The people have spoke, and Bionicles was the most-voted theme in the first round of the LEGO Ideas 90th Anniversary fan vote, moving into the final round with a considerable lead and advantage over Classic Space, Castle and Pirates.
To a lot of modern LEGO fans, this was a massive shock to the system, and if the conversations and comments on social media have revealed, there’s a massive disconnect between the mainstream LEGO fanbase, and the Bionicle faithful.
I was not surprised by the results – predicting that Bionicle would trounce Classic Space, and also correctly calling that Castle would be in the final round.
There’s a level of gatekeeping and elitism at play here, because Bionicle is just so unusual, and not quite what comes to mind when you think of the LEGO System. But I also recognised the passionate community behind Bionicle, and expected them to do well because they’ve essentially kept interest in Bionicle despite there not being any sets in recent times.
To demystify and shed light on the Bionicle fanbase, I spoke to Tufi Piyufi, one of the admins and staff from BZPower, one of the longest-running recognised Bionicle communities online, to peel back the curtain on the Bionicle fanbase and community.
About Tufi Piyufi
I’ve been a Bionicle fan since 2001, a BZPower member since 2002, and a staff member since 2003. Among other things, I’ve hosted dozens of building contests for Bionicle MOCs, with thousands of entries in total. I’m the third administrator to hold the title of Ambassador. My biggest responsibility as BZPower’s Ambassador would be reporting on all the things we do, so LEGO knows the Bionicle community is still very much alive.
First of all, how do you feel that Bionicle is in the lead for the LEGO Ideas 90th Anniversary vote? Are you surprised?
I’m not surprised at all that Bionicle is doing so well. There’s a lot of Bionicle fans out there, and the fanbase has always been very internet-savvy. We’re no strangers to rooting for Bionicle on the Ideas platform, either: when Sokoda’s Legend of the Bionicle project came out, we were pulling for it in a big way.
A lot of non-Bionicle fans don’t get the theme at all – why is Bionicle so special and can you tell us more about the Bionicle fan community?
Let’s start with the toys themselves. There’s nothing more iconic than the Toa, robot warriors in beautiful natural settings, that come in canisters that are themselves linked to the story. There’s six Toa to a wave, so you have your super squad… or a set of pieces in different colors you can use to make your own characters. For the first few years, you could even buy blind boxes of masks in colors that weren’t found in sets, which was obvious collection bait but also a great prompt to make someone that would wear those masks.
It’s never been just about the sets, though. There’s a story to go with all of it, and personalities for those Toa. We started with a Flash adventure game on the Bionicle website, where you could roam all over the island of Mata Nui as one of the villagers, as well as comics bundled with the LEGO Magazine. From there, it expanded to books, Flash animations, movies, guidebooks, video games, short stories, in-universe blog posts, podcasts, graphic novels… The list goes on, and I bet I’m forgetting something! There’s copious story material for a fan to really dive into, and no shortage of places to jump off from with their own creations.
Those creations aren’t limited to MOCs, by the way. You’ve got fanfiction, fanart, computer games, role-playing games, music, stop-motion animation, podcasts, cosplay, videos, analysis, 3D printed models, sculpted and/or painted masks, and so many other forms of expression. Bionicle was presented to us as a multi-media line, and we responded in kind. There’s a way to participate for everybody.
Was there a lot of organisation behind the scenes among the various Bionicle communities?
Not really – we just posted the news on our front pages and our feeds, and the voters took it from there. And then you have the fans who’ve left the community, or were never part of it, who see the news about this big vote and decide to rep one of their favourite themes. There’s a lot of 20- and 30-somethings out there with fond childhood memories of Bionicle.
I see a lot of confusion in “typical” AFOL spaces as to why Bionicle could do so well. I’ve even seen multiple people assume a small group is making tons of throwaway accounts and using those to vote, because they certainly don’t know any Bionicle fans. I can assure you, the fans are out there in droves, even if they never entered your circles. Remember: for a long time, the rest of the AFOL community was hostile towards Bionicle and its fans, and this vote is proving those attitudes are still alive.
(Speaking of, to all those people bragging about throwing out any Bionicle pieces they see: have you seen how much they go for on Bricklink?)
If Bionicle wins, and a 90th Anniversary set is produced, what would you like it to be?
Personally, I’d love to see a classic Toa and Rahi matchup. Bionicle has always had some great and innovative animal designs, and I want to see what the designers can do with a 2020s part catalogue. And, naturally, you need a Toa to fight/ride/befriend it. Tahu’s the obvious choice, but it could be anybody.
Tell us a bit more about the history of BZPower, and the community behind it.
Way back in 2001, when everybody was making websites for everything, you had Mike’s Bionicle Island and xTIAN’s Bionicle Corner. They would soon merge to make Kanohi Power, which would then merge with the forum Bionicle Zone to create BZPower.
For the next 20 years or so, thousands of Bionicle fans joined up to talk about sets, story, what they made, and so much more. We’ve hosted countless contests and millions of posts, and sparked so many enduring friendships (and marriages!).
For people not familiar with Bionicle, what are some fan MOCs/designs that you are some of your favourites that can show off the creative energy of the Bionicle community?
I could go on and on, but here’s a (very) quick sampling:
Bryce McGlone’s The Rack: Bryce wasn’t just an early adopter of Bionicle among mecha builders, he was the first person to show off what Bionicle could really do. The Rack embraces those organic shapes to tremendous effect, in something that’s neither a humanoid nor an animal.
Djokson’s The Mordagogg: Let’s not ignore how good Bionicle is for building creatures, though! By angling pieces just so, you can create the smaller curves and angles that really sell a figure as organic, as seen here.
Mitch Phillips’ Artakha: There’s tons of characters in the story that never saw set representation, and Artakha is one of them. This MOC was entered into a contest where the winning creation would added to the canon. While this wasn’t the winning entry, it’s a great demonstration of using Bionicle pieces to create a muscular form as well as Bionicle and System elements combined to create the character’s mask.
Aiden.Builds’ Mangai Steed: A MOC doesn’t have to be giant to use Bionicle well. By carefully selecting a few parts, this MOC looks as organic as any creature, even if it is a metallic silver. Add a face filled with character, and it’s sure to find its way into your heart.
Mohamed Marei’s Bones of the Risen: Or maybe your figure doesn’t have any flesh to render at all! Skeletal figures are a time-honoured tradition of Bionicle building, and Mohamed makes great use of horns and tails for those bony hands. Check out those skulls used as feet: +2 spooky.
I hope this was a useful read to help you understand a bit more about the passionate, creative and talented community behind Bionicle.
Personally, I’m not a fan of Bionicle because I didn’t quite grow up with it, but I do have to respect and admire the community and diehard fanbase that was behind it winning the 90th Anniversary Fan Vote first round.
No matter what happens in the final round, the Bionicle community can take pride in stomping over all the other Classic themes in the vote, which nearly upended the AFOL world and hopefully, introduced them to some of the awesome lore, creations and talent in the Bionicle community.
Special thanks to Tufi Piyufi from BZPower for taking time to speak to me about all things Bionicle! Be sure to check out BZPower to find out more about the community!
Voting for the final round has opened and will close on February 10th at 11AM CEST 2021.
Let me know in the comments what you thought of this interview, and if this changes your perspective on Bionicle!