LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave review
31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave makes a big splash in the world of LEGO Art, recreating the Japanese artist’s iconic woodblock print with smart colour choices and a ground-breaking building experience.
The first print in Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series, and easily his most recognisable work, The Great Wave off Kanagawa (to give it its full title – why the LEGO set shortens it is beyond us) depicts three boats sailing through a stormy sea, while Fuji rests calmly in the background. It’s a contrast cemented through careful use of perspective, and it’s presumably with that in mind that 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave recreates the piece in three dimensions.
That’s an approach we’ve already seen in LEGO in 2022’s 21333 Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night, with impressive results. 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave doesn’t push quite as far out of its frame, tweaking its design language to best suit its subject matter, yet in doing so breaks beyond the self-imposed barriers of the LEGO Art theme (as did 31206 The Rolling Stones before it).
It’s a landmark moment for this range, unlocking the true potential of what a LEGO Art set can offer – and makes 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave one of the first must-have sets of 2023.
— LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave set details —
Theme: LEGO Art Set name: 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave Release date: January 1, 2023
Price: £89.99 / $99.99 / €99.99 Pieces: 1,810 Minifigures: 0
— Where to buy LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave —
LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave is available to buy from LEGO.com and in LEGO Stores now. The theme has pretty sporadic availability, but this set is being carried by third-party retailers, so look out for discounts soon…
— LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave build —
Among the first tools in 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave’s arsenal is its unusual build process: the first 11 bags are each fairly small, contributing to the print itself, and then you’re opening up six or seven bags numbered 12 to begin building the frame. You really start to get a taste straight away of how this set is going to break the mould for LEGO Art – and perhaps for LEGO as a whole – and its rewriting of the rulebook doesn’t stop there.
The set is built on the same foundations as other LEGO Art mosaics, with its large 16×16-stud base elements, which snap together to form a 2×3 grid. Four of these are light nougat – a first for the theme, and a smart colour choice, especially as the LEGO Group expands its use of a hue typically reserved for licensed minifigures (which we saw the beginnings of in last year’s 10297 Boutique Hotel).
It’s smart here because the sky of Hokusai’s original The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a very light grey, but the LEGO Group’s own light grey would have felt completely flat next to the white frame – especially given the white of the wave already risks getting lost within the limited LEGO colour palette. Shifting the backdrop to a mix of white and light nougat injects a little more life into the scene, bringing out its bold tones while also reminding you that this is still LEGO.
31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave otherwise actually benefits from the existing colour palette, as the LEGO Group’s shades of blues and tans correspond nicely with the real deal. Sets like this live and die on their colour choices, and across the board it’s hard to criticise any of the particular decisions made here. But perhaps even more impressive than the colours chosen is the way this set genuinely feels like you’re painting with bricks – at least more so than any other LEGO Art model before it.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa isn’t a painting, of course – it was created by carving images into blocks of wood with sharp knives, with one block per colour used for the print, then covering them in ink and pressing them into paper. It’s a laborious process, and a difficult (if not impossible) one to replicate with LEGO bricks. But if you’ve ever wanted to paint with LEGO pieces, and in particular paint The Great Wave off Kanagawa, this is very much the set for you.
You’ll start by building up the backdrop with 1×1 tiles, in classic LEGO Art style, and before long the base of the picture – that 2×3 grid of 16×16-stud base elements – has come together. Then you’ll spend a good amount of time layering plates and other pieces (more on those in a second) across the top, and here it genuinely feels like you’re painting on a canvas. It’s as close to a traditional artistic experience as we’ve ever had from this theme.
The frame is then constructed entirely separately and comes together very rapidly, using some surprisingly large elements (with one eye on that price tag). You’ll then drop the built print into the frame and lock it in place with Technic axles, effectively recreating the experience of framing artwork, too.
The relief effect is a clever concept – but also arguably necessary, because this set really wouldn’t have worked with 1×1 tiles alone (at least not without ballooning it to a much bigger scale). Two statement pieces are used to recreate the texture of the wave, in white leaves and unprinted white birds. They’re reminiscent of the pink frogs used for 10281 Bonsai Tree’s alternate build, and remembering how polarising those were, it’s not hard to imagine these elements being met by a similar reception.
What we’ll say is that – at least viewed head-on, or from a slight distance – the birds are surprisingly effective at recreating the particular shapes of the wave, and given that’s the star of the show you don’t want to get it wrong. It feels like a real gamble on the part of the designer, but one that – for our money – has paid off.
It also shows an attention to detail that’s matched across the rest of the build, not least in those tiny 1×1 tiles to depict the fishermen in their boats. Linger too long on them and they start to look just a little bit creepy (why do they have mouths?), but they have the desired effect. And they’re printed! Which is always a bonus, and never a given, unfortunate as that is.
When all’s said and done, you’re left with a model that compares very favourably to 21333 Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night, one of the best LEGO sets of 2022. It’s quicker to put together and there’s obviously less depth to it, in both build and finished product, but the lighter colour palette draws the eye in a different – but just as successful – way. Neither model diminishes the other, and if you like one you’ll very much like the other.
— LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave price —
Don’t be fooled by its impressive size: 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave isn’t going to demand a lot from your wallet. Comparatively speaking, anyway. Coming in at just £89.99 / $99.99 / €99.99, this feels like one of the best value LEGO Art sets to date, even if the frame is doing a lot of heavy lifting in creating that volume.
For comparison’s sake, John Lewis currently sells a framed print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa – which is only a little bit bigger than the LEGO set – for £130. And you don’t even get to build that one.
— LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave pictures —
— LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave pros and cons —
Art lives and breathes when free of restrictions, and so too is the LEGO Art theme now starting to find the most success beyond the restrictive boundaries of its 48×48-stud mosaics. There’s still a place for those sets – 2022’s 31205 Jim Lee Batman Collection is up there with the best – but 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave is proof positive that this theme really has legs when it pushes its limits.
It’s maybe with a hint of irony that 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave actually feels like the closest thing to LEGO Art yet, too: perhaps this is what the LEGO Group should have been doing from the start. If you’re looking for LEGO décor, it’s difficult to do better than this.
|31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave pros||31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave cons|
|Varied build experience that genuinely feels like creating art with LEGO||Exposes the gaps in the LEGO colour palette|
|A bold and successful new direction for LEGO Art||Pieces used for texture may be polarising|
|Dimensions of the finished model are impressive||Like all LEGO Art sets, it works best at a distance|
This set was provided for review by the LEGO Group.
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— Alternatives to LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave —
Had 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave launched even 12 months ago, we’d be hard-pressed for something to fill this space, beyond just other LEGO Art sets like 31205 Jim Lee Batman Collection. But now there’s also 21333 Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night, arguably the LEGO Group’s first foray into framed, three-dimensional art and equally as essential. Consider it an alternative, but we’d recommend just buying both.
— LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave FAQs —
How long does it take to build LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave?
You’ll spend between 90 minutes and two hours building LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave. There are a lot of parts, but it comes together surprisingly quickly.
How many pieces are in LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave?
31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave includes 1,810 pieces, six of which are large 16×16 bricks used as the base for all LEGO Art mosaics – two in black, and four in light nougat for the first time.
How big is LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave?
LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave measures 40cm tall, 52.5cm wide and 2.5cm deep. That’s 19cm taller and 14.5cm wider than 21333 Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night, this set’s closest contemporary.
How much does LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave cost?
LEGO Art 31208 Hokusai – The Great Wave launched on January 1, 2023 and retails for just £89.99 / $99.99 / €99.99 – a shockingly good price for the finished product.