Comparing Ninjago And Bionicle
Ninjago BIONICLE Hero Factory story character development
Compared to BIONICLE, LEGO Ninjago explores its characters and shows their development on a much more individual level than BIONICLE often did. Obviously the TV-series format is a major asset here. Certain episodes can be geared towards exploring and developing certain characters. The ways that the Ninja have independently come to unlock their true potential in episodes seven through nine are good examples of this.
Now, BIONICLE did have strong individual character development in certain arcs. Mask of Light showed individual growth for some of the Toa (mainly Tahu) as well as its stars Jaller and Takua. Legends of Metru Nui gave Vakama a great deal of character development. Vakama's character development continued in Web of Shadows, along with character development for Matau. Mata Nui underwent character development in The Legend Reborn.
You should be sensing a pattern here. The strongest character development for individuals in the series tended to take place in movies-- or in the very least, during years that had movies to tie them together.
The BIONICLE comics, on the other hand, had very little individual character development-- most of the Toa's challenges were overcome through teamwork, and thus individuals rarely had a chance to show growth-- at best, their already-acquired traits would shine when they were needed to help a teammate.
The books are an odd case. Some of them were pretty great in terms of character development. My favorite story arc for character development was 2007, when we saw some great changes in personality among the Toa Mahri, and the reasons for these changes were explored.
One of the most memorable scenes ever, for me, was when Jaller and Kongu discuss why Kongu had become such a joker since going on Jaller's quest. Kongu reveals that this was a coping technique he learned my trying to follow the example Toa Lewa set as a lighthearted free spirit. In this, an inconsistency between his 2001-2003 portrayal as a disciplined military leader and his 2006-2007 portrayal as comic relief was made into an example of personal growth.
At the same time, I don't think this was character development that many readers caught onto, and it demonstrates how in BIONICLE, individual character growth took a back seat to adventure, happening mainly behind-the-scenes. It's similar to some of the character growth we see in Hero Factory under close examination. In 2010 Bulk was established as a dull character with little mental capacity, and a character bio mentioned that he was extremely self-conscious about this. Later, in Savage Planet, a big deal is made of the fact that he's been reading lately, culminating when Furno addresses him as "big guy", to which Bulk replies indignantly "I'm more than just the big guy!" For those fans who followed the story from its origins, this is monumental character development, but it mostly happened backstage.
A similar perceived inconsistency, Natalie Breez's vocal feminism in Ordeal of Fire, wasn't really character development, but that characterization had previously been seen in 2010's Hero Factory FM podcast, when she came on as a special guest to rebuke Tibor Terrell's gag-worthy Hero Factory: The Musical, which cast her as William Furno's love interest. She was quick to point out that her responsibilities as a Hero came first, and she had no interest in romantic pursuits, especially with her teammates. She also spoke on how for outsiders, Hero Factory was usually associated with burly male Heroes, and that as a female Hero she hoped to do away with some of this prejudice.
But back on topic. It's pretty clear to me that actual character growth, with characters uncovering answers about themselves and maturing as characters, did not tend to take the forefront very often in BIONICLE any more than it does in Hero Factory. Adventure is the name of the game.
Is this a fault of Greg Farshtey's writing? Hardly. He handles character development and characterization quite well in the Ninjago theme. I can attest to the level of character development in the four Ninjago novels Kai: Ninja of Fire, Zane: Ninja of Ice, Cole: Ninja of Earth, and Jay: Ninja of Lightning. While the 2011 Ninjago TV episodes focused almost entirely on Kai, these four books explore all four Ninja's characters a lot deeper, even touching on things not explored in the TV show until the 2012 season like Zane's mysterious past and Jay's embarrassing upbringing.
So I think the lack of individual character development in BIONICLE is more a symptom of its very objective-based storytelling and not any one author's storytelling style. In BIONICLE, there was always an overarching mission the Toa were pursuing. Hero Factory's story is also very objective-based, although the "objective" tends to be the more repetitive "capture the Monster of the Week". Ninjago's has objectives, but its objectives are often more individual than BIONICLE's. Each Ninja has their own reason for being a part of the team, not just because of the Power of Teamwork or the team being chosen for them by destiny and/or manufacture. And each Ninja has personal struggles to overcome if they hope to succeed as Ninjago's protectors.
Any thoughts on this theory? I realize I rambled more than I probably should have, but I'd still love to hear if others agree, disagree, or think my reasoning is based on flawed principles in the first place and that BIONICLE had more outstanding character development than I remember.