This article is the result of a recent unexpected convergence: I’ve had this year’s first drop of Ninjago sets on my desk for a little while. I’ve put a couple together, but I have been trying to work out how to stretch it from ‘Just Another Review’ – something I used to do back in the early days of the blog, but less so in recent times.
I have found myself developing an increasingly soft spot for Ninjago and Monkie Kid: It has become apparent to me that they serve as the natural creative extensions of both Classic Space and Castle Themes: Fantasy, and Science Fiction, with their emphasis shifting in either direction from season to season.
In the past, I have predominantly observed the builds in Ninjago from a distance without feeling the need to understand them in the show’s context. As time passed, it became apparent that I was unlikely to fully catch up and appreciate the lore any time soon. As such, I was actually immensely grateful last year when we saw our first round of Ninjago CORE sets: These sets provide us with the opportunity to engage with the traditional subjects of Ninjago sets: Mechs, Dragons, Vehicles and Temples, without needing to be concerned with the 10 or more years of established Lore and Back Catalogue: just get in there and play, with models aimed at a variety of ages.
After the Crystallized series in the second half of 2022, we again have another wave of CORE sets, with three of the ten sets focussing on Mech Like activity:71781 Lloyd’s Mech Battle EVO, Kai’s Mech Rider EVO and Jai’s Titan Mech. The first couple of sets bring us smaller-scale mechs, On a motorcycle even. The Titan Mech, however, stands tall – with smooth lines, bending knees, oversized swords and just enough studs exposed to remind you that it is made of LEGO elements. It is a beautiful example of what is possible within the current LEGO parts palette: not too heavy, big enough for great detail, as well as posability.
But what did we have before?
This is where the convergence starts.
Last year, at the RLFM days in Billund, I asked Ninjago Designer Niek Van Slagmaat (@toothdominoes) to name a set that had special significance to him while growing up. He did not take long to think about it. ‘Life on Mars: there was a Red Mech and a Blue Mech. I had the blue one, it was one of the first mechs I ever had.’ After attaching this snippet to our 90 years of play episode of Extra Pieces, I got a message from a long-serving member of our local LUG. ‘Richard, back in 2002, I won a copy of 7313 Red Planet Protector – the Blue Mech from Life on Mars – in MOC competition at the meeting. I will open it up at the March Meeting, and build it – twenty years after I received it.’
‘Neat,’ I thought.
It turns out that van Slagmaat is responsible for designing 71785 Jay’s Titan Mech. This sleek beast is tall and detailed, drawing inspiration from Japanese Mechs from 90s anime and manga. As far as Mechs featured in LEGO sets are concerned, it also has a truly original headpiece.
And so it felt that something was being set up. I planned to put together Jay’s Titan Mech in Parallel to the Red Planet Protector at the same meeting.
And then circumstances intervened. On the day of the March Meeting, a second-hand LEGO Market was underway on the other side of town. I took the liberty of dropping in before heading off to join the LUG activities. I found the Red Mech from Life on Mars: 7314 Recon Mech RP for a reasonable price, purchased it and headed off to our meeting. Once I arrived, the Blue Mech was already completed (to be fair, with only 194 elements, it would never take too long). So I sat down and set to work on the Titan. With 794 pieces, it was a solid afternoon’s work to complete the build, in between the banter, story-telling and general shenanigans of a LUG meeting.
But I completed the build and got it side-by-side with its 20-ish-year-old predecessor. The Red Planet Protector is not a completely traditional, humanoid mech: it has legs, a cabin, and a few ambiguous scanner/gun thingies, but it doesn’t have any arms. The Red One, 7314 Recon Mech RP, is perhaps a little more complete in that respect, whilst retaining a similar aesthetic to the Red Planet Protector.
There is no doubt that these mechs are quite different in construction, appearance and playability to Jay’s Titan, which I think certainly embraces many of the best aspects of contemporary LEGO Mech construction.
When I look at it and think about what makes it an excellent mech set, I realise that so many aspects of this set have only become possible with the release of certain elements over the last 20 years. So, let’s take a look at the construction of these two mechs and take a look at the changes that have occurred that make the striking appearance of Jay’s Titan Mech even possible.
We won’t follow the building experience described in the instructions verbatim: we will rather look at the equivalent aspects of the mechs side-by-side and see what a difference 20 years has made.
But first, a quick bit of background:
7314 Recon Mech RP
This set from 2001 is part of the Life on Mars range: the last peaceful Space theme. With explorers from Earth and native Martians looking after their own interests, it was the first in-house space theme encompassing human and alien factions. Nobody was obviously trying to kill anybody else, which was a far cry from the Conflict-in-a-box concurrently taking place over in Knights Kingdom I or subsequent space themes: Mars Mission (where the humans found the unfriendly Martians), Space Police III (human police versus a range of alien gangsters) and Galaxy Squad (Humans versus Sentient Insects. Legally not Starship Troopers or Ender’s Game).
The set has 183 pieces and one Martian figure: Centauri, exclusive to this set. The Martian figures have identical legs and heads, while the torso and arms are the same as the ones seen with the Battle Droids in LEGO Star Wars, but in slightly alternate colours. This is a set where virtually every element is visible, so pieces are typically light grey, dark grey, bright red, and the now defunct sand red. There are a couple of transparent neon green accents for dramatic greebling.
While some mech-like models appeared in previous space themes, Life on Mars is probably the first theme that is relatively Mech-heavy. Six out of the thirteen different sets featuring some form of mech-based construction. This red Mech, along 7313 Red Planet protector, are probably the first ‘proper’ articulated mechs released as sets at this scale.
71785 Jay’s Titan Mech
Leaping forward 22 years to 2023, we have 71785 Jay’s Titan Mech. This set is part of the Ninjago CORE range: it does not tie-in to any particular series – meaning that the designers have greater freedom with regard to the content of the set and kids don’t have to worry about not being familiar with the 11 years of established Lore that Ninjago holds.
Speaking at a Ninjago Designer Round Table Event with selected fan media earlier this year, Designer Niek van Slagmaat spoke of how he drew inspiration from 90s anime mech design: adding a high level of detail, providing a relatively unique shape compared to other large LEGO Mechs seen previously. There are virtually no printed elements outside the minifigures, but most of the stickers are fairly reusable within the colour scheme.
But the set is not just the mech and pilot. It also brings us some allies: Along with Jay, we have Nya and a Pixalbot. Nya is Jay’s Girlfriend )(and Kai’s sister) and appears in 3 of the 10 Core sets released this year. Pixalbot is, I presume, a drone based on P.I.X.A.L ,a robotic member of the team. This is the Pixalbot’s first appearance.
The set also features 3 Bone Warriors: Bone Kine, Bone Knight and Bone Hunter. They have a repeat firing ballista, as well as a new series of bone based weapons. I love the overall appearance of the range. The King has a spring green head, with silver and black printed facial details, with burning red eyes. There are chains hanging from his red torso, and printed details continue to his legs, with skull details printed on his calves – truly terrifying. Or 70s Glam metal. The other bone warriors featured here have the same torso, identical printed detail, including black heads, with spring green faces (again, red eye detail), black torso with printed skeletal detail, as well as silver armour and chains. The Knight wears a pauldron on one shoulder and a helmet, while carrying banners. The hunter has a wide red hat. Both have an additional lower jaw element, which fits nicely with their facial design, giving a great impression of an undead skeleton army.
Compare and Contrast
Let’s take a look at the two builds side-by-side and see what might have changed over 20 years.
The two cockpits are built in ways that are almost fundamentally different: Recon Mech RP starts with a fairly simple cockpit: with an inverted wedge at its base, a control panel and rear engine section are offset by the addition of some clips to the side, it feels as though it could belong in almost any spaceship or boat from more recent times.
In Comparision, the Tinan Mech’s cockpit starts off being built up from the back. Some clips and hinges attach the large, pointed slope element, which shows which direction the Mech will be travelling in, and there is a small light (really, it’s a semblance of light – it doesn’t actually glow) beneath it.
The Hips of the older mech attach to the cockpit via a vertical technic pin, allowing the cockpit to turn 360º, ready to face any threat. Their construction involves layered hinge plates, allowing the legs to rotate outwards and as two click hinge connections: the legs will plug into this hinge, allowing forward flexion only.
The hips of the Titan mech are connected to the cockpit by a single short technic beam, loosely attached via an axle at the upper end. A pair of ball joints then secure the two components together, ensuring an interesting angle in the torso.
The legs attach to the flex hip joint, which debuted in Monkie Kid last year – this particular element is attached to the toro via dual joint links.
Here are the elements that make up the hip joint of the Titan Mech.
The Red Mech’s feet are based on a 6x6x2/3 plate, cross with dome: developed for Rock Raiders, this element is featured in LEGO Star Wars along with several Life On Mars sets. The feet are decorated with printed slopes and some minor greebling details. The ankle consists of click hinges, side by side, based on the 1×2 plate, with a hinge stub on the upper part.
The feet of Jay’s Mech have studs facing in no fewer than 4 directions. The Key element that defines the construction here is the ball joint on a brick. – it is wrapped in brackets, resulting in a definite sole and heel. The sides are wrapped in wedge plates and smaller elements to give the feeling of the fee having black soles. the black plate and white curved slope elements will serve to limit flexion forwards and backwards. The feet have an area of 9×4 studs.
In keeping with the style of the feet and hips, the Life on Mars Mech’s legs are built around a hub consisting of two 1×6 bricks with click hinge stubs at one end and the receiving part of the joint at the other. The legs have several slopes layered on the front, and providing extra width. A 2×4 plate with inverse slopes is attached behind the leg and connects to the slopes around the front.
Movement at the hip is limited to lifting the leg forward only, as it cannot move backwards. The round tile on top of the foot limits movement at the ankle posteriorly, while flexing in the other direction is limited by the hinge itself. Thanks to the horizontal hinge plates stacked in the hip section, the leg can rotate in and out.
On the other hand, the Titan Mech has a thigh and calf connected by a double ball joint at the knee. This double joint increases the friction opposing accidental flexion due to the weight of the mech’s body.
The calf is built around one of those nifty brackets you see holding car models together, which looks like two plates separated by a brick in a zig-zag fashion. A blue socket brick forms the ankle, allowing inversion and eversion, but dorsiflexion is somewhat limited, as noted earlier. Studless slopes and wedge bricks surround the upper calf and a white shell element covers the knee joint.
The thigh is built around the technic beam that forms part of the hip joint element. Curved slopes at the front and on the outer aspect conveys the impression of a strong muscular leg. A couple of technic pins serve as fixation points for the two smaller swords on the outer aspect of the left thigh.
Arms and Hands
The shoulders of the Recon Mech RP are built around a similar horizontal thing plate stack, as we saw with the hips. They attach directly to the rear of the cockpit and are secured down by some additional elements that will hold the windscreen in place. Vertical flexion at the shoulder and elbow are afforded by further bricks with click hinges, while greebling is created through wedge plates, printed tiles and a hose.
The shoulders on the Titan Mech are essentially the reverse of the hip-joint, except the grey part has some integrated pins to allow it to plug into the cockpit, and joint link components are attached to the upper arm. The upper arm is essentially a few bricks wrapped up by brackets and tiles, tapering down to a ‘bar-through-ball’ joint at the elbow. This allows for significant flexion/extension at the elbow joint and just a little rotation in and out.
The life on Mars set does not really have hands as we have come to know them today, but rather a couple of tools attached to the end of the arm: /The left ‘hand’ consists of a claw, which was also featured in a couple of Alpha team sets in 2001 and 2002, never to be seen again; on the right hand side, we attach a flame thrower in all its trans neon green and fluoro orange glory. Nothing says reconnaissance quite like a giant flame thrower.
The titan’s wrist is a simple ball joint with a black socket, featuring the latest iteration of the tried and true element from Bionicle years before. This is connected to the back of the hand via a Connector pin – providing a pin connection at the palm, and an axle to secure a brick on the back.
The back of the hand is covered by a shell element, while a modified plate with bar allows for a couple of fingers to be attached.
While it appears that we have completed the Recon Mech RP, we have yet to add on the sand red fuel tank, integrating it into the backpack. The model is also modular, and you may remove the torso from above the hips, and attach the tank to the hips, presenting a flying form.
The time has come to complete Jay’s Titan Mech: We add a head – perhaps a little smaller than you might expect with the rest of the build. This size discrepancy is more than overcome through the use of parallel flex hoses to form a trailing headdress, constructed by threading the hoses through fourteen 2M technic beams.
The head forms the roof over the cockpit. Finally, we ensure adequate armaments: with two chunky rocket launchers over each shoulder with sleek golden fins and launch tube trim.
To finish up, we build a few swords with long blades to be mounted on the left thigh. Then there is a final, larger blade that brings a real ‘Final Fantasy’ vibe to the model. Using black helicopter blades to cover a significant part of this new giant blade element gives it a degree of menace, implying that it is not to be trifled with.
These two mechs represent state-of-the-art mech designs in their respective eras.
The Recon Mech RP comes from an era before it was de riguer to ensure that dramatic opportunities existed within every box. That said, Life on Mars was the first in-house space theme to include Humans and Aliens – something that continued going forward, although perhaps not on the best of terms. On the whole, the humans are driving wheeled vehicles across the surface, while the Martians have mechs and small flyers which can clear the crevasses on the surface of the planet. With this set, get a unique Martian figure, as well as a fairly unique vehicle.
The Titan Mech embraces lots of different building techniques, and showcases just about everything that has changed in Mech building since 2001: There are at least 8 types of joint and the use of smooth, stud-free elements in the legs brings us the feeling of a smooth, organic build. Add to this a couple of allies, the better part of an enemy army and a ballista, and there is an awesome playset to be had.
Compared with the Recon Mech RP, this mech maintains a humanoid appearance compared to the smaller, squatter, blockier model from 20 years ago. The articulation is, on the whole, much more flexible, with bending knees, hips, shoulders, ankles, shoulders, elbows and wrists. This is a mech that certainly looks like it has come to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And the bubble-gum supplies are dwindling!
The Ninjago mech has a relative paucity of studs on view – just enough to remind us that we are playing with LEGO Bricks. The Recon Mech is a smaller model with fewer pieces, yet there are almost twice as many studs to be seen.
There is little point in comparing these two models – they are of different eras, with different technologies and elements available to build with. You will like what you like. They are also aimed at different price points in the range.
It is interesting to see that Life on Mars was released in parallel with Bionicle – a series prompting the development of buildable characters and incorporating elements that would be adapted over the coming years. While it comes across as a small, blocky model, it is only a couple of years until we start to see some of the key elements that define the look and build of most mechs today coming into being. In particular, I am thinking of ball joints, brackets and curved slopes -in their infancy in 2001 but proliferating over the following years.
By 2004, the LEGO Designer Set 4508 Titan XP was released, incorporating many of the new element types that would continue to define the shape of LEGO play long after the financial troubles which beset the company around this time were resolved: Click link joints, the use of brackets, curves and other elements that take the lines in the model ‘off-grid’.
I hope you have enjoyed this dive into the differences between some of the Mechs from 2001 and 2023. The evolution of colour blocking, smooth curves and increasing use of stickers in contemporary mechs is indicative of the way that building techniques and set design processes have changed, nurturing more organic, and less studded shapes than we saw in the early days of the century.
Taking their historical context into account, I happily give the 7314 Recon Mech RP 4/5 Arbitrary Praise unit. There is the scope for great play here, exploring the living room sofa, striding over the gaps between the cushions. Jay’s Titan Mech, however brings us so much more: as well as a most excellent mech – not as heavy or awkward as 71775 Nya’s Samaurai X Mech,from Crystallized, or the MK Ultra Mech, from Monkey Kid, and giving us far more fun in the details (to say nothing about the ludicrously sized weapons) than the smaller CORE mech sets that we saw this year and last. I have found myself wondering “Why have we never seen a garage for a Ninjago Mech, let alone for monstrous build like this.”
I do enjoy the new Bone Warriors seen in this set. There is another Bone Warrior figure to be found in the current range, bringing us 3 torsos, 2 heads, an optional cape and 4 ‘hats’ to be worn, giving us a great variety of possible Bone Warrior figures to create.
I’ll have to admit while researching this write-up, I came to appreciate that Mechs were an integral part of the Life on Mars theme. On looking into the building techniques used, I was surprised at the changes we have seen develop over the last twenty-odd years. I fear I might have taken a tumble down a rabbit hole, and it might be a while before I return with the answers to the ‘How did LEGO Building Techniques Evolve between 2001 and 2023,’ in effect, allowing the Titan Mech to happen. I suspect this might emerge as an independent article soon.
If you are interested in purchasing Jay’s Titan Mech? Consider using our affiliate links to purchase it: the Rambling Brick might receive a small commission for any purchases, which will go towards maintaining the website.
Thanks for joining in. And don’t forget to join our mailing list to catch our future reviews and trips down the rabbit hole. What do you think of these Mechs? Are you attracted to the old-school blockiness, or the new-wave smooth, round surfaces? Do you want to learn more about the transition of LEGO design from the brick-centric style of the 20th century to the smooth, flowing lines we can see today? Why not leave your comments below, and until next time,
The Ninjago Mech was provided by the LEGO Group for Review Purposes. The Life On Mars one was not. All opinions are my own.