Tommorow, I will be headed off to the beautiful land of Asia with my family (visiting some relatives). It will be my first time headed to Asia, and I thought I could take advantage of the trip to give Brickpickers an inside look at one of TLG's emerging markets.
As some of you may or may not know, Lego said in a recent press release that it is planning to build a factory in Jiaxing, China, to support the Asian market, which saw sales in recent years grow by around 50% annually. The factory will feed only the Asian market, and is expected to be completed by 2017. Currenty, Lego sold in Asia is not exclusively made there.
I will be travelling to Japan and then Hong Kong, and along the way record my findings in regards to how the price compares, what the locals think of the product, the precense of our beloved brick in Asia, and a look at some of the clone brands that are fighting for the Asian market. One of these clone brands, which now sells select sets at non-Asian locations, is known as Nanoblock. I have two Nanoblock sets, both of them Japanese sets that were given to me earlier. I thought given the surprisingly refreshing nature of the products that they deserved a little review here.
Nanablock is a relatively young Japanese company, focusing on desktop models (also know as "executive toys") built with extremely tiny, lego-style blocks. The models are very small, with the company's landmark series sets fitting on 20x20 "nano-stud" plate that is about the same size as a regular lego 8x8 plate. The company's tagline "the smaller the block, the better the detail", appears to be true to its name upon first site of a set; while the builds are made up of what we would call "basic bricks", they achieve a detailed, sophisticated appeal. The quality of the bricks is quite good, and I have yet to see a single defect or cause any damage to them, which is a common occurence with other clone brands. Most Nanoblock pieces are blocks about the height of a Lego plate (or a third of a Lego brick). During this little tour through a refreshing change to complete copycat clone brands, I will be looking at my experiences with the Nanoblock sets, NBH_018 Himeji Castle and NBH_221 Great Buddha of Kamakura.
Himeji Castle (NBH_018)
Great Buddha of Kamakura (NBH_021)
As shown by the pictures, the sets are far from what most would consider a direct copy of Lego, more of a homage to the brick in tiny form. Construction of Nanoblock sets is level based, meaning the instructions provided a bird's-eye view of the set and construction is mainly just made up of stacking the bricks (although the Buddha does feature some SNOT work). While in Lego sets, stacking bricks on top of eachother is often considered a boring and easy task, the miniscule size of the blocks makes construction a challenging, and sometimes frustrating, event. Both sets are depictions of real-life Japanese landmarks, and are surprisingly accurate to their source material while maintaining their novelty item vibe. The two sets I recieved contain over 200 pieces each, along with a generous supply of extra pieces.
The sets are small, and make excellent desktop/office displays as they are very detailed. Thanks to the fact that the Nanoblock creators did not try to directly copy Lego (in fact, the bottom of their bricks resemble early versions of Lego rather than current ones as there are no recessed studs), but rather branch off the concept, I would say the series in my eyes is the only Lego clone brand that really works. Their pixelated and modern-art style models are not only a joy to display, but are also refreshing to build. Due to these reasons, and the fact that the company has scored a deal with Toys R Us and is clearly on the rise, I think this will be one of the few clone brands that will weather the storm as Lego ups its precense in Asia. In addition to their Landmark series, the company also offers several different themes; animals, seasonal, and large-scale models.
The Nanoblock models are beautiful and are an encouraging sign as I head to Japan. Stay tuned for more in the coming days...