As Japan began preparing for what would become the Pacific War, it was apparent that there would be a problem providing air cover for the island bases between the time Japanese forces occupied them and the time that air base facilities could be constructed. Instead, the Japanese Naval Air Force, which had a long record of operating seaplanes, looked to the development of a floatplane fighter to fill this gap. The preferred type was the Kawanishi Type 11 "Rex," which was experiencing delays in its development. The Navy turned to the possibility of adapting the new Zero - the first carrier-based fighter to have performance the equal of if not superior to it land-based opponents - for this role. Mitsubishi was totally involved in the further development and production of the A6M series, as well as the G4M bomber, so this program was turned over to Nakajima.
The first A6M-2N flew just before the outbreak of war. It had a centrally-mounted float, with outrigger floats under the wingtips. Though the floats were responsible for a loss of some 50mph in speed, the airplane was still considered combat-worthy and was fully maneuverable; in fact, its "clumsy" appearance with the hanging floats would surprise many an Allied fighter pilot in the Solomons when he found a "Rufe" on his tail.
The A6M-2N entered production in the Spring of 1942. Its first combat use came with the invasion of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians that June, where it provided the backbone of what Japanese air power there was permanently stationed on the two remote islands. That August it would appear over Guadalcanal, and be an integral part of the air battles of the Solomons campaign through to the invasion of Bougainville. It was also used in the Netherlands East Indies, and a squadron was based on a large lake on the home island of Honshu for the protection of the mainland, though by that time the airplane was thoroughly outclassed by its opposition.
Tamiya first released a 1/48 kit of the Rufe in 1972, one of several different Zero sub-types the company released in that period as it first entered 1/48 kit manufacturing.The kits were sufficiently advanced to push the envelope of the "state of the art" at the time, and are still available; outside of some raised panel lines, they are still quite acceptable, with nicely-detailed cockpits.
Over the past four years Hasegawa has released the major Zero-Sen sub-types as an "update" to surpass the Tamiya offerings. The canopies are thinner and more easily positioned, and all panel lines are now engraved.
This kit provides a new fuselage with the larger rudder of the A6M-2N, with separate sprues for the floats and the beaching dolly; while the wing sprue keeps the standard Zero wing with landing gear wells, a separate sprue has a new lower wing with mountings for the floats.
One good point is the statement in the instruction sheet that the kit will need ballast in the forward section of the main float if it is not to "tail sit" when placed in the beaching dolly.
The cockpit is as detailed as the previous Hasegawa A6M kits, and nothing more really needs be said. The decal sheet includes sufficient markings to do several different Rufes from the tender "Chiyoda" in the Aleutians, as well as aircraft based at Rekata Bay in the Solomons, and from the 934th Naval Air Group, which operated the airplane in the Netherlands East Indies.
Overall, this looks to be a quality addition to Hasegawa's line of models representing Japan's most famous indigenous aircraft design, and sufficiently in advance of the older Tamiya kit to be worth the increased price.