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This is an essay that I've been working on for... sadly, almost two years now. Writing it was one of the reasons I signed up for BZPower in the 1st place! But it sat on my shelf, and, after a few revisions, I've decided to release it into the world. I'm not sure if my views today are 100% in accordance to the arguments I've made herein, but they're generally close-enough & I'm willing to stand by most of what I claim here. To begin, Bionicle is... not well-known for depicting a large variety of female characters; mainly because most female characters are exclusively confined to the Water element (at least when it comes to the female characters that get set and story space) and are subsequently saddled with Water's stereotypes. In particular, Bionicle is lacking in positive depictions of female leaders. Pomegranate talked about this in a much earlier post: As mentioned, Gali, Hahli, Macku, Vhisola, and Tuyet are not leaders (at least officially). Helryx is one, and Roodaka, while a leader (and someone who I'll probably talk about in a post after this one) is both a villain and has her own representational hangups. While I could talk about Helryx, I'm instead going to talk about a character that is given greater focus and who serves as an example of what happens when female leaders do exist but aren't acknowledged. Yes, we're talking about Toa Nokama. Nokama is not the leader of the Toa Metru, yet she suspiciously does everything an actual leader would do (as well as things the actual leader of the Metru should be doing but isn't). For the sake of simplicity, I'm only going to concern myself with how Nokama is depicted in "Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui" and "Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows". I might veer into comic book territory in a separate post. Why do I choose the films and not the books and/or comics? I’m choosing the films for a variety of reasons. For one, the films probably reached a larger audience of children than the novels did, and thus, from a broader cultural standpoint, the films are perhaps more important. Plus, it dishes out more of the story than the comics do. Finally, given my preclusion for being long-winded, this material is more than enough for me to work with. Comparing the depictions of Nokama across all Bionicle’s media would be time consuming and ultimately pointless, because how she is depicted in the novels is going to be different than the video games and the comics. (Just as a note, I'll reference most of my observations--the ones that didn't slip my mind, anyway--with a timestamp, so you can follow along with me, if you want). For starters, Nokama is the first Matoran who Toa Lhikan gives a Toa Stone to (LoMN:3:05). In doing so, he tells her to "guide them with your wisdom." That Nokama is chosen first singles her out (admittedly Vakama, by virtue of being chosen last, is also accorded a special position), especially given the advice Lhikan gives her. Guiding her fellow Toa could be taken as a directive to lead them, especially since none of the other Toa are given advice that singles them out as leaders also. Vakama, treated as the actual leader of the Toa Metru, is told to "save the heart of Metru Nui" (LoMN:7:55). While Vakama's task is important (perhaps the most important directive any of the Toa are given), it does not explicitly call him out for a leadership position. This isn't the first time Nokama comes first, as it happens. She is also the first Matoran to place their Toa Stone into the Suva, inadvertently calling the other Matoran to action to do so themselves (LoMN:1147). When Vakama receives a vision (from Mata Nui, don't let Greg fool you with his talk of glitches ), all the other Toa are convinced he's gone haywire; only Nokama decides that the visions should be trusted (LoMN:14:54). And it is partly on Nokama's word that the Metru go along with the plot to find the Great Disks. Vakama suggested it, but none of the others apart from Nokama appear enthusiastic about the idea. This isn’t really a majority vote either; Vakama and Nokama is still 2 against 4. Onewa states that he's "doing this for Lhikan, no one else," but this line doesn't follow--the Great Disks have nothing to do with Lhikan to Onewa's knowledge. Onewa is also one of the most emotionally defensive of the Metru; what he says isn't always how he feels (for example, he cares about his brothers after they've been captured, yet he disparages them the entire time). His reluctance could be a cover; Nokama's leadership qualities convince him somewhat, but he doesn't want to admit it. I want to shift gears a moment to when the Toa are tasked with crossing the sea of Protodermis. Here, Vakama (future leader of the group) freezes up and issues no commands to his team; when Onewa asks "what do we do now," Whenua, not Vakama, answers him (LoMN:19:02). Rather, it is Nokama who tries to lead the group out of danger; after a quick "follow me" (LoMN:19:12), she directs Vakama to shoot at the statue of Lhikan, ultimately securing escape for herself, Vakama, and Matau. Nokama also takes initiative to use the Le-Metru chute system to escape Nidhiki and Krekka, with Matau and Vakama following her example (LoMN:23:05). When the chute's flow changes direction, Nokama is the one who leads the trio out of danger, using her Hydro Blades to catapult them out of the chute (LoMN: 28:00). When the three need to travel to Po-Metru, Nokama seeks out the Vahki transport to use; Vakama (the future leader) instead preoccupies himself with the presently-useless Great Disks, almost missing the transport altogether (LoMN:29:59). When they finally get to Po-Metru, Nokama becomes the first Toa Metru to discover her mask power (something the film treats as an important plot point), which she then uses to track down Lhikan by getting help from the Kikanalo (LoMN:35:26). After this incident, Nokama proceeds to do absolutely nothing of consequence for the rest of the film (don't worry, there's always the next film), as when reunited, the Metru are lead by directives given by Turaga Lhikan, and once Makuta reveals himself, the film's focus switches to Vakama exclusively for the rest of the film. Still, it's a rather impressive run; this is almost half the film's running time! Most of these points could be condensed down into "Nokama does something, then some (or all) of the Metru decide to follow her," and I'm sure it sounded more than a little repetitive. But my point was to show that Nokama's leadership qualities in B2:LoMN were not a one-time event. In a vacuum, the end of B2:LoMN shows that the Toa are, at the very least, taking turns as leader. No one is explicitly called the leader at any rate, and while Nokama shows her value at the beginning of the film, Vakama shows his value at the end of it; forging the Vahi, battling Makuta, following the light, and being the first to give up his Toa power to awaken the Matoran. Who lead the team depended on whose qualities were best fit for the situation, reinforcing Bionicle’s themes of Unity and Duty (if not Destiny). Unfortunately canon, and B3:WoS, have to go ahead and ruin that interpretation. The film begins with Vakama as the definitive leader of the Metru; trying and ultimately failing to rescue the Matoran. Instead, the whole team is captured, and Vakama decides to blame himself rather than motivate the team to look for an answer. While Norik offers support and a potential way out of the mutation, Vakama rejects that offer, instead deciding to abandon and betray his teammates in favour of seductress Roodaka. Granted, Vakama has been suffering depression and lack of confidence for two films in a row and has just been rendered more bestial (whatever that means) by the Hordika venom. The Vakama of B2:LoMN isn’t a perfect leader, but in certain situations he can lead the team effectively in a positive way. But the Vakama of B3:WoS is categorically unfit to be a leader, between getting his team captured, abandoning and betraying his team, and his prior history of low-self esteem and freezing up in dire situations in B2:LoMN. Let me reiterate—this is not Vakama’s fault, per se, but it means that he is not a good choice for a leader. Nokama’s leadership skills, however, are still in full force. She is the one who insists the Metru must believe in Keetongu, even as Vakama and Matau doubt her (WoS:19:04). She also speaks on behalf of the team on staying out of the Great Temple while mutated (WoS:26:31). When the team enters the coliseum to rescue Vakama, Nokama is the first one to call out to him (WoS:46:22). When diplomacy fails and the Toa charge their Rhotuka, it is Nokama who gives the order (WoS:47:25). When Onewa doubts they should keep charging the spinner (instead of firing it), it is Nokama he directs the question to, implying she is in command (WoS:47:34). When they do fire the Rhotuka, it’s on Nokama’s order (WoS:47:43). Given what results, it is implied that the plan to use the Rhotuka to fly is also Nokama’s doing, given that she gives the order to let go (WoS:48:03). Web of Shadows ends with the Toa not only accepting Vakama back into the team but letting him stay on as leader. This is crucial—the virtue of Unity required that the Toa accept Vakama back, but there is no reason why he had to return as leader when his prior experience in the role resulted in such failure. In Web of Shadows, Vakama fails his way upwards, as you will, in that his failures as a leader result not in him being reprimanded, but instead in his authority being upheld without further question. Ultimately, this series of events begs one simple question: Why is Nokama not the “official” leader of the Toa Metru? She approves missions for the team to follow, leads them out of dangerous situations through quick-thinking, and is the first to learn important aspects of being a Toa that her teammates then follow by example. What else is required of a leader? Who among the Metru can seriously boast being a more qualified applicant? Greg, the Wikia, or the canon in general, have explained the above with a mix of "it was Vakama's destiny to lead the Metru" and "Nokama was the Deputy Leader of the Metru, and was acknowledged to be good enough to be the actual leader by herself and her teammates, but decided to step aside from the role because it was Vakama's destiny." In other words, a heaping load of bull. Destiny is important to Bionicle, no two-ways about it, but Vakama's actual destiny is shown to us; forge the Vahi (for himself) and save the Matoran of Metru Nui (with the other Metru). Nothing about his destiny requires he be the leader, other than the fact that he's: A) The protagonist B) Male C) The red toy These three points are interrelated, but to give a counterexample, Matoro was arguably the protagonist of the "Ignition" arc, he was male, and he was one of the most marketed of his team (though not red, both he and Vakama are right up front in the posters). Yet he isn't the leader of his team; he doesn't have to be, and no one expects it of him. His role is even more important than Vakama’s but said role is not diminished by the fact he’s not the leader. This is all to show Bionicle’s strengths and weaknesses as a storytelling medium. We have strong female leaders in this story. But while the story-verse is gracious enough to treat these female leaders not as a rarity or an odd-quirk, it also doesn’t acknowledge their contribution nor fully reward them for their efforts as often as I think is probably warranted. And that's it! I regret to inform you that T-shirts declaring 'I read Mukaukau Nuva's essay & all I got was this lousy T-shirt' are not forthcoming, but I wish they were. Thanks for reading
Exactly 15 years ago, on October 19, 2004, a second direct-to-video Bionicle movie called Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui was released. It’s based on the 2004 storyline, as it is a prequel. It’s about the Turaga of Mata Nui as a team of Toa called the Toa Metru long ago. They were learning on how to become heroes while they were trying save their home city called Metru Nui from a mysterious evil force. Anyway, like the first film, it’s made by Miramax, as the characters look like real cyborgs. The movie also shows how the Turaga know about being Toa, using Kanohi masks, where the Mask of Time came from, where the Matoran came from, and how did Makuta put Mata Nui to sleep. Plus, we learn that Matoran can turn into Toa and then a Turaga. I watched and loved the movie. It was great and epic. I like the character development, action scenes, and Matau’s crashing-onto-stuff moments. Lol!:) I felt sad at the scene where Vakama was having self-doubts and Lhikan died.:( I like that the Toa Metru had Matoran forms and Turaga Dume looks like an actual Turaga from the first movie rather than his Matoran-like set, which looks silly on him because of what he is. Now, for the negatives, well, I have a few. The Toa don’t use their elemental powers, not every Toa has all of their weapons, the Great Disk Matoran weren’t there, the battle with the Morburakh plant wasn’t there despite the plant having a cameo, there are only the brown and black types of Vahki, and these guys use the green type’s staffs, they never shoot Kanoka, Teridax acts like that he’s talking to himself, and his giant winged forms looks like his 2003 form with wings rather than his skeletal form in his Titan combo set for some reason. Plus, like the first film, the Matoran gave this thing with red eyes and some masks commonly. So, if any of you guys watched the movie, what do you think? Anyway, happy 15th anniversary, movie! Man, it’s so long ago! Good memories. We should do something to celebrate it.:D