Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine. Although not quite as explicit as GIRLS’ FRONTLINE’s Mauser, Bismarck (the character) was clearly designed with this in mind – she sports a striking red, black and grey uniform that evokes Germanic qualities, whilst incorporating aspects of the original battleship’s appearance as well.
Manufactured and distributed by Good Smile Company, Bismarck Kai is a faithful 1/8 rendition of Fumikane Shimada’s official illustration seen above. It’s an impressive and elaborate design, which is surely a result of Fumikane’s prowess in drawing mechanical girls, military uniforms and weaponry. Thanks to the high level of detail in the battleship parts attached to her back, Bismarck has plenty of visual appeal from all angles – this would certainly make a striking piece for anyone’s collection.
All that said, this figure does have some pretty serious issues that I think are worth considering before you make a purchase. In my case, the figure was quite literally impossible to assemble fully (although, as you can see, I did manage to fix the problem). From what I’ve seen so far, these issues aren’t exactly uncommon, which is a troubling sign, although the severity seems to vary case by case. We’ll dip into these problems further a little bit later on.
For now, let’s take a quick look at Bismarck’s packaging. Whereas the figure bears a classy and high quality look, the box is a bit underwhelming. While the typography is appealing, the choice of pink clouds and a pink ocean doesn’t quite suit Bismarck’s colour scheme, or the tone of the piece overall. Still, the way a box looks isn’t necessarily that important; you’ll be pleased to hear that the box is solid and sturdy, and holds the figure and its components securely in place.
The box is quite large and fairly heavy as well, as you might have guessed. This can impact your shipping costs, so bear that in mind if you’re planning to order her. The inner packaging uses its space well, though – giving the impression that it’s as compact as it could reasonably be – and it’s great at keeping her snug and safe in storage. However, it can be a pain to put her back into the box due to the way some parts (particularly the hat) are held in place.
Here is where things start to get a bit ugly. Bismarck arrives in several pieces: Bismarck herself is two pieces (preassembled), plus her hat, which is a separate magnetised piece. You then have the large battleship piece, which is a single part. Then there is the base, and a translucent stand for her leg that must be assembled from two pieces. Instructions included in the box come in Japanese and English, with clear and correct translations that make the assembly process quite simple. Attaching Bismarck to her base and assembling the leg prop is no trouble, and the hat easily pops on thanks to the aforementioned magnet. This is all good stuff – but now the problems begin.
We’ll start with the smaller issue first. The leg prop is designed to help support the weight of the fully assembled figure, as she’s leaning forwards with one leg lifted – a poorly balanced position for a woman with half a dreadnought on her back. The problem, as you can see above, is that it doesn’t quite reach her thigh – that means it’s not giving her any actual support. Mine is actually one of the better examples, and even then there’s a clearly visible gap.
It also isn’t secured to anything – it simply sits on top of the base. As both the base and the leg prop are made of smooth plastic, there isn’t much friction between them. I’m therefore concerned that the prop might slide and give way if Bismarck’s weight did indeed start to put pressure on it. There have already been some reports of the figure toppling over, causing permanent damage. If you’re nervous about this part doing its job (or not, as the case may be), I would suggest coming up with a way to raise it and adhere the stand to the base – for the time being, I’ve been using blu-tac, which is unfortunately quite ugly, but does the job it needs to.
The other, much bigger problem was that the large battleship piece simply wouldn’t fit into Bismarck’s back properly – again, this seems like an unfortunately common complaint. Even when pushed in as far as it could go, the peg hung more than a centimetre out of the hole, causing the whole back piece to sag and hang due to the lack of support. If left to its own devices, I’m sure it would eventually just fall out.
The pictures above present the problem I encountered. The instructions don’t mention this, but Bismarck is actually made up of two pieces: her legs, and her torso. In the back of each part, there’s a rectangular gap for a peg on the battleship piece to fit into – having tested each hole separately, it was clear that the peg fit in snugly, and the ship piece was perfectly stable and secure. It didn’t take long to realise that these holes weren’t lining up properly when the figure was assembled – in the third picture, you can see the misalignment that was stopping the peg from fitting in. Even pushing the legs in as far as they would go (to the point that they became difficult to remove again), the hole simply wouldn’t line up properly.
After sending an email to Goodsmile’s support asking if this was a defect (and also questioning the length of the leg support), they basically told me that, no, the parts aren’t defective – this is how theirs look, too. I would say I find that hard to believe, but then again, I’m not the only one having assembly issues. Regardless, they suggested heating up the problem part (although they didn’t suggest which part I should be heating) with a blow-dryer to help it fit in more easily, and gave me a link to an incredibly brief article to explain the concept. Despite being less than impressed with their help, I tried their suggestion. And it didn’t work.
In the end, I had to resort to using sand-paper. At first I tried sanding the hole in her back to reduce the overlapping plastic, but this proved too fiddly. Instead, by sanding down the peg that connects the legs to the torso, I was eventually able to get a better fit, and thus a better alignment for the holes. Once I’d done that, the ship part went into its gap after a firm push, and is now held tightly and securely balanced, as it was surely intended to be. Fully and properly assembled, she feels reasonably stable, though I’d still recommend bracing the leg prop for more solid support.
If you find yourself having this problem, I would recommend checking whether the holes align properly. I would then suggest trying to heat the part that connects the legs to the torso, and see if it helps things fit together any better. While it didn’t help me, you might have better results – just remember to be careful not to overheat and damage the figure. If it still doesn’t fit, then you may want to try sanding the part down. If you do choose the sandpaper route, make sure to sand it down a little at a time and keep testing it until it fits properly. While it might get tedious, you don’t want to sand too much off all at once and make the part too loose. After all, you can always take more off, but you can’t put it back on so easily.
Sculpting and design
With those problems put aside, Bismarck is an outstanding figure in terms of quality. Her sculpting is excellent, with great attention to detail in every facet. It’s the little things that really make her a pleasure to look at up close – details like the grooves on her tights, the texture of her gloves and the boot treads on her soles all contribute to the overall aesthetic appeal. The only particular complaint I would have is that her facial expression is too neutral – I would like to see more aggression, as seen in her official illustration. As noted before, her hat is removable too, and she looks great with or without it. Customisation is always a plus.
The main attraction, of course, is Bismarck’s battleship attachment. This is really what makes the figure stand out, as she’d risk looking a bit by-the-numbers without it. The quality here is once again impressive, with even small details like rivets and planks being rendered as crisply as you’d like. Probably the most exciting thing about the figure is that much of the rig, including the cannons, is articulated, allowing you to quite freely rotate the various parts in a number of directions – even the tiny cannons at the very front can be adjusted. The articulation is quite smooth and feels robust, which is great news. It all feels very well made, and makes for an extremely dynamic looking figure. Just be careful with the antenna at the back of the ship, as it feels quite fragile and bendy compared to the rest.
At this point I’d like to quickly note that the base stand (which is standard across this series of figures) isn’t the most thrilling thing to look at, and the blue colour doesn’t mesh too well with Bismarck’s palette. However, it does appear to be based on elements from the game’s combat interface, which is a nice touch. As you’d expect, Bismarck does take up a chunk of space, and her various artillery usually clears the perimeter of the base by several centimetres (depending on how you have it arranged). Bear this in mind if you don’t have a lot of room to work with. The figure is also best viewed from a lower angle, due to the fact that she leans forward quite a bit.
Bismarck’s paintwork is excellent as well. The figure’s red, black and grey colour scheme (evidently based on the original ship’s Baltic camouflage) comes through strongly, thanks to the use of various finishes that differentiate the materials at play. For example, her tights have an attractive glossy quality, while the rest of her outfit is matte. Despite being such a small part of the figure, I especially like how leathery her gloves look. On top of that, the ship parts all look smooth and clean, and all of the edges are neat and straight – naturally, if the paintjob had failed to deliver on the figure’s most outstanding feature, there would have been problems.
There are a few small blemishes here and there, including one rather nasty scuff on her pocket, where it looks like the paint has been rubbed off. I’m not sure if that happened while I was trying to put the pieces together, or whether it was always there, but it’s basically invisible anyway – hidden behind the armour around her waist. Aside from those small issues, Bismarck sports a high quality paintjob, with very precise and clean-cut detailing.
I am number one? What are you saying, of course that’s the case. It’s alright. You can praise me more.
Good Smile Company has done a thoroughly impressive job with their rendition of Bismarck Kai. She’s a gorgeous figure that only continues to grow on me the more I look at her, thanks in no small part to her elaborate and articulated battleship attachments. However, she appears to be plagued by common and quite critical issues that make her difficult or outright impossible to assemble, as well as design choices that could only be called questionable. Here, GSC is less impressive, with customer service that did very little to help at all.
This leaves me in a tough spot. It’s difficult to recommend a figure with these issues, particularly since she’s so expensive. For the casual buyer, it’s a very hard sell – though her price has dropped somewhat since release, perhaps thanks to these problems. However, once I was able put her together properly, I was rewarded with one of the more exciting and impressive pieces in my collection to date. If you’re not unwilling to take a risk and put a bit of effort into fixing her flaws, Bismarck Kai will surely make a great addition to your fleet.
Bismarck Kai is a wonderful figure – she’s big, bold, and dynamic, and certain to stand out in any collection. She should be an obvious pick for a perfect score – however, common and serious issues that make assembly difficult or impossible really drag her down.
If you’re not willing to risk a lot of money on a figure that might need some manual and permanent modification to fix, then I’d suggest steering clear for now, and keeping an eye out for future revisions which may fix those problems. For those who aren’t put off by those problems, Bismarck Kai really is outstanding and easily recommended when she’s fully assembled.
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