Monday, January 16th, 2023 at 7:55am by Jason, BZPower Reporter
It's finally here; the Bionicle anniversary / tribute / gift with purchase set. The set is 40581 Bionicle Tahu and Takua. Fans may disagree on if they like the style of the build, but we can all agree that it's a homage to a theme that's dear to many of us. And, of course, we're going to go full out for this review, with insights from Ta-Metru Defender, Dviddy, and Xccj. Read on to see all the details about the first full Bionicle set we've received in many years.
First off, we're obviously very excited to get this set, but it is being made available to the public as a Gift With Purchase, and the requirements are not cheap. The promotion will run from January 27th through February 9th, 2023, and will be free with a qualifying purchase of $100 USD ($140 CAD). It's not quite as pricey as the requirements to get the Blacktron set, but LEGO certainly expects fans to pay out to get a bit of Bionicle nostalgia. (And considering how many legacy fans may not be regular LEGO purchasers, it's probably not a terrible marketing move on their part.)
From the design of the box to the instruction manual, these are the first things you see before building the set.
Just the cover of the box is a huge nostalgic hit. Obviously we see our favorite Toa Tahu surfing on the lava, replicating the pose from his original canister. But that wasn't the only thing they replicated; the transition to the gray background emulates the original canister, and they even reused the old logo too. This one may not include a poster or mini CD, but when you look at the back you can see that it does have an additional figure in Takua, as well as a lava surfboard display stand.
The contents include four bags and an instruction booklet. I don't usually talk much about the instruction booklet, but this one actually has a couple of nice features that'll appeal to the Bionicle crowd. First is a recreation of some of the classic 2001 posters with this Tahu and Takua posing against the infected Hau / Mata Nui island background complete with Kanohi buried in the sand around them. The next page actually includes a short writeup by Greg Farshtey to the fans, showing the heart that was put into the creation of this set. I greatly appreciate it.
What kinds of interesting pieces are included with the set?
The set contains 219 pieces, plus a handful of extras. That is a far cry more than the original Tahu set for sure, which only had 33! Still, as a system build, this ups the part count significantly. Plus, Tahu is not the only build here. Predictably, you get a lot of red and orange pieces, plus a lot of the usual black and gray elements, especially for the Mixel joints. The Bright Flamish / Keetongu Orange pieces were a bit of a surprise to me, but they're used in the lava. Meanwhile, a few medium azure (and dark azure) parts are used on Takua.
Some of the pieces are less common than others, but all of these can be found elsewhere. This is to be expected for a Gift-With-Purchase set. Still, we did manage to get two exclusive prints, featuring the mask designs for Tahu and Takua. Both are printed on 2x2 curved slope elements, and have all the recognizable details of the Hau and Pakari masks that we saw in the sets and in the MNOLG. And they really bring these characters to life, so I'm glad we got legitimate prints for them!
Half the fun is had building the set. How fun is it to build and how easy or challenging is it?
If you've built a LEGO mech in recent years, such as from Marvel or Ninjago, you'll be familiar with the basic construct we have going on. The techniques used are good but not exactly demanding of the 18+ age rating. (I guess that age in general is being used for these Gifts With Purchases that are appealing to the nostalgia of adults.)
Now that the set is complete, we can critique how it looks from every angle. New or interesting pieces can also be examined here.
First we'll start with Takua, who replicates his McDonalds Matoran design from 2001. The MNOLG made the McToran design iconic to the theme despite them just being the villagers, and this model goes a long way to recreate their look. The big thing that first catches my eye is the large arch pieces used as the arms, and they work with these proportions. Additionally, their attachment to the torso by the barpiece allows for a surprising amount of motion, giving him plenty of poses to get into. The construction of the feet also do a great job at recreating the bulky Tohunga foot piece, but the Mixel joint allows for a lot more motion than the original set. The torso is pretty robust, as it consists of a 2x3 plate with all the joint connections. The front uses a jumper and the ingot tiles to replicate some of the texturing from the original piece. Meanwhile, the new brick-built head also attaches to a Mixel joint, and has the trans yellow eye stalks built in too.
Takua's Pakari mask is 3 studs tall, slightly larger than Tahu's mask, but this fits with the original Pakari shape. What is a bit different is that the color is now medium azure. Although Takua was never released as a McToran, his 03 set featured a medium blue mask, otherwise known as Gali's secondary color. Alas, medium blue isn't as popular nowadays, so medium azure took over, but it still works as a great contrast to the red and yellow and resembles the Takua we remember from the early Flash animations. (And yes, having the yellow feet back is a nice addition, especially because the 03 Takua had blue feet.)
Takua comes with two accessories. One is a 3x3 round tile to replicate the bamboo throwing discs the original McToran came with. There's no printing on it, but the discs in the MNOLG didn't have printing, either. The other feature is the backpack, which was an essential tool Takua utilized in the MNOLG and made him stand out a bit from the other villagers as he collected artifacts from across the island. It's an amazing detail to include here. . . although since it's only attached by a single jumper stud, it does have a tendency to pop off when adjusting the model.
A fun mini model that's included here is an Amaja Circle complete with a Mata Nui and Makuta stone. The Mata Nui stone is just a tan egg piece; it would've been cool to see printing of the stone carvings of the stone, but I understand why priority was given to the mask prints instead. The Makuta stone is just four 1x1 plates stacked atop one another. Usually when you're stacking plates, you want to take extra effort to make sure they all align up, but the misalignment is actually used here to give the stone its jagged shape. For a mini model made using only six pieces, it's surprisingly accurate to its depiction in early Bionicle media.
The main focus on the build is obviously Tahu himself. Tahu has been the face of Bionicle since the very beginning. The character has been through a lot of changes over the years; he became a Nuva and then gained adaptive armor as a Mistika, and of course he has a Master and Uniter form in the Second Generation. This isn't even the first time the original Tahu set has been recreated; we saw it in 2010 with Tahu Stars, and of course last year with the brick built anniversary set. But this new system-built recreation of the Toa of Fire tries to recapture a lot of the details from the original.
The first impressive part of the design is the torso. The original Mata torso was a single piece with a lot of detailing in it, like pistons and gears and divots, and it's hard to capture all those details in a small system built. Curved slopes and wedges do a good job to capture the shape on the upper torso, and barpieces on the side replicate the pistons from the original sets. The top of the chest includes clips holding onto a bar element to represent the original's gear system. This does a surprisingly good job; when I first saw images of the set, I didn't recognize the clips at first and believed for a moment that they had actually incorporated a small gear system into the build. Obviously, they couldn't manage that, but the extra effort to include those details is amazing. The lower body uses one of the stylized wedge pieces to fill out the shape, but it also attaches to the upper torso on a Mixel joint, giving Tahu proper waist articulation. (Something that promotional images often fooled us into thinking his original torso piece had.) The back of the torso does have a few anti studs visible, but it's not too distracting or too flat, so it works out.
The legs are fairly standard. The upper legs have orange brackets with orange ingot tiles to hide the gray Mixel joints. It's not perfect, but knowing that we're not going to get Mixel joints in other colors, I'm fine with it. (Plus, let's be fair, the original Toa had a lot of black and gray small technic elements mixed in, so I'm used to a certain amount of grayscale parts on Tahu. It's not like he's full of clashing blue pins or anything.) The lower legs end in long slope elements to replicate the original Toa feet, with another smaller specialized wedge piece to cover the color gap between the leg and foot. The inverted slope on the back of the leg helps recreate the triangular leg shape of the original piece, which is harder to capture in blocky system.
The arms are slightly different to play into the asymmetrical shape of the original set. Wedge pieces and cheese slopes are used to represent the original right swinging arm. The fire sword he holds onto feels a bit small for this set (especially considering it's the same piece used for the much smaller Anniversary system set from last year) but at least here it's lengthened a bit by the longer hilt. The left hand is a bit larger proportionally here than the original set, but the inclusion of the two black fingers is spot on. One feature I do appreciate is the black clips on the shoulders, which represent the original bulky black shoulder sockets the original set used.
Tahu uses the same head design as Takua, although this time in light gray instead of dark gray. (Another representation of the original sets, where the McToran used dark gray heads compared to the Toa Mata light gray heads.) Tahu gets his trans pink eyestalks too, and a bit of a red covering on the top to showcase the Hau's curve. One interesting design bit that was pointed out to me was that you can remove the mask parts and the studs on the gray head are now eyes; this is far more detail than I would've expected from a set like this, and the basic gray maskless face still works.
Tahu has a bit more articulation now compared to his older form. He gained both knees and elbows, features that were quite lacking in the original run of the theme. However, this set also did away with wrist and ankle joints, so it just about evens out. (Although the right arm never had a wrist either, so he gains an elbow joint here.) However, the neck and waist articulation put him over the top and make him extremely posable. He can be put into a plethora of different poses here, making him very personable.
There is of course exactly one element this Tahu shares with his 2001 predecessor. The black voodoo ball joint on his chest remains the same in both sets, as it is one of the last Bionicle pieces to still remain in LEGO's current inventory. Of course, it could've been replicated with a tile or stud, but the use of the ball joint is entirely fitting.
There's honestly not a lot to complain about for Tahu. Part of it for me is certainly nostalgia, and part of it is just happiness that we finally got an anniversary set. (Castle robbed us last year!) It is system, and the gray Mixel joints do stand out a bit, but still not enough to really bug me. Even the lack of ankle and wrist articulation is more than made up for with the newer joints added in. I suppose the mask is a bit smaller compared to the original Toa, where the Hau is quite sizable. And the flame sword is less impressive than I would've liked. But these are nitpicky flaws that have very obvious explanations. I am just more impressed that we got such an accurate depiction of Tahu Mata.
The final part of the build we need to talk about is the stand. This is actually quite substantial, including about as many parts as Tahu does. Curved slopes are used to create a stepped black base, and then the top has some nice fiery elements to depict lava underneath a dark tan lava surfboard. The clips underneath the surfboard allow it to be angled, and the whole thing is sturdy enough to easily hold the weight of the Toa. (Plus, it kind of resembles the old canister lids / Suva shrines.) Tahu never really got a surfboard in the first year, despite appearing in a lot of media on it, so this is a nice addition and helps sell the scene, not just the character. (Then again, it is so parts heavy that one does wonder if those pieces could've been used to make another Toa. The question then would be. . . who? Tahu was the obvious first choice, but a second one? Maybe it was just too hard to choose for the designers so they stuck with a surfboard display instead.)
The other half of the fun is in playing with the set. How well does the set function and is it enjoyable to play with?
I touched on it earlier, but Tahu is posable. Like, VERY. The arms and neck are great for setting a tone when he's hanging with Takua, and the legs and waist help him achieve some awesome stances on the surfboard. Tahu attaches to the surfboard via some pin tiles and pin connections on the bottom of his feet. The surfboard allows his feet to connect at a few different angles, so he can get into position to surf the lava flows. Even better, Takua has the ability to attach to the back of Tahu and join him while surfing. (The jumper plate on Takua's chest is more than just a heartlight!) Unfortunately, the connection is fairly fragile, so if you're not careful then the Matoran will fall off and become lava bones. Still, the two of them together can remake plenty of classic Bionicle scenes. (Even if the Mask of Light sequences involved Tahu Nuva. But are we assuming Takua and Tahu never went surfing together before Tahu went Nuva? I don't think so.)
Of course, one of my first thoughts in seeing Tahu in all his glory was "Where is the rest of the team?" Obviously this Gift With Purchase is a one time thing, so it's unlikely that we'll see the rest of the Toa Mata in system form any time soon. Of course, the fan community will not take this lying down; we were fast to replicate the Toa in the brick built anniversary form, so I expect the rest of the Mata to soon appear in MOC form similar to Tahu here. (Even if we may have to print our own stickers for the other masks.) How hard would it be to replicate this torso design in other colors? I may have to look into that in a future news story.
Once it's all said and done, how does the set stack up? Should I get it?
What's to like?
So many faithful details to the original set.
Solid colors on Tahu and Takua are recognizable.
Great articulation for such small system builds.
The effort to recreate the shapes of the old Technic pieces, from the legs to the gears and pistons in the chest to the black shoulders to the Slizer hand are much appreciated.
Printing on the masks is well done, as are the brick-built heads behind them.
Surfboard display is solid and iconic.
What's not to like?
Takua's backpack falls off easily.
Takua also has a loose attachment to Tahu's back.
The masks end up smaller than the original sets.
Gift With Purchase status makes it difficult to acquire.
As a one-off set, we're unlikely to see the other Toa.
In case you can't tell from this wordy review, I am extremely pleased with the level of detail that went into the creation of Tahu and Takua. These were not models that were lightly thrown together; they are a fitting tribute for the LEGO theme that connected us together as a community. Taking cues from the sets, the MNOLG game, and even the original canister artwork, this set is a worthy tribute. The nostalgia certainly makes me overly optimistic here, but can you blame me! For the size of the set, I don't think they could've done any better. I would easily recommend this to any older fan who remembers the classic days on Mata Nui! (Granted, with the limitations of the Gift With Purchase requirements, that might turn some people away.)
There are a lot of thanks to go around. Thank you to LEGO for providing the sets to us for an early review; it was great to have one of the first looks at the set. Blog Assistant Ta-Metru Defender / Josh did an excellent job with his video review, and Blog Leader Dviddy / Pat took amazing photos for the review, which was written by BZPower Reporter Xccj / Jason. And of course, we wouldn't have gotten anywhere without Black Six / Andrew organizing things in the background and running his livestreams. Thanks to everybody involved, and we look forward to seeing what the community will make of this tribute set.