Okay, I promised to give an informal review of these things in another thread, so here you go.

First off in the interests of full disclosure I do consulting, design and QC work for Bugei Trading Company for their exclusive line of swords. I do this as an independent outside consultant (I do get paid for my time and expertise but I'm not an employee per se). And yes, Bugei is selling the raptors (which is why I was able to see them obviously).

So, now that I've done the due diligence, legal stuff. I was down at Bugei to drop off a couple things I'd repaired, inspect a small shipment of swords, and drop off a nice finished L6 katana (as well as meet a customer of mine from roughly that area and deliver a really nice sword to him). So a working visit. I knew they had raptors in stock and although I knew they were already well into backordering from their initial shipment, I asked them to hold me a single raptor of each style so I could take a look. If someone here has an order that was delayed a few days, well, you can blame me. It might have been my fault. Sorry.

I took a few quick photos of the various blades while I was there which will eventually end up on Bugei's site. So once they put them up I'll link in the relevant ones here.

History. I don't know much honestly and I didn't ask more. I had talked with James Williams I think about a year ago while I was there. He asked what I thought of an inexpensive user sword. I expressed that I thought the only viable means to put together a cost effective sword was to figure out ways to simplify construction across the board. That meant through hardened blade (consistent size, shape and sori), tough tool steel, simple finish and simple mounts. Nothing fancy. I did emphasize that safety *had* to be the distinguishing property. Because there are other inexpensive beaters on the market. However, the ones I've seen have been atrocious in terms of construction. And to me that simply is a non-starter. I can not comprehend how swords like that can even be sold -- that's just not right IMHO. And sword is *more* than the sum of the parts. A good blade in bad mounts is a dangerous thing. A bad blade in good mounts is a dangerous thing.

That was about the end of my input to James.

So when I got down to Bugei I pulled the first box down.

First one was the Unokubi Zukuri. Unokubi is "cormorant's neck" and refers to a deep scoop on the shinogi ji of the last 2/3'rds of the blade. This design is a nice design for a cutter as it allows the blade to be "tall" from edge to back and of reasonable thickness at the shinogi without being overly heavy since the shinogi ji's angle back to form a very thin mune on the 2/3'rds of the blade. So the taller blade means a slightly sharper edge angle and makes them good mat cutters while still feeling like a regularly balanced blade. I pulled it out. Horn kojiri, koiguchi and kurikata. Slight rattle in the saya but it fit decently as these things go. Tsukamaki is katatemaki (one armed wrap or what some call "battlewrap") with hawk feather menuki on the outside (I don't know how they attached them -- I didn't think Bugei would appreciate me ripping them off to find out). I pulled the blade out. No hamon, obviously. Through hardened steel won't have one. Good stiffness to the blade. Slid nicely in and out of the saya, no binding, good feel. Swung the blade a few times. Zero rattle or movement/clicking in the tsuka -- good solid fit. Checked it out -- 2 pins in the tsuka. Same' looks like simple panels and were better than I expected. Felt like a nice, light sword in my hands. I was expecting heavier. Looking down the blade the surface is a bit more wavy than the blades I"m used to looking at. Simple dull finish but the shinogi ji's are buffed to a shine - I wasn't expecting that either. I checked the edge -- sharp. Yes, the kissaki had a bit of weird overhand on the mune as shown in posts elsewhere here on the forum. I've not see that before. But it didn't affect my draw or resheathing at all which kind of surprised me. It felt a little different, but it had no real negative effect. I'm not sure why they're doing that, but these aren't art swords. And the one I looked at looked pretty good all things considered. Tsuka was straight and rudimentarily shaped. Having done a lot of tsuka for custom stuff over the years I wouldn't say it is oversized for gaijin hands -- a lot of practitioners actually like slightly larger than conventional tsuka because quite frankly we're bigger and taller than the Japanese of old. But if you like the smaller tsuka these will feel larger. And they're basic in terms of shaping -- no complex tapers here.

Second one I looked at was a shobu. And to be honest it was actually better shaped than most production shobu I've seen. Not bad at all. There are a couple styles of shobu out there. Bugei's "Shobu Zukuri" sword (unfolded powdered steel, hamon, etc.) is made after an early style that was influenced by cut down naginata. So it is a "big style". Later shobu were done more reminiscent of their name, "iris leaf", so they tend to have a more gentle taper. This was like that. So this one didn't look like a shinogi zukuri sword that was "retroshaped" into shobu. It looked like it was made from the get-go to be shobu. Not bad at all. The mounts were identical to the unokubi zukuri down to the katatemaki wrap. Oh, I forgot, faux sued brown ito, decently wrapped. Not great, but tight and usable.

Final one I looked at was the shinogi zukuri. Same observations as all the others. Not heavy, not light, moderate. Felt good in the hands, in and out of the saya decently. Functional sword. Tsukamaki was the more common Hinerimaki (twist wrap). Decent.

So... What do I think? Well, given the price I think they're a no-brainer assuming this is a kind of sword you'd want. I've seen a lot of swords by low cost makers that cost more than these that have atrociously fit tsuka that are IMHO dangerous and unsuitable for use. These were tight, no cracks, double pinned, and felt rock solid. Fittings all matched up and things aligned correctly which is the thing I was worried would go wrong in an inexpensive sword. So on that count they did it right. I'm not worried about the safety of the mounts based on what I saw (although I did not break any down due to time limitations).

Fit and finish is quite decent *given* the price point. Frankly I think they're a lot better (read that nicer looking, better constructed and most importantly safer) than other inexpensive swords by other makers that cost more than these.

Now all that said... Do I want one? Nah. Not for me. I also don't like coffee, poodles, and I just can't stand sappy movies. I hate most shows on TV. I can't stand anime. In other words, I have my own preferences, likes and dislikes. They aren't my cup to tea. That said I see them as decent swords at a very low price. No, they're not works of art. Not even close. But they're decently made, tough steel, decently shaped, and seem perfectly functional. I'm not sure I'd recommend one for a training JSA student. Maybe a first sword. Maybe a dojo cutter. Okay, I could buy that. For those who want an inexpensive japanese style sword that can take some abuse (please be careful and safe, these are not toys, they are *serious* weapons), they seem like a "no brainer" to me. I've fixed a couple blades for local students who have bought the other inexpensive swords on the market. Those did not impress me in the slightest -- I thought they were a waste of money and frankly unsafe. I didn't think there could be a sword in this price range that could be safe.

So... Not for me. But... hey, they're $239, seem solid, seem well made, and I really can't find anything to be overly critical of even though I'm a certified sword snob (I even have a membership card). Even the weird shaping on the tip of the Unokubi didn't bug me nearly as much as I thought it would when I saw it in person. Kinda odd, but it didn't seem to have any effect. And good lord, it is a 239 sword!

And fwiw, while I was there I was told that it looks like *everyone* is sold out of these things and into back order. Bugei has decided to aggressively sell these and has put up an offer to beat any listed price and I know they have another shipment coming soon with a *lot* of raptors in it.

Oh, and while I was about to finish this I remembered something I thought I'd mention. I was wondering how it was they could make these so inexpensively. As I sat there with all three raptor boxes open I suddenly realized one reason. Each one comes in a box with a molded styrofoam insert. The insert fit the sori and length of each blade *perfectly*. Great for shipping. But that means each is literally identical. To me that means they are somehow making the blade blanks identically. And with a through heating heat treatment they get extremely consistent results when done. Which means the saya, habaki, fittings, tsuka, etc. can all be mass produced because there is little variation from sword to sword which *greatly* minimizes adjustments and fine tuning. So you lose some of the fancier stuff like hamon, hada, and refined shaping. But you gain a dramatically lower price tag.

Okay, what about me? Yeah, I have my own opinions and I often hesitate to share them because it often feels like people put too much weight in my preferences. Remember there are two "scales" to look at. One is suitability of construction. The other is suitability to my personal likes and dislikes. Those are very different at times. So, these have next to zero appeal to me personally apart from maybe wanting to cut some stuff some day. I'm into the craft, history, and art of it all. If that's what you're after, these aren't the swords for you. If you're a serious student of the Japanese sword arts, well, maybe you want one for fun, but it probably won't be your main training blade either. If you want a durable cutting sword in the Japanese style and you don't mind the missing hamon and hada, well, I can't imagine why you wouldn't buy one. Heck, I've seen people ordering two or more at a time and that makes perfect sense to me.

So, as a good friend likes to say, there's a butt for every seat. IMHO this sword is a low end sword market killer -- I've not seen anything in this price range before that I even felt comfortable reviewing. This line changed that.

I will also say I tried *very* hard to discourage James Williams when he brought it up last year. I just didn't think they could pull it off. But I must admit they did.

Now compared to higher end pieces? Well, no comparison. Even the "generic" CAS Hanwei pieces are vastly more detailed and involved. The steel is nicer, better shaped, nicer features, etc. Fittings are nicer. And to go back to "preferences" they appeal to me a lot more as they have more of what I "like" in these things. Go up the chain a bit to Bugei's exclusive lines and I think again there is no comparison. Everything the generics have plus nagasa choice, tsuka length choice, nicer fittings, vastly nicer execution, and of course I think my inspection, designing, repairs, and fine-tuning add (but read my first paragraph again -- I'm not claiming to be totally objective).

I think all of them fit nicely into their own niches.

The Raptors are fine inexpensive entry-level pieces for those who want something relatively well made and tough but don't have money to burn. There you go.

The CAS Hanwei pieces are nicer, give more choice, nicer steel, nicer looks, and are more middle of the line.

Bugei's exclusives are more carefully designed, inspected, and fine-tuned with more choices in terms of fit to the individual.

Okay, once Bugei puts up the photos I quickly took for them when I was down there I'll add photos later.

Gotta take the kid out for breakfast...