Judging kits and the judges who judge them



Kitty Hawk’s new 1/48 Su-17 has hit the market, and now that the plastic’s in the hands of various reviewers, thoughts are starting to trickle out.

My own copy – destined to be the third subject in the Contributor-Funded Kit Review series – should be arriving on Monday. The timing is fortuitous – my long, long build of Tamiya’s F-14 Tomcat is in the home stretch and should be wrapping up probably Sunday or Monday, so I’ll be able to crack into the build review pretty much the moment the Fitter shows up.

So close now...
So close now…

Personally, I want this kit to be awesome. I’m pulling for it, and I’m pulling for Kitty Hawk.

But I have my reservations, because come on, this is Kitty Hawk we’re talking about. They can do some good detail, and they can do some good kits as well (I really enjoyed the AH-1Z Viper), but more often than not, they shoot themselves in the foot with somehow overdone-but-poorly-thought-out engineering and the aggravating fit issues that engineering causes.

Anyway, that’s where my head’s at. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. But apparently I don’t even have to do a build review at all! Because in a guest post over on Scale Model Soup, Red Star Models’ Paul Cotcher has proclaimed that any negative take on the kit is not only something he disagrees with, but is also, get this – incorrect.

Subjective vs. Objective

Okay, first of all, I’m not really sure how an impression of a kit can be incorrect. We’re dealing with inherently subjective takes. Like film reviews or car reviews. There are some objective points – how long a movie is, who stars in it, how fast a car goes from 0-60 and so on – but there’s so much subjectivity wrapped into it that it’s not a matter of correct or incorrect.

Even accuracy…no kit is 100% accurate. Something will be off. So it becomes a question of inaccuracy tolerance, which is a subjective thing. The threshold for what you’re willing to accept may be different from mine. Hell – mine varies based on the subject and how many fucks I give about it. I can live with an A-7’s intake being a bit too “square”, but I will get pretty punchy about small goofs on a P-47.

Different Strokes

I’ve written about it before in a number of ways – but, basically, different people like different shit. When you think about the four main “pillars” of any kit – detail, accuracy, engineering and fit – you have people who literally only care about accuracy, and you have others who are interested in engineering, or only have eyes for fit.

There’s also what I’ve taken to calling the “Primer Divide”. Think about what you like the most about modeling. Does that aspect come before or after you lay down primer? Some people love the building and scratchbuilding aspects. For me, it’s painting. I do enjoy building, but it’s definitely more of a means to an end. So a kit that gets a scratchbuilder’s juices flowing may leave me completely turned off, and vice versa.

Again…it’s subjective.

“Here’s Why You’re Wrong”

So why does Paul declare negative takes on the Kitty Hawk Su-17 incorrect? In his own words:

Here is why the negative point of view, relatively speaking, is incorrect. Let me make this VERY simple:

You ready?

Gonna be hard for some of you to comprehend, but…


End of discussion. Somehow we’ve gotten ourselves into the practice of comparing every kit to some idealized non-existent kit that can never be achieved.

Okay, I’m going to make this distinction right now.

Just because a kit is better than a shitty, older kit, does not mean that it is a good kit.

He goes on:

We need to stop comparing against unrealistic ideals and maybe look at some more realistic comparisons – like what else is out there in the 1/48 Su-17 space? Here’s a clue: It’s that project I so lovingly described above. It was a beast to build, it was full of accuracy issues, and to get it to a similar standard, would cost three to four times as much as this new kit will cost. Fair and full disclosure – there is a Hobby Boss kit coming of the same subject – not sure when, but it’s in their catalog. Maybe that will fix the canopy issue, but from what we’ve seen of early test displays, it’s not as accurate as the Kitty Hawk kit. Beyond that, you’re hoping that somebody else does a better job, but at this point you’re hoping for something that’s FAR down the road, and nothing more than a wish at this point. Kitty Hawk, Hobby Boss, Ideal Future Kit or KP – that’s your choice.

Blinders On

Here’s the way I see it. Paul is seeming to imply that we should only look at kits on a single axis – how they stack up to kits of the same subject.

If you’re laser-focused on one subject, that’s fine. Over in SMCG, we’ve had two different discussions in the last few days about the “best” 1/32 Bf 109. In such a case, a single-axis comparison is worthwhile.

But it’s no guarantee of a good kit. I mean – I’d say the Revell, Hasegawa and Trumpeter late-model 109s are roughly equal, with each managing to do great in some areas and really shit the bed in others – but none of them hold a candle to Tamiya’s Corsair or HK’s Do 335 or even other kits from those three brands themselves.

And that’s the 109. What about something that’s legitimately sad-sack? Who makes the best 1/48 F7U Cutlass? Or LaGG-3? Or A-36? Calling something the “best X in this scale” is damning with faint praise if the competition is either awful or nonexistent. It’s a big fish/small pond situation.

The thing is, though, modeling is not a single axis hobby. Every time we start a new kit, we have a choice in what to build. Those kits compete for our interest, attention and dollars. And subject matter is a powerful draw, sure, but it’s not the only factor.

So this is where I like to introduce a second axis. If the x-axis is kits-of-a-certain-subject, then the y-axis is the standards of contemporary kits.

What does that mean? Simple. By today’s standards, the old Monogram P-47 is pretty sad. It’s been left in the dust by newer kits. But if you compare it to its contemporaries, for its time it was a fantastic kit.

The same holds true today. Yeah, you can hold up Kitty Hawk’s Fitter against a 20-year-old POS kit and declare it the best Fitter ever. But it’s also important to consider how it stacks up to other kits that are being released around it. How does it compare to Kinetic’s F/A-18C and Hobby Boss’ Su-27 and Tamiya’s F-14 and AMK’s MiG-31 and so on?

Because kits don’t exist in a fucking vacuum.

It’s…silly. It’d be like looking at, I don’t know, a Honda Civic. And judging the current Civic to be a good car because it has more power and gets better fuel economy and has better features than a 1995 Civic.

Would you go out and buy a new Sony HDTV because it’s so much better than the TVs they were making in 1992? Of course not. You’d shop it against Toshiba and LG and so on. Just like you’d shop a Civic against a Mazda3, Ford Focus and other similar cars.

Nobody Expects Perfection

To me this idea of some kind of Platonic ideal of a model kit is a total strawman. It’s kind of the opposite of the “well at least there’s a kit of it” argument.

I don’t see it as people wanting a perfect kit. I see negative perspectives on Kitty Hawk and Italeri and others who seem to struggle in various ways as based on frustration. Frustration that they tackle cool and interesting subjects, but tackle them in a lackluster way as compared to contemporary competitors.

Now, to be fair, there is certainly a “gotcha” mentality among some of the red arrow brigade, who love to point out any minute slip-ups, but honestly, accuracy is not and never has been the reason I see people scoff at Kitty Hawk. Most builders seem willing to forgive or correct small accuracy errors. But after being lured in time and time again by great subject choices only to face six-part fuselages and terrible fit and seams in bad locations and so on…as George W Bush once said:


The Ball is in Kitty Hawk’s Court

There’s a lot of excitement at the prospect of a good Su-17 kit. But there’s also a lot of apprehension that Kitty Hawk is the one making it. Especially with a Hobby Boss kit on the horizon, and the possibility of still more entering the fray in the near-to-mid future.

Even with all the hate that I throw Kitty Hawk’s way, I want nothing more than for them to knock this one out of the park. Because I want more good kits – and not just good relative to a sad sack from decades ago – but good relative to what else is hitting the market.

Fingers crossed that Kitty Hawk will deliver this time.



7 Comments Add yours

  1. bonsaikas says:

    Amen to that Doog! Was honestly contemplating reacting on Pauls article because it annoyed the fuck out of me. Thankfully you have worded it better, nicer and sharper than I would have.

    In Holland we have a word for this; hokjesmentaliteit, it translates freely as “cubicle-mentality”, the modelling scene seems saturated with it, in so many forms…

    That’s why we need outspoken people like you, who dare to say fuck and don’t think their their little insignificant snowflake-opininion defines the whole world.

  2. Rod Harradine says:

    Surely the Su-17-22 series is made for the perceived weaknesses of Kitty Hawk! I mean the original was made of arc welds, cast iron and bailing wire. And our friends from China, Japan for that matter, improve rapidly. Looking forward to it, and have a KoPro Su-22 in the stash. Ever Onward!

  3. Larry Horyna says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I am currently fighting my way through a Kitty Hawk 1/48 TF-9J. What a freak show the construction is on this one! This is my third and hopefully last build from these guys (built the T-6 and the Kingfisher). Every kit I have built from them has been a commission job, which makes the fights and fidgets even more frustrating as time is money. I have come to christen them “Shitty Hawk”. Nice subjects, good intentions, disappointing results….

  4. Valkyrie013 says:

    Hmm, I Agree in that, even though a new kit of Subject X comes out, doesn’t mean it won’t be shit. You might be able to polish it better than one of the older kits that is out, but its still polishing a turd. And these days of 3d printing.. that’s just un acceptable.
    I understand if your just starting out, lets look at Kitty Hawk, they make say 5 kits to open up with, and they have a few flaws, instructions suck etc. I expect some teething problems, but I also expect them to try and get better, to try to get to the Tamiya and Bandai gold standard.. you don’t have to get there, but do your best!
    Like you said on the new SU-34 kit. the nose is.. well .. crap, and it shouldn’t be, and you can say HEY! This is Crap! And you hope the Kitty Hawk gets it together and make a good kit.
    And I Agree, Model kit buying is subjective, I buy mostly sci fi and aircraft, have Zero interest in armor and cars. And in Aircraft, I look at the reviews, say I want a 1/48 F-16, I look at all the manufacturers, and look at accuracy ( for me I like accuracy, but I am Not a Rivet counter.. i don’t care if its 3mm off, but if its the wrong tail.. then that’s something else) How it builds ( Fit, Engineering.. does it have Massive gaps, do seem lines go through all the detail, Am i willing to re scribe it?) and finally Cost! A Tamiya may be the bee’s knees, but if it cost 3 times as much as an academy, and the only thing wrong with the academy is its 3mm off something.. ahhh.. I’m getting the academy! My most thing of Important is how it builds, engineering.. I Despise seems going through detailed areas when it didn’t have to..

    People also follow certain reviewer’s if they agree with what the reviewer is looking for and talking about

    So my 3 cents!

  5. Brad Sinacore says:

    Waiting patiently for your review on the Kitty Hawk Su-17.

    1. Doogs says:

      It’s underway now. Early signs aren’t promising.

      1. Brad Sinacore says:

        Not surprising.

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