Bionicle Technic Toa Figures
Item No.: 8534 Manufacturer:LEGO Includes:Canister packaging for storage Action Feature:Twist dial to swing sword arm Retail:approx. $7.99 Availability: Summer 2001 Other: From the debut series of Bionicle toys
When I first saw Bionicle my reaction went from "What the hell is this new Technic thing?" to "A canned LEGO tiki robot? SOLD!" in about thirty seconds. I jumped on the red one because it reminded me vaguely of some tiki stuff, a little bit, and that was enough to push me into the line. As one of the very first Bionicle figures, it and its peers carried the "LEGO Technic" brand on the packaging to help explain what these were-- of course as time went on, the "Bionicle" brand became way stronger than "Technic" and the other words were dropped. This line because one of the first great successful constructable action figures, which spawned other successes (Hero Factory) and failures (Galidor) over the following decade.
Using several new parts in addition to the existing Technic rod-and-hole construction, these figures plugged together pretty quickly and involved geared mechanisms. Seeing as you had to assemble the figure yourself and you were encouraged to modify them and make them your own, kids really went nuts with the line and were even sold blind-boxed collectible masks, 2 for $2 at most stores. These proved so popular, there was a lot of in-store pilferage so people opened the box to see if the one they wanted was inside. Or they just pocketed it. I saw lots of both.
So yeah, you put together the figure and you can have them "slash" or "swim" or "kick" or whatever-- slight alterations to the design allowed you to change what the figure could do, and most of the Toa figures were effectively the same core item with new weapons, a new mask, and new coloring. Tahu's flame sword was pretty slick, and plugged in to the end of his arm. This arm would go up and down as you moved the dial on his back, giving you a smooth, fun attack action you could use while having him fight the other toys. (The first year Bionicle villains were largely huge, boxed monsters sold in pairs.)
The figure itself used a lot of hallmarks of existing toys, like the light-up eye port. A clear piece of plastic (in this case, red) plugged into a grey face, which had a hole in the mouth in which you can attach a mask. All of the masks had names and special powers, so you could probably put together a nice book just defining all the terms used in the toy line. It gets pretty obtuse-- masks are called "kanohi," and Tahu's mask is "Hau, the mask of shielding." None of this really does anything to help the toy, but hey, it's probably the same way people felt about Autobots, Cobra, and Orko back in the 1980s.
The figure has no paint, and assembles in a few minutes. I like it a lot, and I'd say if you can get this one (or any of them) because it's a really fun experience. As an added bonus, the packaging was meant to be saved so you can keep all your parts inside. The lid of the package (see below) has a molded face on it, on which you can mount a mask if you're so inclined. You can also mount spare heads for storage along the side, showcasing other masks, if you'd like. They really were pushing the "collectible" angle on these, although the blind-packaged accessories would go away pretty quickly. It was a heck of a neat idea, and I was sad to see the Bionicle brand come to an unceremonious end as 2010 came to a close. Tahu here is still a great fun little toy, and a new version of the original Tahu was released to stores in 2010-- different construction, but very similar. You can snag him for about $10, but the original toy as reviewed here goes anywhere from $10-$35 these days.
A word to the cheap collectors of today-- a lot of Bionicle items on the secondary market aren't too expensive yet, with some of the larger sets going for pretty reasonable prices. If you feel that, in 5-10 years, you're going to want a set, get cracking on this. As this generation grows up I bet sealed and complete toys are going to be pretty tough to find on the secondary market.
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