Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Brick Miser: Nanoblocks/Diamond Blocks

So I have some things I REALLY want to show you for a theme I'm thinking of for next month, but first, I want to introduce you to the more generic side of the line, one that I've repeatedly become addicted to since I discovered it. Ladies and gentlemen(and those who would rather go by "Other"): NANOBLOCKS!

Name: Nanoblocks/Diamond Blocks
Distributor: Various
Model: Various
Pcs: Various

 Nanoblocks are what their name suggests: micro-sized building bricks used to create tiny structures and statuettes. It's basically just a Lego set at about half the scale... but surprisingly much more addicting. Maybe it's the novelty of having smaller brick sets that you can carry around and place anywhere, or maybe it's the wide range of recognizable characters that have been produced with these bricks that you wouldn't be able to get with larger bricks and more prevalent companies, or maybe it's simply my obsessive compulsion to collect everything having to do with Lego. Probably the latter.

But whatever the reason, these are a LOT of fun to collect and build. I see it as a bit of a challenge for advanced Lego builders.

"Hey, you just built that Lego Star Wars Ultrabuild of Darth Vader? Blindfolded? With your teeth? In under a minute?"

"Well now I dare you to try doing the same with bricks you could crush with your thumb!"

The name Nanoblock is basically applied to any set with minuscule bricks, in the same way Lego is applied to any regular-sized building brick regardless of company, but officially, it's the name of a line produced by Kawada Co. Ltd since 2008.

I'll get more into Kawada Co. when I actually feature a product of theirs, but, long story short, they're arguably the originators of micro bricks and the most well known "official" producer of them, holding licenses for such franchises as Tintin, Pokemon, and Hello Kitty, as well as producing generic sets mostly based around animals and famous buildings.

And while Nanoblocks are basically unknown in the West, they're pretty popular in more Eastern nations, with artists like Christopher Tan in Malaysia( basing their art completely around these bricks(and doing a really good job; I really recommend you check out his gallery.)

There are distributors and manufacturers based in the US as well, such as these "Micro-Builders" from Grin Studios, but these I could only find at more "specialized" toy stores like Toys R Us, K Mart, and KB Toys, and even then, only if I searched every square inch of the discount shelves.

Though recently, McFarlane Toys released a set of Five Nights at Freddy's Nanoblocks under the name "8-Bit 'X'"(yes, we'll look at those in the future) so Nanoblocks may become more mainstream in American toys, who knows?

And I hope you enjoyed this short history of officially released Nanoblocks, since most of the lines featured in this post and the blog in general are going to be decidedly UNofficial.

Following in the tradition of "build a better mousetrap and the cheap substitutes will follow close behind", there are many companies who will directly steal from Kawada Co.

Or who will produce their own unlicensed lines of copyrighted characters. And the market and variety for these is ENORMOUS!

Just doing a brief search for Nanoblocks reveals not only seemingly every generic item from landmarks to animals to furniture and weapons

But lines for Marvel, DC, Disney, Nintendo, every single anime under the sun, Angry Birds, Despicable Me, Star Wars, Nickelodeon, Simpsons, and even McDonald's! You think of a franchise, they've probably made a set of it! Funko WISHES they had this wide a range!

Since I'm so crazy for these things to the point I've dedicated a good chunk of my shelf space to displaying a small bit of my collection, we'll absolutely be looking at a few of these lines in the future, but for now, I'd just like to show you a few of the more "generic" Nanoblock sculptures I own. These are statuettes I've bought out of curiosity or as a gift for others, but that aren't interesting enough for me to go out and buy every single figure in the line.

First, I'd like to show you what a typical box for these looks like. You may notice that I've plastered a sticky note on the box's picture. That's because most of these I'm going to show I didn't get boxes for, and the statuette that came out of this box is special indeed... If you've seen the video, you probably already know what it is, but if you haven't... it's going to blow everything else out of the water.

Most of these models come from the most well known UNofficial producer of these bricks: LOZ.

...You wish...(though it's strange this is one of the few franchises I HAVEN'T found a knockoff of...)

No, LOZ is the name of the company most prolific in the world of UNlicensed micro bricks. I'd name a few sets they've done, but there's really no point. If you've bought a Nanoblock set from overseas, there's a 9 out of 10 chance it bears the LOZ name.

Yet for such a huge producer of sets, I can't find a website for them! ...Well, I sort of did.

On the side of the box, there are two QR codes.

One redirected me to a place to download the WeChat app(which I'm not going to.)

 And the other directed me to, which looks like a heavily scaled down Chinese version of Facebook.

 Translated, it basically looks like a fan page where the company places their figures in clashing realistic environments. I'm assuming that's what it's about, since I had to sign up for the service to see any more, and I wouldn't give a sketchy third-party website that looks like a porn forum the name of my creepy uncle...

Anyway, these bricks go under the name "LOZ Diamond Blocks", and are proudly part of their "iBlock Fun" line of statuettes.

Apparently, old Flash cartoons have given them the impression that anything with a lowercase "i" in front of it will sell. ...And they're probably right.

 On the same side as the QR codes, there's this strange logo that looks suspiciously like the Toy Story title.

Google Translate flat out refused to recognize the top, but the lines underneath roughly translate as "General mobilization" and "Micro-drilling bricks. Micro particles." ...So I guess they're used as little nanobots for army dentists? ...I don't know. I have no idea where they were going with that...

And there's a little window on the side so you can see that you're getting what you paid for and not a box of deep fried scorpions or panda droppings.

On the back, it gives us a scale for the bricks inside, with the standard square brick being 8mm wide and 5mm tall. Just small enough for any child to get it permanently lodged in their windpipe, so there's a hidden purpose in everything.

It also tells us it was made in *big shock*, and it even tells us that the specifications, colors, and contents may vary from illustrations. So the mystery of what these "illustrationas" brought up by last week's review may never be solved...

And yes, it says "Not for children under 3 years" on one side

 But "14 and up" on the other.

Anyone between these ages who tries to use it will be stuffed into the box and forced to view the rest of the world through a tiny window. ...Oh wait, that's how 99% of the world views the outside anyway...

And that's the box; one of the most iconic and copied designs in micro building bricks.

I have a set of Pokemon Nanoblocks, and they copy the shape, size, and fonts for the company and name of the line, as well as a bunch of the text on the LOZ box.

 But when the official thing is packaged in thin plastic Ziploc bags, this is the better design to copy.

And with that out of the way, let's finally look at some figures. First up is this robot figure called... something.

 I don't know if this has an official name. The seller I bought it from listed it simply as "Nano Block Transform Series." So in the name of the combined forces of creativity and laziness, I'll just call it by the name I gave it in the video: the Big Honking Destructor Robot, or BHDR(Budder).

So honestly, I don't know if this is based off of something or if it's an original design for an unoriginal line.

At first glace, it looks like something from Mobile Suit Gundam or Neon Genesis Evangelion or any of the other seemingly thousands of anime robot fighters, but since I don't follow any of those series, I wouldn't know. HEY, OTAKU! NOW'S YOUR CHANCE TO SHINE!

 But whatever design it's supposed to have, I do like it, especially the transparent yellow bricks for its eye and... hair? That's the beauty of Nanoblocks: they manage to squeeze details into the smallest crevices of the model. ...Make your own comparison for that one...

And on the back, we have... whatever these are supposed to be. Antennae? Rockets? Swords? Mega-sized Fun Dip sticks? Hey, I said they were good at adding details, not at making them recognizable.

And this model has a rarity for micro brick sets: Movable arms. Yes, the arms can move about 45 degrees left and right. And armed with this rare and powerful ability, he can... do the second movement of The Chicken Dance?

Of course, I don't recommend moving the arms, since they can drop off pretty easily.

And what are the arms anyway? The one on the right is obviously a shield to parry attacks from any 50-foot mutant shellfish that attacks Japan every Friday at 3:00, but the left is... a sword? A ray gun? A piece of chalk he was given to write "I am a bad robot and shouldn't destroy any more buildings or knock any more buses into the Ring of Fire" 500 times like the opening to The Simpsons(which still does that despite school chalkboards not being a thing since the 80s)? I don't know. ...But I don't care either. It looks cool.

As you've gathered from the name and picture of the item on eBay, Budder is a 2-in-1 transforming robot! ...But this doesn't mean it can shift into the other form like a Transformer, it means they went the cheap route and came up with two different designs for the bricks they send you, so you have two different ways to put these bricks together! ...Hooray...

But that's impossible with my model, because, as you can probably tell from the plasticky stuff covering him, I superglued Budder together.

I don't recommend permanently gluing together Lego sets(unless they're large, took hundreds of hours to build, and will fall apart if you try to move it and display somewhere), especially if you're planning on combining sets or you're like me and need to piece and repiece them frame by frame. Lego's a toy first, sculpture kit second, and it's really hard to play with Lego and see what can be created with the bricks if they're all one mass... But for these smaller sets where the bricks are too small to play with and that are intended to be statuettes...


Now a smart person would have bought another set to turn into a dinosaur so he could more effectively show off and review this model... but since I'm not, let's move on.

Next, we have Minion Tim from the Despicable Me movies! ...Which I honestly also found despicable. They're not the worst movies I've seen, but even watching them when I was younger, they just seemed unremarkable, sort of going out of their way to make things like evil masterminds, mad scientists, espionage, big gadgets, and little yellow alien things seem humdrum and uninteresting. And yes, I know that's the joke, but it's not a very good one. The TV show Penguins of Madagascar(NOT the insanely terrible movie) did a better job with this subject. At the very least, it was much funnier.

And we have the movie to thank for these breakout characters, the Minions... these insanely annoying, high-pitched, gibberish spouting, very forced comic relief characters that, thankfully, the world seems to be growing tired of. Especially after they thought it would be a good idea to give them their own movie. *shudders* ...But enough about viewpoints that will get me publicly lynched in some circles.

The model is a pretty good representation of the character. They got the proportions right, with the short legs, the long, stringy arms, the giant eyes behind oversized goggles, and even the stalk of hair on the top of his head.

But what bugs me is the face and his toothy... grin? I guess just having a line or something to represent a closed mouth would look even more awkward, but... it's still not conveying what I think they're trying to make him feel. It doesn't look like he's smiling, it looks like he just walked in and found his mother with Hitler, a horse, and a tub of lard. This is a mind that has been completely BLOWN!

And bonus points for attempting the logo on his work pants. ...Or they thought he had a big blue bellybutton, either one.

This is actually a figure I didn't glue together in the first place. I bought it for my grandma since she's still into Minions, and I didn't figure she'd move it around too often, so I didn't bother with the glue. ...But when I borrowed it for this review, it fell apart when I touched it and I spent at least an hour putting it back together, this time, gluing it so it wouldn't happen again, especially while filming it.

And the instructions for this model really give you an idea of how stressful it is to put these together. With most of these Nanoblocks, the instructions come on a single sheet, meaning dozens of blocks are put on at the same time, layer by layer, in each step. And most of the time, you're not given a clear indication of the bricks' proximity to each other, so you can end up shifting bricks or even entire layers too far over and you won't realize it until at least the next step. And in some extreme cases, they ask you to put bricks on that aren't secured until the next layer or even the next STEP is placed above it! It can take MINUTES to figure out where each brick goes! And seeing as how I apply fast acting superglue to each brick as I'm building it, you wouldn't believe how many layers I've had to wrench off and how many studs I've had to reattach or bricks I've had to replace(and how much superglue I've swallowed...) And now you know why I chose not to construct one of these sets for the video...

Moving on, we have another Nanoblock model I made for and borrowed from my grandma: Snoopy. She's really into Peanuts, and I don't mind it either. It's a really fun, clean, relatable show, and a good example of how something can be enjoyable and appeal to all ages without having to pile on the stupidity and cheap toilet humor. That's why I really enjoyed The Peanuts Movie, especially with how much love they put into it and how accurate they made it to the show without going the lazy route most adaptations take by just filling the run time with dated pop culture and poop jokes. ...But I digress.

Snoopy here is... strange. He doesn't look like Snoopy as much as he looks like a voodoo doll of him. I don't know, just with the posture and the lack of detail and the fact the eyes look like they've been sewn shut, I just want to poke this thing with a pin.

There. Now anyone who has a dog that bears an uncanny resemblance to Snoopy has an itchy schnoz they can never get rid of. And you know just who to blame. You're welcome!

But the most unsettling part is the lack of a lower jaw. The tongue and back of the mouth are just hanging there in midair. How do they keep from falling out?

...Apparently, they don't... Remember kids: Don't chew tobacco...

 And I took a bit of creative license with the tail. It was white in the instructions, but I thought a black tail looked better with the few bricks used, so I went with that. Though I should be lucky that all the pieces needed were intact for me to even use.

As you might imagine from dozens of unconnected underground companies churning out and illegally selling copyrighted figures for only a few dollars apiece, there's no quality control on any of these. For the most part, they actually do manage to produce a large number of high quality, sturdy plastic bricks, all the more surprising given the small amount of resources they probably have... but then you get something like this. And this isn't even the worst example, just the only one I have on hand, since I've thrown away bricks that were missing studs or cracked under the smallest amount of pressure.

That's probably why in each set, they give you a large pile of extra bricks, just in case their machine REALLY conked out and half the bricks are unusable! But I'm very grateful for their foresight. I'd rather have a bunch of bricks I have no use for than end up spending 2 hours putting together a tiny sculpture only to find a piece missing.

Heck, I have SO MANY of these leftover bricks from all the sets I've collected that I could probably build some multicolored versions of half my collection and sell them! ...And I might just do that. Taking orders now, people!

Next, we have one that I built for my grandpa shortly before he passed away... And it's one that comes in its own box! A model of "Tinker Be"-er, "Butterfly Elves!" ...What can I say? Tinker Bell was one of his favorite Disney characters.

These are brought to us by "Dr. Star", another Nanoblock designer which also doesn't have a website* and is responsible for so many lines of "mini blocks", as they call them, it's impossible to pick just a few to represent them. Though they did produce a rather interesting line I plan to show off in about 2 months...

*There was a QR code on the side of the box that tried to take me to, but it was blocked as an attack page and I didn't want to risk it.

They even have their own slogan on the front of the box. ...In surprisingly good English, despite the punctuation errors. And I can't argue with it. It does develop motor skills, build imagination, and I feel fulfilled when I finish it. Honesty from a knockoff. Now THAT'S rare!

And here's the completed model, arguably the best one we've seen so far. I like the colors, I like the spot-on hairstyle, I like the transparent wings, and the flowers around her are a nice touch.

They even give her the illusion she's flying, accomplished by a stack of transparent bricks behind her. Sort of like the clear tube that makes the Scarlet Witch appear to be flying in the Lego "Hulkbuster" set. ...But that's another review for another time.

And to answer the question you've probably had since the beginning: No. The blocks are completely incompatible with regular Lego bricks. The studs are placed too close together to fit in the bottom of a Lego brick.

But what ruins it for me is, again, the face. ...That is NOT the face of anyone with a thought in their mind. The glossy eyes, the small, toothy smile, the flat face, the lack of a visible nose... She's dead. Someone said they didn't believe in fairies, she dropped dead instantly, and they propped her up on the bricks to try to ruin the satisfaction of whomever said it. ...Peter Pan's going to have a fit.

And finally, the model we've all been waiting for. So, there's this Nanoblock line featuring a brown bear. Some sort of Paddington/Winnie the Pooh-type anthropomorphic bear who does human things. So the line is just based around him doing menial, day-to-day tasks: going shopping, waiting at the crosswalk, dressing in his best A Christmas Story cosplay, junk like that. It just wasn't that interesting and I glanced over most of it. ...And then I found it. The Nanoblock model to beat all models! Once I saw it, I KNEW I absolutely HAD to have it! It was too stupid to ignore. So, ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure, I present to you...


...I would just like to reassure you that you have NOT hemorrhaged and are hallucinating this as your final moments; there is indeed a brown bear standing on its hind legs, grabbing its snake and spraying a stream of urine straight into a urinal several feet away. This is REAL, PEOPLE! Some brick company woke up one morning and said "You know what the kids have been clamoring for that we can provide them with? A urniating ursine! I mean, we had this idea to steal from this fantasy action adventure game featuring an elf collecting magic triangles, but no. Peeing bears. THAT'S where the money REALLY is!"

 And what's even stranger is that I think this design is stolen! I found this image on one of Christopher Tan's blogs(whom I mentioned earlier) titled "Brownie Bear Goes to Toilet." There are a few differences, such as the head being slightly larger and there being two urinals, but it is, without a doubt, the same peeing brown bear set. ...So one guy made this as an art project, then another guy decided that this was what they needed to put their money into, then ANOTHER guy drew up the instructions and sent the order to the manufacturer to create the bricks, then some other guys thought they were a moneymaker and bought them to sell in their stores! ...I USED THE SCANNERS CLIP TOO EARLY!

And I honestly can't add any more to that. It's well constructed and detailed and it's really funny... but IT'S A BEAR PEEING IN A URINAL! I can't emphasize that enough!

Oh, and his aim's actually spot-on. I just had a few transparent yellow bricks left over...

But in all honestly, this may be the most useful Nanoblock statue I've constructed. I purposely haven't glued his feet nor his pee stream blocks, so now I can properly convey my distaste for poor quality sets like so.

...Yep. I think I'm going to be getting a lot of use out of this thing...


Quality: The quality across the board is surprisingly high. Most of the bricks they've given me are relatively sturdy and they fit together perfectly. There is the occasional hiccup, as I've shown you, but the majority is well molded and colored. Since they're made of cheap plastic, they may end up warping in a year or two, but for now, they fit the models just fine. Especially the bricks on the pee stream of THE BROWN PEEING BEAR!

Design: I do like the designs of these models and they really showcase the benefits of using smaller bricks to build characters. They all look like who they're supposed to represent and they're the right size to put in your pocket and take anywhere. An equivalent Lego model would probably be about 3 feet tall, use enough bricks to bankrupt the average human being, and fall apart at the slightest touch, unless a tub of superglue was applied... However, there are limitations, especially with using generic bricks for each model, and, as with Snoopy's lower jaw and the Minion's teeth, hiccups can happen that just make the model seem off. But it all works perfectly for the absolute pinnacle of perfection in Nanoblock design: THE BROWN PEEING BEAR!

Creativity: Most of these Nanoblocks were based on existing properties, so originality doesn't exactly play a part here. Any experienced Nanoblock artist could probably look at a picture of what they want to replicate and draw up instructions for a rough approximation. However, it is impressive that they CAN do that and they didn't have a Lego Ideas page to steal the brick design from this time. I'm most impressed with the fact that they not only decided this move was economically sound, but they also managed to replicate THE BROWN PEEING BEAR!

Readability: The instructions are really difficult to comprehend, since they squeezed the step-by-step of a model requiring hundreds of bricks onto a single sheet. They do gray out previous steps and the layering system does help keep track of which step is being constructed, but unless you're staring straight at the exact brick you need to put on next in the instructions, it's likely you'll lose your place and spend a few minutes reorienting yourself. And, as I said, sometimes you'll need to stare at TWO steps at once since the bricks on the bottom need to attach to bricks on the top. It takes the patience of a saint to understand the process, but it's all worth it for THE BROWN PEEING BEAR!

Packaging: The box is simple, but there is an art to its simplicity. Everything seems to be perfectly located on the box, from the line name to the warnings to the picture of the model inside. There's no huge amount of detail to get in the way of finding what you want to know, the company and model are clear and visible, and the little window lets you know that what you ordered is in there. The Dr. Star box is very good as well, putting fitting background stock images behind what they're knocking off. I like the LOZ box dimensions better than the Dr. Star, but the larger size of the latter does allow for more text and graphics. And the best part about both of these is the text is clear and translated correctly. If I didn't know these were knockoffs, I would assume they were officially licensed dollar-store toys. Though if I did have that assumption, I'd then like to know what company licensed out the BROWN PEEING BEAR?!

Compatibility: There is no compatibility. Period. Lego bricks can't combine with Nanoblocks, Nanoblocks can't stack with Lego, don't even try it. Too bad, because who wouldn't want to combine their Lego sets with a BROWN PEEING BEAR?!



These are super fun and easy to get addicted to, even more than Lego sets. Yes, Lego is much bigger and has more to offer in the form of actual playsets, but tell me you don't want to buy a line of your favorite series, spend the afternoon putting it together, then create a shelf full of them and show them off! If you've ever wanted to play with Lego, yet also honor your other hobbies, have something small enough to fit anywhere, and not have to take apart the set or worry about losing any pieces afterwards, then check these out. You WILL be hooked!

...Just remember to keep a good supply of Kragle on hand...