History Of Violence In Bionicle
Today, the Bones Blog provides some much-needed perspective on the issue of the "violence level" in Bionicle. Often lately members have made false claims about certain types of "violence" nowadays compared to 2001 or other years. So I'd like to provide a list of the real story on the history of violence in Bionicle, subject by subject. This will be set up like a Myths and Misconceptions article, listing the subject or accusation that is false in bold then the explanation following.
Note, that I put "violence" in quote marks because I am including whatever other members have seen as violence. Personally I see things like swordfights and gunfights and acrobatic fighting as "action" and gore and actual injury as "violence". But for this entry I'm looking at what others have alleged, so let's set that aside for now. From here on in this entry, "violence" means any physical force being used against an opponent, mainly if I've seen other members calling it violence.
Also note, I'm including semi-official and official storyline together, since most members bring up even non-official story such as Bionicle Heroes in this debate. But for this entry, I will not include non-official story like that game, since I haven't played most of those (I have played Heroes, but I'm looking farther back in history here).
Violence is only a moral issue -- A rarer claim, but I'd like to clear up my view of this off the bat. Violence can certainly be a moral issue. However, in entertainment, there is one type of violence where the amount of it used and shown is actually only a matter of taste, not morals (in my opinion, please note, on this one). That is, "moral violence", as opposed to "unjust violence."
The real moral issue in entertainment is whether or not violence is "glorified". When a villain uses violence against the innocent, it is clearly wrong, and showing that as wrong does not glorify it (Bionicle passes this test; this is what we have Toa heroes for). If a good guy uses violence for no good reason, it is also wrong, and it's not glorifying it if this is clearly shown as wrong too (Bionicle passes this test; MOL Poisoned Tahu for example or MNOG Infected Lewa, or the fight-to-the-death test in Inferno). If, on the other hand, a good guy uses violence where he or she must to stop a bad guy before the bad guy causes more violence, this is good and just. (Bionicle obviously passes this test as well; again, the whole point of the Toa.)
So Bionicle's got it right on the moral issues. The other question, the one that is generally a concern to member is "How much violence is OK for the age group?" so that's what I'll look at for the rest of this entry. Again, this one is only my opinion, unlike everything that follows, so if you disagree, don't take this as set-in-stone. It is, however, the most logical conclusion I believe that can be reached, being a logician who has studied this issue and debated it several times with some who see it completely differently. It's also based on my religious beleifs, which many may differ from, since just violence is clearly seen as good in the religious text for my religion.
2001 was not violent -- Very wrong. 2001 actually contained many examples of violence. A Muaka was frozen to death, Makuta was hit with a blast of fire (and the other elements too), Rahi punched (Tarakava), bit (Muaka), dropped from heights (Rama), swiped with their claws (Muaka, Rama, etc.), rammed with their heads (Muaka, Kane-Ra), lunge-attacked (Manas), shot poison (Jaga), and done who-knows-what-other-violence in the thousand years that they terrorized the Matoran. Makuta tried to drown Lewa (the plants in the comic), and kill the Toa (the final face-off). Infected Lewa sliced a bird's wing with his axe, sending it and its riders (Kongu and Takua) crashing. Infected Lewa fought Onua by punching, clanking weapons. Onua threw a huge clump of earth at Rahi. Finally, Kopaka even clanked his sword against a Muaka (just before it bit him--and a Muaka-bite is no walk in the park).
Even all this only scratches the surface.
2001 was very violent. It is simply faded memory at best, or selective memory at worst, that causes this misconception. These things aren't up for debate--they happened. The claim that 2001 wasn't violent is quite simply false. It is illogical to argue that what is OK in 2001 is somehow not OK in 2007; we must be consistent if our arguments are to be taken seriously.
The real question is, was it less violent than later years?
Violence Level is going up and up -- Actually, while this is to a degree subjective, the violence or darkness level increased in 2004, and it has stayed roughly the same since then. The style or method of violence has simply varied each year, for the most part. This increase was in response to BZP complaints and LEGO research that revealed that previously, Bionicle had been holding off a little too much on the level for what the target age group could handle/wanted.
For example, the characters held bladed weapons, but rarely actually used them in melee combat, which was a source of annoyance for many fans. The basic change in level began with the "plant-death" of Morbuzahk and the real, violent death of Lhikan in 2004, not to mention the first really horrible catastrophe, the Great Cataclysm. Other lesser examples of this basic level are clear in the books, starting with Voyage of Fear.
Since then, although not everyone agrees, not much has happned to "up" the level at all (read on for details). Now, one caveat to that is that with Pridak's "blood", if it had panned out as we originally thought, that would have introduced gore to Bionicle (although it would only have been fish blood), but this has not ended up being the case; it is simply red markings officially.
Violence level has raised as fans have aged -- Absolutely not. Bionicle targets the same age-range in 2007 as it targeted in 2001. This is a totally unfounded myth that is contradicted by every available fact. For one, the vast majority of those complaining about violence are much older fans than most fans, even than many BZPers, so upping the violence level would be the opposite of what they want. Secondly, it was always clearly stated that the violence level was raised in 2004 because that is what the target audience was seen as wanting. Bionicle is a toyline; it targets kids, not teens.
This myth is usually one of the main points made by those complaining about violence, usually coming in unaware of anything that's been said in previous debates on the issue and simply assuming it from the start, rather than thinking it through. It's understandable; many other franchises do this (Harry Potter, for example), but Bionicle has never done it that way, is not now, and never will or could. All the changes that have been made are tested with target age-groups, or done because of what the target age group wants, not the rare older fans. Most kids lose interest in toylines when they grow up, so there would not be enough to sustain that kind of targeting. Yet Bionicle's sales have gone up, not down, which can only happen if the target age group likes the change.
Explosions -- First, remember that explosions are the answer. That aside, the allegation is that things like the Cordak Blaster are new increases of violence. In truth, the Cordak blaster is only used to blast the stone cord apart, not to attack the Barraki directly. Even if it was, a fiery explosion is no more violent than a blast of actual fire sent at an enemy. Tahu did this in 2001 (MNOG Makuta battle), in 2003 (versus Rahkshi in MOL, and when poisoned, against Gali), and perhaps most notably in 2002 (when he built up heat pressure to literally explode a Bohrok lair).
And as far as actual explosive weapons, two words: Madu Cabolo. These explosive fruit were featured in 2001 (the first GBA game). And like the Cordak Blaster, they were used to blast through rock, not characters. [Note: Ojhilom says they actually could be fired at Rahi in the game -- I apparently forgot that myself. Not sure if you ever had to or not -- if so, that would change this quite a bit, but I do not want to just assume that. If anyone knows, please comment.] Fireworks were also featured in MNOG, presumably powered by Cabolo or something similar, though these are not weapons (but they could be used as them, as I have used them in one of my epics, for example).
And let's not forget that all an explosion really is is a wave of high pressure expansion and/or in most cases, high heat as well. Tahu demonstrates both or just heat sometimes, but high pressure expansion is the same idea as powerful punches, which is seen all over since 2001. There are also many "explosions" not of fire but of some other power as well. Probably most notable is the "explosion" of Makuta himself at the end of MNOG. Pieces fly all over--and as far as we knew at the time, that "explosion" actually killed him. It didn't, but regardless, it hurt.
Other examples include some of the Kal's demises, the explosions that seemed to blast dismembered Toa out of their canisters (a very violent-appearing opening to Bionicle itself, notice!), the explosions that blasted Takua across the island (big island, note) and made him lost his memory on impact it was so strong (if that's not a violent explosion, what is? He survived only because he landed on loose sand, really), Pohatu exploding a hill of rock (which then buried Kopaka alive), and many more.
Note: There is some dispute more recently over whether the Cordak are used to fire at Barraki or not. I'm not sure what the correct answer is yet, but take note of this confusion for now. The primary purpose is, however, still to fire at the stone cord, and again, Tahu did the equivalent of it several times.
Guns/Projectile Weapons -- When the Kanoka Disks came in 2004, we heard cries of outrage and dissapointment. "Bionicle shouldn't have projectile weapons" we were told. Well, many of us seemed to forget that we had projectile weapons in 2001 and 2002. In 2002, we had the clearly gunlike weapon of the Exo-Toa, and in 2001, we had powerless versions of Kanoka; bamboo throwing Disks. The bamboo throwing disks were specifically shot from a mechanical device mounted on the back of a Gukko (Kewa, as it was called then), shooting down flying Rahi (Nui-Rama). Both of these are projectiles, and essentially "guns".
There have been two changes, however:
1) The style of the projectiles has varied. The only point I've ever seen someone raise against the Exo-Toa launchers, for example, was that they did not "feel" like a gun to that person. This shows that it's a matter of style, not actually of violence level; that is a matter of taste for that person. Now, note that Bionicle has, for now, a "no actual guns" rule, but this is done purely for style reasons, for the same reason wheels were originally not allowed. It just isn't seen as fitting the Bionicle style as well as more inventive weapons like Zamor launchers or Cordak Blasters. But there is no rule against weapons that resemble guns, which is why Hakann's lava launcher and the Cordak itself look like guns. Neither is technically a real gun, because explosive force does not fire them in the story; they are simply launchers much like the Zamor launcher, with a different shape, so the projectiles are not going at bullet-deadly speeds.
2) Projectiles have replaced collectibles in sets. This is important, because most Bionicle fans like "guns" or projectiles, much more than they like collectibles, and so Bionicle has adjusted accordingly. There are, of course, more projectiles now than 2001-2003. However, they aren't really new.
Swordfights -- The first fully official swordfight was featured in 2006, when Zaktan fought Tahu. Swords were clanked, and when Tahu lost, Zaktan's sword turned into protodite form and "stabbed" underneath Tahu's armor, forcing him to lose consciousness so he could be captured. Those that don't like this might want to know that I take some of the "blame" on this one as I was actually one of the people arguing for this change. I based that on the fact that, as many had pointed out previously, the bladed weapons really would be used, and as long as they aren't actually used to cut anyone up (Zaktan didn't do that, notice) and thus there was no gore, it was "action", not "violence". Others may disagree, of course.
But something that has stood out to me about most disagreement with this swordfight is total silence on the same thing in 2001. In MNOG, Lewa and Onua were swinging axes and claws at each other (Lewa was infected), and clanking them. At one point, Lewa actually swipes Onua so hard Onua flies backward and slams into a wall. This is essentially a swordfight. The only difference is that one weapon was an axe, and the other was bladed claws. The concept is the same, though.
Kopaka, on the other hand, has a real sword. And he used it in MNOG. In what was probably the most violent action used by a good against a bad guy in 2001 (other than blasting Makuta to pieces, perhaps), Kopaka turned invisible with a Noble Huna, and swung his sword at the Muaka beast that was attacking him. It hit. Three times, once on the face! The animation shows dark lines on impact, implying strongly that the Muaka's armor was chipped. Curiously, those complaining about the 2006 swordfight never bring this up, and when questioned, they appear never to have taken objection to it, or they had brushed it aside for whatever reason and forgotten it.
Now, one caveat can reasonably be applied here. MNOG was not totally official, and Kopaka's use of the Huna in this scene indicates that it may not be totally official. Officially, the Toa could borrow the Turaga's collected masks via the Suva, but they didn't collect their own, as the web team seemed to think. This case is a toss-up. Nuju wears a Matatu, not a Huna, so Kopaka could reasonably have switched. But the mask is shown gold in the scene, which is incorrect. The gold Kanohi could only change to the other Great Mask shapes/powers, not the Nobles. So it's possible the Muaka sword-clanking episode never happened in the actual story. But we also must keep in mind that since MNOG is semi-official, and also is mistaken for official story by many fans (and most, including me, assumed that in 2001), the perception that Kopaka used his blade on an animal is still protrayed, coming from LEGO. So just as someone might take issue with Toa blasting creatures in Bionicle Heroes, it would be consistent for them to take issue with this even if it wasn't official.
And one final note; the Lewa Infection scene is known to be official, though it is less emphasized than his later Krana-ization which was featured in fully official story sources. Also of note is that the endscene with Makuta is official, and he is blasted to bits, which is arguably worse than clanking weapons that cause no major damage. So this caveat is not worth much; the point is that if what amounts to "swordfights" are okay in 2001, they must be okay in 2006.
Deaths -- The first permanent death was in 2004 with Lhikan killed violently by Makuta (or Morbuzahk killed by the Toa, if you count smart plants), and other deaths have followed, with Visorak killed by Roodaka and Sidorak killed by Keetongu in 2005, Matoran being killed by Piraka in 2006, as well as deaths such as the messenger from Mahri Nui dying due to lowered pressure on the surface. Probably the biggest death imaginable is Mata Nui's death, which will occur this year (it's not even considered a spoiler, it is that huge). It's true that prior to Lhikan, no sapient being had ever been permanently killed.
However, we should not forget that death is not new to Bionicle. It began, like most things, in 2001. Kopaka froze a Muaka to death. It was just a Rahi, true, but then in 2004 we learned that some Rahi are actually intelligent, such as Kikanalo, and mistaken by Matoran for dumb beasts -- Kopaka had no way of knowing for sure that the Muaka he killed was not sapient like himself. Makuta, as mentioned above, appeared to be blasted to bits. Dead as a shapeshifting doornail. It wasn't until 2003 that we learned he had only seemed to die (we even saw a corpse!). Several Bohrok were destroyed, as well as the Kal and Rahkshi armor, although these were not "alive".
But more importantly, Jaller died in 2003. "But bones, but bones," you say, "he didn't stay dead." This is true. But an injury to somebody's skin by, say, a sword that cuts, can heal as well. Does this make the swordcut or the gore that, for example, a violent movie shows, any less violent? No, of course not. Death is death. It hurts, you die. Unless you're undead, your death is just as bad whether you are later revived or not. Jaller died; death of sapient beings began in 2003, not 2004. Takanuva died in that year as well; he was also revived.
It's fair to say that here, yes, there was a change. Permanent death certainly has more of an impact on us as readers over the long haul. Many of us liked Lhikan, and wish he could still be around (although it's worth pointing out that he's actually gotten far more story features since his death than many characters who are still alive, lol--but that's just one example). So yes, this is one where we can say without question "it's changed from 2001." However, let's not kid ourselves into thinking it's changed all that much -- and let's be consistent. If these things are OK in what we assumed happened in 2001, or what happened in 2003, they must also be OK in 2007.
Also, again, let's keep in mind that just because it changed, it isn't necessarily bad. If the deaths are not glorified and the age group can handle it, there isn't really a problem.
Gore -- Actually, Al has never been in Bionicle. Just kidding. Obviously, Bionicle has never had any actual blood and guts, but this is an issue that is often on people's minds. Personally, this is where I draw the line, as do many others. Many wonder, "if the violence level is going up, will it include this, and go too far?"
We had a scare recently. When the first images of Pridak came out, members noticed that the teeth and mouth, and blades, had red markings that appeared like blood. Official word was unclear at first, and there were rumors of set designers saying the equivalent of "let's have blood on this guy". For a while, Greg could provide no official answer, leaving it to fan imagination. It could be seen simply as red markings, or as fish blood, depending on the fans' choice. Since Pridak is a shark, he does eat fish, many of which in the surface Ocean being totally organic, not biomechanical, so reasonably could be assumed to have blood. (Most Bionicle characters/creatures do not have blood.) It would be reasonable to assume it was fish-blood stains, just like real sharks' mouths. If it had been this, even though it is "gory" to a degree, it could be considered to not cross the line, since it is simply a shark eating fish.
However, recently it has been decided that it was merely red markings, not blood at all. So this is now a non-issue.
Also there was a scene in one book where a Toa was fighting with Zaktan, and after the battle, there was a puddle of some sort of liquid and pieces of armor--some have claimed that this was offscreen violence or Zaktan "eating" the Toa. However, officially it is not stated what occurred. This is a case of readers reading violence into a scene where it may not actually be, not a case of actual gore, which speaks more to where the fan's imagination is at than what Bionicle is doing. We know that Zaktan did not "eat" the Toa; it is possible that some inorganic armor was simply chipped off in a swordfight (like the Kopaka 2001 example), and a stun liquid weapon was used on him. In any case, it was "offscreen", and clearly not glorified.
The main change since 2001 is that armor-damage is clearly depicted now. However, remember that Kopaka's sword clank in MNOG seems to have damaged the Muaka's armor too, so the only change is that this is in official storyline now.
There are certainly other issues, but these are the biggies that have been in people's posts the most. But if I've missed anything major, by all means, please comment.
I hope this helps us keep in mind the actual history of Bionicle and violence/action. Regardless of your opinion on this issue, you can form a better opinion about just about anything when you keep its history in mind.