Was "Bionicle" 2015 a Failure?
Bionicle was Lego's most valuable property from 2003-2006 for many reasons. Part of it had to do with the fact that it was Lego's most profitable original IP, meaning that, unlike Lego Star Wars, Lego didn't have to share the profits with anyone. It also connected profoundly with young boys with its expansive universe traversing a DC comics line, a Scholastic book series, and several Universal direct-to-DVD movies.
However, since then, Bionicle's fame has dwindled down, culminating in its eventual discontinuation in 2010, and its new reboot in 2015. Seeing as 2015 is almost over, it seems fitting to analyze this beloved toy's first year back.
To many, Bionicle's new look was extremely underwhelming. From their bulky, robotic, designs, to the continuation of the love-it-or-hate-it CCBS building system, Bionicle 2015 sure had its downsides, but it also had its perks. Returning all the way from the depths of 2005's Hordika line was the Gearbox system in all its glory.
For those of you unfamiliar with the famed Gearbox, it was packaged with 2001's Toa Mata as a gimmicky action feature, and, you know what? It was pretty cool. Sure, those early Toa didn't have as much articulation as their later counterparts, but it was a clever idea that sold toys.
2015's version features the most articulation almost any Lego set has had, but only with the Toa. CCBS might be a bit BS when it comes to body builds, but for the dumb, general public, it does the job fine, and for MOCers, there are plenty of new pieces that work with the old system. Bionicle 2015 might look a bit standard, but it is functionally sound.
This website played a central role to nurture community involvement and to brainwash little kids into buying as many Bionicles as their parents would allow them. On Bionicle.com's of the past, games have been featured (some pretty impressive for the time), character bios, and interactive tours of the various islands of the Bionicle.
The Bionicle.com of today has all of that, including a message board, but it all just seems so watered down when compared to its predecessor. It reeks of a company trying to market their product to as large an audience as possible while forgetting what made the line popular in the first place. 2015's Bionicle.com comes off as a focus-tested piece of trash that, while it does centralize a lot of the line's content, lacks character and any real reason to explore the mystical land of Okoto.
So 2015 didn't have that great of a universe and, as a result, not that great of a story to go along with it, but how were the characters themselves? Lego is selling them after all. Why buy a Kopaka if all his character did was sit around all day watching Jersey Boys?
For the most part, 2015's main cast has all of the essentials for Toa-ing. A hotheaded leader. A fast-talking goofball of an Air Toa, A wise female Toa of Water. The grouchy Toa of Ice, and his oafish brother of Earth. Their personalities are pretty much ripped straight from the 2001 originals, but are far more nuanced, as are the web shorts that flesh them out. Though I would prefer a full-fledged show (indeed, one might be coming out), what we get from the shorts is adequate enough for me to care about a great portion of the characters, but maybe not enough for me to buy them. Still, at least they didn't repeat the cardinal sin they did by making...
The Protectors Have No Names or Personalities
I really don't see any excuse for this. Part of what made 2000-2010's smalls worth buying was, because like the "full" sets, each one of the smaller sets were their own character with unique histories that, at times, made them more valuable than the main sets. The company tried stripping the smalls of their titles before, to great catastrophe (see the Bohrok VA), so much so that it had become pretty standard for the line to either include village elders or villagers (matoran/agori). This move, in my opinion, was disastrous for Lego, for in their fear of failure, they sucked any and all personality out of what could've been 6 great additions to the Bionicle Universe.
It's bad enough they're scared to call the main heroes "Toa," but to redact names from half of their line? Unbelievable.
The Villains Tank
While it is true that each of the Spring 2015 sets come packaged with their very own skull spider, they simply aren't adequate as villains. Sure, we got the "Lord of Skull Spiders" spider monster, but why should I care about that? Was it some ancient beast linked to Okoto's past? Why is it cool? As far as I'm concerned, it was just some crony to hold us over until the summer sets...
...which were also just a bunch of cronies. There's a reason why I see the Summer 2015 villains sets in extremely good stock, and it's not because they're the most amazing sets ever. They even gave us a preview of what they would be like with Ekimu vs Skull Grinder, but all these sets are good for, it seems, are for parts. Honestly, I can't remember any of the 2015 villain's names; they're all so generic and are just some variation on the word "skull." Past lines have done this as well, but they have usually been some variation on a made up word to signify that the villains were kin, and they all retained unique elemental traits and, when the villain line represented individuals (such as the Piraka) rather than a large horde (like the Visorak), each villain had his or her unique personalty that made them all a must-have. There's a reason why people are only buying Ekimu, and its not because his shield has a piece from a Disney Princess set.
Not Enough There
The term "it takes money to make money" holds true no better than here. I understand that Bionicle 2015 is limited, but if Lego wants the line to return to its former glory, they need to put a bit more effort in. Their current effort seems to have focused tested all the cool out of the line and its rebooted universe is too scared that it will convolute the plot like its predecessor did to be original. Sometimes a little depth is needed to make things interesting, and while its web series tries its best, Bionicle's other methods of spreading its lore have been subpar at best, making their current effort entirely forgettable and something that will be most likely disappear if Bionicle doesn't return to its roots.
EDIT: Scholastic has published one chapter book during the Summer wave, in which names have been given to the Protectors. However, it almost follows the web series word-for-word, and does little to flesh these characters out.