Er... What's a Nanoblock?
Here's the Scoop, if you're new to the Nanoblock zoo
Nanoblocks are micro-sized plastic building bricks, just so incredibly tiny you'd be forgiven for pulling out a pair of tweezers to put the smallest pieces into place. (The dots on top of each brick are only about 4mm across.) These are building blocks for older kids, teens, adults - sort of like Lego, but way way way smaller - Japanese miniatures!
Build a Tiny Animal with Nanoblocks: Tiny Japanese Building Blocks
Nanoblocks are one of the hottest new toys to come out of Japan recently, and I just can't resist the Nanoblock animal model sets. These building block construction toys are kind of like (not) LEGO, the building blocks sets we all grew up with - but in micro miniature.
Yes, these little building blocks can be frustrating, even for a grown-up toy fan. If you're "all thumbs" like me, it can take a while to put some of the harder kits together. On the other hand, my cousin is the king of digital dexterity and put together a collection of a half-dozen Nanoblock dog figurines in less time than it took me to build a single poodle.
It all depends on how good you are with your hands, and the degree of difficulty of the particular model kit you choose. And if you enjoy animals, small things, and building toys or puzzles, there's a good chance you'll find yourself pleased with a new plastic pet from the Nanoblock zoo.
Here's my current favorite Nanoblock animal kit:
Emperor Penguin Mini
With over 100 pieces, watch in amazement as this regal bird takes shape beneath your fingertips with a finished size of 1.5 w x 1.5 d x 2.36 h - so many tiny pieces, but this giant penguin fits into the palm of your hand. For us penguin fans (maybe there's a Linux user on your gift list?), it's the perfect geeky little toy for slow days at work.
Talk about a challenge! You'll need all your hand-eye coordination to wrangle these deceptively cute animal characters: Dog, giraffe, giant panda, frog, pig, elephant, dolphin, koala, meerkat, polar bear... the list of critters in the Nanoblock menagerie just goes on and on and on.
Now, I won't show you all of the animals you can build with Nanoblock kits, here, of course - they're coming out with new kits all the time, and it's almost impossible to keep up - but I do want to introduce just a couple of the more interesting and popular ones you can pick up easily at Amazon, if the exact model you want is missing from the shelves of your local stores.
Basically, if you can think of an animal (or fish, or bird) that you'd like to build and add to your collection, you'll probably find it in Nanoblock kit form.
Each of the small-sized Nanoblock model-building sets, like the Nanoblock animals shown here, will usually have somewhere between about 70 and 150 miniature pieces, depending on the model.
But never underestimate the Nanoblock challenge!
Nanoblock models are sometimes listed by their level of difficulty, as well as the number of pieces -- so it's possible that you could have a 120-piece Nanoblock animal kit that's easier to put together than, say, the 80-piece critter you gave to your friend as a gag gift or stocking stuffer.
Much larger "deluxe" sets (mostly the architecture sets) are also available, and they have a brain-bruising number of pieces. I recommend starting with the small animals, and working your way up.
NEW: Red-Eared Slider - (Sort of like a regular Nanoblock Turtle with rouge on its face)
Someone at Nanoblock must have decided that their regular Nanoblock Turtle was getting lonely and needed to have a girlfriend. :) I like turtles as much as the next person, but there are other animal sets I want to pick up before this one. But here it is - if you're a turtle collector, have at it!
Nanoblock Animals Speed Build - Family Fun!
It's a blast to practice putting together a kit over and over until you get it down to an art, then get together with competitive friends or siblings to see who can build the fastest. Then trade your bricks, and race to build a different model. Winner gets... a new Nanoblock set, maybe?
Some of the models are actually quite difficult to find in North America, either because they haven't been selected for import from Japan by the main distributors or are brought in only in very small numbers by clever independents, or because they're new models just out on the market. The brand itself is still quite new to the world beyond Japan, too, so not all of the usual toy stores are carrying them - Nanoblock is still a bit of a "cult" thing among true fans of cool Japanese stuff, and that makes it all the more fun to start a collection, in at the front of the curve.
You'd think that hippopotamusus (hippopotami? hippopotamus-plural) would be lazy wallowing kind of creature, but I'm told that they're actually very nasty when roused. This teensy tiny Nanoblock hippo, with a great open mouth showing teeth, sure looks like he could take a piece out of an equally tiny wild animal - you know, if the world were all made of Nanoblock bricks.
The meerkat or suricate, Suricata suricatta, is a small mammal in the mongoose family found in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, and in parts of Namibia, southwestern Angola, and South Africa. Legend has it that the meerkat (also known as "the sun angel") can protect against attacks by a "moon devil" or werewolf.
Oh, look - it's Kungfu Panda! - A Nanoblock Creation by Christopher Tan
Nanoblock Giant Panda - In the Nanoblock world, "Giant" means almost 3 inches!
Can you wrap your head around a giant panda that fits easily into the palm of your hand? Constructed from 150+ tiny little plastic building bricks, the Nanoblock version of this beloved mammal measures in at just 1.5" wide by 1.625" high by 2.625" long when you've got the model all put together.
Hard-to-Find Nanoblock Animals - Rare Building Block Sets
Nanoblocks are still new to North America, so there are a limited number of models you can get from the usual retail outlets. The best selection is online, not surprisingly, but here is a peek at some Nanoblock animals that you may have a tougher time to track down.
For example, it is often very very difficult to find the Maneki Neko (a.k.a. Beckoning Cat or Lucky Cat) model kit in North American stores, even in so-called "world class city" hobby stores, and it's sometimes even hard to find to buy on eBay. To snag this most-wanted kitty (150+ pieces, just over 2 inches tall), your best bet is to put in a standing request with your local hobby shop, in case Maneki Neko turns up in their next Nanoblock order, and keep an eye on Amazon as it has the advantage of pulling in items from multiple different sellers all over the world.
Take this with a grain of salt, if you like, but I've heard from a hobbyist friend that the Japanese factories are geared up to turn out certain Nanoblock models for a certain period of time, then they'll switch to a different one for the next while. He says this is one reason why a particular model can be hard to find for a long time, then suddenly come available again.
Nanoblock Lucky Cat (Maneki Beckoning Cat)
Maneki Neko is Back in Stock
Amazon.com is now listing a limited number of the kits, as of this writing. No idea how long they'll be available, but you may find the price a bit on the high side for anyone but an avid collector who needs the black cat. black Beckoning Cat
For the white version of the lucky cat, however, you're in luck - for a long time the white Maneki Neko was super-rare and hugely over-priced, but I'm seeing it this summer on Amazon for some pretty good prices.
Check out both, if you're not fussy about the color, and see what deals are on tap right now. As with many collectibles, the prices do tend to bounce around a lot.
More About Nanoblock
- Nanoblock: Tiny Cool Japanese Building Blocks
Check out the scaled-down alternative to LEGO blocks! Nanoblocks are the smallest building blocks you can imagine. Not surprisingly, Nanoblock sets came out of Japan, source of many very cool miniature things we geeky types can't help but crave...
- Original Nanoblock Art
Grown-up fans of Nanoblock (the micro-sized Japanese building bricks) just won't be satisfied with following a kit's instructions, when they're bursting with original ideas for Nanoblocks art...