I’m a huge fan of Lego bricks, so when I came across Japanese-made bricks called ‘laQ’ in New York’s Kinokuniya, I couldn’t help buy a small box. There was a variety of different sets, but I choose one of the smaller ones so it would fit in my luggage without any problem – the mini Stegosaurus.
This set comes with 88 pieces, each one of seven types of geometrically shaped blocks. Two of the types are flat shapes (a square and triangle), and the rest are connectors of various types, with some for connecting blocks in a flat plane and some at a right angle. Blocks are connected in free space (3D) which is fundamentally different to most Lego which are stacked vertically. This way of building is quite refreshing and fun, especially once you get over the initial challenge of learning how the various shapes connect together.
The disadvantage of these geometrically shaped pieces is that the figures they can make are generally quite abstract and as a result it’s difficult to make something that looks lifelike. I came to this conclusion after looking at the catalog of their different sets they sell (listed on their website). Most of them weren’t very realistic and didn’t appeal to me artistically, including the mini Stegosaurs I bought (see the above picture).
But if you are trying to make something that is geometrically shaped odds are it will turn out pretty well. I quickly gave up on making this awkward-looking dinosaur (the difficult assembly diagrams didn’t help), and experimented making my own little models. A Japanese shuriken looked pretty neat, and I bet one could make some cool robots with enough parts.
Another difference between Lego is that the bricks snap together very tightly, such that even if you threw a model into the wall you can expect it to stay mostly intact. The manual even contains a small section of how to take apart special shapes that are especially sturdy, like a 3D sphere which supposedly requires a pin to dismantle. Having said this, my son still enjoyed playing with laQ for a few minutes before moving on to another toy. That’s actually a good sign since for toys he has no interest in he’ll spend only a few seconds if that.
Overall I don’t these blocks will overtake Lego anytime soon, but they unique and interesting enough for a diversion once in a while. 88 bricks isn’t enough to make much, so next time I stop by Kinokuniya I might pick up a larger set.
Generally I advocate buying Japanese products and reading their user manuals to widen your Japanese vocabulary, but this toy isn’t too great for that since there is only a few sentences of Japanese inside. The diagrams for how to build the stegosaurus are mostly just pictures with few words in any language.
I did, however, learn that there is alternate word used to describe the individual pieces, in addition to the word 部品（ぶひん) which I had seen on Lego packaging.
But like most loanwords from English it was a bit of letdown. I think I’l keep using 部品 instead (: