Kaustic Plastik - 'Valerius' Roman Legionary - Legio XIV - Review

In the world of 1/6th scale figure collecting you will find that for the most part, manufacturers seem to embrace a particular period in history as subject material for their products.  If you take Hot Toys for example, where they first started out producing modern military figures, they have now firmly established themselves as the leading Movie figurine manufacturer.  DiD / 3R and Dragon all focusing on military figures with WW2 as their particular market presence, mainly figures of German origin.  DAM Toys have taken a keen interest in post 2001 military operations in the middle-east... the list goes on and on.

This is where the fairly new 'kids on the block' Kaustic Plastik come into focus, with their chosen period in history being a lot earlier than most, no we're not talking WW1, we're looking at far far earlier than that.  Being placed in Italy, with easy access to historical artefacts of epic proportions it is only right that their place in the market is one that has seen increased interest recently, and that is ancient Rome!

There have not been many attempts to break into this era and capture all of the glory of ancient Rome in 1/6th scale.  Notable mentions would be ACI toys who produced the 'Flamma' gladiator line, CM Toys and from memory that is all I can recall (although I'm aware there may be others), certainly not the exposure that any other period in history has enjoyed.

When I was asked whether I would like the opportunity to review the latest offering from Kaustic Plastik, I jumped at the chance for two reasons.  Firstly, this would be the first time I was able to view their work in-hand, and I'd heard many good reviews about the quality of their products and attention to detail; and secondly because the period of time which they chose has particular significance, the epic battles of which being a few miles away from where I live!

Kaustic Plastik's own description of this figure is as follows:

The boxed figure'Stationed in Moguntiacum, Germania Superior, since AD 9, XIV Gemina Martia Victrix was one of four legions used by Aulus Plautius and Claudius in the Roman invasion of Britain in 43, and took part in the defeat of Boudicca in 60 or 61.  This was the battle that would send them down in history as one of the greatest Roman Legions.  At the stand at Watling Street the 14th defeated Boudicca's force of 230,000, according to Tacitus and Dio, with their meager force of 10,000 Legionaries and Auxiliaries.  This act secured them as Nero's "most effective", and kept them garrisoned in Britain during the next few years to keep the uneasy tribes in check. After which, in 68 it was stationed in Gallia Narbonensis.'

The figure which I'd been asked to look at was 'Valerius', Roman Legionary of Legio XIV Gemina during the invasion of Britain in AD 49.  It was this legion that defeated Boudicca's army in 'The Battle Of Watling Street' in AD 60, and Watling Street (also known as the A5) runs straight through my home county of Northamptonshire, only a few miles away from my home.  In fact, it is cited that (although not accurately known where the exact battle may have taken place) that two possible locations are Towcester and Paulerspury.  My grand-father was born in Paulerspury, and I still have family members who live there and it is only two miles away from my home village.

All of a sudden this review took on a very interesting personal twist!

I am however no historian and this particular period in history is one that until the arrival of this figure, I had paid no previous interest.  Therefore it was a refreshing change from my usual interests of Post-WW2 figures and one which inspired me to learn a little more about the times in which these legionaries lived.

For more detailed information on the Battle Of Watling Street and that period in general, I recommend the following articles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Watling_Street
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legio_XIV_Gemina
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boudica
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_conquest_of_Britain

So, history lesson aside, let us take a closer look at this latest offering from our Italian friends Kaustic Plastik:

The first thing that you should be aware of is that piece is a limited edition of only 600 in production and is described as a 'Museum Quality Replica'.  You should be mindful that this piece is VERY fragile due to the nature of the small and detailed parts used in the construction therefore should be posed and displayed and not frequently disturbed or 'played' with.  The materials used in the production of this figure involve real metal and leather parts, the problem with using as realistic materials as possible is their strength does not scale well, so in such tiny proportions they must be handled delicately.

The parts include (along with their accurate Latin names) :

Helmet - Coolus
Sword - Gladio (Die Cast)
Dagger - Pugio (Die Cast)
Javelin - Pilum (Die Cast + Plastic)
Shield - Scutum (Plastic)
Armour - Lorica Segmentata (Plastic + Details in Die Cast)
Red Cape (Cloth)
Sandals - Caligae (Leather)
Brown Trousers - Bracae (Cloth)
Red Tunic (Cloth)
Red Scarf - Focale (Cloth)
Armoured Belt - Cingulum Militare  (Leather + Details in Die Cast)
Bonus Imperial Gallic Helmet & Thames Helm (Die Cast)

Nude figure...Starting with the body itself, our character here 'Valerius' is based on the popular muscle body of slimmer proportions, model KP01A albeit with a different head sculpt.  This body type was Kaustic Plastik's first release and won them an award for 'Best Toy Of 2011', so I've been dying to get my hands on one to check them out.

The KP01A body makes a very good platform for those bashes where you're going to have exposed arms, although you'll struggle to find one available now.  As a loose item it has long since been sold out, with this Roman figure being a limited production, you'll find it difficult to get your hands on one.  Other body types based on similar design principles are available however which include the beefier KP02 in three different variations.

This body comes with two sets of hands, and the head sculpt as pictured.  It does use a standard ball socket type neck joint, so it would be possible if you so desired to change the sculpt for an alternative.  Hands are also removable and the wrist pegs look to be HT compatible.  The ankle joints are double-ball jointed which allows for greater articulation of the feet.  There is however somewhat limited articulation in the arms due to the nature of the joint at the elbow which does its best to conceal itself at the same time providing some practical functionality.  Unfortunately this does mean the articulation of the arms is limited to a 90 degree bend, however this is not the end of the world, and certainly not noticeable on a figure of this type.

The sculpted muscles around the arms, chest and mid-section are superb including the slightly menacing 'bulging veins' found on the biceps , thighs and calf's.  The chest area up to the neck is made from a soft rubber, whilst the rest of the figure is the usual PVC plastic.  One word of caution on the joints, they can be a little stiff so I would recommend gently warming with a hair-dryer or similar before posing initially just to loosen them.  Those persons familiar with the Triad Toys 'Otaku' body will know straight away what I mean.

Moving onto the uniform, the trousers and tunic are suitably simple and effective and feel like they're made from pure cotton with simple string to tie at the waist.  The bottoms of the trousers (Bracae) are slightly frayed to show signs of wear and they are approx three quarters length.

The scarf (Focale) is a piece of red cloth that is worn around the neck to prevent discomfort from contact with the heavy plate armour.

The sandals (Caligae) truly are a work of handcrafted art.  Made from real leather with tiny metallic 'hob nailed' soles, they really are fantastically detailed.  Out of the box the laces weren't positioned 'historically accurately' and gave the impression that they were too long.  They should have actually been wrapped somewhat around the ankle as pictured here, easily corrected though!

The cape is a beautiful vibrant red colour made from an almost velvet like material.  It has a period accurate clasp which you can open, although you will need a pair of tweezers and some patience to do so; rest assured however you do not need to open the clasp and the cape will pull over the figures head with ease.

The dagger...The dagger (Pugio) and the leather belt with brass adornments is one of the nicest pieces in the set, certainly one of the most intricate in construction.  The brass elements are made from what Kaustic Plastik call photo incision brass, and they are tiny in size yet amazingly detailed.  It is these parts which contribute immensely to the museum like quality of the figure in general.  I'm not sure what metals are used to construct the dagger and sword, but I would suspect something like pewter or alike.  Much like the straps found on the armour, the leather belt which the dagger is attached too has a tiny brass buckle, which is one piece.  This means you will need to gently pull the buckle pin back with a pair of tweezers to align with a hole in the belt, but doing this too many times could cause metal fatigue and the pin to snap off – so this piece really is not for taking on and off too frequently.  I found that in mounting the belt around the waist of the figure, and over the first segment of the armour that it had a tendency to slip down, which isn't at all unexpected.  I remedied this by putting a small dot of superglue in two or three places underneath the belt which keeps it firmly in place.

The main sword (Gladio) is just as beautifully constructed as the dagger.  The scabbard has some wonderfully detailed pictorial engravings or embossing upon it, and has a particularly nice weathered aged effect to it.  It appears to be made of two different metals, again die-cast but with brass effect for the top and bottom parts.  A leather belt with the same high quality photo incision brass couplings is provided to keep the sword upon the figure, which is mounted over the shoulder much like a rifle sling would be (as pictured).

The javelin (Pilum) is amazingly realistic considering that the 'wood' is indeed plastic!  The metal parts are die-cast metal and a word of warning regarding the points – they are sharp so watch your eyes!

The armour...The body armour, the 'Lorica Segmentata' (which means segmented plates in Latin) is probably one of the most desirable pieces on this figure.  Although it looks convincingly real and made from metal, it is in fact plastic with brass fastenings with real leather straps.  A true testament to Kaustic Plastik and their attention to detail it really does look the part.  The front and rear fastenings are brass tie-down eyelets as would be found on the 1:1 counterpart.  There was some complaint on the OSW forum that these brass fastenings were not mounted level and were slightly uneven, that I can assure you is entirely intentional.  This is supposed to be a representation of armour worn in 49AD, it is a piece of functional hardware and is not supposed to look perfect.  A peek inside the armour shows the leather straps that the plates would have been riveted on to keep them in place.  Unfortunately one of my leather straps had found its way loose during transit, but was easily glued back in place.  A word of caution on the removal of this armour; I only did so that you could see the entire figure and each part that goes into its construction.  I would avoid removing the armour if you can to reduce the risk of stress on the tiny delicate parts.  If you do decide to remove it, untie each of the straps carefully with tweezers and exercise caution when undoing the brass buckles from the leather straps at the top of the chest and rear below the neck.  To give you some idea of the intricacy of this task, it took only two minutes to remove the armour, but about twenty to put it back on again properly!  Remove it at your own risk (and sanity because you're going to need a lot of patience to put it back together!).

The shield is another fantastically decorated and stunningly realistic piece.  We know that these would have been constructed in wood and covered in leather and this piece imitates that well, although it is made of plastic.  The metal semi-sphere in the centre of the shield known as the 'boss' looks the part, and the decorative imitation metal parts add to the beauty of this piece.  The words 'LEG XIV' (14th Legion) can be found embossed on the front.

From here we move onto the final three pieces of this figure, and in the truest sense of the phrase, we've left the best until last; those being the helmets.  Our Roman legionary Valerius comes with not one, not two but three fantastic helmets, each of which are a work of art in their own right.

The first helmet, the Thames Helm looks suspiciously like the one depicted in this article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterloo_Helmet) and would suggest that is where it's name is derived from.  It was most likely used for ceremonial purposes as opposed to combat.  Kaustic Plastik's offering is a solid die-cast piece that is very heavy, far heavy that the other two and would suggest it is more of a bonus 'prop' than intended to be worn by our legionary figure.

The second helmet is the one listed as a primary item, the 'Coolus'.  It is understated, plain, yet functional.  A bronzed helmet of practical combat use, it is felt lined with hinged protective side flaps which are fastened closed by a piece of cord.  It has a riveted and hinged semi-circle of metal, which I presume is some sort of additional guard protection which can be raised or lowered into place as desired.

The third helmet, the Imperial Gallic is the most impressive of them all in terms of aesthetic appearance and sheer attention to detail.  Like the Coolus helmet, it is an entirely practical piece of protective armour, with the same hinged side panels and rear neck protection.  However, the Imperial Gallic helmet has the addition of all the necessary mounting points for the feathered 'crest' as pictured here.  Whether this would be worn in battle or was purely for ceremonial purposes I'm uncertain.  Of these types of helmets there were three distinct versions, this particular variation being type G and one of the first of its kind.  More detail can be read about the Imperial Helmets here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_helmet

Conclusion and lessons learnt...

One of the best things about Kaustic Plastik is their willingness to engage with their customers.  They have realised that by communicating with the very people who will purchase their products, and accepting constructive criticism allows them to continue to produce excellent works of art.  Fabio, who is the lead man at KP is an active member of the OSW forums and is quick to answer any questions or critique on any of their products.  When he provided this figure to us for review, he asked us to be honest and give our true opinion of what we thought, and as amazing as the figure is, it is not without a few minor flaws.  These are however down to two specific areas which having already discussed in length with Fabio, he assures me will be addressed in any future releases:

Glue – a better glue needs to be used to ensure that the detailed brass pieces stay firmly affixed to the leather belt, and that the leather straps on the inside of the armour stay in place.

Packaging – there have been a few reports, and as we witnessed, the helmet suffering from a minor breakage during transit.  That being one of the hinged side pieces came loose and was found underneath the helmet once removed from the box.  It is easily repaired with a small dab of superglue, and we ourselves had to implement this fix which took all of a minute,  This has most likely occurred due to a shock impact during transit and probably would not have happened if the figure had been placed in foam packaging as opposed to the plastic 'blister' packaging found on some of the cheaper Dragon releases for example.  Having spoken to Fabio about this specific issue, he will be looking into any future releases being protected by foam packaging, which I believe will also add to the luxury in appearance of the product also.  He has mentioned however this could an additional small cost to the manufacturing costs; however I for one would be prepared to pay a slight increase for the peace of mind.

This was the first Kaustic Plastik product that I have been privileged to review, and I must say I am suitably impressed.  Not only is it an immensely detailed and accurate piece, it is also such fantastic value.  Listed on KP's website at only 99.90 Euros, that is a mere £80 or $128 (based on exchange rates at the time of this review) – for a figure that is worth at least £100.  They live up to their reputation for providing museum quality pieces and I would find it highly unlikely that anyone would be disappointed with this purchase.

In my closing words, I wish to reiterate just once again how fragile this model is.  I use the word model because in essence that is exactly what it is, a beautiful 1/6th scale model meant for display within a cabinet or on a desk; it is not a toy and not meant for frequent 'playing with'.  You have to appreciate that with such detailed pieces made from real materials such as brass, leather, die-cast metals etc at such small scales they are so delicate that any mis-handling could cause a breakage.  Treat your Valerius with care and you will have a truly stunning piece of art to display!

I would like to thank Fabio at Kaustic Plastik for allowing me the opportunity to review this piece, and a special thanks to Darren at Collectable Kitbash for handling the logistics of getting the figure to me.

For further comments and opinions on this figure, there is an active thread on the OSW forums which can be viewed here :

http://www.onesixthwarriors.com/forum/sixth-scale-action-figure-news-reviews-discussion/629578-kaustic-plastik-valerius-roman-legionary-legio-xiv-new-pictures-page-6-a.html

As he comes out of the box...Sword and Javelinthe main sword...Thames HelmImperial Gallic Helmet with minor breakage...

the beautiful shield...armour front...armour rear...note the length of the laces...close up of the sculpt...

the clothing...hand made sandals...Coolus helmet...how the laces should be tied...

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