Review: Official Set - 2001 Bionicle Toa Mata
Released in 2001 as a part of the very first Bionicle wave, the Toa Mata helped to kick off what would become a saving grace for LEGO®. If you are not familiar with the theme, Bionicle was created as a move of desperation to save The LEGO® Group from financial collapse, and surely enough, it did just that. The theme introduced robotic inhabitants on the island of Mata Nui, and very quickly children fell in love with it.
The Toa served as the guardians of the Matoran, and each contained elemental powers relevant to their region. The six Toa include:
- Tahu, Toa of Fire
- Gali, Toa of Water
- Pohatu, Toa of Stone
- Kopaka, Toa of Ice
- Onua, Toa of Earth
- Lewa, Toa of Air
The Toa come packaged in cylinders, which mimic the ones they arrived in on Mata Nui. The cylinders are mainly grey with a colored top to match the color scheme of the Toa inside. Each of the canisters feature a print wrapped around the box and have a rotatable sleeve on the outside. The sleeve features art depicting the Toa on the “front” and on the “back” is the island of Mata Nui as well as a mask sitting in an open circle. This shows a mask code, which two decades ago could have been used online, but nowadays the code is meaningless.
Once we open up the container, inside we find all of the pieces, the instructions, and some promotional material from 2001. Since the sets are roughly 35 pieces each, no need to back up the parts, they simply spill right out of the canister.
The builds of the Toa are very easy to complete and took me about 5 minutes per Toa. The builds are repetitive, but this is expected with sets like these. I will say though, the builds are still very enjoyable. Each of the six Toa is fantastic in the fact that they each are balanced in a way that makes them feel like the same family as the others, but have enough uniqueness not to get stale after building a few of the other Toa. The different masks do the best job of this, as do the colors of the Toa. The masks give Toa powers, and they can collect other masks to obtain new powers. There are 6 unique masks for the Toa, and once a Toa obtains all six masks in their color, they obtain a golden mask. The golden mask is referred to as a Great Kanohi Mask, and allows the Toa wearing it to use all of the powers from the masks they’ve collected.
The main feature of the Toa is that they can swing their arms (or in the case of Pohatu, legs) by spinning a technic gear on the back of the Toa. This imitates the Toa’s fighting actions, and while these movements are very limited and simple, you have to remember that in 2001 this was just fine.
The Toa Mata contained a combination model, actually two of them, each of which combined three Toa into one mega-Toa called the Toa Kaita. A lot of the story behind these Toa can be found by playing Mata Nui Online Game 1, but to sum it up the Toa Mata were destined to defeat the Makuta, and in order to reach him, they first had to come together as the Toa Kaita to defeat the Makuta’s guards, the Manas.
As for the physical models, I think they’re pretty good. They improve upon some flaws of the base models, such as neck articulation, and give a really fresh design while keeping it close enough to the original Toa to look as if they meshed together.
Overall, I think these models were great for the time, and didn’t age too poorly. Certainly, now we can think of additional features that could have been added in, but for what they were meant to be I think they do the job just fine. The packaging, instructions, and additional content is the real winner here as these sets helped to launch a decade-long theme that essentially saved the company.
Unfortunately, that also means if you want them today, they’re a little bit more expensive than back then. Buying them used is the way to go here because the ones that are new/sealed are VERY expensive ($100+) and should be left for collectors and purists to splurge on.
Again, the Toa Mata are nothing necessarily special, but boy are they iconic. These sets were some of my favorite as a kid, and I think I had just as much fun rebuilding them and rediscovering the theme now as I did back in my early childhood. Thank you, Mata Nui.