Anime Reporter, (but you can call me Ronan), returns to The Reporter’s Desk to tell you why a man in his mid-twenties loves Lego.
I remember as a boy, I don’t remember exactly what age, but probably somewhere between 6 and 8, my aunt brought me a pretty awesome birthday present (or maybe it was Christmas?). It was a present that would drive my parents crazy in years to come, and a present that would bring me countless hours of entertainment. There’s no real suspense here, is there? I mean, I’ve told you that this is an article about Lego, the title says it’s about Lego and in all likelihood you can probably see a Lego related picture onscreen even as you read this text. But you know, even so, you’ll have to wait until the next paragraph to find out just what the present was, exactly…
The present was
a Lego set! Okay, I’ll grant that isn’t much of a revelation, but, at the risk of making myself feel incredibly old, it wasn’t a Lego set like you get today. This was mid-nineties Lego. These were the days when “Lego” would be printed on the box without the need for sub-categories like “Marvel superheroes”, “Bionicles” or “Friends” after it and it was amazing. Every block in the set was one of three colours; dark blue, dark green and dark red and every one of those hundreds of pieces combined together to form a pretty impressive looking stegosaurus. Now, granted, this was helped by the fact that some of the pieces were an intact stegosaurus head, feet, back plates and tail-spikes, but there was still a lot of work that had to be put in to make it look even remotely dinosaur like. Luckily, though I lacked the patience the stegosaurus would require, I did possess the abundance of impatience needed to pester my father into helping out. This helping out was made up of two main tasks: doing most of the building and fixing my mistakes. Eventually, after no small amount of work, my father and I, (so, my father), finished our work on this impressive beast and we called in the whole family to look at our accomplishment. I felt supremely proud of this huge stegosaurus and the fine work I felt I’d put into it.
Then my older brother pointed out that there were extra instructions further into the book. Apparently, you could also build a variety of other things with the bricks, including a fiercely proud looking green and blue gorilla. This presented a pretty sizable dilemma. I wanted the gorilla, but the Lego company had somehow made a mistake in not supplying me with an infinite number of bricks. I would actually have to take my stegosaurus apart to build something else. After much internal agonising and repeated, frustrated pokes from my brother, the stegosaurus was dismantled and the two of us began carefully following the rules, again with my own progress needing a bit of correction. We finished our work and, just like on the page, we had a proud, strong gorilla in miniature and some less than realistic colouring. This creation took considerably less time for me to destroy and before my brother knew it I was using the scattered remains of our once noble beast to carefully connect Lego pieces into the shape of a rock, a lump or something equally ambiguous. Over the years, we added some new, smaller Lego sets to our collection and lost many pieces along the way, but I never got tired of incorporating Lego into my games. Whether I was making armour or weapons for my action figures to use or creating little people of my own with their own stories and characters, Lego was a very common feature of my play. In those days, I was so happy for a toy covered in blue bricks to be wearing robot-armour or red squares to be fire and green squares to be grass.
When I was a little bit older, as many 10 year olds did at the time, I became pretty interested in Pokémon. Actually, I became fairly obsessed with it. Many of my Lego pieces became more or less permanently assembled as makeshift versions of Snorlax, Weepinbell, Hitmonchan and Venusaur (I don’t know why I didn’t try for Blastoise, as Squirtle and its evolutions were always my favourites). When the time came to discard the majority of my childhood toys, my Pokémon collection, and most of my remaining Lego with it, were disposed of, or donated. I continued on through adolescence and gave no more thought to Lego.
That changed about a decade later. I met my girlfriend, Katherine, and we started dating in November almost three years ago. That Christmas, she came to stay with my family and I and she learned that, although I was 23 years old, there was something very important that I still hadn’t done. I had… never watched the extended version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Katherine, being the incredibly cool person she is, put her foot down and that year we started a new tradition, putting aside a part of Christmas to watch the extended trilogy (which, let’s be honest, is dramatically better than the initially impressive original trilogy). The day after we first watched all three movies together, I went to the only shop in my small town that was open, a toy store, and I bought Katherine a Lego set of Saruman’s forge. She responded a day later by buying me a Lego set of the Batcave and thus…our new obsession was born. Lego video games, Lego sets, collectible mini-figures, these became our new go-to gifts, an inside-joke that could only look childish to the outside world, but that carried a lot more sentiment for us. It’s our way of saying “I love you and I knew you’d like this and, yep, I’m just as much of a child as you are”. We’d spend time together, carefully building these sets, watching scenes from LoTR or some of our favourite characters from series’ we love come together and take shape. The video games, in particular Lego LoTR, offered such a fresh sense of humour on old stories and familiar characters, it’s hard not to be charmed by Aragorn making a heartfelt speech while a pig juggles apples in the background. Let’s not overlook the Lego movie, which offered charm, humour and a unique blend of not taking itself too seriously while making Lego feel like the most important thing in the world for a brief moment. Today, I am probably a bigger fan of Lego than I was as a child, but I do also feel that there’s just a little something missing in Lego these days.
When I was younger, playing with a scattered mountain of blue, green and red, those pieces really could be anything I wanted them to be. A favourite game of mine involved a little Lego man sitting in a Professor X style hover chair which, when people weren’t looking, could instantly transform into an iron man style power-suit. When I look at the Lego sets today, for example, the Batcave, there really isn’t the same freedom. This part is a big girder, that part, quite clearly a giant bat-logo or a computer screen or a chair. The amount of pieces that aren’t quite clearly a specific item seems to have gone down a lot. While the sets look a lot cooler and more imaginative, I can’t really imagine being a kid surrounded by a set of these very specific bricks and shapes and feel the same freedom to build absolutely anything.
The same is true of the Lego video games. While they’re a hell of a lot of fun to play and there are whole worlds to explore and characters to unlock, they pretty much offer variations of the same experience; break things, collect little Lego-studs, build objects and, using characters’ abilities, climb, dig, fly or overcome certain obstacles. Then unlock more abilities later in the game so you can revisit old levels and find collectibles items and more characters and abilities. I’m not complaining, really. As I write this, there’s a 3DSXL beside me telling me that I’ve completed 98.5% of Lego Batman 3 and the first thing I’ll probably do after I post this article is to track down the remaining 1.5%. I love Lego. I love carefully building these worlds and there’s something calming after a stressful today about slowly, simply building something. Still…
When I started writing this article, I searched online for my old Lego set. A search for “Old lego stegosaurus green blue red” gave me nothing. “Lego dinosaur green red blue gorilla” didn’t help much either. This is possibly my fault for doing this search the month after Lego Jurassic Park came out, but really, I think that a lot of people have forgotten about the idea of a bucket of miscellaneous Lego, of just building shapes without needing to be told that this part is a gun or that part is a rocket. So much fun came from imagining as you built.
That said, there’s no way in hell I could have made anything nearly as cool as the flying Delorian from Back to the Future Part 2. Consider me in love with both ends of the Lego spectrum.
How do you feel about Lego? Do you think it’s better now than in the past? What kind of things do you remember making with Lego? Do you have anything at all to say about Lego, or maybe even know of the old Lego set I’m talking about? I’d love to hear your say.
Thanks for reading,