Friday, 29 July 2016

BIONICLE: Journey's End. Again.

BIONICLE is ending again, and with how the news that the first generation was ending affected me six years ago, I thought I'd comment on the news today.

I'm really not surprised, or not in the way I should be.

Honestly, I think that Generation 2 had limited appeal, and off the back of LEGO's treatment of properties like Ninjago, Chima, original BIONICLE, and now The Freemaker Chronicles, and therein lies the real surprise. Take a look at Ninjago and you'll see that the company's gone to great lengths to create an incredibly inclusive and in-depth play experience: while the show, for instance, isn't exactly Legend of Korra, it's still got a set of fleshed-out and "real" characters (but still just simple enough to not alienate really young children), engaging character arcs, imaginative locations and storylines, and in Nadakhan, Morro and Skylor some really interesting villains. When the fans reacted well to minor, throwaway characters from the show, like Dareth and the Postman, LEGO listened: you can now get both in physical form. And even if kids dont follow the show, there's enough symmetry in the sets to carry a story of their own, without being reliant on any background knowledge: just look at the Jadeblades from the Tournament of Elements, or the set for the city of Stiix, which could easily have been a fun base for the wave's ghostly antagonists without kids knowing he true context from the show. Chima and the original BIONICLE had the same charm, the same level of detail, and BIONICLE in particular had a great deal of fan interaction.

So for Generation 2 to be so vastly homogenised was a shock, especially since it came at a time when Ninjago was doing very well. You would think LEGO would try to emulate that success with what had been one of their most popular themes in the past (which, along with Star Wars, saved the company in the early 2000s).

Alas not. While the first wave of sets were fun, there was no attention to story beyond a few 2D cartoons that were funny, but had nothing special about them. The heroes were caricatures, the world a science-fantasy template, and the villains a character-less Zerg rush without any threat. We were told the Toa needed the golden masks, and given several campfire recountings of the andient conflict between good and evil that had set current events into motion, but there was nothing beyond that. Comparing the first year of Generation 2 to the first year of Generation 1 may be unfair, given that LEGO was clearly aiming for an even younger demographic, but I really can't help it: instead of learning about the island and its inhabitants via the framing device of an amnesiac, first person protagonist, we're given brief backstories and names for six central ones and no insights into the world of the story beyond the fact that it appears as a physical stage for the Toas' quests; rather than a highly nuanced relationship between the six Toa, three of whom competed for leadership, we were given archetypal cartoons who seemed to speak from a bank of stock phrases.

And so given that the designs of most of the sets went downhill, and that fans had little to nothing to align themselves with story-wise, or not in the way they might be used to from Ninjago, it's no surprise to me that BIONICLE has been discontinued again. I'm sure a lot of people are very sad about it, and I did sigh at the thought of the new story not having the chance to develop into its third year, but it's like energy: you get out what you put in, and quite frankly Generation 2 didn't have much that made it truly special.

Just my opinion, I'm sure it's an unpopular one, but I thought I would share it.