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Ninjago Pilot Review

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Well, I finally got around to checking out this new ninja-inspired LEGO theme, Ninjago, and I'm only... 12 years late. I always meant to start from the beginning and check it out, and even though it's taken longer than I would have liked, I finally got around to it.

(I did watch the LEGO Ninjago Movie theatrically in 2017, but I know enough to basically ignore that in my analysis of the show.)

I will be here reviewing the original four 11-minute pilot episodes (though the DVD I had purchased strangely formatted them as two 22-minute episodes).

I am familiar with other LEGO fare of the age, like Clutch Powers and the LEGO Atlantis short, which I enjoyed. Right off the bat, I was surprised by just how, well, non-LEGO it was. The characters were minifigures obviously, but none of the vehicles or architecture looked particularly LEGO to me. I thought that was a bit of a missed opportunity. LEGO animation has usually been good about that, even in less obvious places, like the character from Atlantis rebuilding a table into a bed. Even the Skull Truck, which looks like a pretty awesome LEGO set, doesn't look very LEGO in the show.

(The characters' footprints in the snow are square, since they're LEGO people, and I did think that was very cute and creative.)

It was nice hearing the voice of some BIONICLE veterans, namely Paul Dobson (Nidhiki in BIONICLE 2: Legends of Metru Nui and here Sensei Wu). The characters were barebones if sufficient to me. Nya, who comes off quite strong in the first segment, finds herself relegated to a helpless damsel in distress by the end, but her characterization seems to get stronger later on, at least if my patchwork understanding of the franchise is correct. She gets some pretty cool minifigs later on, at least.

What I found most interesting, though, was the ending. Ninjago, in its very first outing, crossed a line not even BIONICLE, with all its tribal ambiance and dark seriousness, ventured to: the antagonist, Lord Garmadon, won. It truly surprised me as I was watching it: Garmadon accomplishes all of his goals. Even the goofy skeleton mooks, who I found funny in the same sense as B1 battle droids in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, were factored into Garmadon's plan in a clever way: of course those morons were never going to find the weapons on their on. They only had to convince the ninja to gather them for them, and then strike at a pivotal moment and steal the weapons from them. Garmadon even factored in Samukai's defection, using that to get around the fact that no one, not even Garmadon, could have handled their power himself. Samukai is (ambiguously) killed by their power, leaving Garmadon free to escape through the portal.

(Spoiler alert, I guess, for a decade-plus-long TV show.)

It's really Makuta-level planning, and it reminded me of Raiders of the Lost Ark: had the ninja done nothing, Garmadon would never have escaped. Nya would have remained captured, true, but if Garmadon is really as evil as Wu says, it might have been an "end justifies the means" thing. Perfect chess master. While Makuta postured like a chess master in MNOG, we really see, in a way consumable to children, Garmadon's sense of planning and strategy. I found it almost jarring how celebratory the ninja were at the end; they won nothing on their own. Everything they accomplished, obtaining the Four Weapons and saving Nya, were all things Garmadon simply let them have as he no longer needed them.

Ultimately, I am left optimistic moving on to the next portion of Ninjago. More thoughts coming soon.

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"You are an absolute in these uncertain times. Your past is forgotten, and your
future is an empty book. You must find your own destiny, my brave adventurer.
-- Turaga Nokama


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I think the two 22 minute episodes was how it originally aired if my memory serves me correctly. It was broken up into 4 later.

I'm surprised to hear you got so into the pilot. I barely remember what happened in it at this point. I think you'll like the 2012 season even more. It fleshes out the characters a lot more and I think it proved that a TV story for a LEGO theme could work.

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