As I alluded to at the end of my previous post, I moved last month. It’s been a rush of busy-ness since then: unpacking, building new furniture, and all sorts of minor-but-exhausting time traps. But things have started to settle down in recent weeks, which means I finally had the chance to do something that’s been on my to-do list for a very long time: opening my long-sealed Bionicle collection.
The best Christmas gift I ever received was a box full of nearly every Bionicle set that had been released up to that point. All six Toa, all six Turaga. I was ecstatic—I had been begging for Bionicle toys for months, and now I suddenly had a collection of them. It was a dream come true.
And so began my plunge down a rabbit hole I could scarcely guess the depths.
I was a Bionicle super-fan in its first few years. I collected all the sets. I checked the fan websites maskofdestiny.com and bzpower.com daily for news about upcoming sets and sales/promotions—one of which was how I got my own rare Vahi mask. I even remember, once or twice, joining a roleplay thread on the maskofdestiny forums with a bunch of other 10/11 year olds. (The Internet really was a wild place, back then.)
I had the GBA game, Tales of the Tohunga. Two copies of it, in fact. I couldn’t figure out how to get through part of the first dungeon, so I thought the game was glitched. My parents complained to the store they bought it from and got a second copy for free. Then I read an online walkthrough and found out how I was actually supposed to get through that section. Turns out I was just bad at solving puzzles in games… Heh, oops.
I played the flash Mata Nui Online Game, the main way to experience the storyline of year 1 of the saga. I never got very far, because it was a point-and-click adventure game, and again, I was bad at puzzles.
But luckily for my story-loving self, Bionicle was a completely multimedia franchise. Various pieces of the story were told through video games, through comics (packaged alongside your monthly issues of Lego Magazine), through books, through toy commercials… There was no shortage in ways to experience the canon of the series.
Bionicle may well have been my introduction to the concept of a series with deep lore and continuity. Sure, I had Pokémon by that point, but let’s be real: the lore of Pokémon in gen 1 and 2 was not hard for a child to follow. But Bionicle was different. There wasn’t just a cartoon you could plug into every week to effortlessly stay privy to the plot. There was no single franchise entry that could tell you everything about all of the dozens (and eventually hundreds) of characters.
With Bionicle, you had to work to keep up with the story. You had to seek it out, because it didn’t come to you. You had to find and read the comics, or the books, or the plot summary someone posted somewhere on a fan website. You had to figure out where in the timeline the GBA game fit. (It was a direct prequel that leads into the year 1 story.) You had to find the flash game and play it yourself—not even YouTube existed yet to make it easy.
But the end result was so satisfying. It was such a richly built universe, and yet at the same time, so ripe for exploration. The perfect playground for a kid and their toys. Because, after all, the most important stories were the ones we made up ourselves.
These days, Bionicle has a bit of a… negative reputation when it comes to its lore. After the first few years, the story took a very sharp turn into a prequel arc set 1,000 years earlier, following a completely different cast, in a brand new location. And that prequel arc lasted multiple years in real time—forever for a child who just wanted to get back to the heroes of the first few years.
Looking back on my collection, and at plot summaries that are unfamiliar to me today, I fell off the wagon in 2005—year 2 of the prequel arc. I don’t know anymore what other reasons I had for moving on—disliking the direction of the set designs? Overwhelm at how complex the story had become? The mere fact that I was moving into high school? Probably a little bit of each of those.
But even though I stopped getting new sets, even though I stopped actively following the franchise… In the depths of my heart, I never actually moved on. I always held out hope that someday Bionicle would pull me back in.
For years after I stopped following the series, every time I went to a Walmart or any similar store, I always snuck a quick peek at the toy section—at the Lego aisle, specifically—to check out the latest Bionicle sets. To see if the set designs ever returned to the more nostalgic aesthetic of years 1 through 3. To see if the beloved original heroes, the Toa Mata, would ever return, or if the writers would keep introducing new characters on new islands with new backstories.
I remember when I saw new Toa sets with character names I remembered from year 1—the Toa Inika, featuring side characters I used to love, now ascended into heroes themselves. Good for them, I thought. And for some reason, I left it at that. I didn’t get any of the sets. I didn’t get back into the story. I was the mature teenager who didn’t need Bionicle anymore, and I needed to get out of the toy section before anyone saw me.
Then one day in 2010 I saw that they had finally re-released Tahu, with his original design from 2001, and I knew right away what it had to mean. It was a throwback set for the remaining fans, however few they were, to reward them for sticking around so long. It was the writers coming full circle. It was the end of Bionicle.
And for some reason, even though I thought I had no right to these feelings after having “moved on” so long ago, it still hurt to know that this pillar from my formative years, this institution in the background of my life, was finally at an end. That I’d no longer have any reason to check out the toy section.
I’ve had my Bionicle collection packed up across multiple boxes and untouched for at least the last six years, since before my last move. I could have taken them out at any time, but for some reason, I didn’t. Maybe I just didn’t have a good place to put them yet—no empty shelves waiting to be filled.
But more likely, I think, I just wasn’t ready to face this part of myself yet. The part of myself that isn’t afraid to put Tahu on display on a shelf, with his fire sword raised high, in a cool pose that reminds me of all the stories I acted out with him two decades ago.
I am a mature adult who needs Bionicle, because for better or worse, it was a defining aspect of my childhood, and these figures still make me happy every time I see them.