Much like building with LEGO® bricks, bonsai is the art of replicating its subject at a much smaller scale. As such, a LEGO bonsai tree is a match made in heaven.
It’s exciting to see the LEGO Group continue to branch out into the adult market. 10281 Bonsai Tree is one of two sets from the new Botanical Collection, a sub-theme of the Creator Expert series. The Bonsai will be released alongside 10280 Flower Bouquet (read our review here) on 1 January 2021 and will be priced at US$49.99/ €49.99/ £44.99/ AU$89.99/ 449.0 DKK/ CA$69.99.
Parts in 10281 Bonsai Tree
There’s a great selection of parts included in the set: some useful parts get a Reddish Brown recolour alongside a few colourful surprises.
Recolours in 10281 Bonsai Tree
Opening the bags of parts, I was quite surprised to be greeted by an army of pink frogs.
It’s a formidable force of no less than 100 of the critters. Animal, Frog (33320) is a part with a bit of a cult status and I’m sure this recolour in Light Purple/ Bright Pink (6327825) will thrill a lot of people. We’ve seen some ingenious use of the frog element over the years and the new pink hue opens up even more possibilities!
There are four interesting parts that receive a new Reddish Brown recolour:
- 4x Brick Round 1 x 1 diameter Tube with 45 Degree Elbow (2 x 2 x 1) and Axle Holes (Crossholes) at each end (6327811 | 65473)
- 10x Minifig Handlebars with Angular Handles (6327818 | 98397)
- 2x Minifig Shield Rectangular with 4 Studs (6328480 | 30166)
- 2x Zipline, 22L with 2 Connectors – Flexible (6327837 | 27965)
There is just one other part to receive a new colour:
- 2x Slope Curved 2 x 2 with Stud Notches in Dark Brown (6308903 | 66956). We will be investigating this 2020 piece more deeply in a forthcoming article.
Rare and notable parts in 10281 Bonsai Tree
There is a nice handful of rare parts included in the Bonsai Tree set too:
- 5x Hinge Plate 1 x 4 Swivel Top / Base [Complete Assembly] in Reddish Brown (6327804 | 73983). The last and only time we saw this part was in 2005 in 7258 Wookiee Attack. I was surprised at how high this piece was going for on the aftermarket, I’m sure at least a few people will be pleased that it has become more widely available.
- 50x Tile Round 1 x 1 in Dark Tan (6322841 | 98138), which debuted earlier in 2020 with the 31198 Beatles mosaic. In fact, we receive a further 50 each of the part in Light Nougat (6315196), Medium Dark Nougat (6284589), and Olive Green (6284595).
- 1x Plate Round 6 x 6 with Hole in Dark Tan (6166127)
- 4x 1L [Beam] in Bright Bluish Green/ Dark Turquoise (6249418). Which is somewhat surprising, given the earthy tones of the finished model. This was a new recolour for 2020.
- 1x Brick Curved 1 x 2 x 1 No Studs in Medium Stone Grey/ Dark Bluish Gray (6302690). A part that has started to appear in sets in 2020 and is quickly becoming one of my favourites.
Building 10281 Bonsai Tree
Thankfully, this LEGO bonsai grows a lot quicker than its real-life counterpart.
We’ll begin by looking at the small table and pot in which the bonsai tree resides. In the art of bonsai, the focus is put on the tree rather than its container and accessories, so both are suitably plain.
The pot is similarly understated but it hides some neat details on closer inspection. A subtle relief is created in each corner by Plate Special 1 x 2 with Handle on End (60478). It’s simple but quite elegant.
On the underside, 4x Tyre 14 x 9 Smooth Small Wide Slick (30028) are cleverly used to create little stoppers that keep the tray sitting atop the faux wood table. Which is a good thing as knocking the complete model could be quite disastrous... as we’ll see later.
In the middle Turntable 4 x 4 Square Base, Locking (61485) allows the tree to be rotated or ‘posed’ at the desired angle.
I didn’t expect the construction of the tree trunk to be quite so complicated. The trunk sits at an angle to the bed of the pot created by rectangular minifig shields attached to clips on the base.
Fellow New E contributor Victor Pruvost helped clarify to me what was going on by providing the following explanation and accompanying illustrations:
Imagine two triangles where the hypotenuse of each is the line between the bars of the shields.
Since they are both equal, rotating the top half of the structure (in this case the trunk) 180 degrees keeps things perfectly level.
If you add one plate to each section, it still works but the angle is greater.
But if you add or remove plates from one of the sections, the technique won’t work.
It’s a neat trick and something I’ll keep in mind for future building projects.
There are some interesting building techniques further up the tree as the branches begin to take shape. Those previously expensive Reddish Brown hinges mentioned earlier are used to create another triangle - equilateral this time - to point the branches in two different directions.
The pot is filled with loose round 1x1 tiles in various earthy tones to emulate soil. The result is quite convincing, just be careful not to knock the model over!
The axle holes on the trunk and bough dictate the placement of the branches. The new Reddish Brown tubes are used perfectly here.
The model is completed by adding the foliage. The three leafy boughs are identical but you wouldn’t notice that on the finished model.
There are plenty of leaf elements which the instructions don’t instruct you to attach in a particular position. That, coupled with the branches’ axle attachments, allow an aspect of poseability and customisation so you can create a model that you find aesthetically pleasing.
The completed 12081 Bonsai Tree
The finished model is very elegant. It’s clear the designers spent a lot of time considering each aspect of the model right down to the placement of the leaves.
Bonsai are grown in such a way to create an optimal viewing angle, but I can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity that went into this model, ensuring it is viewable from every position.
Much like the real thing, you can prune your bonsai but in this case the branches and leaves can be replaced entirely to create a cherry tree in full bloom.
The frog family finds their home among the branches of the cherry tree and I found myself in a state of Zen-like concentration applying all 100 to the crowns of leaves.
It’s an easy swap and if you were to switch out the leaf elements themselves with parts in red or yellow, I think you could make an amazing autumnal model with minimal effort.
But the customisation of your tree needn’t stop there. There are three pages at the back of the manual dedicated to inspirational images teasing the possible models you can achieve with bricks from your own collection and a little imagination.
The designs of all the models use the same trunk as in the set, with custom pots and branches (made with parts not included in the set) added to make some truly unique bonsai. Some of the showcased models don’t deviate too much from the traditional bonsai but some are very whacky. My favourite is the little horror in the lower right-hand corner. That is some great use of the pink frogs included in the set!
The inspirational models are truly wonderful, so I set about making my own custom tree. Like the models showcased in the instructions booklet, I tried not to modify the basic tree trunk too much. There are a few connection options on the trunk- the axle holes are an obvious place to start, but removing the vine-like zipline and the small branch on the side of the tree opens up a few more options.
Removing a few elements from the top of the model opened up a 2x3 surface of studs.
An obvious starting point for customising my bonsai tree was to make a treehouse to sit among the branches. I went through a few iterations before I got to a scale and placement I was happy with.
In retrospect, a minifigure could be placed on the base of the unmodified bonsai and it wouldn’t look out of scale, but I’m satisfied with how the final model turned out.
For the next model, I couldn’t resist making a baby Groot.
I was initially a little stumped, as the existing connection points of the branches didn’t particularly favour the anatomy of the anthropomorphic sapling, so I cheated a little with the placement of the left arm by removing a curved slope from the trunk to expose some studs for another attachment point.
The Bonsai Tree is a lovely set and I had a great time imagining different directions in which to take my unique little plant. It was a real treat to see the beautiful models created by the designer Nicolaas Vás on the pages of the manual and I hope builders purchasing this set follow suit and make some equally crazy creations.
Even without a large collection of your own parts, Bonsai Tree is a beautiful display piece and the reimagining of this Japanese icon in LEGO blocks is truly impressive. The build is a delight and I learned a couple of interesting techniques along the way. It’s clear that a lot of thought was put into creating the optimal angle of the trunk against the base of the pot and the placement of the branches and foliage making a gorgeous LEGO plant. There’s a lot to like in the selection of parts provided too: some useful parts in brown and green (both recoloured and returning) as well as all those pink frogs!
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