Strong as Diamond ...

by Darren Pierce : Densha Blues : 06.20.17 11:09pm EST


As with so many properties before it, Diaclone has been reborn for the generation of nostalgists that fondly remember one of the most influential and foundational toy lines of the 80's.

We often talk about Diaclone in terms of its relationship to Microman and Transformers, its gimmicks, and its themes, but we rarely talk about market setting, and I think there's a nugget of information here that deserves to be said.

The typical grail of the Japanese robot toy fan came to the store shelf in a very large box, its components laid out behind windowed cut-outs designed to make the most stoic child salivate. It was taken home wrapped in a ribbon, and it was impressive. And it was exactly not what a typical kid bought with his own money.

These DX prizes of childhood were reserved for special occasions: birthdays, Boy's Day, Christmas, Shichi-Go-San, and so on. But what did you buy with your own pocket money?

Takara had Bandai soundly beat on this front, and that's important to consider. The toy you buy with your own dough, agonized over, and carefully selected from competing offerings might mean more to you than an unexpected gift. Emotion begets sales.

Yes, for the yenly equivalent of a few bucks, you could own a piece of Gats Blocker, or a Dasher, or part of DiaBattles, or maybe a Train Robo if you were careful. Perhaps you brought home a new piece of the set every month, or every weekend. If you're steadily blowing your weekly money on smaller toys, you are not saving for bigger game, and that's a great strategy if you're a toy company looking for a niche.

Consider the humble Diaclone Powered Suit. At only ¥550, peanuts I tell you, the complete Japanese diecast robot toy experience could be had in a tiny package. Indeed, behind a miniature windowed box and sitting in a styrofoam tray was a diecast metal robot (nearly all metal), a Diaclone team member with magnetic feet, an accessory weapon with spring missile, a sticker sheet, and a catalog.

Think about that list for a moment. Your little box held the entire essence of the Japanese robot toy buying experience and was presented like a jewel. The awesome feeling might've only lasted a day, but for a day, you had your fix.

Bandai, to their credit, followed on with Machine Robo and injected themselves in the allowance money market, but the prepossessing ambiance of the "Diaclone World", glimpsed only through precious pocket sized catalogs, seemed to have a special integrity and voice that Bandai never nailed. Machine Robo was merely a collection of (nice) toys, but Diaclone came packaged with a mood.

Japan is very good at capturing a mood. Sometimes, I think their entire society is a great engine engineered to do nothing but. That tiny powered suit was a capsule of the essence of the early 80s robot toy experience. It was a sample of the magic.

In 2017, the magic has returned. The Powered Suit and pilot, now styled "Dianaught", come in a pocket sized and affordable box. Gone are the magnets, the metal, and the spring missile, but in their stead are found more play gimmicks and interoperability with other Diaclone toys. It's nice to see this vibe return. And one more thing. The Japanese are usually extremely careful to categorize and distinguish different products and generations of product lines. Notice that the new Diaclone toys aren't being sold as Neo Diaclone, or Diaclone The Return ... it's just Diaclone. The new DiaBattles isn't a re-envisioning of the old toy; rather, it's specifically called DiaBattles V2. You're just getting upgrades, you see. It's their way of saying that we never left, we just took a hiatus. And that's kind of nice, too.