BIONICLE's frustrating state in pop culture

I was thinking about this month old tweet by Oomatu cause it describes a feeling that really resonates with me and I feel like I’m not the only one that can relate. Pardon the dramatics but the word choice is so hauntingly poetic. Almost like a short story it promises both tragedy and triumph some distant day. It says something that it’s been echoing in my head for give or take 3 weeks, in fact it’s probably been a shared experience for much longer than that.

It does highlight a fallacy I think a lot of people subscribe to though. Lego is watching and they must absolutely know how culturally relevant Bionicle actually is. Probably moreso than any of us I’d wager. But they’re losing their minds beside themselves with frustration over the fact that they have this widely beloved brand that they can’t figure out how to successfully capitalize on.

I believe there is a misconception that because so many people out there fondly remember Bionicle, that a successful fanfare ridden revival would be all too easy provided Lego put a little thought into it. But they did bring it back in 2015 due to popular demand and the sales didn’t justify it. Lego’s most popular, safest, nostalgia churning, legacy product couldn’t even carry itself through the promised three year minimum shelf life they guarantee to their risk taking experimental new themes. It was a miscalculation on how invested the legacy demographic was as a whole or at least the effect we would have.

Most “og bionicle kids” will like “remember bionicle” posts and half baked memes and talk about how cool a bayformer style movie would be till the cows come home but there’s a world of difference between that and the minority of people who will actually put forth the money into whatever hypothetical new product bionicle will be, which is likely toys millennials don’t want to buy anymore, if it ever shows up again.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had discussions with other people I found out were into Bionicle at some point and the realization that they see it as a “has been” becomes apparent. When to me Bionicle is something that is still actively important even when it’s not on shelves. The disconnect in passion is excruciating because its like we’re so close to having the level of cultural consciousness where once more Lego can justify doing something more significant with Bionicle than a shout out in a tweet. It’s a sad and painful thing for me to come to terms with.

So I won’t.

I made a long tumblr post about it cause I was feeling sentimental at 1am but I brought it over here cause this is a better place suited for discussion and I’m curious about feedback. Anyone else feeling selfishly mad/sad about Bionicle not getting the recognition you feel it deserves?

(I should clarify that G2’s failure was more complex than “people didn’t support it enough.” Lego’s marketing and execution as a whole played a part in it as well as several factors and conditions. I just want to discuss some perspectives I don’t see added to the conversation as often)

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Most franchises are only associated with only particular decade.

For an example, let’s look at Power Rangers. It started in the 90’s (ignoring the Japanese shows they’re based on) and has pumped out series after series to this day. Yet, people only care about the Mighty Morphing days. Sure, you have hardcore fans who still engage with the broader franchise, but to most people, Power Rangers will only be a relic of 90’s nostalgia. Same goes with TMNT, Transformers (though it’s more a tie between G1 and Bayformers), He-Man, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, etc.

Another problem is that BIONICLE’s multimedia storytelling ultimately hurt it in the end, at least to me. Sure, there’s comics, novels, serials, games, and so on, but how much of it reached the wider audiance? I feel like most casual BIONICLE fans are only familiar with the MIRAMAX trilogy at best. At worst, they’re ignorant of the storyline entirely. And if they do feel nostalgic and want to figure out what BIONICLE was about? They have to look up fanmade reading guides just to make sense of everything. It’s partially why “BIONICLE lore” is a minor meme.

In short, I don’t think there’s a way to escape BIONICLE being seen as a bygone product of the 2000’s nostalgia, even if a G3 happens and a success. The best chance BIONICLE has is if LEGO makes a theatrical BIONILCE movie. Let’s take a look a the Transformers franchise.
https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-_jAg_unxplU/Vkqpk-Chr6I/AAAAAAAATi8/_xY0xXYFtaM/s1600/TFMovieToyStats.jpg

While another franchise, this tells us a few things. After a series of (comparatively) lower sales, a movie drastically improved them. And movie years are higher than non-movie years. Not only that, while Bayformers is infamous, it also made Transformers relevant in popculture again.

We also saw the same thing with LEGO once The LEGO Movie was released. Suddenly LEGO had an unprecedented boom and LEGO Stores actually completely sold out. Granted, movie sales gradually petered out, but it could still work.

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I think the best thing we can hope for right now is Sokoda’s Bionicle LEGO Ideas project getting approved. If it gets approved and LEGO markets it properly, it could be a success. And if it is a suceess, that might convince LEGO that Bionicle is stilll a viable product.

Combine that with all the media hype around the release of the Quest for Mata Nui Fan Game, and Bionicle might have a chance of at least being acknoledged for it’s 20th Aniversary.

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At the end of the day that’s what’s more important. That there are still people out there keeping the flame alive despite the active presence or lack thereof from big companies and studios.

More than anything that’s all I want. Just for Lego to do something at all even small. I don’t expect a revival any time soon if ever, but something commemorative like a one time celebration set.

Alternatively if they didn’t want a physical product I think a documentary would be cool. Getting behind the scenes stories and perspectives from different people who made Bionicle what it is and why it’s so special would be an equally appropriate love letter to the franchise in my book.

My worst fear is that the anniversary is gonna roll around and Lego’s acknowledgement will be “Wow! twenty years of BIONICLE :tada:” and then that’s it.

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That’s why Sokoda’s LEGO Ideas set is our best chance at getting that. If they get that set approved and nothing else, I’ll still be more than happy.

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I believe that the main potential Bionicle has is its story. It will become successful again only if there are characters, plot and worldbuilding to follow for the general audience (in a good way). G2 had some strong sets, but the animations were poorly made and destributed. On that part I completely agree with @Sharnak.

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I think giving Bionicle a good TV Show like Ninjago got would be the key to it succeeding in the modern age.

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I don’t recall any Lego TV show that is particularly good. They’ve set the bar quite low.
They have to aim at regular (in a good way) fantasy/sci-fi films, forgetting about the toys and focusing on the story. Sounds unrealistic but I don’t see any other possibilities.

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Ninjago’s TV Show has been (and still is) pretty decent. If they can do a Ninjago-level TV for Bionicle, I’m pretty sure that would be enough to get kids interested in Bionicle.

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The story of Bionicle and Ninjago are really similar. Season 1 to 10 feel like a loose retelling of Bionicle ( just compare season 8’s ending with the ending of 2008). So why should Lego produce a TV series that pretty much only competes with the other TV series they produce. Generation 2 was surely cut short by budget, but I think it was a conscious decision to not put both franchises on one media platform. The goal is to make new costumers and not to make less sales with Ninjago for Bionicle’s wealth.
They can’t coexist in a way that both are profiting from it.

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What’d be your examples?

I think there were some similar shows in the past few years. I don’t remember the names properly… Nema or Chixo - something like that.

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Well there has to be a reason why they are not there anymore and have not been replaced since 2017. Ninjago was running better. If I recall correctly these themes were originally planned to be Ninjago’s successor.

Season eight ends with Garmadon taking control over a giant humanoid creature and conquers Ninjago, while the Ninja are banned to a desert. The very desert where Ninjago’s creator came from. They find there a barbaric hunter tribe and fight it and then return to fight Garmadon with a golden armor they found in the other world.
Sounds like the plot from 2008-10.
Also Matoro’s death was basically recreated when Zane used the golden powers to save his friends from certain doom in season 3.

EDITED FOR DOUBLE POSTING - Spiderus Prime

@Spiderus_Prime I’m sorry for causing trouble. Thank you for fixing it.

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It doesn’t seem that anyone including TLG was against running those themes at the same time.
We don’t have anything like that now, but this isn’t the only difference between theme assortiment in 2015 and 2020.
I see your point but I assume things are more complicated than that.

At best these are references. Such insignificant details aren’t enough to call two stories in the same genre really similar.

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I just wanted to keep it short. There are many more similarities. I just didn’t want to spam this topic with an overcomplicated analysis of both themes.

My first example summed up two seasons of the show. Everything from the tribe on is the plot of season nine summed up. That is more than a reference.

I fully agree with the idea of this post.

It has always been my belief (possibly a biased one, of course, because I’m a fan) that if BIONICLE were to be given a full-budget TV Series (like, a Game of Thrones level budget) it would absolutely be a phenomenon. Marketed to the correct audience for its best strengths (story, character, worldbuilding, etc.) it could be a landmark series. It draws upon so many points of origin that are huge in pop culture right now. Just think about the types of movies and TV Shows that have made waves or resurgences in the past few years, and where BIONICLE intersects with them:

  • The MCU: shares an emphasis on colorful characters, exciting action, and epic storylines

  • Game of Thrones: shares an emphasis on fantasy, magic, and worldbuilding, as well as the extensive development of a large cast of characters.

  • Star Wars: sure, it’s been around way longer, but it shares with BIONICLE and the previous examples a focus on character, storytelling, and action, along with the incorporation of futuristic technology.

Even more minor or small-scale hits, like Avatar: The Last Airbender, show the sort of potential BIONICLE could have as a franchise. At the same time, there is the sense of disconnect that @CausticKrana points out, where LEGO doesn’t seem to care all that much, and BIONICLE has become more of a cult classic or hidden gem.

I think the best thing we can hope for now, as fans, is that perhaps Christian Faber’s new project might lead to something interesting. Other than that, unless LEGO really is secretly planning some wild scheme to bring BIONICLE back in a big way, I think our hopes of it being a major franchise are probably just dreams.

But, then again, as they say…you never know what will happen…

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The Monkey Kid theme, which just got revealed recently, is what it’s thought to be the replacement for those themes. It’s very similar to them, and it’s also rumored that it’s gonna get a TV Show.

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Bionicle was a massive success before, and can be again. Lego has to know this; they confirmed on Twitter that G2 actually performed about average, which means they probably pulled the plug for the same reason they did so with G1–they wanted to cut it short before the brand became unsalvageable. They had a cash cow before, and there’s no way they doubt they can do it again; in fact, it’s probably obvious to them that G2 failed because it got little support.

Of course, for it to truly return in force, it has to be actually good this time around to reel in audiences of multiple demographics, as Transformers teaches us and as Ninjago, popular though it may be, fails to demonstrate–short of AFOLs who love the sets and kids who just think it’s cool, nobody actually seems to care about Ninjago. G3 is a likely move from Lego simply because it makes sense–they can build on an existing IP, making it easier to conjure it in the first place and allowing it to appeal to an existing fanbase; and they can assess what went wrong the last two tries to make a stronger brand.

I’d like to point out that the most likely reason MK even exists is because Lego wants to break into the Chinese market. They haven’t done any original action-adventure themes besides Ninjago since Nexo Knights got the axe. Ninjago could be the cause of this, it could be the licensed themes, it could be something else entirely; but there’s probably SOMETHING going on.

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are you saying G2 was ALL bad?

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Very good write up, CausticKrana. You highlight why any new revival just wouldn’t be enough.

Unpopular opinion, but I certainly prefer keeping BIONICLE sunsetted, for now. (Yes, I know you find that frustrating.) I find myself fond of it solely through nostalgic means, and the only thing keeping it alive are fan MOCs and projects. Yet other times I find myself digging up memories of hatefulness and resentment of terrible community moments or how G2 was handled. Yes, these people would put money into it, but they’d also just fuel the fire of how the old was better.

This isn’t always the case, of course. Yet my enjoyment with BIONICLE remains when I don’t worry about where the franchise is going. I know where it went, and I still have my MOCs on my shelf in fondness of those adventures.

Do not mistake this for a lack of passion. My passion is keeping it’s memory and legacy alive, not the brand to be given another resurrection.

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Mixed feelings, this evokes.

On one hand, I totally get why people don’t want a reboot. When G2 was announced I was skeptical from the beginning, and I think the only stage where I thought it might be going somewhere was when the dropped the first “mask makers” short explaining the backstory. From there… well.
And Bionicle barely survived that reboot, it’s almost safe to say. A G3, if not handled very well, could easily be the nail in the coffin for the series, so to speak.

On the other hand, Bionicle’s potential as a series is actually really high. As someone with an interest and experience in narrative (both critical and creative), I feel fairly confident in asserting that, nostalgia aside, the overall story arc of G1 (although with plenty of missteps) is actually a very cleverly crafted and effective story, and definitely has the thematic potential to be massive if treated properly.

The two biggest things (there are others) that hurt G1 as a franchise, in my opinion, were:

  • Lack of continuity in authorship - the story was told by too many people who had different perspectives of what Bionicle was.
  • Lack of continuity in medium - the story was multi-media (one of its big selling points, actually) but to the point where no media conveyed basically even half of the complete story.

In a well-executed reboot you would actually have to tweak very little in the story itself to have something very impressive - the library of creative resources under the IP is insane. It would just be the medium that’s would look different. I agree that, in an ideal scenario, a movie or movie series would work wonders for the franchise.
The biggest issue is the Lego is not a media company, but a toy company. They do toys well, but we’re not talking about getting Bionicle to sell well, we’re talking about it’s state in pop culture, and toy sales alone won’t fix that. You need either a radical change in their company mentality (unlikely) or some sort of external intervention (only slightly less unlikely) to solve this, and neither is a guarentee of what I said above.

…uh, no, I don’t think that would be cool at all. :stuck_out_tongue:

Bionicle’s story (not necessarily the G1 story, but a solid story) is equally as important as its more obvious thematic appeal; bayformers are pretty more defined by having a story for the sole purpose of knitting together action scenes with explosions. Their state in pop culture is arguably just as frustrating because they are still yet to even get a decent film with an actual transformer as the central character - the mediocre “Bumblebee” movie being hailed as a big step in the right direction shows how desperate that audience is for Transformers in their Transformers movies. :stuck_out_tongue:

In regard to Lego’s perception of the IP, maybe, but the Quest for Mata Nui game will actually probably have a much more significant impact on pop culture identity if the viewer count for that is anything to go by.

I’d absolutely love this and, if well produced, would share it with a ton of people, but I don’t think it really will solve the issue of pop culture - if anything, it will further ground Bionicle as a “cool but bygone” concept.

Regrettably, this is true. The Ninjago series is by far their most financially successful, but I’d argue its situation in pop culture isn’t so strong either (look at the movie it got, if you’re not convinced). And the show watches like someone’s fanfiction about the sets - there are moments that shine (like the Pixel story) but the characters are all over the place. And it definitely hasn’t got the strong thematic identity Bionicle has - as a challenge for someone who disagrees, try and pitch Ninjago’s thematic idea in a single sentence.

It would. I’m not convinced they’d still care about it that much when they’re older, though. I recently saw a Ninjago avatar in the comments section of a non-lego related youtube video, and it got exactly the same reaction as Bionicle has been getting for a while: a ton of people were like “Oh, I remember those! I used to love that show.” and nobody seemed to even be aware there were even still new episodes…

People often forget this, but it’s a big point. Ninjago is way more successful than Bionicle was, but Ninjago was also built upon a strong time in the company, where Bionicle came from very little. I’d argue the risk-taking nature of such an out-there concept and marketing style is part of what made it slam home so well. Ninjago, on the other hand, is king of playing it safe “rinse and repeat”.

This is exactly what I was saying above - Ninjago’s show has no staying power. It’s success is because it hooks easily, but it will unhook just as well. That’s probably one of the worst things that could happen to Bionicle right now, because people will say “oh, they remade it but it’s trash (again)”

I don’t want to see Lego do another “let’s try and just BIONICLE all over the packaging and hope it works” like G2, but a seriously invested attempt could be interesting.

Biggest hope for pop culture is fan projects like Quest for Mata Nui (at least for now), unfortunately. I feel like if that were really hit home and get enough player interest you’d attract some sort of audience.

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