After a loooonng Hiatus from the BZP forums due to life and stuff, I was visiting a Comedies forum topic as the authors discussed how to revitalize the comedies sector of the library forum. One of the reasons the forum was dying, they discussed, was because more authors were leaving than there were coming. THis is really rather obvious; most of the children who were BIONICLE fans are now finishing high school or in college, when life enters the scene and reality hits. But when we were young, we loved our little toys and played with them for hours on end, or browsing the forums for said hours. Nowadays, BZP has become a ghost town as older members move on and potential new members are hampered by the end of BIONICLE and the lack of any new theme that could ever take its place.
Why did BIONICLE capture our hearts and minds in ways that Kingdoms, City, or licensed sets didn't? Simple: BIONICLE had a quest
. It wasn't just good guys squaring off against bad guys; the characters each had their own goal, although similar, that led to further development of themselves and the relationships with those around them. Only when they had finished their search for all 36 masks were they ready to face Makuta. And by then, they were stronger in both body and spirit; they had made relationships with the Matoran and Turaga so that they had something to fight for. By leading us through the story before giving us the fight, we had a reason to cheer for these ABS plastic action figures. We got to do more than have our little toys fight each other; we got to have them scale mountainous couches and brave the perilous cliffs of the dining room table in search of that which they pursued. And this quest continued for 10 YEARS. One of the longest runs for a specific theme, by far. (how many of you can think of a non-licensed theme that ran for that long, aside from City? Me neither.)
BIONICLE didn't just have a quest, either; it had an entire world
. It had its own creatures, it's own language, and its own culture. It didn't just have the Matoran, Turaga, and Toa; it had mercenaries, animals, paladins, god-like beings and ruthless killers all inhabiting the same sphere (or the same giant mechanical body, in this case.) Each character introduced had their own history, personality, and connection to others around them, which eventually was why the line was cancelled-LEGO claimed that newbies to the series wouldn't be able to handle the large amount of history. (Obviously LEGO hasn't seen kids watch every single episode of Power Rangers ever, or delve into the deep history of Transformers or the Legend of Zelda) BIONCLE had a deep, rich history that created a world before our eyes and sent our imaginations running wild. By giving us an understanding of the cultures of the different tribes, we could sympathize with a clumsy, curious, irresponsible little Fire matoran as he journeyed across the island in search of his identity.
LEGO has attempted to recreate BIONICLE's success with other lines; Exo-Force, Hero Factory, and their new Chima line tried to follow this trend. But they all went straight for the action, not giving us any other story or sidequests. When I look at the promotional material for the Chima line (Which there is a LOT of, by the way) I don't see any reason I should cheer for these guys and buy their sets other than the fact that they are the 'good guys'. Fighting for the survival of their race is noble and interesting, sure, but as a long-time fan of stories, I want to know more; are these characters tied together by more than just alliances? what was their land like before the war started? Why did the crocs randomly decide "oh, we should rule everything because we're the best"? was it because they were shunned by the others, or put down? Is there a bigger bad guy controlling them? I don't know. To me, it's just animals fighting animals, which starts to get dull. The same went for Exo-Force, and will probably happen to Hero factory. Without any sort of deeper backstory or relationships between the characters, kids get tired of the same fighting, and the toy lines die because of lack of sales. it's not just shiny new pieces or special figs that sell sets; it's the story they sell with it.
BIONICLE has left a lasting impact on not only their fans, but on the entire LEGO line. A christmas letter to santa I read in the paper last December was from a little boy who asked for a "Hero Factory Bionicle." The name BIONICLE has just about become synonymous with the posable plastic action figures that LEGO creates. Hero Factory and every successive line LEGO attempts to market with this model will stand in BIONICLE's shadow, simply because it was the first, a pioneer in its time. And not just on other similar lines, but on other kinds of merchandise; backpacks, lunchboxes, video games and books will never be the same. Especially the books; they gave us the full legend of the BIONICLE, but were still small enough and priced just right for a 10 year old looking to spend his allowance on an easy read. (Props to Greg F for his amazing writing, by the way) I haven't seen any new LEGO books like this since BIONICLE ended; only coloring books meant for younger kids. It's also books like this that encourage children to read, which is never a bad thing. BIONICLE was likely one of LEGO's biggest blockbuster lines, simply because it was so different from other sets and could be purchased in a variety of different formats; you didn't need the sets to read the books, or vice versa, but having them together made the whole story come to life.
Probably one of the biggest reasons we all love BIONICLE so much was because it felt real
. We didn't just see Toa fighting Rahi; we saw Matoran going to work, playing games, and having festivals. We saw mercenaries having water-cooler discussions and Matau crashing a vehicle for the umpteenth time. We saw characters just sitting by the campfire trading stories and laughing-all experiences that are part of a real life. We've seen this in other lines too, of course; LEGO Island is the first that comes to mind, with its diverse cast of characters and wide variety of activities, from racing to building to chasing down the Brickster yet again. Our Hero (Pepper Roni, for those of you who don't know/remember) was sent on a quest to retrieve what had been stolen, repair the island, and stop the Brickster with pizzeria goodies. His world felt real (in LI2, there was a skate park where he could go hand out, and people he could go dance with.) Rock Raiders also had this; the titular crew wasn't fighting the rock monsters; they were mining energy crystals to power their space ship, having various misadventures along the way (They also had their own book series; it was even educational!) Their perils felt real, escaping lava flows and angry monsters in increasingly dangerous attempts to survive. And don't forget the Adventures series; although it was an Indiana Jones parody, we still fell in love with Johnny Thunder and his crew as they traveled the world piecing puzzles together to find treasure. There were very few, if any, plot holes that broke the suspension of disbelief. (unlike with Rock Raider's sucessor, Power Miners; how did anyone not find ENORMOUS CAVERNS OF CRYSTALS underneath the surface of Planet Earth with that kind of technology before now? or Rock Monsters, for that matter? and why were the Rock Monsters JUST NOW becoming a problem?)
Sadly, it seems the days of intricate worlds and fantastic adventures have passed us by; the few Lego themes that aren't licensed anymore are either City, Friends, or a theme where good guys face off against bad guys, and we aren't even really sure why. (If you don't believe me, go look at LEGO's official products page and count the licensed themes.) The reason Video games and certain other toy lines *Cough*Transformers*Cough* are so popular now is because they don't just give us epic battles-they give us epic stories and quests to go along with them. We feel submerged in the world as we watch the story unfold. They tried this with the MMO, looking back at the concept art; a place where players could build, play, and interact with each other. Instead, the finished product became hours of glitches and grinding for $10 a month. (not something most 12-year olds can afford) Even most of the LEGO video games these days feature destruction as a primary action; let's start focusing on creating instead.
LEGO, give us a land where we can build, race, and throw pizzas at escaped criminals. Give us a planet where we can flee giant monsters and mine energy crystals in a desperate attempt to return home. Give us an island where we can search for powerful masks and fight evil in the name of all that is light and good. Give us world that is more than fighting the 'bad guys'; give us an epic quest to follow, adventures to lead, and a home for our heroes to return to at the end of the day (even if it's just our old toybox.)