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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
Naturally, we can surmise that Bionicle G2 ended for the same reasons all LEGO themes do—the theme was underperforming sales-wise. We can ballyhoo around exactly how badly G2 sold to warrant an early expulsion, but in my opinion the degree to which it failed to sell isn’t the important part. What everybody wants to know is why it failed to sell, or what factors the theme had that may have contributed to why it didn’t meet financial expectations. Most discussions surrounding why G2 failed are centred around G2’s story—don’t get me wrong, this is important. Yet, while we’re talking about the profit potential of a product (a product that isn’t a story, mind you), we should keep our thoughts reticent of the fact that most consumers who buy the sets don’t care about the story. Therefore, we should expect that the reasons why the sets failed to sell are unrelated to the story. I posit a few major reasons why the G2 sets underperformed; naturally, I have no evidence beyond the sets themselves and marketing materials already made public. However, even from those, we can gleam some picture of what didn’t work. For the most part, I’ll be staying away from directly comparing G2 to G1. When I do, it will only be to G1’s first two years (2001-2002); the only two years G2 got. Even then, I’ll only try to bring G1 up when discussing something about G1 that is demonstrably true (e.g. that the sets came in canisters, for example). The first factor is simply a lack of (effective) marketing. I’m not the first to mention this. G2’s primary marketing outlet was the Netflix show Journey to One. Ninjago was LEGO’s first (successful) foray into this medium, which demonstrated that TV shows were the way to hook kids on a long-running story. Heck, Transformers proved that in the ‘80s. There’s one caveat here though—on Netflix, the viewer must actively seek out the program. As a result, no kid is going to search for Journey to One without already having heard of Bionicle beforehand. As a result, Journey to One isn’t bringing new kids to the line—it’s trying to convince already-interested kids to stick with it. At that point, you’re relying almost entirely on word-of-mouth to generate interest. Contrast this to 2001-2002, which used traditional print ads (posters, cardboard standees), an online presence as a part of the fledgling internet (Bionicle.com, Bioniclestory.com, and the MNOG), a promotional campaign with McDonalds (the Tohunga), and a short comic book series. It all served to generate hype, and it worked. Even so, this says nothing about the quality of the marketing that’s being implemented. Journey to One does not actually seem to be poorly received (its IMDb score sits at 6.4/10 as of this writing, a smidge higher than the 6.1/10 held by the most eminently watchable Bionicle movie, Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui) (1). However, many reviews were simply lukewarm (2). Even among the positive ones, not many of those reviews were enthusiastic—they recommended watching the show to support the theme (3). At that point, the show isn’t pulling its own weight—the brand is promoting it, it is not promoting the brand. Bionicle G2 also took on a concerted light-hearted tone. While not necessarily a limiting factor, a more mature tone had already become what was expected of the brand. Besides, that tone was part of what made the early years so much of a success. 2001-2002 marketed itself as a big kid’s toy (but a toy nevertheless). It was cool to like it, not hokey. The marketing (and sets) were designed with “Bionicle Boy” in mind; a kid who was going to show off how cool these toys were to other kids (4). With a campier tone, LEGO limited their ability to replicate that success. Additionally, what marketing G2 implemented was inconsistent. Its bright colours, campier tone, and less-lore heavy bent signaled out the theme as aimed at a younger audience—kids the same age as the ones who bought the original sets in 2001-2002. However, the theme also attempted to court older fans as well; using the name “Bionicle,” using the original six Toa’s names, having the masks of said Toa resemble their G1 counterparts, as well as hosting contests on BZPower, stronghold of the original G1 fanbase. While this double-barreled strategy could have worked (subsequently pulling both new and old fans together), what resulted was mixed messages. AFOLs were pulled in by the recognizable names and faces, but many felt they weren’t catered to by the rest of the marketing. Kids, on the other hand, may have felt left out, considering that Bionicle was not made into their brand—an older brother’s brand, perhaps, but not there’s. The second factor is that the new sets were sold at a poor price point, which isn’t discussed enough as a contributing factor to both G2 and G1’s demise. The 2001-2004 canister sets were cheap, about $8, depending on the wave (5). LEGO sets are an expensive toy as a rule, but one could enjoy most of what a wave had to offer with just one impulse purchase (as all of the old sets were clones), but if one wanted more there was more available (different masks, weapons, and colours for customizing). The 2015-16 Toa were all too expensive for an impulse buy at $20, so the first purchase was a big commitment; you either had to be aware of the theme or like it already, or you were taking a big risk wasting a lot of (your parent’s) money on a set you didn’t like. It wasn’t as easy to test the waters with the newer, bigger, (better?) Toa. Now, at this point, I’m sure someone out there is screaming at me about the Protectors. Yes, the Protectors were priced at an impulse buy price point. Why, you might be asking, does it matter so much for the Toa to be cheap when other cheap sets are available alongside them? Well, the problem has to do with disappointment. When you’re a kid in the toy store, and you’re looking up at that awesome big red Tahu with the swords and the lava board, you get disappointed when all you can afford to buy is the weeny red Protector next to him, who doesn’t have a unique mask and doesn’t even have a name. Your purchase doesn’t feel important, because you feel you’re missing out on the main draw (the Toa). The 2001 Toa didn’t have this problem because they were the main draw, and they’re the sets you’re expected to buy and be interested in. The final point is not so much a nebulous point as it is a very specific one. That being, G2 suffered from poor set-wave configuration. 2015’s winter wave tried very hard to recapture the feeling 2001 had—there were six Toa sets to choose from, along with a variety of little dudes. However, the subsequent summer wave was a huge misfire. Of all the G2 sets, it was the Skulls most reported to be shelf-warmers. And with good reason—skulls and spiders are cliché choices for theming villains, fit for Hallowe’en but not a great deal else. The same could be said of the beasts from 2016’s summer wave; Hero Factory had done a whole wave of Kaiju-inspired beasts only two years prior. By contrast, the Bohrok were arguably the best-selling wave from 2001-2002. This might not seem like a big deal (after all, all the other sets are quite solid), but what made G1 so successful in 2001 and 2002 was the one-two-three punch of the original Toa, the Bohrok, and the Toa Nuva. G1’s sales were declining ever since 2002 (6). Therefore, we can assume with reasonable confidence that these sets (especially the later two) sold very well to the point of overperforming (after all, the 2003-2004 canister sets weren’t bad, or at least they don’t read that way to me). Both 2001-2002 and 2015-2016 staggered their hero and villain waves (starting with a hero wave, and this is extremely important. The original Toa sets sold very well, to the point it would be unreasonable to say they sold out in many places (7). As a result, when new fans who were brought into the theme by the equally-popular winter wave Bohrok needed hero sets to fight them, the summer wave Toa Nuva sets were just what they needed. But without an equivalent to the Bohrok (both as villains and as just plain fantastic sets), G2 didn’t give consumers enough of a break between the original Toa wave and the revamped Toa wave. There wasn’t demand for the 2016 Toa as there was for the Toa Nuva because the original versions were still on shelves. Putting it this way, G1’s first three waves were all best-selling, well-received sets in their time. Yet, between G2’s first four waves, only two of them (the Toa waves) were marketable, and thus they were the only two that could even hope to be successful. Make no mistake, this was a death-by-a-thousand-cuts. Bionicle G2 probably could have afforded to make a one (maybe two) of these mistakes and survive as a less-than-stellar but still pretty successful theme. Rather, I think it’s a combination of all the factors that made it fail—much like how it was a combination of factors that lead the original Bionicle series to succeed. And none of this is to say that Bionicle G2’s sets were bad. I’m also sure that one of these factors probably did more damage than the other two, or that there are factors at play that I didn’t mention that we may not even know about. Whether Bionicle G2’s failure also served as the end of original constraction lines is still to be determined. We haven’t seen another LEGO original IP constraction line since G2 ended. Maybe that will change; maybe it won’t. In any case, there’s still a lot to be said about G1 and G2 that hasn’t been covered yet. Bibliography (in alphabetical order) (1) a. “Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui.” IMDb, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387658/?ref_=tt_sims_tt b. “Lego Bionicle: The Journey to One.” IMDb, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5075942/ (5) a. “Bionicle—Toa Mata.” Brickset. https://brickset.com/sets/theme-bionicle/subtheme-Toa-Mata b. “Bionicle—Bohrok.” Brickset. https://brickset.com/sets/theme-Bionicle/subtheme-Bohrok (7) Breen, Bill, and David Robertson. Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry. Crown Publishing Group, 2013. https://books.google.ca/books?id=OsyEX0nPkygC (6) Farshtey, Greg. “Post 7953744.” Official Greg Discussion Archive, 14 Nov. 2013, (4) Robertson, David. “How Bionicle Transformed LEGO's Company Culture.” Inc, 20 Jun. 2014, https://www.inc.com/david-c-robertson/how-bionicle-transformed-lego-s-company-culture.html (3) RRproAni. “Bionicle: The Journey to One review (spoilers).” Deviantart, 8 Mar. 2016, https://www.deviantart.com/rrproani/journal/Bionicle-The-Journey-to-One-review-Spoilers-595398632 (2) “Quick Thoughts on Bionicle: The Journey to One.” Jangbricks, 4 Mar. 2016, http://www.jangbricks.com/2016/03/quick-thoughts-on-bionicle-journey-to.html
After our visit to the Lego store in Colorado, our family continued our short vacation normally. I remember looking up at the sky. The buildings sent sparks of cold lightning through my body. Normally people think looking up to the stars and thinking of the universe makes them feel insignificant and small. For me, I mostly felt that way whenever I saw a clear blue sky. The buildings in comparison did not help. The call came when we were heading back to our home. During our road trip, my mother noticed she had a voicemail on her cell. When she checked it, the entire family was... well, concerned by what she had to say. "Oh my god... Oh my god, oh my god..." The words continued to present themselves over and over. "What?! What?" My brothers and I and even our dad continued to ask for what seemed an eternity packed into a single minute. "[LOL you don't get to know my real first name. Trololololol] won a trip to Legoland!" Now, I don't exactly recall what my reaction was at the time. I assume it involved goosebumps, a pounding heart and pinching myself expecting to wake up back in our hotel room. As you could imagine I had a lot to think about on the way home. The trip was for four people. Our mother decided she would stay home, which meant our dad, Akano, KK and I would be leaving for California during our summer break the following year. That was the plan, anyway. I remember I was a bit bummed that I was taking my brothers (we did NOT get along as children) instead of my best friend from school. If I had the power to decide who would go with me on the trip, I could tell you that I would've had no intentions of taking either Akano or KK with me. Fortunately for them I was still only nine and our parents wouldn't allow me to be so cruel (lightweights. XP). Now, during the fall, I would spend my time imagining what the trip would be like. I was in pretty high spirits most of the time; heck, it was hard not to be. It's not every day a kid has a dream like this become a reality. It sounds really childish (well, I was a child after all), but back then I guess I just thought the world was simple. Black and white; good and evil ... it was simple, really, the way the world worked. Adults always seemed to make things complicated for no reason. They would argue about... oh, politics or who was right and who was wrong. It just always seemed dumb to act that way, childish even for a child. Back then I thought I would never understand those silly adults. Though, that was before September of 2001. I woke up on the eleventh and got ready for school. I was in fourth grade. The day seemed normal enough. Take the bookbag, grab some money for lunch, and set out alone for the bus. Akano and KK were in middle school by this time, so they had to wake up even earlier. Those mornings on the bus seemed a lot quieter than they used to, though I was glad, in my own way, to have a little time to think. The bus arrived at my elementary school and I got off and went to my classroom like always. Our teacher told us we would be doing a news project today and that we'd watch the news and do a project about what was going on in the world today. She turned on the classroom TV and switched the channel to the news. By that time, only the first plane had hit the world trade center. Our teacher immediately turned the TV off. Trying her best to smile, she told us we would be working on a different project today. She handed us out some worksheets to fill out, and she went to contact the principle, I assume, about what was happening. In the meantime the students of our class were talking about the news we'd just heard. I can't remember if I was one of the children who got picked up from school by their parents that day... Actually, I think rode the bus home as usual. Needless to say, with everything that happened with the airlines, our trip was postponed. That wasn't my biggest concern, though. After that day, things were scary. I wasn't sure what was going to happen and all I knew was that our country was at war. I remember my friends and I wondering if the school lunch had poison in it as an attack on the school. It sounds silly to even think that sounds logical now, but back then it just made me nervous. My friends and I were talking about how we'd prefer a quick and painless death. It scared me to think about death back then. I remember thinking to myself that I didn't want to die. After a month or so had passed, I had realized that life before that day and life after that day weren't so different. I still woke up at the same time, I went to the same school with the same teacher and the same friends. Over time I began to realize how lucky I was to be a kid. My life didn't seem to change at all, and yet others that day lost so much more. That was one of the earliest times in my life where the world didn't seem so black and white anymore. Shades of grey started to appear in my line of vision. I still had a long way to go before I would see in color. I know my timing isn't quite perfect, but I would like to end this blog post with a tribute to what happened on 9/11/01. I haven't forgotten that day nearly eleven years later... I don't intend to forget any time in the future.