Friday, July 25th, 2003 at 7:16pm by Kelly, BZPower Co-Owner
The first three years of the Bionicle storyline has been captured in black and white between the covers of the Bionicle Chronicles, by Cathy Hapka (interviewed recently on MoD.) From the arrival of the Toa on Mata Nui to the defeat of the Bohrok-Kal, the trilogy follows the ever-growing challenges of the Toa... but are the stories worth reading?
After zooming through these three books (in a couple of hours), it became obvious that any review would need to address two separate audiences: anyone familiar with Bionicle, and the apparent target audience of 7-12 year old boys who have no idea what Bionicle is all about.
Let's start with the larger audience of the stories: people who may not be completely into the mythology of the story, or know the names of the characters. The Chronicles are essentially a retelling of the storyline from the beginning, when the Toa washed up on the shores of Mata Nui in their canisters. The first book, the longest, introduces the Toa, the island, and the Matoran, ending at Makuta's first defeat by the Toa deep underground. The second, as the title implies, deals with the Bohrok invasion, and the third focuses on their successors, the Bohrok-Kal and return of Makuta.
The narrative is fairly close to the episodes described throughout the past two and a half years in comics and web updates. The focus is almost entirely on the Toa and how they interact, and action is definitely a major factor. Since the books are so short (about a hundred pages each, using BIG type), there's not a lot of extraneous description about the island, the Matoran, or the movitations behind the characters. Keeping in mind who'll be reading the books, the writing is straightforward and easy for beginning readers to follow. The chapters are short, and the Bionicle-specific lexicon is woven into the narrative pretty well. Although some of the words are only used a few times, they might prove difficult for newer fans to keep straight. Does Lewa have an axe or pair of swords? When did that happen? The pace is quick, which will keep people interested in reading, but at the expense of detailed descriptions.
The books will almost certainly help the toys sell well, although the original Toa are harder to find, and even the Toa Nuva are being clearanced off shelves already. Of the sets mentioned in the books, only the Bohrok-Kal will be widely available when these books are at their peak of distribution near Christmas time. All the newer sets (Rahkshi, Takanuva, Makuta, etc) play little or no part in these books.
Moving on to existing fans and anyone older than thirteen: you're not missing much. I have to be blunt, for fans that have even a cursory knowledge of the Bionicle storyline, the Bionicle Chronicles are three hundred pages of Cliff's Notes. We do get to see things from slightly different points of view, and a couple of highly-discussed episodes are finally given "official" description (Shadow Toa at the gates of Mangaia and Vakama presenting Tahu with the Vahi mask of time). But almost all of the stories describe things we've seen happen before, sometimes in a contradictory manner. For example, there was no mention of Hafu's heroic deeds during the Bohrok seige of Po-Koro, and Pohatu was credited with all defense of that village.
I wanted to get a double-check of my own thoughts about the books, since I'm not exactly in the target age group - being a so-called "grown-up" isn't usually detrimental to enjoying Bionicle, but this was a bit different. So I had my 9-year-old son read the first one and tell me what he thought. He's a Bionicle fan like his old man, and already knew just about everything in the books. His reaction was lukewarm. "It was OK," was about as enthusiastic as he got. A voracious reader, he wasn't too interested in reading the next two books, which told me a lot.
There's one other major comment to make. The characterizations seemed more extreme in these books, and not to the benefit of the Toa. The heroes were frequently shown in a different light than we've seen them before: petty, bickering, petulant. Tahu was probably the most maligned; often associated as the "leader" of the group, the Chronicles spare no expense in describing how the other Toa feel about his leadership abilities, or lack of them. The overall effect was quite distracting to the "heroic" stature that LEGO has worked hard to build into the Toa. I don't think I'd be as impressed with the Toa or Matoran (who are themselves portrayed as little more than sheep) if I'd gotten my first impressions of them from the Bionicle Chronicles. The only characterizations that seemed to be on the money were the Bohrok-Kal, who turn out to be snide and arrogant.
So here we come to the bottom line. Are these books worth buying? The answer: "It depends." If you are new to Bionicle and want to catch up with the storyline in time for the Mask of Light video, these are a great resource. They're quick reads and get you the basic information without too much investment in time or gray matter. At fifteen bucks US for the three, however, they'll be a spendy addition to your library.
If you're already up to date on the Story Thus Far, the books are redundant and probably not worth purchasing (unless you absolutely MUST see the Shadow Toa encounter). They're not of collectible quality (printed on inexpensive newsprint-like paper), of interest mostly to completists. About the only way I could recommend them for the BZP crowd would be when they appear in the Scholastic in-school book offers, where they'll probably be available at half price or so.
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