Green Book Sexism

LEGO, we need to talk! Yes, I’m talking about that male-oriented marketing campaign on Facebook and Instagram that is causing quite a fracas here in Germany. Apparently it was a botched attempt at promoting a specific landing page on the website that already has existed for a while.

Now here’s the thing: I’m apparently a male and I like myself a bit of subtle, subversive, intellectual humor just as I like the occasional lewd, offensive, sexually infused joke when the situation just feels like it. However, referencing the Rough Terrain Crane (42082) and using phrases like “As complicated as women, just with instructions” and “4057 parts – that’s what we call well-endowed” is perhaps not really appropriate.

As a gay man I don’t even need to defend women by proxy even though this is apparently as misogynistic as it gets, but to a degree I’m taking it personal. A certain line has been overstepped here. I could accept those stereotypes (though they’d still be offensive) if LEGO was a home improvement store chain or sell shaving stuff, but clearly they are neither. Just the opposite – they usually go out of their way to present themselves as gender neutral toy company (though we could of course debate if that’s truly the case with series like Friends).

Aside from trivial things like kids possible getting to see the campaign and its distasteful bad jokes, it’s a marketing disaster for another reason: In times of financial struggle and dropping sales LEGO can’t possibly afford bad publicity. Now the old trope of “any publicity is good publicity” may apply, as without the uproar some people might not even have been aware of these things, but regardless, the damage is done.

Speaking of publicity – the LEGO world is abuzz with excitement about the latest Ideas set, the Pop-Up Book (21315), but I don’t quite feel like joining the chorus. Don’t get me wrong, I like the overall concept, but its execution in my view leaves a lot to be desired. Back then when the first news of this came out I made a remark on a forum or blog that it would all depend on how much “story” stuff comes with it for people to create their own little scenes and as far as that’s concerned, I think LEGO just got it wrong.

There’s only two tales – Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood – and while the scenes and minifigures look nice, I simply don’t consider it enough. It reminds me of the many overpriced Elves sets that mostly consist of simplistic, small medieval-looking tree houses that are just facades and then the rest of the set’s “value” is generated by the umpteenth big dragon in yet a different color and a ton of useless minifig accessories.

I feel it’s quite similar here – two-thirds of the parts go into the book/ box, and the rest seems like cheap dressing or an afterthought. If I had my way instead it would be the other way around. I might have settled for a simpler way to build the book and instead would have thrown in a huge “build your own story” bag with tons of parts. In fact I made a similar point already with the Creative Storybook (40291). They could just have re-used that idea. I could perfectly live without the pop-up mechanism.

Instead we now have two quite similar sets that both feel somehow incomplete and unfinished. In the end this could be an expensive proposition if you really plan on pimping this stuff as you might need to buy extra sets or do quite a bit of shopping for parts on Bricklink. I’m decidedly undecided whether I should even consider getting it eventually…


Starry November

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a bit of a Sci-Fi nerd, which as a fan of not just Star Trek almost inevitably means that you also turn into a bit of a geek on astronomy, cosmology, quantum physics and other obscure stuff average people may not care about. That’s why I was both a bit excited and skeptical at the same time about the November issue of the LEGO Friends magazine. Sadly, it didn’t fail to disappoint. The whole mag is a story of a missed opportunity to bring some education to the masses.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2018, Cover

The model parts, grandiosely called Olivia’s Observatory, aren’t really that great. It’s like they couldn’t decide what to include and then settled for a minimum solution that seems to cover all bases. I feel the answer to doing it a lot better would have been to either

  • include parts to build a larger telescope or
  • include a larger plate and enough stars to arrange them in actual star sign patterns.

You could then have explained how the telescope works or encouraged the kids to re-create the stellar formations and try to find them in the sky.

This would have meant they would have had to include some kind of poster and instructions for that stuff, and this unfortunately isn’t the case at all, so the mag fails a second time. In fact there is barely any mention of this astronomy stuff except for a few simple games on two pages. Instead we get the umpteenth variation on those terrible posters with those awful CG girl faces that nobody really likes.

Overall this is a pretty bad issue and unless your little ones really insist on their monthly dose of the comics you can simply skip it this time.

November X-Wing

New month, new mags. As usual the first is the Star Wars magazine, this time officially for November, despite it being still a bit away. I’ll never understand that “one month ahead” logic, but I’m sure they have their reasons.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, November 2018, Cover

After we had a bit of a dry spell in the last few months when it comes to the included models with only super-simple stuff like the Droideka and Probe Droid, we’re now getting something more acceptable again by ways of Poe Dameron’s X-Wing. It looks the part and once assembled is reasonably large, so you can actually hold it and make it go *swoosh* while doing your flying maneuvers. Of course it could be even bigger had they used longer wings and also extended the front section as it should be. It’s okay, though.

The rest of the mag is just plain boring on the other hand. Neither the comic nor the posters are particularly interesting. The old saying is probably true: You can’t have everything at once.

Bastion what?

After the announcement almost half a year ago and the ensuing long discussions on the internet whether or not this actually fits LEGO‘s moral code and ethics, the first Overwatch set has popped up on the Blizzard online store featuring the Omnic Bastion (75987) character.

Personally I’m not opposed to Overwatch at all. I’ve never played it, but a) I like those character introduction videos both as a film aficionado and 3D artist due to their excellent quality and storytelling and b) I like the overall graphical/ design style just by looking at gameplay videos. Sure, it’s a shooter and doesn’t fit in with the pink fluffy unicorns theme so prevalent in many LEGO sets (But then again, they do have Star Wars, too, do they not?), but the comic style and the game not taking itself so seriously probably make it acceptable.

The Bastion set at 25 Euros or bucks, respectively, is quite expensive for under 200 pieces, but I suppose in a world where propped up limited editions with deluxe busts, artwork books etc. are now quite common, it will still feel quite attainable for most gamers compared to other cost, including their subscription and in-game virtual goods. From the LEGO side there’s not much to it and if you have the parts you could probably re-create it just by studying the photos.

Personally I would have hoped for a more massive set that really carries home that heavy mech/ battle turret theme, though. You know, one where the sheer weight of the LEGO bricks already makes you want to put it into certain poses. My concern here is that if this the scale they settle on it will be difficult to render the other characters in sufficient detail (if there are any plans on doing so). Admittedly, however, it would probably look just the part when placed in a recreation of the actual arena to same scale, which is what I’ve been hoping for more than anything else.

I’m quite likely never going to get this particular model due to the price, but now that the party has started, I’m slightly hopeful that this may turn out well, after all, and isn’t just another desperate move by LEGO to tap into new user bases. Should be interesting what will be next…

No-Fly Wing-y-Thingy – The Manta Ray Bomber from The LEGO Ninjago Movie (70609)

Sand Blue is a nice color and I love myself vehicles that are shaped after underwater creatures. It’s one of those awesome things about my favorite Sci-Fi series Babylon 5 and if you know your way around it, you know that the Centauri cruise ships very much look like Manta Rays. Therefore it was nearly unavoidable that I also would have to get the Manta Ray Bomber (70609) after the Piranha Chase (70629) an Flying Jelly Sub (70610).

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Box

First let’s get a fundamental flaw/ shortcoming of this set out of the way. The ascribed capabilities as “flying” are a total misnomer. As someone who is into military aviation and all kinds of scientific nerdery I could go on in endless detail about the why and how, but suffice it to say that it would never take flight in the real world. Not in this universe and not under this set of physical rules.

At best this would be some ground effect vehicle hovering slightly above the water or a hydrofoil ship, but actually my preferred and by far simplest interpretation is to see the oversized engine nacelles as floating bodies and the whole thing conventionally floating on the water surface with the small-ish wings allowing an occasional jump when speed is sufficient.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Overview

Of the three sets in this series I have reviewed this is the least spectacular and in a way also least original. For the most part it’s a relatively simple build using a lot of large parts and the minifigures don’t really stand out, either, nor is there any specific complementary side-build of some scenery item or other small vehicle.

Interestingly enough it’s also the one model in the group that appears to be most readily available in retail stores, which thankfully is reflected in the pricing. Only recently I saw it again for around 17 Euros during a clearance sale, but you can get it for 20 Euros in most stores. Funny enough that’s one of the few cases where being patient and going on the hunt in physical stores is cheaper than ordering it online.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Front

The design captures the overall shape of a Manta in an okay-ish fashion, but is overall not particularly accurate. Basically everything would have needed to be proportionally a lot larger, with the way too short tail sticking out particularly much. A larger, longer wedge/ hinge element would have been nice. Normally I would consider this a non-issue, but the use of the rubber dinghy dictates a certain scale and for that the rest of the ship looks too small.

This yellow monstrosity generally bothers me somehow. It comes off way too easily as a whole and due to its lack of studs on the floor the elements attached to it come off extremely easily as well. The rear machine gun barely sticks, even less so when you add a minifigure that operates it. The bee-striped bombs don’t make too much sense, either, though at least they adhere reasonably well by ways of their hinge clips.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Aft

Unfortunately the float isn’t the only part that comes off. The same is true for the sideways turned mudgards and oar elements that represent the outer mouth parts and front fins (the ones that look like floppy mandibles on the real creature). The model simply doesn’t have the most stable superstructure in this area and handling is delicate.

On the other hand, the main trunk is extremely robust and the propeller parts are also attached using pins, so breaking them off accidentally is nearly impossible. It makes you wish they had used a similar approach for the little boat on the top.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Bottom

Overall this is a somewhat unsatisfying set. Its concept and premise are squandered by design issues one can’t ignore, even more so since they also affect the playability or for that matter simply holding it in your hand. Also technically very little about the construction makes sense. Bombs rolling down on top of the wings? Tell that to an Air Force safety officer and see his reaction!

I feel that for the most part all the issues could have been resolved by simply making it larger – considerably. It would have allowed different construction techniques and a more cohesive design. It also would have brought out the elegance of a Manta much better. In its current state it remains a bit of an oddity and fails to deliver on both fronts. It’s neither elaborate and pretty enough for a display model and playing with it is not free of issues as well. The only consolation is if you get it dirt cheap and can fill a rainy afternoon with building it.

LEGO does something right with Ideas for a Change?

As I’ve said a couple of times I’m not the biggest fan of LEGO Ideas. It’s simply way too inefficient and the number of sets it produces is laughable, least of all ones that would interest me/ be relevant to me. That’s why I usually approach those official LEGO Ideas Review announcement days with more than just a bit of skepticism. Surprisingly enough, this time it seems this was unwarranted, at least on some level. Equally surprising this time two sets made the cut, so this is even better.

The first is the gianormous Treehouse. There hasn’t been any decent treetop-themed set ever since the Ewok Village (10236) if you don’t count smaller stuff like Mia’s Tree House, so this will be more than welcome. Personally I would just love to spend my weekends relaxing in such an abode, falling asleep with the wind gently rocking the tree and rustling the leaves, watching animals on the ground gather at sundown and all that good stuff, but here in Germany there are apparently not that many big forests to begin with, let alone enough hunky trees that could hold up such a contraption plus there would be all kinds of legal red tape, too. Therefore building such a set is the next best thing. Other interpretations are of course just as valid, as the design is more than just a tiny bit reminiscent of the Elves stuff seen in the Lord of the Rings movies. Lets just hope that the final polish and conversion to a producible set doesn’t kill off that magic by downsizing things too much.

The second set elected are The Flintstones. While the set overall is designed nicely, I’m a lot less enthusiastic here. It just feels like out of its place in time with even the last, rather bad live action movie (Viva Rock Vegas) being so far in the past. I also barely have any recollection of even a single actual episode beyond all those awful 60’s stereotypes and clichés and mostly remember it from the opening sequence. Strictly speaking from the LEGO side of course it comes with a ton of minifigures, which I don’t have much interest in, either, meaning half the set would be kinda wasted on me. Mind you, I like the stylized nature overall and it really has lots of lovely detail, I’m just not sure I can get behind the theme as a whole. If at all this will probably have to be a case of finding yourself “Aww, that’s cute” when seeing the actual built set in a LEGO store or so…

All things considered, however, this is quite a good turnout this time. The sets are significant and appealing enough to a larger crowd which means they should sell well and in turn perhaps not be super expensive. Should be interesting to find out when they hit the shelves!

Another Star Wars Dollhouse

Ah, LEGO… *sigh* While the rumour mill is always in swing and makes the Internet tick, it seems lately many of those turn out to be true – and usually not in a good way. After the Vestas Wind Turbine (10268) it now seems that some people’s guessing game hit bullseye once more with Darth Vader’s Castle (75251). Images can be for instance found here and elsewhere of course.

Unfortunately the set continues the trend of toy-ish Star Wars sets and indeed is more like Cloud City than a genuine UCS model as everyone hoped it would be. It looks nothing like the imposing architecture you briefly get to see in Rogue One, but rather just a tiny crammed guard tower. At least they kept the lava fall (since this is allegedly on Mustafa to remind Anakin/ Vader of his origins and form a spiritual connection to the place), but aside from the overall shape and recognizing a few details like the isolation chamber and Bacta tank there’s really not much there. They also included a hint at the hidden Sith shrine and Holocron at least, though.

Once more LEGO can only be described as being out of their minds with the price – 130 Euros for only slightly above 1000 pieces isn’t exactly a bargain even. Many of them being larger items the build is going to go rather fast and you probably won’t feel like you get your money’s worth. The minifigures aren’t much to write home about, either, so this would be tough to justify as a purchase. The only thing that really gives this some air of exclusivity is that you can only get it on Amazon and of course in LEGO‘s own shops/ online store, now that Toys’R’Us has fallen off the cart for that kind of thing, but otherwise this strikes me as a rather mundane set where the hype around it doesn’t live up to the actual content.