Simple question, hoping to inspire some more complex discussions.
So, it’s safe to say most people here like Bionicle. That’s an opinion pretty much all of us share, more or less, in one form or another.
I’m not asking you if you like it. I’m asking you whether you think it’s a “good” story - that is, it’s quality fiction that uses the medium of storytelling well. That’s something I’ve seen all manner of opinions expressed on the boards.
Obviously, there is a degree of subjectivity and taste in fiction that’s not inconsequential by any means. But I’m a firm believer that there are objective things that can be done to make a story more effective (and if you disagree, I’d love to hear that too).
This isn’t me asking you to find fault with any specific writer who worked on the series - I think it’s much more interesting (though certainly harder to do, admittedly) to dissect the franchise as a whole. The creative work should stand on its own two feet aside from the people who put it together.
No poll - I’d like individual responses, even if it really is as simple as “Yes/No”. Were some years stronger than others? What about the different media formats (books vs movies)? What, if anything, was fantastic, and what wasn’t? Is there anything about story generally that can be learnt from a serious Bionicle analysis, or was it just an effective way of selling toys at the end of the day?
I’m really curious what people have to say about this, as a lot of people talk about Bionicle’s story from a “plot/lore” perspective in intricate detail yet it seems rare for discussions to delve into it much further. I’d love to hear from you all.
bonus points for tackling Ninjago and doing a comparison
I’m not as big into reading fiction as I was as a kid, and even then, I still didn’t read most of the BIONICLE books, so I can’t truly comment on Greg’s writing style. And while I do love the movies, I wouldn’t consider them my favorites. That’s not to say the story itself is bad, however. BIONICLE of course has tremendous worldbuilding and story protentional, on par with LOTR and Star Wars. Greg even said he could write stories for years if he wanted to. For how that story is told, I would definitely do things differently.
I am a huge supporter of Genndy Tartakovsky’s “show, don’t tell” philosophy. Letting the viewer experience emotion through the visuals rather than telling them what to feel, which is especially apparent in Samurai Jack and Primal. This is why I particularly love BionicleChicken’s comics on Custom Bionicle Wiki. Not only is the art style both amazing and capable of expressing emotion in characters behind expressionless masks, but the story is interesting to follow.
Whether BIONICLE is a good story is up for debate, but it definitely can be.
Weeell … that’s a bit of a stretch, I’d say. For something to have that level of expandability, there has to be the massive level of official worldbuilding that SW and LOTR have, which outstrips BIONICLE … significantly.
Not by much. I don’t think it has to be official as long as the potential is there. What I mean is, there is a huge difference between G2, which was just the island of Okoto, and G1, which was a universe. Just because 99% of that universe and its 100,000 year history isn’t officially expanded upon doesn’t mean it’s not there. The fact that it isn’t expanded upon officially even bolsters my argument that BIONICLE can be a good story, where many, many stories can still be told about it. Fan projects like Red Star Games and Myths and Legacy do just that.
You’re right, G1 is massively expanded in comparison to G2. But G1 in comparison to the -hundreds- of individual planets, characters, species, weapons, factions, plotlines etc that are fleshed out in the SW Canon, let alone Legends? Or G1 in comparison to the thousands of years of history written out by Tolkien? Ehhh…
I guess it very much depends on who you ask. One thing that I have noticed over the years is that very few people outside the fans of the original series have even expressed any interest in the story whatsoever. If you try to show any casual fan of fiction or pop culture Bionicle, I find it that most people are instantly turned away by the very concept of it (this might apply more to people within the LEGO community that outside of it, but still). I am not saying a casual pop culture fan couldn’t get into it, but the problem is, getting invested in Bionicle requires way too much time and effort, especially for a semi-obscure toy line that has little to no presence in the current public memory.
Without a consistent visual medium to tell its story, it is going to be super hard to get any modern pop culture fan to enjoy it. Then again, even series like Star Trek, which have had big-budget Hollywood movies to back them up, have still struggled to make an impression on general audiences, outside its very loyal fanbase of “Trekkies”.
I guess some series are just destined to be enjoyed just by a single group of very loyal fans, due to being too niche or obscure for general audiences to get into.
So for us, I think we can all agree that Bionicle is a pretty darn good story, but for everyone else? It is very hard to tell, if nobody even expresses any interest in discovering what it is all about.
But while the quality of the story is still debatable for us, I think we can all agree that the way the story was told wasn’t very good. Having the story be fragmented in so many books, comics and web serials was a horrible idea, and I still have no idea how most people who actually grew up with it even managed to keep track of it. Granted, nowdays it is a lot easier to read it all in one place thanks to sites like BS01, but during its original run? How was an average kid (the target audience) even supposed to read all that stuff from so many different places?
While I do think the Bionicle story itself still has a “timeless” element to it, the mediums it was told through very much remains a relic of the past, from an era when LEGO had no idea what medium to use for the story in order to sell their toys.
I found that the serials tended to have more interesting plot developments than the books, probably because Greg didn’t have to follow any templates.
I’ve found that a lot of my least-favourite aspects of the series can be traced back to Lego putting set design over story, such as the Av-Matoran having special powers, or the convenience of the Golden Armor.
I find that the answer to this question changed a lot from the start of Bionicle’s run to the end.
The first three years are pretty clearly just meant to sell toys, with all of the “good guy” sets defeating the “bad guy” sets, collecting various items along the way that kids could also buy for themselves. Then, the 04-05 arc started to introduce the concept of a larger universe, but it was still fairly standard “good guys vs. bad guys” stuff. Then, 2006 was kind of a transition year between the linearity of the first half of the story and the complexity of the later years, starting to introduce non-set characters. Finally, 2007 introduced the serials that are easily my favourite parts of the story, and the sets almost started to take a back seat to the story-only characters.
I think the answer to this is “not really”. I find that Greg Farshtey’s writing style was very plot-centric, without much room for the in-depth character analysis that you typically see in English class. Not to say that that’s a bad thing, though; that’s probably part of why I love the series so much.
That being said, I’m sure someone could write a really good essay about the larger concepts in Bionicle of characters being obligated to follow their destiny, and maybe what it means to truly be alive. That someone just isn’t me.
I certainly agree that Bionicle has the potential to be on par with Lord of the Rings, but it still has a ways to go. Part of what makes LOTR lore so deep is that Tolkien would hammer out every single obscure detail of as many characters and cultures as he could think of. Greg… didn’t do that.
But just imagine if we could get entire story arcs (not just short stories) about events in the history of the Matoran Universe, of perhaps even the pre-history on Spherus Magna. There’s hundreds of thousands of years of untold story, which I’m pretty sure is a timeline that blows both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars out of the water.
The basic premise, the level of writing quality, the flow of story and character personality… All relatively standard for a kid’s book. Defeat the bad guy, save the world, etc. and etc. and etc. There may be impressive worldbuilding, yes, but without a doubt that was on the backburner to pretty much everything else.
However, with the limitations present, Bionicle is a good story based on what it was able to accomplish given its target audience. In its first year it established a partially sympathetic villain, in its second it greatly expanded on the lore of what would otherwise be an equal comparison to G2, and in its third it had a direct-to-VHS film. That’s pretty good for a toy line.
But it delves even further after that point with the introduction of Greg Farshtey. Elements of different concepts are introduced in palettable formats, including but not limited to classism, racism, gang violence, organized crime, body horror, slavery, societal collapse, murder, and all of this was still considered acceptable for a children’s book series.
Then it had the audacity to murder one of the post popular characters who existed from the beginning of the story who had JUST become the hero. And they did it TWICE. You don’t do that as a toy line and expect to do anything except suffer for it; it’s barely ever been pulled off in other media and the successful endeavors stay locked within the memories of the viewers… Forever.
That’s why Bionicle is a good story. Not because of worldbuilding or characters or even the story itself, but because of the sheer audacity the authors had to preconceived concepts of what could actually fit in a story. It’s why people hated G2 so much because it didn’t dare try to fit that impossibly high standard.
Barring that the story was made for a children’s toy line but also had to skirt the line of adhering to TLC’s standards towards violence to draw in the Action-Figure group, I’d say the story in it’s entirety is very well crafted. The expanded universe is immense and in itself amazing even separated from the main story. I remember, as a late teenager when “The Big Reveal” of 2009 was made, I was generally opposed to that notion. However, as an adult, that has a genuine interest in writing, I think that the story and the “every piece falling into place” mentality was masterfully done. No small feat to play that game for nearly 10 years and manage to (mostly) keep it surprising.
As a relatively new fan who has been reading through the novels for the first time (I just finished Voyage of Fear) I have to say that I am really liking them! I am not much of a book reader, so if the writing style is too “young” I wouldn’t notice.
I love the chapter of Tales of the Masks about Onua and Whenua. Onua is the kind of person that only speaks when he has something important to say, which causes some to think he is dim. But when he speaks, he is very wise. This time though, we see Onua sad about how he didn’t say something. He tries to convince himself that the team made a good decision in splitting up, but he doesn’t really believe it. He is sad because Gali, someone who was always kind to him, got after him for not saying anything about the team choosing to split up. It was a really interesting moment because up until that point Onua had not shown emotion as openly as the others, but under his kind silence was someone actually hurt by the things people said about him. Maybe I’m looking too far into this, though.
Another moment I really liked was in the climax of Voyage of Fear where Onewa falls into the lake, and Whenua, someone who’s most scarring memory was almost drowning and the aftermath of said drowning, jumps in the water and just barely saves both himself and Onewa. Meanwhile, Mavrah is just watching with slight awe. Whenua is too weak to get up, but Onwea has enough strength to talk to Mavrah. In this moment, Onewa’s sarcastic and bitter personality just work perfectly as he confronts Mavrah on all of his nonsense. Among other things, Onewa points out how the rahi aren’t defending Mavrah, they are wildly attacking each other and Mavrah has no real control. The sheer chaos of the fight between the rahi, toa, krahli, and vahki is written so viscerally, and it drives Mavrah into panic, which leads him to attempt to stop the fighting, only to be finally undone by what he tried so hard to control.
I got into the Bionicle because of the lore, marketing, etc. I wanted to learn more, so I started reading the books. But I kept reading because on top of such a rich world were stories, individual and collective, that were incredibly well crafted.
As a whole, I think it’s a good story. But taking things apart weakens aspects. If you just look at the main book line and movies, it’s a pretty small world without anything really groundbreaking to tell the story. I think the biggest redemptive quality are the few books which detail a history, or tell of lesser characters not usually highlighted. The biggest things that come to mind are Legacy of Evil and Swamp of Secrets, which give us good insight on known characters. Aside from this, the main books and movies are just okay.
Luckily, we had many other forms to digest the lore in. We had games, online serials, guidebooks, and even comics. These were a big help in widening the universe we had, and were one of the only ways Greg could’ve expanded the world given the lines he had to follow. Like others have said, it seemed the serials gave Greg a lot more flexibility, and that’s we needed more of.
Conclusion, on their own, the main books and movies are nothing to write home about, and I don’t think that we would be here today if that’s all there was. The bad news is that’s most of what an outsider would see, just okay media. For all the trouble there is to read every book, and play every game, that’s what makes the story good.
Personally, I would’ve loved to see more stuff like MNOG one and two. Through these games, we got to see the world moving face to face, learning the lore directly from those who were living it. I want more of this, learning the story as a historian would in real life. Visiting locations, talking to locals, and seeing it for yourself. The best comparison for me, is Hollow Knight. A Metroidvania which rarely tells you the story straight up, instead letting you figure it out by putting fragmented pieces together. It makes everything very mysterious, but extremely satisfying to learn about. All this to say, wish I could be there myself.
Reading over the topic, it seems like there’s a fine line between telling a good story and doing good worldbuilding. For instance, a series like The Lord Of The Rings is all about the world-building. J. R. R. Tolkien had a story to tell, but most of his books were about crafting a world for his characters to play around in. On the flip side, Star Wars (the original trilogy, at least) had its focus be the story first and foremost. Sure, there were all these random background characters that would later go on to have thousand-word Wookiepedia articles, but Luke Skywalker was the front and center of Episode IV, V, and VI. The comments about Star Wars being about world-building are somewhat misguided. We have the main Skywalker Saga, and all nine of its movies (with the possible exception of the prequels) being largely based in storytelling. All the additional “world-building” is done by the add-on TV series, such as The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian, and supplementary novels and comics.
However, there are other series that do both. Look at Harry Potter. The first few books in the series told the story of a boy who learned he was a wizard and started going to a special school. That story lasted all throughout the series, but Goblet Of Fire was around the time when it doubled down on the world-building. We started to learn a lot more about Voldemort, and Dumbledore, and Snape, and the Black family, and all of their backstories.
I think it’s safe to say Bionicle falls into this category. Its first three years (the Mata Nui saga) were simply telling the story of an evil force trying to take over an island, and a group of heroes arriving to try and save its inhabitants. 2004 and 2005 had a somewhat similar story, but here, it started to flesh out a bigger universe. 2006-2008 continued the story, but oh boy, was there worldbuilding! Literally the entire premise of the Legacy Of Evil book was the Piraka having a flashback to their earlier days, and this was where Greg started writing the serials. The Toa Iniki/Mahri and Toa Nuva fighting to reawaken Mata Nui was still the main focus, but there was a lot of lore being built up on the side.
Which he would’ve…if Bionicle didn’t get cancelled.
To quote myself…
Well here’s the thing:
The reason Lego did that was to make Bionicle more accessible. They made Bionicle content for a variety of mediums. There were the toys themselves, the comics, the video games, the books, and the movies. If you’re a book fan, then there’s something to appeal to you. If you’re a gamer, then there’s something for you though most of the games were noncanon
That said, from a storytelling perspective, it doesn’t make sense to tell different parts of the stories on different mediums. Going back to one of my earlier examples, one of the biggest criticisms about the Star Wars prequel and sequel trilogies is that there were significant gaps in the characters’ development. Like, we’re told that Anakin and Obi-Wan have a deep relationship, but for the majority of Episode II and III, both of them are off doing their own thing. And Episode VII didn’t do much to explain how the Imperial remnants were organized into the First Order. Sure, there was The Clone Wars that built up Anakin’s character development, and it’s been said that The Mandalorian will show the rise of the First Order, but a movie series should make sense on its own without depending on outside sources.
TLDR: If Bionicle had told its story on just one medium-preferably the books-then maybe it would’ve gone down better.
But there were some minor story elements that took precedence over the sets; like, for instance, Nuparu Mahri having an Aqua Blaster Blade, or how many swords Jaller Inika had.
That’s what it was like at first, but then later years (particularly 2008) had the bad guy coming out on top. That’s a definite sign of the story maturing.
…which, unfortunately, hasn’t aged as well as it could’ve.
Fun fact: I’m an aspiring writer myself, and in some ways, Bionicle has had an influence on my writing.
Can you imagine if there was an actual, mainstream RPG like the MNOG? I think, if it were successful, then Bionicle wouldn’t be quite so obscure in the modern day.
Having the story be fragmented in so many books, comics and web serials was a horrible idea, and I still have no idea how most people who actually grew up with it even managed to keep track of it.
As someone who grew up with the first four years of bionicle and had friends who also did, we followed the story primarily through the free comics. If you were really into it and wanted more story, you read the chapter books or played mnog. Most of my friends only read the comics, a couple had read the chapter books, and no one had played mnog except myself. I don’t think anyone actually read the web serials, those didn’t become a thing until much later and by then my friends had all grown out of bionicle. You also have to remember that widespread social media use wasn’t a thing from 2001-2005 so there were fewer kids glued to the internet. When we were kids, my friends and I would only really go on the internet to play flash games or club penguin or something and that was it. Or you watched cartoons on cable, and that’s where lego really dropped the ball. Had bionicle had a good animated series in the 2000s, I feel as though it would’ve exposed more kids to the story, but it would’ve had to compete with high quality shows like justice league or samurai jack which may not have been a good idea.
I’m sure Genndy Tartakovsky does this well, but you should probably know this principal has been around for a long time:
LOTR has Bionicle beat when it comes to depth, but honestly the “scope” is comparable - it’s just that Bionicle bites while LOTR follows through and chews. Regardless, I think it’s pretty fair to argue Bionicle has extremely strong worldbuilding potential, and it didn’t go entirely unrealised.
I guess it depends on what you consider worldbuilding. The MU’s history might not be as intricately fleshed out as Middle-Earth’s, but having the specific limitations and powers of all six stages of forty-two kraata breeds as early as the third year of it’s run definitely counts for something in the department of sheer scope.
The relevance of the worldbuilding to the actual stories it was telling, I feel, is where the real weakness lies - you only appreciated the world these characters were living in if you hunted down the details and encyclopaedias yourself. In that sense it’s approach to worldbuilding is much more comparable to SW, although SW certainly has a wider gamut of information than Bionicle did.
That said, Bionicle’s size did also allow it to have a much greater internal consistency than Star Wars has ever had - which brings us back around to LOTR.
I’m going to take this a step further and say without any consistent medium period. There are plenty of popular and successful series based on novels and written forms. Bionicle’s issue isn’t the lack of a visual medium, it’s the lack of any medium that covers the whole story. Visual would certainly help, but I don’t think it’s a complete deal-breaker.
The fact that it’s novels were large-print chapter books published every few months by scholastic, rather than being the kind of thing you’d see on the shelf five or more years later, probably has something to do with it too. If all the books of a given year were condensed into a big thick novel, and given a cover/font size treatment to look more mature, I think many casual readers would struggle to tell they were children’s books. It almost never spoke down to the audience.
You can absolutely argue these sorts of things are reading too much into the story or overthinking it, but at the same time, people say the same about Shakespeare analysis.
The link I gave provides reasonably strong case that, even if Greg probably didn’t set out to say “I’m writing about an arc about Takanuva and Moral Ambiguity!” his character-consistent writing and very intentional sequencing of the events shows that some level of legitimate character growth, whether deliberate or organic, is baked into the story, rather than being purely something the fans stick onto it to deepen things.
What do you consider the basic premise, exactly? That could be referring to a few things, and at least some of them certainly have an argument for being more than straightforward. It could be a simple as “Good vs Evil” or “Find the Masks” or “Robots with powers”, yet as complex as “Universe inside big robot” or “Bio-mechanical society”.
Even the decision to make Bionicle, well, Bionicle rather than just, y’know, cool robots is kind of an outlier among toy lines, especially given that it’s a clarification that’s not immediately (or at all) apparent from the sets - it’s something they deliberately wanted to emphasize, directly from the story.
I mean, in many places, I’d have to agree, but I always felt like the novels/serials hit a relatively high bar with the dialogue (and internal monologue, for that matter). I’m not saying it’s outstanding, but compare it to the kind of conversations you hear in other toy-branded franchises (say, Ninjago) and it definitely feels a step ahead.
Even the movies occasionally managed a bit of this, though not nearly as consistently - we also get stuff like “Takuaaaaaaa!”
Who’s the second example here? Or are you just referring to the fact that Matoro technically did die twice?
I mean, there’s the point about actual content, but I feel this also holds true for structure. It’s very non-formulaic (at least, it doesn’t fit a lot of conventional “story” formulas, and it even breaks the formulas it sets for itself sometimes).
I don’t really have statistics or anything, but you seem to hear this a bit from Bionicle fans. Obviously not everyone who says that is going to seriously pursue it, but it’s still interesting to me that it’s a story which makes people want to explore story generally a bit more. You probably don’t hear the same thing quite as frequently from people who grew up loving, say, Transformers - despite it doing a much better job of telling its story in a consistent medium, to begin with.
Again, though, that’s nothing more than a personal observation so it could be horribly skewed by the fact that I’m talking on a forum about the literary merit of a twenty-year-old toyline to other people who are also interested in that discussion.
I know it has been, but Genndy’s shows was how I was introduced to it and the only examples that came to my mind. Anyway, ever since, I’ve started consciously noticing in movies, shows, etc, where certain dialogue is superfluous and already made obvious by the character’s mannerisms and expressions. Not a major point in the question of “is Bionicle a good story,” just an example of what I would want and what I think some, like BionicleChicken (although not perfectly) do. Small things like that can really bolster the quality of a story IMO, and the fact that I see that in Bionicle fan fiction and comics is really enjoyable.
I don’t see how it’s a weakness to want to learn more about the world the story takes place in, even if it’s not entirely relevant to the story itself. The online games (MNOG, MNOGII, VNOG) are great example of this, where there is a story being told through these games, but a large portion of what makes it fun is going around and freely exploring your environment. You of course follow the story, but you also want to learn more about a world you find fascinating.
It’s not a weakness of the reader, but I think that the best worldbuilding is relevant to the story it’s in. If you’re creating a fictional world, it should serve a point - I think we all get frustrated when we discover that obscure and awesome setting/character/idea that never gets explored!
You’re right to say that MNOG gets this right, though, so I think what we’re actually disagreeing over is terminology. I’m not saying everything is better if it is part of the large, overarching, singular plot, but in MNOG, we still discover stories as we explore that connect us to this world - we don’t just learn that Ga-Matoran exist, we have to save them from drowning. We don’t just learn that infected masks can affect Rahi, we have to fight them and prevent the infection spreading to Matoran. We don’t just explore the drifts, we meet Matoro the Tracker.
Even the minor and optional parts of the game are still all little stories. The difference here is like the difference between, say, the Mask of Life (which serves an integral story role) and the Mask of Creation (which is mentioned, but we never even see get used for anything).