The LEGO Art theme continues to take LEGO fans on fascinating explorations, and for 2023, we’re treated with a journey into woodblock prints with Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave.
From modest beginnings riffing Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe painting, and superhero mosaics, to a massive 11000+ piece World Map, and finally going 3D last year with The Rolling Stones, the LEGO Art theme has had a pleasantly interesting evolution.
This all leads us here to 2023, with 31208 Hokusai: The Great Wave, a delightfully sophisticated take on one of the most famous Japanese artworks of all time.
I built this over the New Year period, and I think that this is a terrific set that finally fulfils the promise and potential of the LEGO Art theme. This is a really good set, and I highly recommend picking it up. Read on to see why!
- 31208 LEGO Art Hokusai The Great Wave [US] – US$99.99
- 31208 LEGO Art Hokusai The Great Wave [AUS] – AU$169.99
- 31208 LEGO Art Hokusai The Great Wave [UK] – £89.99
- 31208 LEGO Art Hokusai The Great Wave [EU] – €99.99
- 31208 LEGO Art Hokusai The Great Wave [CA] – CAD$139.99
Special thanks to The LEGO Group for sending this review set over.
31208 LEGO Hokusai: The Great Wave Set Details
Name: Hokusai: The Great Wave
Set Number: 31208
Pieces: 1,810 pieces
Price: US$99.99 / AU$169.99 / £89.99 / €99.99 CAD$139.99
Exclusive to: LEGO.com / LEGO Stores / selected toy stores
Theme: LEGO Art
Release Date: 1 January 2022
“The Great Wave” is an iconic woodblock print by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Also known as “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,”, it’s actually one of a series of prints in the “36 Views of Mount Fuji.” series. It is one of Hokusai’s most famous works and is widely considered a masterpiece of Japanese art.
The Great Wave is renowned for its dynamic composition, especially how it flips the perspective of Mount Fuji, and that of a cresting wave, filled with dramatic clawlike curls and swirls. Adding to the scene are two boats and their crews in a perilous situation, forced to confront the forces of nature.
The Great Wave is considered a classic example of the ukiyo-e style of art, which flourished in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868), when Japan was closed off to the world, and is also considered one of the most reproduced art images.
Like with most LEGO Art sets, LEGO have also produced a companion podcast on the history, significance and design of Hokusai’s The Great Wave which you can listen to even if you don’t own the set.
You’re meant to listen to it as you build, and I can thoroughly recommend going through the entire episode, as it greatly enriched my building experience, and also taught me a ton about Hokusai, the creation and industry of woodblock prints, and why it’s become one of Japan’s most famous artworks.
It wouldn’t be an Art set without great design front and center, and we get a lovely print of Hokusai on the instruction manuals. The colours are dialled up a notch, with the peaches and blues more saturated, which I learned was a conscious decision to not only match it up against LEGO’s colour palette, but apparently, more closely reflects what The Great Wave looked like when originally created in 1831.
Here’s a look at the instruction manual, which has more details and insights into Hokusai’s The Great Wave. Also love the minimalist back of the manual, which has Hokusai’s signature.
There are no stickers included in the set, so every decoration on the set is printed!
The Build Experience
The build experience for Hokusai: The Great Wave was exceptional, and a really enjoyable experience.
It’s very zenlike and relaxing, but at the same time doesn’t fall into the trap of sets like The World Map, where you’re placing 1×1 round tile after 1×1 round tile.
Thanks to a dynamic, layered build that reminds me a lot of 21333 Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night, the build is varied, and requires active concentration in some parts.
The build flow was definitely something that the designer prioritised, and with 15 numbered sections, you go from placing round tiles, to building the background, the wave and finish off with the frame, before the final step, where you satisfyingly place the Hokusai woodblock print into the frame, and snap it into place.
You can check out a speed build video on my Youtube channel to see the LEGO Great Wave off Kanagawa come together!
One of the new interesting element recolours is this light nougat raised plate, which offers up an alternate to the black versions introduced in the LEGO Art theme.
The completed model
Like the original painting that inspired it, the LEGO Hokusai The Great Wave is sublime, and one of the most aesthetically pleasing LEGO sets ever produced. It faithfully captures the dynamic composition, colours and features of Hokusai’s masterpiece.
It looks incredible on display, and is just an elevated LEGO experience.
If you’ve been lucky to see The Great Wave in person, the first thing you’ll realise is just how small the woodblock print is, but the addition of the white and tan frame is a clever instrument to not only draw your eye into the artwork by creating plenty of room to breathe, but also serves to enlarge the overall size of the model, turning into a substantially large piece.
One of the marvels of the set is just how good it looks from every angle. I’m glad that LEGO Art has evolved from its simple dot tile mosaic roots to this sophisticated and textured 3D rendition which creates this effect of a painting emerging from its frame, letting the tiny details and LEGO-ness of it all shine be interesting visual points of note.
One of the most notable parts of Hokusai’s The Great Wave is its depiction of Mount Fuji, an active volcano that looms over Tokyo and has been the subject of reverence and fascination by Japanese artists.
The brilliance of the original artwork takes Japan’s tallest mountain, and reverses your perspective of Mount Fuji, depicting a towering crashing wave that dwarfs the snow-capped mountain.
Here’s a look at the white cloud resting above Mount Fuji, which reflect the silhouette of the wave. This is top section reflects LEGO Art’s DNA with the repeated use of tiles, and was quite enjoyable to place given the soothing repetitive nature of it.
In the top corner is Hokusai’s signature in light nougat, and in the white tile with the inscription of the title of the series, translated to “Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji / On the high seas in Kanagawa / Under the wave”.
Fun fact, Hokusai has no surname, and often changed his name and signature with each new piece or series he worked on.
The fact that these are printed tiles are also highly appreciated.
The Great Wave’s defining feature are the clawlike tendrils of the wave and sea spray, with claws of foam reaching out to the fishermen. It has animalistic features to it, and the wave dominates the entire composition.
To re-create the wave’s fine claws, which is no mean feat using LEGO elements, the designer used a generous helping of these white three-leaf pieces.
And to create a sense of depth, texture and direction, plenty of these white birds are used, perched atop the white leaves.
The birds’ unique profile and silhouette, with stubby heads, and sharp narrow tails are an inspired and effective choice here, and there’s just something delightful and surprising when you look at the wave and realise that these are birds.
The other sections of The Great Wave that stand out are these layered series of plates used to create a sense of depth and perspective of the choppy seas.
Again, these are masterful details, and I love the decision to use these plates, with the LEGO studs also contributing to the textural look, while proudly reflecting LEGO’s signature look.
Last but not least, just like in the original woodblock printing, a detail that might escape you the first time you look at The Great Wave are these small human figures in two fishing boats, which are headed towards the ferocious tsunami.
These are all printed tiles, and look great. There are several interpretations of what these brave (or foolish) men are doing as they get caught up in The Great Wave, but the most prevalent one is that these are fishermen out in Edo (Tokyo) Bay off the coast of Yokohama, bravely venturing out into choppy seas to be the first in the season to catch Bonito, a highly prized fish.
Comparison against other LEGO Art sets and Size of the Model
I’m a big fan of LEGO’s Art theme, especially some of the more recent ones which are a little more creative and interesting than the earlier mosaic portraits.
To establish a sense of scale, here’s The Great Wave next to 31206 The Rolling Stones.
For historical art connoisseurs and enthusiasts, here it is next to 21333 Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night, one of my favourite sets of 2022.
I am really enjoying this trend of having world-famous artworks be adapted into LEGO Art sets, and absolutely want more in this vein.
And to show that the set is quite large, here it is next to The World Map, which to this day is the LEGO set with the most pieces!
And for non-Art sets, here it is next to the UCS AT-AT, Bonsai Tree and Optimus Prime.
As you can see, it’s quite a sizable set, and incredibly easy to display whether you choose to just lean it against a wall or hang it up.
What I liked:
- Incredibly relaxing and engaging build with varied build sections
- Looks amazing on display with clever parts usage
- Truly fulfils the potential and promise of LEGO Art
- Companion soundtrack is nicely produced and adds to the overall experience
- Priced fairly
What I didn’t like:
- Nothing at all – this set is perfect
After building 31208 Hokusai: The Great Wave, I wanted to wait a few days to really have a think and formulate my thoughts before writing this review, and in the time since then I cannot think of a single flaw or thing I don’t like about this piece.
Hokusai: The Great Wave is a stunning LEGO masterpiece, and deserves its perfect 5-star score for masterfully adapting Hokusai’s iconic masterpiece, all while breathing fresh life into it with a 3D, textural build that accentuates the dramatic parts of the woodblock print.
This is LEGO Art at its finest, and while it may not necessarily appeal to some people, if you have an active interest and curiosity about art, history and the world, this will absolutely delight you and make for a classy and tasteful piece of LEGO decoration for your home or workspace.
Coupled with a relaxing and soothing build experience, this is the complete package, and even the price is fairly accessible making this a really strong recommendation for me and already, one of my favourite LEGO sets of 2023.
If you can, make 31208 Hokusai: The Great Wave a priority in 2023, and I’m confident that you’ll enjoy every facet of this LEGO Art masterpiece.
An incredibly deserving recipient of a rare 5/5 rating, and a shining example of how LEGO Art has finally found its flow.
Rating and score: 5/5 ★★★★★
Build  – Combines relaxation and clever build and layered sculpting techniques for a fun and engaging experience.
Real Value  – At US$99.99, this is exceptional value relative to the build experience, and final display model
Innovation  – LEGO Art finds its groove, combining its mosaic heritage with 3D textures to bring classic artworks to life
Coolness  – One of the coolest LEGO sets to display, and helps broadcast how cultured and worldly you are.
Keepability  – A phenomenal display piece that is so easy to incorporate into your work or living space
Thank you so much for reading this review of 31208 Hokusai The Great Wave! I hope you enjoyed this read, and the Speed Build video.
What do you think of the LEGO Hokusai The Great Wave? Would you like to see more famous artworks get the LEGO Art treatment?
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