When is Lego at it’s absolute best? When it combines playability, rebuildability, and a certain insanity in its design brief.
On a completely unassociated topic, it’s time to introduce Ninjago to our Lego 250 review list.
- A Japanese fighter, especially in the past, who moves and acts without being seen and usually carries a short sword. — Cambridge English Dictionary.
- A person skilled in ninjutsu, a Japanese martial art characterized by stealthy movement and camouflage. — Collins Dictionary.
- A member of a feudal Japanese society of mercenary agents, highly trained in martial arts and stealth (ninjutsu), who were hired for covert purposes ranging from espionage to sabotage and assassination. — Dictionary.com.
Wait, wait. I’m confused. Where in the definition of ‘ninja’ does it mention the bright, highly visible coloured uniform and the GIANT, FUCK-OFF, JUDGE DREDD MOTORCYCLE?
Prepare to be judged, citizen.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I understand that the Ninja were a Japanese caste. And I recognise that Denmark is quite a long way from Japan. I’m just saying that it’s not that far (Okay, nerdfans, it’s about 8600 km, which is, you know, pretty much Perth to Brisbane and back. I’ve done it. No big thing).
I mean, ninja. Not exactly a massive cultural surprise at this point, yeah?
Anyway, it’s not exactly like ninjas are unknown to we pasty Northern European white folk. Not by the 21 century, anyway. Let’s be honest: if The Tick can get them right (ish), I’m pretty sure the rest of us can get within the basic parameters, amirite?
So naturally, Lego went with that late-Friday-afternoon-meeting-after-a-few-too-many-Carlsbergs-at-lunch idea of centering their Ninjago brand on a group of brightly coloured guys with traditional Japanese names like Lloyd, Jay, and Zane, and equipping them with a series of really large high-profile V12 gay-pride batmobiles. Because of course.
Which parts of the words ‘stealthy’ and ‘camouflage’ were too difficult for you, dude?
You know what, though? Taken overall, it bloody works. And the reason it works is because of what I said right at the start of this post. The design aesthetic of Ninjago is off the freaking chain. It’s mad as a bucket of ferrets. It makes no sense at all, and even so, it still somehow manages to give off an aura of quasi-cod-feudal-Japan that is a really refreshing change from the wall of whitecentricity you’re normally faced with when you hit the K-Mart shelves.
Jay’s Blade Cycle is a case in point. For a start, if we accept that the minifig conforms to a standard human height, the damn thing would be about 20 feet long and 10 high. That’s not a motorbike, it’s a two wheeled aircraft carrier. And yet, it looks properly cool. It’s ridiculously playable. And as much as I’ve railed against introducing combat to the Lego format, in this case it’s not only justifiable but the ‘bad guys’ are both narratively and aesthetically wonderful: a snake cult of actual snake people who want to take over the world and turn everybody else into creepy actual snake people, too.
It’s not often that I concentrate overly much on the minifigs in a set. They’re window dressing, included to add some playability for the kids who will treat the set as the toy it is. I’m much more mature than that when I build my child’s toy. But in this case the minifigs are a genuine joy. Not the Jai fig so much, but the snakeman minifig is gorgeous. The snake cult was a feature of the first two series of Ninjago sets, and they are all beautiful: gorgeous colours, detailed markings, and designs that stand out even amongst the cornucopia of aliens, animals, and assorted weirdos that populate over 250 sets worth of tiny people.
It’s hard to pick out the details with my crappy camera phone, but the minifigs– particularly the snake cultist — are genuinely superb.
The set itself isn’t particularly difficult to put together. It’s only 180 pieces large, and most of those are either architectural– the assemblage of technic beams and pins that make up the bike’s infrastructure — or the panels that sit around the outside of the structure. It comes together quickly, which is exactly what you want in a set aimed at a younger demographic (There’s a reason why the Ninjago cartoon series is the most successful TV show the company has put out, and it’s that the inner eight year old demographic is mostly encased in an outer eight year old). It’s bright, colourful, whatever the road version of swooshable is, and doesn’t take forever to put together: everything a young boy could want, literally.
Ninjago sets do have a tendency to be a bit hit and miss, and they’ve grown progressively easier to walk past on the shelves as the series has gone on and on… and on… and on… but they still manage to pull out the odd surprise or two. I have my share, and we’ll be revisiting the theme as we go. Jai’s Blade Cycle was the first set I picked up, and as introductions go, it was a good one.
“That word you use. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
The League Table of Awesomeness