Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rambling Thoughts on Bionicle

I recently learned that Lego will be discontinuing its Bionicle "theme" this year, replacing it with a rather more generic theme called Hero Factory. (Actually, the Hero Factory backstory gives me mild jeebies; it's essentially about a group who builds robotic policemen and teleports them across the entire universe. What.)

This is a shame, because Bionicle's story rocks.


Now, according to what I've read, Greg Farshtey, who is pretty much the main name in Bionicle, will continue cranking out the storyline for an unspecified length of time. So for the time being, anyway, Bionicle is still alive.

Now, why do I like Bionicle?

Well, there's the fact that Bionicle is nearly the only boy's action toyline which dared defy the traditional English-language pun-based naming conventions or "Actionable Man McAction" names (which Hero Factory is using for its robotic [!] characters). Where else will you see names like "Tahu," "Makuta," or "Krekka?" Not in a toyline.

There's the fact that Bionicle has managed, over its mere decade of its own history, to build a mythos and world of impressive and intricate proportions, and it is one of the oddest and most idiosyncratic such I've ever seen. Take the planets that the saga occurs on, which follow the "plane" theory of planets (i.e. the idea of flat planets, yet modified to be spherical-keep in mind that Bionicle physics are magic) in that, when their progenitor was smashed to bits, split into three separate pieces made up of its regions. Or the fact that much of the series actually takes place in what was essentially a pocket universe inside a giant robot.

(Yeah, Bionicle's like that. You get used to it, you go nuts trying, or you give up.)

Then there's the fact that it's essentially about living robots going about their business. Sound familiar?

Really, the parallels between the two series are occasionally uncanny. Mata Nui is very similar to Primus, for instance. Both are presented initially as essentially the central figures in the religions of the beings they are connected to, though for obvious reasons this tended to be toned down in later presentations as they became more regularly used as characters. Mata Nui was apparently "crewed," being a giant robot (despite being a thinking being), and there were discarded plans for one Transformers story where the earliest Transformers were built to crew Primus in a "battle mode." One could also draw parallels between Teridax (formerly known as Makuta, before it was revealed that technically "Makuta" referred to a "species") and the Fallen.

These parallels are something that I find peculiar and entertaining. It's hard to say whether or not it's intentional; I sometimes wonder whether the Fallen's appearance in the second live action Transformers was deliberately intended to look like a Rakshi or similar member of the Bionicle toyline (as seen in the above video) as a subtle jab at the bizarre and irrational complaints by many Transformers fans that movie Megs looked like "a Bionicle." (Maybe a "Bionicle" made of a few hundred thousand pieces... which could be roughly life-sized, actually, and that sounds weirdly cool. Darnit.)

On a final note, there's even one more parallel between Bionicle and Transformers.

In Japan, as Transformers wound down when the '90s rolled around, Takara realized that they needed a new brand for the last few toys they'd designed when they decided to cancel the line. While Transformers returned within just a couple of years, their replacement line, the Yuusha (Brave) Robots series, lasted for the better part of a decade, and were about a somewhat more generic group of heroic space police robots that were otherwise quite similar to Transformers, the genericness coming from the original factions and mythos being purged.

Bionicle is being replaced by a line about a somewhat more generic group of heroic space police robots that are otherwise quite similar to Bionicle characters, the genericness coming from the original factions and mythos being purged.

Hmm... Gotta be coincidence. It's just gotta.

If it's not, I'm looking forward to Bionicle: Generation Tui in 2013.

-Signing off.

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