Samurai Mech

 Sometimes a creation passes whole lot of others in the everlasting queue to be posted. I have currently three builds photographed, three more finished and two more almost completed. But this MOC was completed maybe five hours ago, and the building process was begun yesterday. This is because it is a contest entry, for Eurobricks's Ninjago Legacy contest.

The subject of the contest is to make a new version of a Ninjago set or a setting in the TV show in spirit of this year's winter wave Ninjago sets. I've seen probably half a episode of the series, but Ninjago's vast collection of sets from 8 years offered lot of sources of inspiration; there are plenty of cool designs mixing medieval Japanese themes with all sorts of oddities from snake people to skeletons on hot rod tanks and terracotta warriors. I considered few sets for a remake; Temple of Light is a bit random set with lot of unused potential, but a whole temple felt too big. Throne Room Showdown felt interesting to be re-designed in larger scale as some figure builds; it's intriguing and pleasant to see a set with four female and one male named characters on LEGO theme not using minidolls; but four figures would have been too much, at least when I don't really know these characters. Similar idea would have been making a large-scale figure on some cool character from a spinner set, for example Nya or Sensei Wu, but something less usual (for my projects, at least) felt bit fresher. I considered Salvage M.E.C., Dawn of the Iron Doom, Oni Titan and Master Wu Dragon but didn't find any obvious ways to process them. Master Wu Dragon especially is a wonderful set as it is; I actually have one, bought second-hand without figures. I finally settled into 9668 Samurai Mech from 2012. It has actually been made as legacy set, 70665 THE Samurai Mech, which is puny and doesn't capture the heavy-set dieselpunk feel of the original.

The original set is seven years old and LEGO's set designs - especially the mechs - have developed since then. Samurai Mech was an impressive set back then, and one of the wave's best, but looking it now I see plenty of areas in urgent needs of update. The locomotive cowcatchers look nice as shoulder armours, having mechanical feel while still retaining bulky-shouldered silhouette of samurai armour. Original pirate cannon fits the aesthetics well, and the round dome of helmet is pleasant. Spinner crown is a nice touch on the chest. However, the helmet-cockpit looks rather random and lacks character and the legs are quite shapeless and obviously lack knee joints. The set also has a catapult, because there has to be a catapult.

I tried to enhance the good points on the original while completely re-designing the bad ones. I wanted to make it more samurai-like - I am a character builder at heart, and big mech looking like an actual samurai felt more menacing than a mere machine. I made three sketches on my six-hour apartment design critic, the last studying event of the term, and after two-week hiatus around Europe (The Hague, Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Bexleyheath, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stockholm, Turku) I began building. The first part was the helmet, a samurai Kabuto functioning as the cockpit. Idea of using U-shaped blade weapons (got them from Bricks&Pieces) as eye frames was present in original sketches and I'm happy that it worked that well; I had never used those pieces before. Two silver bard pieces form a skull-like nose between the blades. The silver highlights are very strong as there isn't much silver here. Samurai X can also look from the eyeholes, which I think is a nice (and natural) detail. Under the eyeholes there is a moustache, which seems to be an usual feature on samurai face-covers. The teeth under them are connected to upper torso and not the Kabuto; Behind them is a joystick for controlling the mech. Black binoculars are used to make the tooth row dense. The grim expression strikes fear in opponents. I think the gestalt reminds of a imperial stormtrooper helmet. The datemono crest was the last addition to the creation, representing phoenix which is Samurai X's symbol.

Under the Kabuto there is a neck guard, called Nodowa or Guruwa. The original set doesn't have one, but it seemed nice way to cover the space between the helmet and the chest. It also made a nice colour block with imposing black upper area of the mech along with the cowcatcher shoulders. Under the neck-guard is the spinner top crest, an element form the original design. I don't have the round tile with phoenix emblem but another Nya-themed tile from Dragon's Forge is used as a substitute. Under the crown there is another reference to the original, a stickered tile from the set's leg (I have only one). On the sides and armour skirts there are upside-down 1x2 plates presenting plate armour. The hip joint is regular ball joint with rubber friction pieces, and upper legs use Roborides halves with some greeble on the middle. They even use megaphone pieces. The lower legs are more armored. The knees are bulkier and curved pieces are used to capture armored look. The feet are large for stability reasons, and two-toed designs remind of Japanese habit of dividing the toes into two units. This detail was probably intent in the set too, but it's hard to be sure; the original feet are quite lumpy.     
The arms are poseable. All joints are free-range ball joints. The upper arms are extremely simple - two pieces, CCBS bone and a printed Chima shell. They might feel a bit lazy, but they're mostly hidden by shoulder armour, and any additional bits would have weakened the movement ranges. As this is mechanical contraption, there is no need for all-around beefiness. The original's upper arms were only bones, so actually it's a small improvement. The lower armor is bulkier, with similar shapes than on the lower legs. The wrist originally used 3x3x3 cone, but it felt too big and I changed it into more detailed version apparently consisting of smaller armour plates. The hands are quite similar to the original, except that the wrist are poseable.

The mech has a sashimono flag on the back. Original had too, but it was only a stickered flag piece, which would have felt too tiny. My version uses printed glass piece, connected to some lever bases. It is connected to a joint and wiwels down to make room for the Kabuto cockpit to open; the helmet is connected via two 1x5 TECHNIC liftarms and moves back in quite elegant manner. On the shoulders there are cannons, which are more sturdily mounted than on the original set. I was unsure whether trans-blue cone would work here, but it actually has a very nice contrast with the regal dark red, black and gold colour scheme of the mech. Samurai X's katana can be stored under one of the side plated of the skirt, as similar feature is usual in sets. 

I also re-imagined the minifigs for the remake. Samurai X alias Nya is a cool character with some excellent minifg designs; I have torso and leg prints of three of them and some heads too. Actually print from Battle of Ninjago City was the inspiration behind character build Kira from 2015; it is used here. The print from Ninja DB X on other hand inspired me to build Arcane Samurai in 2016. That creation is currently in display at Brickcampus in South Korea. Cloth piece from Star Wars range is used on shoulders to give bulky look without hiding the print, and dark red bandana piece hides the samurai's identity. Old helmet is used because I didn't own any of the new ones, and therefore there is no face mask. Bucket handles are used as the crest, but they have to be fold down to close the cockpit. Face print is same than in the original set, with slight unique eyeshadow print. The snake warrior is also largely reimagined into form mixing parts from Barracuda Warrior from Atlantis line and snake tail from CMF Medusa. He uses appropriate Slytherin shield. There was also another snake warrior with Mon Calamari head and dark orange snake-mess torso form Hands of Time line, but use of premade SW head took the focus too far from Ninjago universe so I ditched it.



The Frog Monument of Spring

Some creations are weirder than others. Sometimes they just are, for no particular reason, and something they have a backstory to explain things up. This is one of the latter. The frog monument was built for my LUG Palikkatakomo's HupiCon contest with theme of Monument (it was organized by me, and I came up with the subject, too). The frog itself is a copy of actual sculpture completely detached from the context. The original one hold up a bay window on Lääkärien Talo (Doctor's house), a jugend (art nouveu) style apartment building in Kasarmintori, Helsinki (the exact address is Fabianinkatu 17). Lääkärien Talo was designed in 1900 by Gesellius-Lindgren-Saarinen, the most prominent architect group of its time,  and it was a paragon for apartment architecture during the following years. The building was one of the first to abandon horizontal lines on the facade. The walls were plastered with only few ornaments - some goblins, gargoyles, squirrels and most importantly, a frog size of a small man hanging on the central spot. It has a navel, which is rather unusual for an amphibian. You can see some photos of the building I took last summer at the end of this post; It's quite fantastic. Finnish architecture of the time was original, light-hearted, beautiful and sometimes even humorous; It's full of joy rarely seen in architecture (I should graduate as an architect in two years).

So the Kasarmintori frog hangs here on this monument. I just wanted to build a copy of it, in somewhat large scale. I'm happy I managed to use several odd parts, like the windshield as lower jaw, octagonal frame pieces as flippers and Toa Mahri mask glasses as parts of the arms. Boat stud eyes were a natural choice, and 3x3x2 rounded quarter slopes made rather pleasant knees. It's quite sturdy overall.

The back wall is yellow to mimic the plaster of the original building, but when I finished the frog, I didn't really know what it would hold. One idea was that there would be a lookout balcony for visitors, but making stairs on the back would have made the composition bit messy. What I ended up was a bunch of flowers in various colours. Flowers are pleasant and symbolize nice things like life, spring, beauty and love. They are also plants that have bright colours to attract insects to pollinate thing, which is a cool system of nature and deserves a though. Plus it's May now, the May Day exactly, which means my semester is pretty much over (still few lecture diaries and one model though) and that is rather good thing. Very good. The MOC was completed three weeks ago, of course, but it doesn't spoil the timing.

The base is very simple so it wouldn't hog the limelight from the frog. Earlier versions featured some grass, paved paths and a little stream coming under the little arch near the base, but they tied the composition too tightly into minifig scale, and weren't that well designed, honestly. I think few simple elements - monochrome frog sculpture and clean shapes of the yellow wall and the grey base in contrast with the randomness of the flowers worked well in the end. I got third place in both audience and LUG member voting (LUG voting being a tie). There were 16 entries and quite a lot of variability between the two voter groups - the first in both categories didn't reach the top three in the another. My frog appealed the both groups pretty well. Feel free to analyze that, then.