It’s an all too rare treat in modeling to stumble across a kit whose subject matter seems truly unique. Even with the wide variety of aircraft, armor, and automobiles available in kit form, the basic points of construction can remain rather similar. Happily, hidden gems are still unearthed from time-to-time among newly released kits, and Hasegawa’s ASTACO Neo is one of these gems.
Built by Hitachi, the ASTACO Neo is, simply put, a double-arm working machine. It resembles a medium-sized hydraulic excavator, but instead of a bucket on the end of its main boom, it has a large grasping claw. This main boom is supplemented by a smaller secondary boom that has a hydraulic cutter. An operator can control both booms simultaneously, picking up items with the grasping claw, and cutting them apart, or free, with the cutter boom. Hitachi refers to this dual boom arrangement as the Advanced System with Twin Arm for Complex Operation, or ASTACO. A YouTube search for ASTACO will bring up quite a few interesting videos of this machinery in action. Hitachi sells the real ASTACO machines in Japan only, with their intended role being the quick demolition of tsunami or earthquake damaged buildings to aid in search & rescue and recovery efforts.
Hasegawa, on the other hand, offers their 1/35 scale version of the Hitachi ASTACO Neo as part of their Science World series of kits, which have previously included a Japanese scientific mini-submarine and the Voyager space probe. The ASTACO Neo kit parts are contained on 16 lettered sprues and also includes metal springs for the track system, a mesh screen to cover the operator's cab, and a length of vinyl tubing to make a couple basic hydraulic hoses. The sprues were flash-free and crisply molded. As an added bonus, the kit includes a seven-piece female operator figure. The 16 sprues come in a wide array of plastic colors: orange, three shades of grays, a black flexible rubber, and clear.
The basic kit instructions are presented in the typical Hasegawa black-and-white illustrations, however they also include a full-color painting guide along with several full-color photos illustrating how the flexible hydraulic lines mounts to the boom arms. The kit has a single decal sheet that offers an array of warning placards to add to the finished model and the prominent black window trim.
Hasegawa suggests that the multi-colored parts (along with the decal window trim) will allow the builder to assemble the kit with no paint. For advanced modelers, this will not be case, as the boom arms will require significant filling to close the assembly seams. However, beyond these seams, the majority of the kit is cleverly engineered to assemble along natural panel lines, making for a very easy construction task.
Like the majority of kits, the instructions suggest that assembly begin with the operator's cabin, however, the ASTACO Neo is really built in several sub assemblies that only come together in the final steps. This allows you to easily tackle the project in the order that you wish.
I started construction on the booms, as the aforementioned seams would require a lot of work to fill. I was able to erase their existence by filling the lines with super glue and sanding them smooth. The same held true for large hydraulic cylinders featured on the booms. These were constructed from two halves, split horizontally, leaving a prominent seam running fully around the cylinder. The majority of the boom pieces also had mold lines that needed to be removed. The large grasping claws are molded with deep channels in the five claw fingers, so I used styrene sheets, super glue, and a lot of sanding to fill them in.
Each of the individual boom parts can be fully assembled, painted, and weathered (even decaled, if you desire) before being assembled together. The non-pinned joints are easy to press fit in place, and the pinned joints simply slide into place and a cap secures the pins. Once the booms were together, I began to add the various hydraulic hoses. The included photos of each hose connection made this task very easy, even though it certainly looks rather complicated in the instruction illustrations. The majority of the hoses are molded in the same soft rubber as the tracks. It’s simply a matter of using a small bit of super glue to connect each end in place. I did not paint the silver connectors on the ends of the hoses before placement, and I wished that I had after the fact.
The body of the ASTACO Neo was very easy to paint and assemble, as the components are split along natural panel lines. I painted and applied basic weathering to each piece before placing it on the body’s base. The instructions call for 30 grams of weight at the rear of the body, which I dutifully epoxied in place. The tracks and suspension were easy to assemble. Although the tracks are the “rubber band” type, they certainly seemed good enough for this application.
I finished the assembly by working on the cabin, as it seemed to present the most complex project and required the most painting. The cab is essentially an internal structure that is then covered by a cage of glass and panels. The interior parts, such as the seat and controls, assemble positively into place. There is no getting it wrong without really working at it! The cab roof and back assemble easily, hiding most of their seam, but do leave prominent gaps at each edge that need to be filled.
The left side cabin panels have several ejector pin marks facing inward that you’ll want to fill before assembly. In fact these ejector pin marks are the only visible ones that I recall in the entire build. If you want to pose the engine cover open, it does have around 10 marks on the oddly shaped underside that will need to be filled, but I simply decided to leave it closed rather than tackle that level of cleanup.
With the panels painted and in place, all that remained for the cab was to install the windows. As part of the reviewer’s job, I usually find myself trying things against my better judgment when assembling review kits. In this case, I didn’t really want to use the black decal window trim surrounds, but I figured I should give it a shot so you, the reader, wouldn’t have to. I applied the decals to the windows, which were Future coated and had some Alcald II Armored Glass applied to give it a bit of depth. Even with the best application, which mine was not, the edges of the decal carrier film are very prominent on the finished glass. The black decal film is not quite dark enough to provide the desired effect, so I went back and colored over all of the black parts with a Sharpie, which darkened them enough to provide a realistic look.
If I were building the kit again, I’d skip the decals and simply mask and paint the black trim. Some of the black trim decals do have warning placards attached to them, however, Hasegawa has seen fit to include these placards as individual decals as well, meaning you don’t even have to try and cut them out of the black surround decals if you’re not planning on using them. Fantastic!
With the glass finished, I carefully fit it into the cabin openings. A bit of light sanding ensured a positive fit without requiring any force. The windows were fixed in places with Testors Clear Parts Cement. The kit gives you the option of having the door open or closed. The fit is tight enough that the door can be placed in the closed position and removed later if desired. The instructions would have you glue the open door in place; however, I think it would be very easy to rig a magnetic attachment to allow the door to be posed in the open position without glue. One note of caution, the instructions call out the correct size of mesh needed to cover the cabin windshield, however, the illustration next to the size callout is NOT to scale.
As I’m not much of a figure painter, I didn’t use the provided figure. It was clear from test fitting her that she’d need a bit of filler and sanding work to assemble cleanly, but the details and facial expression looked good. Decals are even provided for her hard hat!
Final assembly was simply bringing the subassemblies together. Each section has tabs on the base to ensure proper fit. A small bit of walkway covers the only remaining gap in the body. The tracks and suspension fit onto the base using a keyed circle, just like on many tank turrets.
As noted in the assembly text, most of the painting was done before assembly. Although the kit is very nicely molded in a bright red-orange plastic, there really isn't a way to keep that colored plastic exposed once you’ve addressed the basic construction technique issues the judges look for. I chose to use Tamiya X-6 Orange as my replacement orange, after first priming the bright plastic. Tamiya’s orange is far lighter, and much less red than the kit plastic, but it really has the look of construction equipment in my eyes.
The gray plastic areas were painted with Vallejo Model Air 71.056 Panzer Dark Grey. This color happened to be on hand, but I was also very happy with the way that it looks once applied. It accurately captured the industrial plastic look. Alclad metal colors were used for the various silver and iron areas, while Vallejo silver was applied with a toothpick to pick out the small nuts and bolts.
I chose to go for a factory-fresh look on my ASTACO Neo. To that end, I applied only a minimal amount of weathering, mostly a wash of Testors enamel black to highlight the major body lines and fill the various exhaust vent mesh. However, this kit certainly lends itself to a great deal of weathering, if one desires!
Always a fan of something new and novel, I had a great time building this kit! The instructions were clear and beautifully illustrated (with actual photos, no less!), the decal sheet was very well thought out, and the kit engineering was fantastic. Although there were seams to deal with, there is nothing that an experienced modeler will have any trouble fixing. This kit certainly lends itself to being utilized by a true modeling artist, someone who can weather it just so, and place it in an engaging diorama. That said, it may also be the perfect kit to simply have fun assembling something new and different. All and all, a great modeling experience I’d happily recommend to others!
My thanks to Hobbico/Hasegawa USA for providing this kit to review and to IPMS/USA for the chance to review it!