A DIY Vic Viper

Today we’re taking a look at Plum’s Vic Viper model kit (Gradius V version), all plastic parts and “Make sure you clip this off” and “Make sure you definitely don’t clip this off” and “Please glue on this tiny thing that’s barely an atom wide the right way first time” – if you’ve ever built a Gundam kit, you’ll have a good idea of what’s involved here (apart from the gluing). Plum have been making kits like this for a while now, their catalogue spanning a variety of brilliant shmup series (Darius, TwinBee, Silpheed, R-Type) as well as incredible mechs from Power DoLLS and Assault Suits of both the Leynos and Valken types (yes, it is very hard to resist ordering a few more). Seeing as much of the pleasure in this sort of thing comes from making whatever’s inside the box I thought it’d be fun to write about the building experience rather than the kit in general, meandering our way through in an amateurish fashion from start to finish, and I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had putting it together.

The first thing I always do when faced with an endless supply of plastic parts is to gather my trusty tools together: Cutters are used to free parts from their runners, a scalpel to carefully (very carefully) shave off the little bits the cutter leaves behind, a black Gundam Marker to fill the kit’s tiny grooves with ink, and a bog-standard eraser to remove any excess marker (a proper Gundam-brand eraser pen is also available but I’ve never got around to buying one – mostly because they always cost more and are less easy to buy in this part of the world than any old eraser). There’s a pot of Citadel-brand plastic glue around here too, although I didn’t realise I needed that until later on.

If there’s one thing I hope you will take away from this article it’s that although fancy specialist gear can definitely help make some things easier or give a more professional finish, you honestly don’t need to worry about buying different grades of sandpaper or various primers, paints, glazes, and topcoats (or a lot of skill and patience either, as I will repeatedly demonstrate below) if your end goal is to end up with something that looks like the photos on the side of the model’s box.

First impressions were good: I could see some nice detailing on the bodywork, everything was already the colour it should be, and the instructions weren’t a thousand pages long. The lack of decals and stickers felt a little surprising at first, although after some thought it’s fair to say that this version of Konami’s iconic ship doesn’t have any stuck-on details to lose in the first place (not to mention that no decals also means no time spent holding my breath as I try to slide a millimetres-long “NO STEP” sign onto some random part either).

Oh! I should say now that none of this is meant to be taken as “How to build model kits” (or even “How I build model kits“): lots of people do this a heck of a lot better than I do, and I imagine they’re all a quick search away if you’re in need of proper instruction.

Sometimes when you’re building – whether that’s Lego, Gunpla, or a classic car from those subscription magazines that take years to complete – the start feels a little… odd. You can’t work out what it is and it doesn’t feel important in the way your first steps should. That was happily not the case here, as the very first parts I needed to put together formed the cockpit, complete with tiny pilot. Better still the instructions showed exactly where to cut so I didn’t end up causing him any harm before he’d even gone anywhere near those pesky Bacterians (these cutting guides also pop up later – not that I paid enough attention to some of them…), and to my slight surprise he really did fit his seat very well once I’d finished tidying him up.

With him safely sandwiched in we move on to the first white body parts – and these needed panel lining. For those who don’t know what that means, panel lining is the delicate art of jamming coloured ink or paint into the pre-molded grooves on plastic model kits to give them better detail and definition. It’s one of those things that you’re certain is too much fuss for too little benefit before you see the difference for yourself (compare the plain white plastic in the image near the top of this piece with even the rather poor example of panel lining I’ve included just above this text), but honestly I’ve never seen a plastic model at any price point or level of detail not look much better for it, and I’m someone who can’t bear the thought of doing any more work than I have to. There’s a heck of a lot of things you can fritter money away on and probably shouldn’t when it comes to model kits, but one “pour type” black Gundam Marker is one thing I would definitely recommend to everybody (just so you know: I keep mentioning that brand specifically because this is exactly the sort of thing they’re designed for, and in my limited personal opinion they do their job very well).

With just a few inexpert daubs of the pen somewhere near its supposed to be and some furious scrubbing with my eraser a few minutes later (it’s important to wait a short while otherwise you end up pointlessly wiping off most of what you just put on) I seem to have more ink on me than my Vic Viper, which not uncoincidentally currently looks like an unfinished ship made by someone who doesn’t build model kits as often as they’d like to. It turns out my personal uncleanliness is the least of my worries – the white pilot had flopped out of his seat during my vigorous erasering and was now hiding somewhere on a white table.

In my experience the best way to handle any “Where the heck did that go?!” moment is to freeze and move nothing other than your eyeballs as there’s a good chance whatever you’re looking for has landed precariously on your knee, your seat, or is dangerously close to getting crushed underfoot. Definitely not there? Time to very carefully lift things up, listening all with while for the telltale sign of something small but essential rolling away to unseen oblivion.

Ah! Got him!

This time around my brave saviour of planet Gradius had landed on top of the table but just slightly underneath the instruction sheet – the sheet it looked like I was halfway through already!

And then I unfolded the instructions

The clip-on cockpit surround needed to be fitted next and it was as nifty-lookin’ as it is painfully thin, the plastic flexing alarmingly at the slightest touch. To its credit it held out even under my casual mistreatment and once I’d placed two translucent orange pieces on top the cockpit had been completed – and the pilot was now safely sealed in too, never to be lost again. It’s amazing how little you actually need to look at a shape and think “That’s a Vic Viper” – no doubt helped enormously by the fact that the real thing is usually just a few pixels of white, orange, and grey – but there’s still something special about being able to look at what you’ve done so far and already see a clear link between what you’ve done and what you hope you’ll see at the end of it, which is always a pleasant feeling when you’re up to your knees in bits of eraser and tiny chunks of plastic.

Now we move on to the front “blades” (you’ll find a photo of those a little further down, sorry about the slightly disorganised photography), although I have to admit that by this point my eyes were going a bit funny and I was buried up to my neck in little bits of plastic and eraser. It was here that the instructions told me to cut off some extra little bits of plastic that weren’t actually connected to anything else to begin with, which sounds a heck of a lot like I was being asked to do something that could have been sorted out at the factory – and to add insult to injury one of the sodding little things pinged off and hit me in the face in the process. If that’s not a sign from the modelling gods to leave the kit there for the day I don’t know what is, and so I pack everything up ready for the next session.

It’s only when I lean back and sip my well deserved cup of tea that I really pay attention to the “1/144 scale” text on the box – text that implies the “real” Vic Viper has a specific size and from that you could work out how the big enemies were if you had a measuring tape and also knew how to wield The Power of Maths. I don’t, so I just glance between the box and my garden like an idiot and I think “The lawn’s probably not big enough to park the ship on” to myself as I chug my Earl Grey (hot).

On an unrelated note: Do make sure you panel line everything your patience can tolerate if you find yourself working on something similar – even (perhaps especially) the bits you’re sure will be covered up by something else two steps later. I’ve lost count of the times a piece has ended up being way more visible than I thought it’d be and then a million times more difficult to ink because I left it alone until it was partially covered by three other pieces and a sticker.

A new day means a new opportunity to cover myself in ink – and a chance to fret over the size of these tiny red details I’m supposed to start adding to my ship. Have you seen how small these things are?! OK so obviously you have because there’s a huge photo of them abov- you know what? Let’s just carry on.

As if to make sure I have the worst time possible with these petite pieces have to be glued in place if you want them to stay where they’re supposed to and usual sticky solutions just won’t do – you need to use the good stuff that smells like pear drops and slightly melts two plastic anythings into one immoveable whole. By some small miracle my fingers remain separate and free, and I refuse to check if I got parts three and four in the right way around (they have slight angles to them, matching the contours of the ship. I think I got them right, but…)

There, that’s the front end finished (and those “blades” I’ve been talking about too). The Vic Viper’s always been a beautiful shmupping ship, but seeing it take form up close – especially after playing the game this particular model appeared in recently – felt like a real treat.

I had been fighting my with marker though, the ink getting a little too reluctant to come out – maybe it was me, maybe it was the pen, maybe it was the grooves I was trying to splodge ink in – so I pressed down on the pen to get it flowing again.

This was the pen equivalent of a monkey paw wish.

Oh, so ye wanted MORE INK, did ye? I’ll be ‘appy to be obligin’ ye!” shouted the marker, the lightest contact with anything sending ink gushing everywhere. I cleared off the excess as best as I could but… OK, listen: It’s not “Smudged ink flooding everywhere please send help” it’s “Weathering” – got it? More seriously: I definitely could have handled this better than I did but in all honesty a bit of dirt and general not-quite-rightness helps to take the plasticky edge off the, well, the plastic, and in my opinion makes for a be-a more interesting​​​​ finish than leaving it raw.

What you’re looking at now is an image of the engine intake cover thingies, which I’ve highlighted because the instructions asked me to squeeze these chunky wedges of grey into a tight gap and I got a little mad at it for doing so. Who writes these things?! Didn’t they test i-

Then I read the instructions properly, and that’s when I understood these pieces are designed to neatly slide on from above and fitting them was no problem at all. Funny how building things is always so much easier when you actually read what you’re supposed to be doing, isn’t it?

There’s nothing especially exciting going on here, I just happened to find the little pieces in the photo real pains in the butt to cut, line, and attach and I wanted them all to go away, and just to make sure I really loathed them with every fibre of my being the smallest of these larger smaller pieces (still with me?) flew off onto the floor and took a full five minutes to find. I’m fairly sure I invented a new swear word while I was down there.

The really funny thing is these fin-like parts are absolutely huge compared to what’s coming up in a bit, and I would be begging for the return of something this “small” before I knew it.

Look at all the detail on those wings! Don’t you think they look fantastic? The photo above shows one clean(ish) wing and one that’s shamefully been smothered with ink in a very amateurish fashion, just so you can see how inexpertly you can splodge the stuff on and still come out with something that looks… OK so not amazing but something like it’s supposed to.

This feels like a great time to refer you back to my earlier point about this not being a display of model kit mastery especially as shortly after this I cut off something I shouldn’t have, although luckily for me this was for a small engine piece designed to sit on the underside of the ship so nobody will ever know unless I tell th- Oh.

Moving on

Slotting in the tail fin was something of a turning point for this creative project, as that meant I’d finally cleared out a whole sprue (sprues are the “sheets” of plastic all the little parts start off their modelling life attached to) and we were now on to those beautiful flashes of blue. Unfortunately in my excitement I absent-mindedly scrubbed off all the ink I’d just put on one of these new blue pieces instead of just gently cleaning away the rapidly spreading extra, and that meant I had to do the whole flippin’ piece again. Who’s an idiot? I’m an idiot.

See that tiny red nothing of plastic? Yeah. It made a real difference to the look of the entire ship once I’d put it on – perhaps because the Vic Viper’s a sea of white (off white, in my case) and grey – but that was only after I’d recovered it from it’s exciting mystery location somewhere nearby-but-not-quite where it was supposed to be. Honestly it was small enough to swallow without a glass of water. To make matters worse the cat stole my seat as I was frantically searching for it, perplexed as to why I was paying the pointy plastic thing so much attention when she was right there. Thanks, cat.

Covered in glue and praying for parts that didn’t need picking up with tweezers (or in my case, indelicately shoved in somewhere with a finger), I comforted myself with the thought that if I’m fiddling with small little bits like these then I must be getting near the end.

And I was right! All that was left to do were the missile-shaped shooty bits (yes that is the technical term for them, why do you ask?) and the base (which contains a clever ball joint socket, so you can angle the ship however you wish). Unfortunately “it” finally happened – I snapped a piece in half as I was cleaning it up. At least the break was a fairly clean one so gluing it back together involved nothing more than holding the two halves together and slowly counting to ten as I tried to think happy thoughts. Could you tell I’d broken it afterwards? Yes, you could. As breaks go though there are worse pieces to snap than this rear end of a shooty bit, so it wasn’t an outright disaster.

Here it is, the finished model! What do you think? As I said at the top of this post I do hope my little build-along diary has been encouraging and proven in some small way that even numerous absent-minded mistakes, actual breakages, a few common tools, and an unwillingness to put in any great amount of effort can still leave you with a ship that makes you smile.

One final thing: As I was tidying everything away I couldn’t help but notice two tiny red specks of plastic sitting unclipped on their sprues. I couldn’t see where they were missing from so I left them alone, put all the leftover items back in their box (mostly just the manual and an alternative underside piece in case you didn’t want the ship sitting on the included base) and closed the lid shut. It was only then I caught sight of an image on the side of the packaging, a photo showing the back end of the Vic Viper… with two red tail lights on either side of the exhaust. Ah. Mystery solved.

Let’s call this a customised Vic Viper, OK?

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