Retro Shanghai: Knockoff Space Lego On The Moon
I just got back from a week of working in Shanghai. It's an understatment to say that China is a completely different world that what a typical westerner is used to. While I was mostly there to work, I did get a chance to do some shopping and I discovered some retro fun that I'll be sharing with you over the next 5 days.
At Retro Thing, we're no strangers to knock-off Lego. We've written about Loc Blocs, Nano Blocks, and many other attempts to dodge the Lego legal department by creating cheap incompatible bricks. That changed in the 90s when several companies challenged Lego's exclusive rights to the original "studs and tubes" construction system. Lego has tried suing these companies over the years, but since the patents on Lego have expired, pretty much anyone can make Lego compatible bricks.
Shopping in the part of Shanghai I saw was sort of like roaming a street market. You could step into mini "stores", but most of the selection was right there in front of you on the street. The one toy shop I saw had genuine Lego up on a wall, but dozens of knockoff sets all around. The packaging vaguely emulates the look and feel of the genuine article. The real Lego sets were priced very high, making the Chinese "Enlightenment" knockoffs seem an even more attractive option.
This set celebrates the early days of the US space program, which I like. Lego has mostly gone the route of space fantasy with their current offerings, so it's up to the Lego bootleggers of the world to celebrate the actual heroes of real life space travel. The designs of the finished models don't have quite the sense of refinement that a typical Lego set might have, but then again... the real vessels we sent into space were a little on the chunky side . I appreciate the attention to detail that inspired their model of the lunar lander to include separable stages.
The models are realized without a lot of one-function-only pieces (a major complaint of new Lego sets), so I've got to hand it to these designers for doing a pretty nice job. Especially in a set that set me back less than ten bucks. Though I don't remember spears and a magic wand sticking out anything we sent to the moon. A lot of specialized pieces (like the antennas, wheels, the mini astronaut figure) are clearly direct copies of Lego. This isn't a case of creating a selection of compatible pieces and a few special add-ons. This is a direct ripoff meant to cajole a customer into thinking they're buying something as good as Lego. I haven't opened the box yet, so I don't know how well the pieces actually work (many knockoffs don't hold together particularly well). If they do actually stick together, then it looks like this fairly reasonable facsimile will bring smiles to the faces of the kids of China. Though it certainly won't make the manufacturers of Lego very happy to know just how much of this stuff is on the streets of Shanghai.