Exo-Force aka トクシュブタイ

LEGO recently announced a new theme to be released in January 2006. The official Exo-Force Web site on LEGO.com lists the products, and includes an online comic.

It is important to remember that this is not a licensed theme like Star Wars or Harry Potter. This theme was developed by LEGO on their own. However, the theme is clearly inspired in no small part by Japanese animation (“anime”), including the sort of shows that feature people riding around in big giant robots, or “mecha,” like Gundam and Evangelion. The hero’s names are all Japanese, and a variety of Japanese characters appears on the mecha. The place names identified in the comic are also clearly Japanese, such as “Tenchi Bridge” (“tenchi” most likely means “heavan and earth”).

The official Exo-Force logo features four Japanese kanji characters, 特殊部隊, behind the English “Exo-Force:”

Seven katakana characters, トクシュブタイ, also appear on the red bar beneath the logo. The terms 特殊部隊 and トクシュブタイ are just two ways of writing the same thing — both are pronounded “tokushyu butai.” But what does “tokushyu butai” mean? Instead of creating a unique name in Japanese that corresponds to “Exo-Force,” it appears that LEGO is using the generic term for “special forces” (Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and so on) as the name for this new theme. (Incidentally, 飛行部隊 also appears on the right side of the red bar at the bottom of the page. Pronounced “hikou butai,” this means “air corp” or “flying squadron” or something… Similarly, the characters that appear on the mecha are essentially meaningless out of context.)

Reaction among English-speaking LEGO fans has been mixed, as the lengthy discussions on both FBTB and Classic-Castle.com show. In Japan, several bloggers have featured Exo-Force and commented on this new theme.

mumu remains fairly objective, but people who commented on this post question whether this theme will be popular here in the United States. On LegoWheels, muu wonders whether English-speakers will know what “tokushyu butai” means and states flatly that he won’t be purchasing these sets. Azumu (also of Brickshelf fame) calls the theme “half-baked,” saying, “Why not just go all the way and make Transformer or Zoid LEGO? … But I’ll buy them anyway — for the hair, dangit!”

Finally, Edge compares this theme to Manga Spawn and writes:

On pages 74 through 77 in issue 94 of Figure King, there is a special color section. I was shocked to find an interview with LEGO Japan! Apparently, this theme was developed in Denmark with the participation of a Japanese development staff member. (Despite that, the quality of this line…) They seriously want this line to be popular among Japanese AFOLs. LOL!

Other bloggers share Azumu and Edge’s sentiment. One blogger even called the use of all the Japanese text “idiotic.” They think the line is a bit dumb, but they really, really want the hair. A few Japanese bloggers certainly don’t represent the opinions of an entire market, but it’s interesting to see how closely the online reaction of Japanese AFOLs mirrors that of English-speaking AFOLs.