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Glatorian Agori

Bionicle
by Artemis

Bionicle this year (that's 2009, in case this gets held up in the queue a long time) has moved on to a new world, having worn the old one out, or something. Bara Magna is a harsh world where natural resources are few and far between, and one decent outbreak of warfare would be all it takes to render the place utterly uninhabitable for winner and loser alike. Luckily, long ago the inhabitants picked up a stray TV signal from Earth containing one of those low-budget sci-fi movies where in the future war has been replaced by death sports, and decided that looked like a good idea, so all disputes are resolved by single combat between warriors known as Glatorians.

So fair enough, if someone proposes invading your land and putting your whole population to work in the mines, you stump up the cash to hire a kick-ass Glatorian to send their champion packing - but you don't go reaching for your wallet every time some punk knocks your mailbox down, so the Agori - that's the common folk - often indulge in a bit of prejudicial problem-solving on their own, without recourse to the star performers, who've frankly got better things to do anyway. The Agori are this year's Matoran - the poor little buggers who have to strap on armour and pick up swords just to get by from day to day, but who'd be knocked over stone dead if one of the real fighters so much as broke wind in their direction. It's a tough life being a Bionicle.

The basic body structure is basically unchanged from the previous Matoran - body, arms and hands, legs and feet, head and mask, and a couple of accessories to keep them interesting - but there's a couple of innovations worth noting. The most obvious is the hands: previously Bionicles mostly used an unassuming little connector piece as hands, which was good for functionality but honestly looked a bit balls. The Agori (and their bigger brothers, when we get to them) have a new purpose-designed hand, with three fingers and a symmetrical thumb, fitted for a balljoint wrist and with Technic ports facing up and down from the clenched fist. It certainly looks better than the old hand unit, but it's lacking the lateral port, making it less versatile. The other change is the head beneath the mask - not so much that it looks a bit like Iron Man, but that the port to attach the mask is on top of the head, rather than at the front, which means you can have open-helmet-style masks that leave the "jaw" uncovered. That, I'd say, is a much more unambiguously good idea.

A servant of the evil Skrall, Atakus uses his twin swords to defend the city of Roxtus against any who might dare come near. Strong and fast, few can withstand more than one blow from his glow in the dark blades!

Atakus has the fewest pieces of all the Agori - just 13 - and with just the basic hands and feet, and his identical limbs not doing anything to spice him up in terms of proportions, he could have been a bit dull-looking. But he gets by thanks entirely to his mask and swords, which just goes to show what style can do for you. His mask is a tough-looking armoured helm with a loooong vane extending back off the head, dinosaur-style, and its black finish leaves his red eyes (head, that is) shining through nice and malevolently, complementing the dark black-and-gunmetal-grey palette of his body.

His sword is a new piece, a sword specific to the stone tribe (at least, they're the only ones to have one in the sets announced thus far). It's got a dog-leg kind of handle, making it more of a chopping weapon like an axe than a proper sword, and technological details which, along with the glowy bit built into the middle of the blade, suggest that it's a powered weapon, rather than just a sharp bit of metal. The promotional photos of Atakus show the mid-blade elements being an eerie green, but in fact they're the standard glow-in-the-dark sickly yellow/white, which looks a bit rubbish, unfortunately. On the plus side, that does make them glow quite well when the lights are off.

Raanu might seem harsh, but this village leader has to be tough to help the people of Vulcanus survive in a dangerous world. Armed with a fire blade and shield, Raanu is smart enough to know what it takes to win in the arena.

Raanu's a stocky little warrior, and also the only Agori not to be specified as male in its bio text, so let's assume she's a she. She's quite butch, with short legs and big powerful-looking arms, and a generally dark colour scheme of brooding crimson and dark grey, with just the hands and feet brightening things up. Her fire-themed mask and the underlying head all but merge into one colour, and the mask's orange highlights don't really show up as well as the promo photos would lead you to believe, which is a bit of a shame. Her fiery sword is quite nifty - and should give the ice and water tribes something to worry about, unless they're okay with being turned into the steam tribe - but the "shield," a pair of right-angled blades mounted either side of the fist in a rough square shape, is a bright red with no shading, and leaves something to be desired.

Tarduk knows life is hard for his jungle tribe, but he sees that as just one more challenge to overcome. He uses his powerful claws and sharp spikes to defend himself as he searches the sands for ancient artifacts and lost treasures.

Tarduk (or "Tarouk" as I called him for most of today, until I looked him up on the website - the Bionicle font is very boxy, it's easy to mistake a D for an O) is a good example of how a nifty idea can make all the difference. You may look at him and think it's his claws that set him apart - each connected to one of the old-style "hands," since the claw pieces themselves don't fit a balljoint - but in fact it's his arms. Not the style of them - they're the bulky kind, but so are Raanu's so nothing unusual there - but that they're put on back to front, so instead of having a conventional elbow Tarduk's arms bend back towards his body. It gives him a very ape-like look, and the claws are easy to position in a walking-on-knuckles position to take advantage of this. Tarduk's mask, and twin green colour palette, suggest something reptilian, but the body language is all gorilla - both styles work in the jungle setting, but the combination makes him look nice and alien.

A member of the water tribe, Berix is an expert at salvaging ruined equipment and patching it together. Equipped with a water sword and shield, he defends himself against any creatures that might be lurking in the sands.

I'm guessing it's not easy being the water tribe on a desert planet - either you're always short of your favourite element, or if you've got plenty, you're everyone else's main target for raiding. Berix looks authentically aquatic, with his streamlined helmet, sunken-treasure-gold shield/spear thingy, and even the dark feet looking like weighted diving boots. His "water sword" is actually a flame piece cast in blue, but it gets some help from a flexible tube connecting it (or rather the fist it's held in) to his back. With his large legs he's one of the taller Agori in this selection, but his narrow arms and comparatively small sword set him apart from a powerhouse like Atakus.

Fast-talking and smart, Metus dreams of finding a Glatorian to fight and win for his ice tribe in the Atero arena. Armed with an ice axe and shield, he searches Bara Magna for just such a fighter and is ready to meet any challenge!

Metus really isn't the most exciting Agori - his body and limb configuration is pretty standard, and his "ice axe" (actually a scimitar) is a piece we've seen before plenty of times, but he's got that snowflake shield which - I've proven this by field-testing on my personal trainer - looks cool even to someone with no interest at all in Bionicles. It's two halves, plugging into the top and bottom of the fist, and the join between the halves is really quite low-visibility. Unfortunately the new fist shows its lack of versatility here - on an old-model hand you could've turned the whole lot sideways, to have Metus holding the shield parallel with his forearm, and it wouldn't have looked unusual since there was nothing to indicate what direction the hand should be facing anyway. Try that now and it looks like his wrist is broken. The mask shows off the new top-connecting head style (as does Berix's to a lesser extent), with no lower face or jaw coverage at all.

A simple Agori villager, Zesk is little more than a beast. Relying on his four eyes to watch for danger and a scorpion-like tail for defense, he lurks beneath the sand and attacks any who pass through his earth tribe's territory!

That's weird - are all "simple Agori villagers" animal-like, and it's only the leaders and so on who are bright? Or maybe Zesk's tribe is the Bara Magna equivalent of the family from The Hills Have Eyes (go ninja dog!) Whatever the case, Zesk is a freaky little critter, with two-toed claws on all four limbs to indicate he's a quadruped, and a special assembly on his back to provide an extra balljoint for his tail to connect to. His mask, with its four eye holes and built-in mandibles, looks insectoid and frightening, and overall the strong contrast between his black body and sandy extremities is very striking.

And that's the Agori wrapped up. Compared to last year's Matoran, the most obvious difference by a mile is their individuality - the Matoran very plainly divided into two camps, three good Matoran, three Shadow Matoran, but the Agori are each visually distinct, displaying the elemental quality of their tribe: fire, earth, water, ice, jungle, and stone. Not the usual elements, but they'll do. At least there's no "heart." And when you think about it, the "doubles" - water/ice and earth/stone - are logically fairly distinct from one another. There's no connector feature with the larger Glatorian figures, like there was between the Matoran and the Toa-sized figures - at least, not that any of the publicity has mentioned - but with each Glatorian being modelled off one of their elements the same way the Agori are, they'll look natural as pairs.

I liked the Matoran, but largely as a sideshow on the way to the main attraction of the larger figures. The Agori, however, I like purely for their own sake - the six of them, each an element, and each with a fairly distinct physical feature of one kind of another, look really good as a set, and the various positive design innovations outweigh the slight minus of the less versatile hands. So high marks for Bionicle's first foray into 2009 - now bring on the big guns.

-- 03/03/09


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