Thursday, March 15, 2018

Simulacra: Bootleg BIONICLES - Xiang Yu, I presume?

Pretty sure that this guy is this character from Dynasty Warriors.

Pretty sure.

But whether he is or not, he's pretty cool.

As far as the overall build, I have to say this is amongst the most sturdy bootlegs I have. Likely this is because his build is a variation on the same basic skeleton of every CCBS figure. It's a design that works, so why mess with it, a la my last two reviews. He is, of course, not quite LEGO quality, so there are some shaky bits. The axle on one of the red shoulder guards (more on them in a moment) is loose in even official parts, a problem that is unfortunately not quite solvable (though now that I think about it, perhaps plumber's tape). There's also a kind of odd addition to the leg that doesn't quite work, though I think I've figured it out in rebuilding the figure.

And speaking of rebuilding, let's look at some of the features of this guy. First, I realized, as I was dismantling Mr. Yu, that I've never actually shown the basic torso structure of all of these models.

At first I wasn't a fan of the little addition at the bottom. Why not simply use the larger CCBS torso? But then I noticed that all of the characters now have this extra spot for armouring, and it's a spot that really suits the East Asian style of armouring that we see throughout that region's martial history. So that's one of the cool things about these original builds coming from China - the designers, building on the very basic structure of one of these figures, have rethought the basic build through a different cultural lens. Armouring of CCBS figures follows a very European tradition of armouring. This small addition to the torso allows another culture to be expressed in the build.

The leg, once again, is a bit weird. The double ball joints at the bottom there are meant to hold some large armour, but the positioning of the front ball doesn't allow any natural ankle flexibility. In rebuilding it, I instead but the front armour on the main ball, and raised the back armour up a bit. The difference is negligible. That aside, the legs function very well, though the dual friction piece to accommodate the leg armour is a bit weird.

And here's the pieces that are cool and new to this set:

Aside from the hands (of course), and the new prints on the armour (of course), and the new face (of course), the neatest bit of this set is the red Hero Factory Brain Attack mask that serves as shoulder armour. These, I think, are only officially available in gold, so that's neat. The Black sword is also great, and I should mention that the sword build for this figure is pretty cool. I've already copied it a few times for my own builds. The red triple axle piece is cool, but not particularly well-molded.

Overall, a decent model. Not quite as much new stuff, but a much more satisfying build, in that when I finished him, out of the bad, he actually stood up properly and didn't have bits falling off of him.

We'll hit up Lu Bu next.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Simulacra: Bootleg BIONICLES - Chu Han Han Xin?

The name I give this figure is the one that's on the AliExpress (who, no, are not paying me for the advertising) page. There's no video game reference, and I have found characters who just might be this one in both Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI and Destiny Warriors.

So I'm just going to start headcannoning the names I'm giving them. Last week's is now officially "That Blue Guy." And today's is now Chu Han Han Xin.

I've got a couple more pictures of the full model this time, since they're much more poseable than That Blue Guy (see, it's catching on):

What do we make of Chu Han Han Xin?

Well, first, a much sturdier figure than That Blue Guy. This is evident just from the fact that I can pose them a in at least 2 poses. You never know...we might discover a third one of these days. What this of course speaks to is a better quality of ball and socket pieces, though even on the bottom picture you can see that I've had to replace those white balls with the official black ones to increase the figure's sturdiness. It, too, has awesome poseable hands, this time in black (as I'm writing this I've just pulled the figure apart and I'm dying to make something using all these bits!), and a great selection of CCBS armour in light blue like last week's figure, and light grey, another colour not produced officially by LEGO. Further, as you can see in the pictures, the shoulder armour is the helmet from Hero Factory's Furno 3.0.

The cons? I'm coming to realize that even though these articulated hands are amazing to look at, they're not actually great for holding tools. Not that every MOC has to hold a tool, but it's always fun to make them. So, from an aesthetic point of view the hands are amazing. From a practical stance? Not so much. Then there's that antenna-looking get-up on the helmet. I like it, don't get me wrong, but these pieces just did not want to sit still. Very little friction going on up there.

But that's not the worst of it. That is, as with last week's model, left for the legs.

The arm and body construction are much the same as That Blue Guy. But the leg construction differs vastly.

At top is the armoured leg from the model. It looks pretty cool. It's hard to see, but those feet are actually a really, really dark purple, and the thigh armour is pretty close to original Toa Mata brown. But then shorn of the armour, you get...well, I'm not sure. I can see why this build - it opens up possibilities for attaching armour on the leg. But it also removes the knee, kind of in the same way that That Blue Guy's legs do, but much sturdier. Any leg poseability for this figure comes in the hip joins and ankle joints, which is super-awkward without the knee. When I get around to rebuilding this model, that leg will be undergoing some radical reconstruction.

What else? There's the tool (I've stopped calling them weapons - the original Toa and Turaga had tools, and I think it's important to think about the way we normalize weaponry. Isn't this kind of the problem that the United States is having right now?).

Kind of a generic staff, though the three prongs up at the top are cool, in that they're pieces not traditionally available in those colours. I'm actually not even sure if the little one with the barbs is even an official LEGO piece. I don't know that I've ever seen it outside of this set and last week's. Again, when I rebuild this, I'll be thinking about ways of making this staff much more agreeable to being held in the figure's hand.

A final wrap up of the bits and pieces that are different and interesting that come with the set. The two skeleton pieces in white there are very cool, though they're also amongst the more flawed pieces in these bootleg sets. They're nice for decoration, but if you're looking to be able to manipulate a figure, they're probably not the way to go. The real prize of this set, hands aside, is the armour. Look at the cool prints and colour of that light grey stuff. It's going to make for some fantastic MOCs. Once I've bought one of these figures, I bookmark some of them to a wishlist called "Another, Perhaps?," reserved for stuff like this that comes with parts I simply can't get anywhere else. Add in the dark brown armour, the big round gold shoulder pieces, and an axle that is dark purple (as well as the feet!), and it's worth what I paid, certainly.

The other three sets in this series are not quite so gifted with new parts, as they use colours that are official colours. But we'll get to that next time.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Simulacra: Bootleg BIONICLES - That Blue Guy.

(Just before posting this, I checked to see when the last time I posted was, and it was a year ago almost to the day. Dang.)

I thought it was time to get back into writing about BIONICLE. Much has changed since I was last here, but I now find myself with both time and inclination to get back to this blog.

What I'm going to start with is a look at some new figures I've bought in the last little while. And they're not the Star Wars line of buildable action figures. They're from a game called Destiny Warriors. Well, mostly. I think.

I recently discovered AliExpress. I'm not sure how, but I'm assuming it had to do with my researching bootleg BIONICLE on the Web, because that's where I've been buying my cool new toys. It's a little dicier than shopping in North America, admittedly, and if it was just bootlegs, I wouldn't have bothered; but these are actual original figures, with new colours and prints on the old armours and pieces, new builds, and new masks (sort of). I'm in the midst of procuring them at the moment - as it's overseas, the shipping takes quite some time, and I'll admit there've been a couple of times that shipments haven't arrived, for whatever reason. But the refund system is pretty good, and the vendors represented on the site are quick to return your money.

So to get us back into the lovely building system, I thought I'd look at each of these in turn as they arrive. A warning that there may often be weeks or months between these posts - as I said above, the shipping is a little dicier than on the continent. But I've got four figures, so expect at least four of these in the near future.

The first problem I've run into is actually identifying the characters. I've noted they're from Destiny Warriors, but that franchise has 9 installments, and hundreds of characters to go through. Add to this the problem of video game to CCBS representation (a problem for most of these kinds of media to LEGO adaptations), and identification becomes tricky. It doesn't help that the original page from which I ordered the figure doesn't list any names anywhere either. And lists Romance of the Three Kingdoms as the game.


Here's my guy:

The obvious first reason for having bought these figures is the hands:

These are a game-changer as far as building one's own figures goes. Official BIONICLE has never had articulated figures like this. The closest we get is some weird, claw-like appendages in some of the Hero Factory stuff. But nothing like this. I'll be honest when I say that getting these hands is almost worth the cost. The rest of the figure is bonus.

The other nice thing about this particular figure is the colour scheme. The official CCBS armour does not come in this kind of pale blue, and it makes a nice addition to building Water Toa, and to round out the amount of blue armour one has. It's a colour that is actually pretty sparse.

So what's the model like?

Kinda crappy is my assessment of this particular one. I've been buying bootlegs for some time now, my first ones well over 10 years ago. The one thing they have in common is what I call their Wobbliness Factor. I actually use this as a measure with my own MOCs - one of the ways I judge a figure is on its structural integrity, specifically its wobbliness. This figure is very wobbly. Partially this is due to the quality of the parts. I don't think we really appreciate the precision that is involved in making a toy like this. Consider that BIONICLE and its ilk are made by LEGO, and LEGO professes (or used to) that every element of every one of their sets is compatible with every other element of every other set. Having spent a fair bit of time around LEGO, I can attest to the veracity of this claim. Which means that every single piece has to be perfect. By contrast, most bootleg pieces are pretty close, which sounds okay but actually makes a big difference. My propensity is to replace these wobbly bits, most often in both the CCBS style and original Technic-esque style the ball joints and their sockets.

But that's only part of its wobbliness factor. The other is the build. This one is really, really weird. The body is pretty standard CCBS skeleton, with a small extension added at the bottom to increase the height of the character. Ball joints and limbs are added to hold armour. But have a look at these legs:

That's what each leg looks like without the armour. You can see that the knee joint bends in exactly the wrong direction, unless the knee is actually halfway up the thigh. And then there's that weird contraption of a shin. What it requires is somehow having ball joints on both sides and on the front. But surely there was a better way to do it than this! And then the ankle is two ball joints connected by a 2 length axle. What it all adds up to is a figure that wants to bend its legs along the plane of its body, rather than perpendicular to it.

Moving on.

The arms are neat, and I've adopted them into my own building practices.

In order to accommodate the hands, we have a double socket CCBS limb - one of my favourite pieces, actually. They are very good for combining CCBS and original styles into a single figure. What's really cool is the use of the late-era Hero Factory heads as shoulder joints. It's got a ball joint attached to it that connects it to the rest of the build. What it lets one do is use things like the Hero Factory beast helmets as shoulder armour, which is, it should go without saying, awesome.

Though it's not visible in this picture, the ball joint is a standard black one, as are the ones in the previous picture. Those are unfortunately all replacements with official pieces. I say unfortunately because the joints that came with the figure are cast in white, which really changes the aesthetic of the under-structure. But they're terrible, terrible pieces. The axle holes (another common place of difficulty with bootlegs) are rough and often too small, and for the most part they're not even remotely snug in a socket.

Unfortunately, though the hands look really cool, they're not exactly the best at gripping things. Especially when they look like this:

I honestly can't wait to see what the original of this looks like, if I ever get a chance. I like the use of the Hero Factory emblems as decoration, though I can't unsee them as "h"'s every time, which makes me feel like everything I use them on rolled off the Hero Factory production floor. That aside, it's super-top heavy, hence, in the photo, him supporting it with the other hand.

Aside from the hands, the most prominent feature of these figures is the heads.

The figures are based on characters from a video game, and as far as I can tell the company that makes these has taken a screenshot from one of those games and printed it on a Hero Factory visor somehow. They're kind of cool, and add a nice variety to the kinds of faces one can use in building. It shouldn't be a surprise that the kind of face a MOC has has a lot to do with its personality. These are a good alternative to the more-stylized Star Wars heads, and the more LEGO-like Knights Kingdom heads (and wait til we get to the smaller figure I bought - the head's amazing!).

To wrap up, let's have a look at the parts that came with this set that are different. The skeleton is a medium Hero Factory one, but in white, which is neat. Here's the rest:

The hands and blue armour aside, there's a couple of nice prints to use, some parts in white and dark grey that we don't generally see in the official sets, and some light blue accoutrements that add nice flavour to any build.

Final verdict: Okay? 2.75 Kanohi out of 5? A grade of B-? I don't know. It's not a great figure. Now that I've dismantled it for this post, I'm going to try rebuilding the figure and see what I can do about the design flaws. Or, y'know, just build other cool things with the bits.

I did do one rebuild and "sturdied-up" the figure:

Now I just gotta figure out his name. If you have any idea, I'd love to know. More to come!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Building Chronicle: A Critical Consideration of LEGO's "Bionicle" Series - Building Through On Hiatus

No that the series has been particularly punctual anyway, but I'm going to take a break from the Bionicle building for a bit. My thoughts and interests are going in other directions at the moment, so rather than force myself to build through, I'd rather wait until I'm back in the mood to have interesting things to say. Probably should have done this a while ago. I will continue the series, eventually.

Thanks for reading along thus far, and have a look at some of the other collections I write about.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Building Chronicle: A Critical Consideration of LEGO's "Bionicle" Series - Building Through part 5.1 - 2005

Welcome Back!

It's time to get this show on the road again, and not solely because I'm tired of having the 2005 models on my shelves.

(Though I am dying to build some of the 2006 stuff)

We'll start off today looking at the Visorak. Though they're called spiders, these creatures don't really conform to our definition of arachnids. Even counting their pincers, they've only got 6 legs. However, we're not talking about creatures from our reality, but from that of Bionicle, so spiders they are.

The Visorak represent a nice change for the villains of the series in the six sets offered. Though ostensibly clones, there are subtle variances in the builds and in the pieces used that give each one a bit more character than their Vahki predecessors. Also, these sets reintroduce the original brighter colours of the first three years into the series, which brightens up what had become a very dark series of toys. Of course, the darkness of the colour scheme matches nicely the darkness of the story at this point - the Metru Nui series is a grim one.

What 2005 really provides for us is a remarkable amount of combiner models. Not only are there combiners included in the instruction booklets, but canonical models were also made available in the Lego magazine and on the website. While some of the combiners suffer a bit from that problem of the earlier ones, in that they look like they've been cobbled together from other sets, some actually look like they could have been marketed, official sets. Let's have a look at some of the Visorak combiners.

The Kahgarak is an elite Visorak, built from the blue and white sets commercially released. It plays a part in the novel series, and of all of the Visorak sets (with the exception of the Zivon), it's the only one that actually had eight legs, and can therefore be considered a spider in both Bionicle lore and our own natural science. The Gate Guardian, on the other hand, goes quite a different route, and though it incorporated elements from the Visorak sets, its look is decidedly un-spiderlike. If I'm to be honest, when I build this set, it reminds me of something from the Beatles' Yellow Submarine film. A little awkward, slightly ridiculous-looking, but ferocious with those pincers nonetheless.

The Chute Lurker and the Venom Flyer, though they share a number of characteristics with the Visorak, are actually considered separate species in the Bionicle lore. Both are affiliated with the Visorak, and are used for particular purposes by the horde, but are not Visorak proper. As these creatures were all created by members of the Brotherhood of Makuta, we could perhaps consider the similarities to be aesthetic choices made by a particular member. The creation of the Visorak is credited to Makuta Chirox (who we'll meet in 2008), so perhaps these other creatures were also created by him. I quite like the idea of an aesthetic that distinguishes particular branches of the Rahi, rather than an evolutionary path.

The last of the smaller Visorak combiners is the Parakrekks. Unlike the previous combiners, this one represents a creature that menaced a Toa team many years in the past, and though there are supposedly still surviving members of the species, it seems they have very little really to do with the Visorak and their concomitant creatures. As such, it's the combiner that bears the least resemblance to its constituent parts, and looks more like one of the titan sets, really.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the Zivon, a combiner of all six Visorak sets. It's a bit wobbly, hence my inclusion of a stand beneath the model. In-story, this is a creature that terrorizes the Visorak, and lives in a shadow-filled realm from which it is only seldom summoned. As with a couple of the aforementioned combiners, this set is not to scale with the Toa Hordika, Visorak, or titan sets from the same year, but is instead a smaller version of a monstrous creature. Perhaps one day I'll attempt a properly-scaled model of the Zivon, if I can determine what that scale might be.

Next time, we'll have a look at the Hordika and the Rahaga, the heroes of this particular part of the series. Though one of the Hordika acts in a less-than-heroic fashion, and the Rahaga are far more than they seem.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Trouble of Recycling Toys

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I am a thrifter. One of my great pleasures in life is spending an hour carefully going through the book section at Goodwill, or the toy section at Value Village, agog at the bizarre, bizarre artifacts that greet my eyes.

Seriously, there’s been a book written about everything you can possibly imagine, and about a whole bunch of things you can’t.

Thrifting is where you move up to a higher tax bracket, in some ways – from garage sale to thrift shop. I say this not to denigrate either practice. Let me be clear on that. This kind of shopping is essentially an environmental act. The garage sale represents an ideal – the buyer and the seller directly interact. While the very thought of that sends shivers down the spines of many, the thought of unmediated human interaction in an economic transaction, it has moments of great joy. Of conversation over shared interests, over histories of objects. Perhaps the garage sale represents an interesting point between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie of Marx. Exchange of manufactured goods without the mediation of rich.

In that case, the thrift shop, with its retail store and its higher prices, represents both a willingness to pay more for your environmental action (in that, you pay more money for what is essentially the same environmental action as a garage sale), and also your willingness to ignore to some extent the direst relation between even a relatively small corporate entity and environmental degradation. The fact of the Corporate Entity is directly to blame for many of the perils facing the planet. This is a part of the higher tax bracket I speak of. Being taxed isn’t always about money. Sometimes it can be about accountability.

When I go to thrift shops, I’m searching for a couple of things. Books and toys, most generally. A lot of the time, of late, I’m looking for manga and Bionicle chapterbooks. And Lego. Bionicle Lego. Lots, and lots, and lots of Bionicle Lego.

Part of my practice in collecting these toys is the careful sorting, upon initially tearing into a bag, of the Bionicle from the non-Bionicle. Once this is done, a further process separates the non-Bionicle I want to keep from the non-Bionicle I do not want to keep. Of the things I keep, they are sorted again into their own classifications (thus becoming non-Bionicle), and are then stored (or more often, left on the floor for a month and then stored) in their respective locations. The non-Bionicle that I do not want to keep goes through one further sort: things that I will take back and donate to a thrift shop, and things that I will not. Once a large enough pile of thrift shop-worthy items accrues, I take them there, and of course wander about for an hour or so, beginning the process anew.

Of course, the Bionicle I want to keep is itself sorted into components and then catalogued into the storage system I have that TAKES UP A WHOLE CORNER OF MY BASEMENT!!!!
(Please don’t ever mistake me for not understanding the pathological nature of collecting. I’m well aware.)

That other stuff goes into the recycling.

Today, a chilly November 18th, 2016, I took the recycling bin from my office out to the dumpster in our complex. There is a bar across the lid, sometimes, that gets locked in place, so you have to take each individual piece out of the recycling and place it into the receptacle. This keeps one from putting boxes in that aren’t broken down (which seems to vex recyclers for reasons that no one has ever quite made clear to me), I suppose, but it’s a pain in the ass on a cold Calgary morning, let me tell you. Thankfully, today, the lid was not locked down, so I lifted it and dumped the entire contents in, thus saving my already-chilly fingers some pain. As I tipped the contents of the bin into the dumpster, I saw those last parts, the non-Bionicle, non-kept, non-rethrifted pieces, the death of a number of toys.

This is how I came to think of it. 

In the critical exegesis to my Garage Saling Manifesto, I make an argument that the garage sale and the thrift shop represent an expansion on the spectrum of “value” that material objects are assigned in culture. Use value and exchange value give way in these settings to disposal value – once something has passed through the crucible of consumer culture, what is the least amount of capital that that thing can bring? There are, of course, different valences of this depending on where in the spectrum of the secondary markets you are buying, or selling, an item. Church Basement sales carry with them a whole other branch of ideological reasoning that inflects this reading. Used book or record shops are somewhere else on this spectrum, and bring with them their own concerns.

But at some point, somewhere in the process, there has to come a time when the disposal value is zero, that the thing, whatever it is, ceases to have an identity as an economic entity attached to it, and is therefore no longer of use. When this happens, they are consigned back to the materials from which they rose – plastic. If, as Kansas says, we’re naught but dust in the wind, then these sad, broken, occasionally unidentifiable parts of toys are plastic on the heap. This act, too, is an environmental one for the thrifter/saler. You are tasked with making that decision, making that call for the end of this particular piece of the production process, and all that that process represents, for the cessation of its place in the structure of capital. And if you think of it that way, it’s a huge thing to do. One thinks, “This no longer has economic value, nor could it have economic value to anyone, therefore I shall terminate its existence, so that it can be changed back into something that does have economic value, a different something. The process of that change will damage the environment, but not as much as throwing it away, so I will accept my accountability in environmental degradation.” 

I did this today for a number of things. I thought it was worth thinking about.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Building Chronicle: A Critical Consideration of LEGO's "Bionicle" Series - Building Through part 4.2 - 2004

Okay, catch up time again. I feel a bit bad rushing through 2004, but I really want to get on with thinking through this series, and the 2004 line have been built and on my shelf for a long while now. Plus, 2005 has some really very cool combiners I'm eager to get to. Once again, I'll apologize for the cellphone picture quality, though this is a panorama, so that's kind of neat, right?

One of the earliest posts in this series was of Ultimate Dume, the large figure next to the lava lamp in this picture. He's one of my favourite builds in the series and provides a remarkable amount of poseability and articulation. He incorporates the three Titan sets from this wave, the first true titan sets, with the possible exception of 2003's Makuta. It was recently pointed out in fan circles that Makuta, considering his fundamental role in the series, only really receives proper sets in these early years. Ultimate Dume is his manifestation at the end of the first Metru Nui storyline.

A closer look, and we can see the Vahki, a robotic police force that kept the Matoran of Metru Nui working. It's a bit strange to me, this need for enforcement drones, but when one realizes that the Matoran exist within a vast robotic body (more on this in later years), perhaps the Vahki can be seen more as control programs, making sure that the smaller parts of the body accomplish their assigned tasks. To the far right of the picture is Turaga Dume and Nivawk, one of the titan sets that comprise Ultimate Dume. This version is meant to be yet another manifestation of Makuta, who took over Dume's form in the last years of Metru Nui. This ephemeral nature of Makuta is perhaps a clue as to why we don't see any other actual physical manifestations, though he does end up possessing numerous characters throughout the rest of the series. As Bionicle exists in a far simpler world, similar to that of superheroes, Makuta's actual possession of other entities, and his evil nature, make him easy to read as a metaphor for the evil that seems to be inseparable from sentient creatures.

Also of note in this picture are the Kranua and the Kraawa, combiner models using, respectively, the Vahki and the Toa Metru. As the parts comprising each figure type become less and less specialized over the course of the series 10-year run, the combiners we're given are more like sets themselves, rather than models cobbled together from other sets - the 2004 combiners suffer from this. 2005's combiners take a quantum leap forward in dealing with this, but the 2004 combiners definitely point toward a more nuanced idea about combiners from the Lego designers responsible for them.

The final bit of this year shows us the titan sets Nidhiki and Krekka, the combiner models Kralhi and Kraahu, and one of the first really complex models the instructions for which appeared in Lego Magazine, the Lohrak. The combiners are yet more robotic policing drones, and there's something really horrendously totalitarian about the idea of these massive robots keeping watch over the Matoran, who fill the roll in the series of the innocents that we're meant to sympathize with. Krekka and Nidhiki are servants of the possessed Turaga Dume during this story, Krekka being one of the most reviled sets because his build is so chaotic. I'd agree with that assessment, but I also recognize that it comes from a place of morphological symmetry which we human beings struggle with. Nidhiki is one of the most interesting characters in this series, and does much to add to the lore of Bionicle, as it is revealed that he was once a Toa who defected to a league of assassins known as The Dark Hunters (who we'll see a little bit next time), and was mutated into his current insectoid form.

And we'll finish 2004 there. A good year, full of innovations in both builds and story, and a real darkening of the plot, which only continues in the next story with the animalistic Hordika, and the almost-betrayal by one of the Toa Metru of his team.