The ashigaru were the common soldiery of medieval Japan, whereas the samurai were the officers, masters and, according to the early literature, the only ones who really counted. Originally the ashigaru were casually hired and poorly armed – today they might be described as arrow fodder – but over the centuries their role was increasingly recognised by writers and strategists and many took on the much more specialised weapons of the bow and, from the mid 16th century, the arquebus.
As shown in the sub-title of this set, it does not contain a complete cross-section of ashigaru but concentrates solely on the missile troops. Seven of the poses have the arquebus, a matchlock musket that was clearly a late entry into the world of Japanese medieval warfare. Only two of the poses are firing the weapon, with the rest either reloading or just carrying it. All these poses are appropriate, if rather flat, although the man standing and firing seems to be aiming low.
The archers make up the rest of the poses, and as you might expect between them they show many of the usual actions in using the bow. While a bow was usually drawn from a position over the head we felt the second figure in the third row was not convincing as the arrow is already level, but otherwise the poses are OK.
The costume of these men is remarkably uniform. All have armour of identical type, and as can be seen all the arquebusiers wear the jingasa hat while all the archers are bareheaded. Such a costume is perfectly reasonable but the suggestion that all these troops had this appearance is misleading. Depending on the time period many ashigaru started out with no armour or indeed little else, and were expected to acquire such items from the fallen on the battlefield. As a result costume and armour was very varied, although later central supply did mean there was more uniformity.
By today’s standards the sculpting is really quite poor. Detail is far from clear and sometimes missing entirely. Many of the faces are partially missing, and don’t expect much detail on the matchlocks or bows, both of which are greatly simplified and not even a particularly accurate overall shape sometimes. The arrows standing ready for the two archers in the second row are extremely short, and all the bunches of arrows are merely blocks of plastic with a suggestion of arrows engraved on them. Clearly the possibilities for such an item are limited, but this looks rushed and very sloppy. Where they are visible the bullet pouch and powder bags are very small, and one gunner has some sort of box affair over his lock. This is intended to represent the attempt at protecting the match from rain but it as not particularly convincing. The final figure carries both bow and arrows in his left hand, but it is not clear what his right is doing, and the last figure in row one is carrying something in his left hand, but we cannot tell what, or indeed if this is simply an error in making the hand. To make matters worse there is a fair amount of flash along many of the seams too.
While this set does not pretend to depict all ashigaru, we would have liked to have seen something of the ammunition carriers both gunners and archers relied upon during battle, but for these you have to look to the later RedBox set Ashigaru (Command and Support Group). Also, while senior officers would have been samurai, there were junior ashigaru officers, so again such a pose would have been welcome, but again this only appears in the later support set. Some of the little design touches are nice, such as the straw cape and the variety of arrowheads in use, but this set is a letdown both as a whole, in not accurately representing the enormous variety of costume, and on an individual level, with the poor sculpting.