Bionicle and System (Blog or Die! Entry #20)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: Ballom Nom Nom

Word Count: 1,630

Judge’s Notes:

* This entry was submitted before the deadline (Mon, Jan 15, 2018 10:15 pm), but I didn’t have a chance to post it until today.  The entry is valid and accepted for final consideration.

Bionicle and System


…Oh yes, another dogged entry bleating about Bionicle, I can already hear the prospective reader saying. Egad! And yes, I do not deny this claim, other than seeking the indulgence of the noble reader and entreating them to persevere, in the hope that what follows will be worth their while. Should discussion of Bionicle not play this role, I note that the paragraphs below, somewhere, contain a pony.

And now, onward!

Long denigrated as the ugly sibling of the beautiful swan of System, the style of building collectively described under the umbrella of Bionicle (alternatively known as Barnacle, Bonkle, Bonko, Bonk, etc. among aficionados) is in fact greatly underappreciated in the wider Lego community. However, its adherents rightfully know it to be a dazzling and wonderful medium, whose expression can be used for constructing the breathtaking profusion of forms such as armored humanoid robots and slightly different armored humanoid robots. And, indeed, such expression of the art of Lego building, while clearly not of an identical nature to construction centered about System, nevertheless has its own captivating charm. One sufficiently enlightened in its nuances and subtlety can even recognize it as the superior to System.


(image credit: the author)

The intrepid reader who is still with me after the preceding sentence may doubt the veracity of the last bold claim — perhaps even shocked! However, I hope to subsequently show the foundation for these ambitious claims, and moreover seek to inform the esteemed reader who may be heretofore tragically unaware of Bionicle and its wondrous superiority to System.

Let’s begin by turning our attention to the basic characteristics of the parts associated with the medium of Bionicle. The quadrilaterally-formed, right-angle-dominated elements of System (whether studly or smooth) these are not — our first category of parts is derived from the Bionicle line of sets produced by the Lego Group from 2001 to 2010. In their unique constituents are a variety of oddly studless parts.


(image credit: the author)

Several ways of subdividing these Bionicle parts manifest: first, those featuring balls and sockets for the limbs and joints of the robotic Bionicle creature. Extending from the foundation laid by Technic ball-and-socket creature constructions, the parts have specialization and into parts to be used for limbs, necks, and areas built with a range of motion. Typical uses range across the panoply of limbs, from gorilla-like arms to gorilla-like legs, and in exceptional cases orangutan-like arms.


(image credit: Bricklink)

Second, parts used for providing armor, bulk, and details to the Bionicle sets. Clawed feet, ornate breastplates, wide paneling, rows of spines, and an array of weapons and swords. Here one sees the greatest breadth of Bionicle parts — which the astute reader notes still pales in comparison to the number of System elements — but this is no matter. As a matter of fact, it is a point of advantage.


(image credit: Bricklink)

Third, masks: parts central to the complex Bionicle mythos (the details of which may be exhaustively perused throughout million-paged Bionicle wikis, should drying paint be unavailable for amusement). Other than each featuring a face of some sort, the informed reader may generally regard these as similar to the second category.


(image credit: Bricklink)

There are two further-defining characteristics of the parts described above. The first is more incidental: an association with the Technic part system, with connections for Technic pins and axles in lieu of studs and antistuds. The second is more fundamental to what I claim is the aesthetic of Bionicle: parts with complex shapes, which deviate from System bricks in having curved and rounded shapes throughout as opposed to having at most one or two faces of the part, as System slopes and other elements tend to. Parts which vary significantly in thickness and texture, such as for accommodating a ball or socket, or spikes, or various other greebles and decorations — for, as was conventional wisdom for The Lego Group during the turn of the millennium, the Bionicle-constructed character must be riddled with greebles! Parts which could be described with terms such as non-Euclidean, and others shared by mathematicians and Lovecraft alike, which I will forbear from using at length. Parts which, in a word, are interesting in ways that the humble brick of rectilinear shape is not. (Dare I even use the appellation unique? I dare not, good reader).

Let’s continue on to the other category of parts associated with Bionicle builds — pieces under the umbrella of the Character and Creature Building System (hereinafter CCBS), which appeared in themes such as Hero Factory (the spiritual successor to Bionicle), the Ultrabuilds created for themes such as Legends of Chima and Star Wars, and Bionicle’s fleeting resurrection. This system retains ball-and-socket parts, with sets built around a core of parts similar to technic beams with incorporated ball joints and sockets. Atop this skeleton, smooth, symmetric shells attach by sockets. Extensions attach to these shells by their sole other connection point of paired rod holes.


(image credit: Bricklink)

Our long-suffering reader — for whom I salute the fortitude of, to persist even this far in a discussion of Bionicle — may perchance be curious how such parts are related to those addressed before, other than the superficial similarity of appearing in the Bionicle theme. And it is true that the general aesthetic differs significantly from the greebled, complicated designs of older Bionicle. However, the pleasingly varied shapes of the curved shells, and the skeletal elements intended for ball-and-socket connections allowing movement and varied angles remain. And so, with this core intact, both can be categorized under the inclusive umbrella of Bionicle.

And so, with a hurricane overview of the tools a… ahem… Bionicle builder may employ — which I note are essential to the style and when used in abundance can clearly characterize a creation with the label Bionicle — I may now more successfully contrast with System. As hinted at before, the collective whole of parts deemed indisputably “Bionicle” is a quantity much smaller than the bafflingly large array of System parts. Even if I ignore in the comparison the rarely used parts in each category, putting aside even favorites such as the beloved System camel head and the adorable Bionicle rubber squid ammunition, System still dominates by an enormous margin. (I leave the exact counting for this comparison as an exercise to the discerning reader.) This difference may be claimed by some to be a weakness of the Bionicle-based system, but I assert it to be in fact a strength!

In building with Bionicle, there exists the true struggle of the artist against an unyielding and uncompromising medium, the likes of which are not found in using System. The Sisyphean struggle with odd angles and parts make the success of a completed build all the sweeter, the qualities of the result appreciated all the more keenly, while there is less joy to be found in a more easily accomplished System build. What artistry is there to be had in immediately having available System parts for whatever is desired to be constructed? What character in a sterile build of System that all too easily presents a near-perfect facsimile of the intended design? Compare this to one of Bionicle, which demands ingenuity from the observer, to look past the greebled parts, the textures and gaps to glimpse the true intention of the builder shining through. To be sure, there is beauty in verisimilitudinous System constructions. But the System creation presents all the weaknesses of perfection, while the Bionicle creation wields the might of its deformities — especially given the handicaps it reflects.

Too, there is also how the fewer-dimensional System elements, interlocking as they do, are static and immutable, unlike the malleable forms resulting from ball-and-socket connections. This is a notable dereliction on the part of System, but owing to the age of the venerable brick, from a time where such mobility was not so prized, I ignore this fault with a passing mention, to keep this comparison sporting.

However, this digression does lead inexorably to discussion of the quintessential Bionicle work — the Toa (a foreign word meaning “man who stands yonder”). A treatment of Bionicle without be remiss without such a mention of the fundamental object of study. These armored, humanoid, robotic and certainly not coat-wearing warrior figures touch the very core of the medium. Detractors may insinuate that a strong focus on the same works does not show flexibility. But a fixation with a particular muse is not inflexible or smallminded at all. A Bionicle creator’s enchantment with the nuances of Toa is akin to the reverence past master artists had for favorite works – think of Monet and the haystacks, or Renoir and the lily.

Which leads to my final point, about character. By enshrining humanoids, robots, and Toa, as well as other popular Bionicle forms such as creatures and animals, there is a wealth of character demonstrated, from the builds’ expressiveness to their articulation. Is such character exhibited by System builds? Not in the basic and uninspiring grey castle, nor in the drab two tones of Classic Space, nor in faceless armies of soldiers, nor in porcupine-studded aircraft – No! It is in builds defined by a system where character as become foundational. Builds steeped in the Character and Creature Building System.

And so, patient reader, as this comes to a close, I trust that the agreement on the conclusion is unanimous. Bionicle is, of course, the clear superior of System – there is no contest. In fact, in comparison System may sometimes seem to barely be Lego, with its sea of parts that often resemble third-party components. Only the glorious Bionicle, crafted from its slender selection of parts, may truly ascend to the pinnacle of the Lego art.


(image credit: the author)

Author’s note: I regret to say there is not a pony, due to budget constraints.

13 thoughts on “Bionicle and System (Blog or Die! Entry #20)

  1. What an interesting article, very well-written. Though some of the subject matter I disagree with, to say the least. Particularly your claim that Biconical building system if superior to System. Wait, wait! Don’t click away already, I’m not going to go on a triad about how System is in fact the superior one, though I will attempt to give evidence of their equality.

    Now, I believe you are correct about several things, I will give you that. Biconical is superior to System when it comes to making life-like characters, given that the Biconical system is particularly focused on that type of look. But despite this, I don’t believe that your descriptions of the System building system as ‘sterile’ and ‘barely Lego’ are true.

    Also, you say that it is much more difficult to build Biconical, given their extreme flexibility, and that it is an accomplishment to create such a build. Wouldn’t the same go for System? If System does lack the character you say it does, wouldn’t it be the same type of accomplishment for a builder to add character to their builds while using such a ‘sterile’ building system? (Which, I might add, many builders have already done.)

    You used the terms ‘faceless armies’ and ‘basic and uninspiring grey castles’ to represent how little character System has. And yet you use fan-made models as examples for how great Biconical. Now, I think we can both agree, the sets Lego produce are… lacklustre, to say the least. And yes, the System sets that Lego makes are lacking in character, but if you look at the fan-made models, you will many models that feel like they have character, the same can go for minifigures.

    And thus, I rest my case. And yes, I suppose I did go on a triad. But I felt like I needed to express my opinion on this subject.

    -Marley Mac-


  2. Biconical sucks! 🙂

    This is the attack of the Bionicle articles in this contest. This was a clever entry turning the tables on all the superior minded system builders. I still think we should just think of them all as LEGO. As has been stated in some of the comments on other Bionicle articles, a lot of the best builders can blend Bionicle, system, and technic parts.


  3. Another great Bionicle article, nice work! I really don’t have much to say about the superiority of BONKLE over system as I own very few of the pieces. However, I will say that I am of the opinion that both are equal in the LEGO world.

    Or at least they should be. Unfortunately, the internet is a harsh mistress when it comes to dividing fans.


  4. Seeing some of the comments here and elsewhere, I feel it’s necessary to point this out: this was a work of satire. I had a small disclaimer to that effect at the end of the article when drafting it, but decided it would be overkill and undercut the effect, and so removed it. Evidently, that was a miscalculation. Perhaps the disclaimer should be reinstated.

    With trying to be ironic or satirical, there’s the risk of it being taken at face value. I had thought that the exaggerated and affected style, terse and rude dismissal of System, and pretentiously purple prose (“dazzling and wonderful”, “pinnacle of the Lego art”) would make my intent evident, but as that’s not the case I’m trying to clarify here. I realize this can look like me attempting to cover for this being poorly received, but that’s not my intention.

    Bluntly, I do think System and Bionicle are equal, and tried to in an over-the-top way make some points tackling Bionicle being perceived as inferior.


  5. I got it it’s satire, but you took it a bit too far for me. I didn’t know what to take seriously from your article and what not to; assuming there’s anything to take seriously. It seemed like you were bashing both systems. And comparisons should have a bit of sense even in case of satire, otherwise it just comes off as silly. Sorry about that comment, but seeing another article dealing with the same “war” got on my nerves.


    1. There is some bashing of both systems. Bionicle builders need to make fewer humanoids and especially Toa! But the bashing of System was almost exclusively satirical. Other than vaguely alluding to points, like fewer Bionicle Toa, the main thing I was trying to get across was that Bionicle should be on equal footing, not an inferior OR a superior. And so I tried to flip the tables with a Bionicle superiority complex, instead of the System superiority complexes that the Bionicle community encounters.


  6. Yeah, I assumed satire as well. I think the problem is that the attitude you’re lampooning is so foreign to a lot of us. That bias against Bionicle feels distant and old-fashioned, like the racist grandma you only see at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s still rampant among the general paste-eating, instruction-demanding AFOL population, but I doubt any of those guys have a creative bone in their bodies so there’s no reason to try and impress them.


  7. Mr. Nom,

    Excellent offering! Your use of humor is spot on. My favorite line come pretty early in the read:

    “the breathtaking profusion of forms such as armored humanoid robots and slightly different armored humanoid robots.”

    The understatement was no lost on me… but it is an excellent synopsis of what many people see in their minds eye when one says “Bionical”.

    Sorry I cant give this article the attention it so richly deserves today… but welcome brother! Always glad to hear a new voice, and I hope we hear more of yours in the weeks and months ahead.



  8. Official Contest Review
    Entry # 20
    Title: Bionicle and System
    Author: Ballom Nom NOm
    Views: 107 Comments: 12

    Favorite Quote: “However, its adherents rightfully know it to be a dazzling and wonderful medium, whose expression can be used for constructing the breathtaking profusion of forms such as armored humanoid robots and slightly different armored humanoid robots.”

    Favorite Comment inspired by the entry: “My self-imposed limitation has a bigger dick than your self-imposed limitation.” – Christopher Hoffmann

    Single Sentence Summary: Lego Bionicle is superior to Lego System.

    The Good:

    1. I love your writing style, probably because I’m super egotistical and it reminded me of my own style…only better. The article was much more refined than my efforts which usually only benefit from a rushed second-pass and nothing approaching editorial standards. Even though your take was wackadoo (see the “bad” section), I was buckled in and along for the ride, I never checked out or skipped down the page, even when I found myself in disagreement with your argument. This entry is amongst the top contenders purely from a writing standpoint, it was smooth, you know how to turn a phrase and you know how to be funny (which ain’t easy). It was also very hard to decide on a favorite quote, the article was loaded.

    2. I loved the breakdown of the basic Bionicle component categories. My own experience is limited to a dislocated part here and there but I’ve only purchased one set to get a shield piece and I never actually put the figure together. So there was some real value here for me in terms of the product line simply from a parts-perspective and your photos were well chosen. If anything I would have liked to see more of that breakdown but I understand it was just one aspect of the article.

    3. Even though it was satirical in nature I really appreciate the honesty and intensity of this article at the core. Comedic gestures not withstanding, you obviously care a great deal about the subject matter and even though I think your thesis is flawed, you made me care about it too and that’s no small feat. Although my attitude on the topic has certainly evolved over the years I wouldn’t really call myself a fan, but I’m a hell of a lot more of a fan than when I started the contest and I’ll look at the parts a little differently from now on. I’ve never read or heard a better “defense” of the product line and when combined with the other Bionicle articles in the contest, I think it is a very revealing look into the perspective of a tribe within our Lego nerd tribe.

    The Bad:

    1. Your thesis is crazy-talk: “Bionicle and its wondrous superiority to System.wondrous superiority.” Are you out of your mind? Are you trolling? Although I appreciate a bold claim as much as the next fellow but you’ve completely departed from reality and if not for the quality of the article it would call into question your reliability on the topic of Bionicle. I’m joking with you…a little…but in the immortal words of Cube and Tucker: “Damn!” As I said in the first section, I like the article, it was very entertaining and insightful but that’s like asking “What’s better, a Star Wars X-Wing fighter toy, or a toothbrush with a Star Wars character on the handle?”. You say in the comments that it’s satire, and I buy that because I believe you but I think it was the wrong call, I thought you were serious and obviously I wasn’t alone. The article is very funny and cutting and exposes some of the hypocrisy of System builders, but you should have mentioned your true feelings at the end and said you really think they are equal. I think not doing so may have cost you some comments too, because it sure wasn’t the quality of the writing.

    2. You said: “I leave the exact counting for this comparison as an exercise to the discerning reader.” But I’d argue that some hard data might have spiced things up a bit. I would be fascinated to know how many distinct Bionicle parts exist, even if it’s a rough approximation and ditto for the system parts. The research might have been tedious but Brickshelf is pretty user friendly and a wealth of information, and the people there are open to those types of questions in the forums. It might have also been interesting to see an informal breakdown of the percentage of Bionicle parts, how many masks as opposed to claws, shells, hinges etc. That might be asking too much and it might have altered the course of the article, but I’m always ready for some numbers and research in a good essay and I definitely don’t want to do it myself.

    3. Your argument about Bionicle being superior because it’s harder to work with doesn’t make sense to me. Couldn’t I very easily counter argue that System is superior because it has more options in terms of parts and connectivity? Or that it’s superior because it affords more connectivity? Building an interesting model out of Duplo or even plastic straws is even harder than Bionicle, but nobody would argue they were superior. This is just one example of how weak some of your arguments are, I could have picked two or three more but I don’t want to do a blow-by-blow takedown because that would be tedious and it misses the point and the value of the article. So suffice it to say that you didn’t convince me of the superiority of Bionicle, even if I was very entertained along the way.

    The Whatever:
    Come on man, after all that you don’t show us a Bionicle pony, or any pony at all? Damn, that’s cold-blooded! Also, I’d never heard Bionicle referred to as “Bonko”, so thanks for adding that keeper to my Lego related lexicon.


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