Wrapping up the LEGO in Japan series with a mini review of LEGO CUUSOO 21101 Hayabusa, also known as CUUSOO #002. See the previous part for pictures of the box and background information. The box is fairly large for the content, actually big enough to fit the finished model after disconnecting its five Technic connected sections – useful for storage. The 21101 Hayabusa is priced at 6615 yen and clocks in at 369 parts. The set includes one sticker sheet, one minifigure and a substantial 92 page manual (bound, not stapled), as well as five non-numbered bags. While the Hayabusa has been released only in Japan, a limited international release through the online LEGO Shop is coming.

First thing you notice is the glossy manual, resembling the LEGO Architecture series. Indeed, there are several pages of text and photographs on the Hayabusa project, as well as a few more on LEGO CUUSOO and the creation of this set. The text is both in English and Japanese (for more languages, see here). Most of the manual is taken up by regular LEGO building instructions, but even those include a few photos and notes on Hayabusa here and there. It makes the process far more interesting to know a little about the part you are currently building. I came away quite impressed by the Hayabusa mission and eager to hit the interwebs and learn more. PR mission accomplished.

The Hayabusa is only the second major LEGO set I’ve built by myself after my dark ages, including the incomplete 6080 King’s Castle. I have built a lot with my son, though, just last week we built one Hero Factory robot and before that a small Technic set. He is too young for the Hayabusa, so I took it on as a late-night AFOL task. It is interesting to compare the experiences. When building with my son, we hit the bricks immediately and start piling away with reckless abandon. Alone I find myself a lot more methodological, more adult in my approach. Here I started by savoring the manual for some minutes and then organized the bricks by color into six piles: black, yellow, bley, dark bley, other assorted colors and all the tiny bricks I left in a pile of their own.

I’m quite comfortable with the new LEGO colors, including bley aka medium stone grey, but the new dark bley is hideous. The color is ugly to my eye, luckily it is only used for the base here. On a more positive note, my heart jumped a few times when organizing the bricks. Turns out, the set includes certain black pieces I had searched from my collection for the 6080 King’s Castle and didn’t find. Let me tell you, I was really tempted to ransack the Hayabusa for parts even before it was built. I resisted the temptation, poured myself a glass of wine (AFOL benefits) and plowed onwards to the actual build. It would take me a little over an hour, including a lot of ogling and a few photographs.

Building starts with the minifigure of Hayabusa project manager Junichiro Kawaguchi. The minifigure comes with a two-sided face, a smile for the successes and a look of horror for the troubles Hayabusa faced during its eventful mission. Not that this minifigure has anything unique, but nevertheless still a stylish, gentlemanly combo of LEGO. Next comes the labeled base, which doubles as a part of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa where Hayabusa landed. The base also includes a tiny three-brick Minerva “rover”, which in real life sadly missed the asteroid. The rock formation is quite diverse and unlike normal clean-lined LEGO. Aside from the color, I like it. Speaking of color, like many large MOCs, also LEGO uses odd-colored bricks (brown and white here) for the unseen interior of the base. They also do a similar thing with red and blue bricks inside the satellite.

I soon noticed I didn’t have my brick separator tools on hand, feeling very vulnerable. How did I ever survive without them? Well, my old LEGO collection bears the scars. Sure enough, soon after I fetched the tools I needed them. And again they worked wonders. The actual spacecraft was a relatively easy build, although quite a lot of detail is added to it in later stages. It uses a lot of flat pieces for that finishing touch. I liked building the Hayabusa, but I must say I liked building the diverse base even more. However, the solar panels were disappointing. From the pictures I was kind of hoping for a brick-building marathon, but instead they are made of a few 1x6x5 panels and stickers. Nor do the solar panels fold, the only moving pieces aside from the minifigure are a few hinged antennas and thrusters. Well, at least no STAMPs (stickers across multiple pieces).

Looking at the end-result, my feelings are a little mixed. It is larger than I thought and the wingspan is formidable: 26 cm (10 inches). That is good. The base is gorgeous, but only if we forget the dark bley. The satellite is beautiful and has an imposing main antenna, yet the large solar panels are too plain. Laying the base was good fun, the manual is beautiful, informative, even emotive, but the actual spacecraft building felt a little mechanical and repetitive. It also turns out, just like the actual Hayabusa didn’t survive the atmosphere on return, the CUUSOO model didn’t really survive the flaming inferno of LEGO design department either. One of the later pages has a picture of the original CUUSOO Hayabusa and it looks nothing like the version LEGO shipped. The original even had brick-built solar panels. (Note: You can click the images for larger versions.)

In real life at least the Hayabusa return capsule survived to Earth, but here not even the original CUUSOO model’s capsule survived intact, so I don’t know how much the set that shipped actually has to do with the CUUSOO submission people voted for. They do look quite different. At least in the instructions booklet there is a short letter from the CUUSOO submitter Daisuke Okubo and a list of all the people who voted for the design on lego.cuusoo.com (only 1000 since this was a Japanese vote). Still, to me it felt more of a LEGO Architecture set of sorts, than a community set. But as such, it was enjoyable – and certainly does make for a great display model. I guess CUUSOO is more of an idea engine for LEGO, than a community design studio.

So long Japan (for now), and thanks for all the fish. Next it’s time to move back towards more castley topics.