Out of LEGO’s Bionicles Toys Sprang a ‘We’ Cycle Legend

by Dylan Alexander on September 10, 2013

Dylan Alexander · We Cycle Values and Pop Culture · September 10, 2013

Out of LEGO's Bionicles Toys Sprang a 'We' Cycle LegendIn the late 90s, when the LEGO Group was experiencing significant financial losses and its first big layoffs, an idea was put on the table for a new kind of toy that might be able to shift things “into the black.” At first the idea seemed too complex, too difficult compared to LEGO’s other, simpler toy lines involving “good robots and bad robots,” or “it’s Star Wars in LEGO form.” But with the help of a few bright-minded writers, the idea evolved into an intricate, powerful tale that could be presented in a simple, yet effective way.

Thus, Bionicle was born.

I’ve owned Bionicles since its release. Perhaps I don’t play with Bionicles much anymore, but their importance to me and hundreds of thousands of other young folks who grew up with their stories hasn’t lessened all that much. Yes! Bionicles have stories, and their stories kept  us from discarding them. It’s their message that keeps us smiling every time we look at them. What are these things I speak of? Well, here is the story as I always tell it, for it is the way it was told to me:

            In the time before time, on the mysterious island of Mata Nui, six canisters washed up on a golden shore. From them emerged the mighty Toa, heroes sent by the Great Spirit to liberate the islands villagers from the ever expanding shadows of the evil Makuta. They were Tahu, Toa of Fire, Lewa, Toa of Air, Gali, Toa of Water, Pohatu, Toa of Stone, Onua, Toa of Earth, and Kopaka, Toa of Ice. Together, they defeated every enemy Makuta created, and eventually brought an age of peace to the island.

This “toy line” lasted nine years and was LEGO’s single most impactful brand, just as popular as (if not more than) LEGO Star Wars. Just do a YouTube search for Bionicle videos and you’ll see what I mean.

There are several secrets to Bionicle’s success.

•    Bionicle didn’t talk down to the kids who owned them. The complex designs of the creatures and characters—which could be mixed together to form original creations—matched the intricacy of the story. Though the above summary sounds simple, you can be sure that the tales told in comics, novels, films and web series were deep, multi-layered stories.

•   The toys allowed imagination to be unleashed. It wasn’t a take-it-or-leave-it approach to toy design.

•   The message clearly evokes the mindset of the We Cycle you’re learning about here on Pendulum In Action: unity. The three virtues of Bionicle, as explained by the “wise ones” of their island, known as the Turaga, are unity, duty and destiny. Although they were all viewed as equally important, everything in the Bionicle universe was built on that first virtue. Whenever the Toa were in danger in any of the comics, or the online games, unity would get them out of the mess. Whenever they had a decrease in victories, it was division that caused it. These situations would come constantly, even when new Toa were introduced and new stories were written. The themes would remain the same, and thats what made it work.

•   LEGO didn’t simply sell Bionicles with descriptions on them. There were comics that had one part of the story, then online games with other parts, then even short films and, eventually, feature-length movies. The fact that so many different mediums were being hit at once was what made it impossible to stop seeing Bionicle anywhere as a kid. There was even a Bionicle soundtrack out long before any movies had been released.

Out of LEGO's Bionicles Toys Sprang a 'We' Cycle LegendAs mentioned previously, Bionicles had a deep, complex narrative. The stories of the Toa also had one other element that cemented them into the minds of children across the globe: realism. Although it’s true that there were blatantly romanticized parts of the tales, so many realistic plot points were introduced throughout the brand’s life span that, at times, while reading the comics or playing the games on their many websites, one might start to wonder whether this stuff was really written for kids. Bionicle was filled with political intrigue, economic crises, civil conflicts, and even betrayal, just to give you a taste of it. Again, it didn’t talk down to children. It showed them exactly what was going on in the Bionicle universe. It was real, another We Cycle element it used.

Bionicle was discontinued in the middle of 2011. It was very abrupt and children across the nation were, and still are, heartbroken about it. The brand was replaced by a new one called Hero Factory, much like what LEGO was doing before Bionicle. Its stories are simple, easy and safe: good robots fighting bad robots. Reception from former Bionicle users hasn’t exactly been stellar. If their toy—our toy—had been replaced by something with similar depth, similar themes it may have not mattered.

It may be a long time before LEGO decides it may have made a mistake and re-releases Bionicle, or introduces a toy line with similar qualities. But one thing is for certain: the things that made Bionicle great back then can make a new toy, or a new product, great now. It wasn’t just some toy. LEARN from it! Two of the most important cornerstones of Bionicle were We Cycle traits: unity and realism. Use them, and you’re sure to get something good out of it!

Long live Bionicle, my favorite toy ever (I know I’m not the only fellow on that boat).

[rps]

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