Diaclone was launched in Japan by Takara in 1980, the same year I was born. And that’s where my childhood association with Diaclone ends, as growing up in the UK it was primarily Transformers that had my attention. Trickles of Diaclone-based figures did reach the UK but in London I saw neither sight nor sound of them. In addition to Japan and Asia, countries like France, Italy, Holland, Germany and some Scandinavian territories had Diaclone toys on shelves. Like many current Diaclone fans outside of Asia, my access to it came via Transformers and the exploration of their origins (and ancestral variants) within Diaclone and other such pre-Transformers toy lines. With the 30th anniversary of the line passing seemingly without a sound, it was a wonderful and unexpected surprise to see TakaraTomy announce a reboot of Diaclone in 2015, and the first figure from that line has just seen release. This is the magnificent DA-01 Dia-Battles V2 and its co-release, the more limited DA-01EX Dia-Battles V2 Prototype.
The original vintage Dia-Battles figure was made up of three individual components that combined into a large robot and had individual vehicle modes. As with all Diaclone, the premise was that the vehicles and mecha were piloted by humans in special suits (Dianauts), and they waged war on the invading alien Waruder army. Dia-Battles was originally sold by Takara in Japan in 1980 but it was also available in Italy in the same year, fully licensed by GiG, as “Diatron”. In Japan, one could either buy all three components boxed separately (750 yen each), or the full giftset-style box containing all three parts (2200 yen).
Italy only received the full set of three. You can also find vintage Kingdam bootlegs of the original Dia-Battles set in North America. Die cast metal, chrome, rocket-punch attacks and a highly 70s/early 80s red, blue and orangey/yellow scheme were in evidence on this hugely retro-looking creature. It was a small figure, and the reboot Dia-Battles V2 is not a great deal larger, weighing in about voyager-scale in both vehicle and robot modes.
The new for 2016 Diaclone DA-01 Dia-Battles V2 comes in two flavours, the regular edition that is heavily based on the vintage figure and the limited edition V2 Prototype colours release, DA-01EX (or Moonbase version). The colours of the Moonbase version were not available on a vintage Dia-Battles toy, but they are loosely reminiscent of the colour variants seen on the 1980s Takara/Nitto Diaclone Dia-Battles model kits that were a big part of the line too.
The story attached to this reboot of the Diaclone line is set after the initial defeat of the vintage Diaclone era Waruder forces who were invading worlds in search of Freezon resources for their own dying home. Having had their moon-based fortress destroyed by the original Diaclone forces (on which the 1980s toy line was based around), and their home world crushed, they resurface again a decade later in the 2030s during a period of vast galactic expansion and progress for the human race. Their renewed and fierce attack on Earth is interrupted by the prototype Dia-Battles V2 and that is where the modern Diaclone reboot and the new toys are set. You can read the TakaraTomy page on the story and the excellent translations by The Crew Of Spirited Boys Microman Club on Tumblr for further background.
Lovely artwork plus snippets of this story have been shared by TakaraTomy throughout the last year leading up to the end of May release of Dia-Battles V2 by way of a series of Acts on the TakaraTomy website (linked above). Witness the gorgeous, glossy vintage Diaclone-inspired scheme for the Dia-Battles V2 packaging, including the classic three stripes on the sides of the box. It may be toy photography front and centre, but the paperwork contains breathtaking artwork and even in the background of the box front you can see the art behind the photography. Dia-Battles V2 comes packaged as its separate components and the first run release comes with 4 Dianauts (the implication being that later runs will have 3, like the V2 Prototype release has).
There are a few things that must be clarified straight away. Diaclone and specifically Dia-Battles V2 are not Transformers and they are not Masterpiece Transformers. The early Diaclone stuff that did not make it to the Transformers line contains very science fiction style mecha robots which were non-sentient and were piloted by mini humanoid figures. Parts-forming was a huge part of the play pattern with children/collectors being able to attach vehicles together for a large combination or have individually piloted smaller vehicles. One would do well to remember the widely released Diaclone GATS Blocker made up of 14 individual small vehicles (also known as Diakron or Kronoform Multiforce, Ceji Joustra Diaclone Multiforce14, GiG Dia GATS and Grandstand Convertors Alphatron) in order to understand the history of the concept and what Diaclone was about.
If you are expecting a massive leader class Masterpiece-style figure that transforms like your MP-10 and can stand toe-to-toe with a Masterpiece Starscream or Soundwave, you are going to be disappointed. This Diaclone line has a specified 1/60 scale and so the sizes of all the robots and vehicles will ultimately be anchored to that scale, and when you consider that the new human Dianauts are a similar size to vintage Diaclone pilots, it should be a helpful guide as to the current and future size of the figures in this line.
Dia-Battles V2 transforms mostly through the disconnecting and combining of the main Battles 01, Battles 02 and Battles 03 components seen above, as well as the add-on accessories and sub-components of the aforementioned Battles vehicles. The beauty is that once you cycle through the plethora of official modes and configurations (took me an hour on first unboxing), you are then able to create a number of your own combinations. There is no obvious die cast metal used on Dia-battles, but the finish on the surfaces (with the exception of swirly grey plastic here and there) is sublime. You also get a motorised head-reveal for the combined Dia-Battles V2 Mode (the robot to you and me) activated by the large grey button on Battles 01. Fully combined in robot mode he stands about as tall as a Classics Optimus Prime or Masterpiece MP-12 Sideswipe.
Before we get onto Dia-Battles V2 (the combined robot), we should also mention the Dianauts. These are of course the stuff of Transformers legend, what with all those opening cockpits and vehicle seats on 1984/85/86 G1 figures that were left empty when Hasbro brought over those Diaclone and MC toys. Knowing that once upon a time figures existed to fill those seats in the Diaclone line, and that they had magnetic feet for use with features such as pre-rub Optimus Prime’s metal plated trailer, gave those original Diaclone pilots an immeasurable cool factor. Seeing them recreated in a similar scale today, with articulated shoulders, elbows, knees, hips and even abdominal crunches – as well as retaining the magnetic capability – show what TakaraTomy really can do on this microscopic action figure scale. It also puts the human accessories packed in with Masterpiece Transformers to shame. Where the original Diaclone attack craft like Cosmo Roller and Diatrain came with little blue magnetic plates for the Dianauts to stand on, Dia-Battles V2 comes with 4 yellow/black magnetic stickers to place on the figures to achieve the same effect.
I would recommend that upon unboxing – and marvelling at just how much is packed into that insert tray – you follow the instructions and go through them step by step in order to experience all of the individual vehicles, modes, combos and features fully before getting creative. Remember this isn’t a Transformer, the joy does not exist purely and primarily in getting to robot mode and posing it then shelving it. Speaking of the paperwork, goodness it feels luxurious. Glorious artwork, beautiful design and it just makes me ache to be able to read and speak Japanese. The actual instructions are extremely clear, the visuals being more than enough to guide one through every step of the process without the risk of damage. The above picture shows you an opening flap at the back of the middle blue shuttle component. There is a peg in the middle of that grey bay door for the motorcycle – called the Road Viper – to be attached and stored.
The above four modes, from top to bottom, use combinations of 2 components and are called Hopper, Crawler, Glide and Fortress, respectively. The blue sections with the orange canopies typically clip on using small pegs (the larger blue section has a button release for disconnection) and the blue tank tread components not only have fold out tabs to clip together for solidity, but they connect to the other parts of Dia-Battles using a square peg system. You will notice a variety of configurations used above with either the standard weapon barrels, the extended weapons barrels or what look like small but beefy cannons. Those quad-barrel cannons which double up as his arms are on a lovely flap-n-flip system which allow you to display them or the robot fists. How awesome is that wing arrangement on Fortress? There are a lot of tabs to allow for security in every mode and aligning them – with the help of the many ratchets – is a piece of cake and a pleasure. There is virtually zero frustration involved in cycling through the modes and configurations, so it seems ease and enjoyment of play has been at the top of the agenda for the Dia-Battles designers. The double-canopy blue shuttle section is just so lovely. I know some 3rd party items aim for complete suspension of disbelief and do not mould tabs into canopies in order to heighten realism, but I truly appreciate things like lifting tabs to make interaction simple and free from suffering.
Now we come to two configurations that involve elements of all three Battles sections. The top one is probably the one I am least convinced by of the official modes called Scramble Mode, but the bottom one is absolutely a favourite, the Manual Mode. Changing around the long and short weapon barrels, elevating the legs or letting it ride low, angling wing sections, all of the adjustable points to cater to your aesthetic preference mean that each individual mode – of the many modes – can keep your attention and admiration for a considerable amount of time. When the combination interface is this user-friendly, you’re going to end up spending a great deal of time having fun. It’s a shame the treads don’t roll, but really nobody expected them to.
This is where things start getting serious and breathtaking. Combining nearly everything available to you in the box gives you the utterly magnificent Battles Triser mode above. I’ve even gone to the trouble of connecting the sword storage pegs under the wings so the above craft can have the blades pointing forward along with the array of weaponry on show. With four cockpits filled with four Dianauts, there’s as much life in this creation as there is beauty and fun factor. This is surely a wow moment for every single Dia-Battles V2 owner, the first combination of Battles Triser mode. It may look complex and a pain to put together, but forget the hassle you’ve had putting together dodgy Transformers combiners. The secure fittings, excellent natural alignment of parts and ease of section tabbing make it an unforgettable – and simple – pleasure to get here. You just have to let go of any compulsion to memorise orientations and locations of things before separation, and have fun. Proper toy fun.
And so we get to the robot, officially called Dia-Battles V2 Mode. At this point in the instructions you’ve learned how to attach and separate the legs, you’ve seen how wonderful the slide-on rail mechanism for the arms is, how it can be part of the robot anatomy or slide all the way back to the wing pack for other modes, you’ve begun to realise how much personalisation of modes is possible and you’ve experienced the divine motorised head reveal. Once Dia-Battles V2 is assembled, you can use the two leftover blue shuttle cockpits to make the Boretto Fighter, a self-contained and convincingly standalone craft with immense Dianaut and Road Viper interaction. That little fighter alone has three magnetic sticker spaces.
Mecha freakin heaven. Have you ever seen a super robot with a more attractive and flattering silhouette, topped off with possibly the greatest face sculpt TakaraTomy have ever kicked out of their factories? Man alive, what a creation! It’s the kind of robot you buy to pose and load with weapons and slap on a display stand, you know the type that doesn’t transform? Well this does, it has modes coming out of its ears and then it pulls off a super-posable, uncompromised and stunning robot mode. Joints vary between hard ratchets, soft ratchets and friction joints. The run, the kneel, the lean, he’s got it all.
From knees, fold-up toe section, ankle tilts to waist rotation and an articulated neck, the range of movement on Dia-Battles V2 is sublime. For a lifeless and non-sentient piloted mech, he’s tremendously expressive. Add in the combination of attachable laser weapons or swords and you have a very engaging and entertaining robot figure. I do have gripes with it, though, it isn’t perfect. The robot antennae are made of painted bendy plastic, so they never properly stick up straight for absolute symmetry, and the fists cannot be opened. The head cannot look to far upwards either. But, he does have some simply phenomenal light piping.
If you’ve got a problem with Dia-Battles V2 not being MP-10 height or more, and how it’s going to fit into your pre-defined collection parameters then that really is a shame. It’s not right for any fan of robot toys to miss out on a figure such as this, but the $160/£100 odd price that import stores are having to charge for Dia-Battles V2 combined with that fact understandably creates difficulty for today’s Transformers collector. I have given him all my classic poses above, but from hereon in I’ll be treating him as he was meant to be treated, a piloted super robot and not a sentient emotive character. Above I have shown him with a Masterpiece Transformers figure that many are familiar with size-wise because I feel obligated to answer that question. I’ve also pictured him below with a Transformers G1 Ironhide, piloted by a vintage Diaclone driver and one of Dia-Battles V2’s Dianauts. I’ve done that instead of using Star Saber, MP-10, Generations this or that, because it is precisely the kind of mindset and concept you have to buy into in order to appreciate what’s being achieved and aimed for here. Staying true to its concept defines it and allows the entirety of the figure to make perfect sense, just like it does with G1 Ironhide and the Takara Diaclone Car Robot No.2 Onebox Vanette before him. On the basis of being an interactive, piloted mecha figure that has a realistic Earth vehicle mode with play value, the Diaclone release of Ironhide was better at that than most of our favourite Autobot cars ever were!
Diaclone was a war. The Earth Defence Corps, the Diamond Cyclone forces versus the invading Waruders. Mecha everywhere, machines, robots, not unique sentient characters. There wouldn’t have been one Dia-Battles, one Big Powered, one Battle Buffalo, one GATS Blocker, Dia-Attacker or Diatrain. There would have been loads, all fighting alongside each other. And that’s why I bought a second regular colours Dia-Battles V2.
To battle! Picture a busy and gigantic underground hangar, steam pouring from vents, Dianauts racing around on Road Vipers, elevators allowing access to cockpits on docked Dia-Battles v2 mechs and Boretto Fighters, Hoppers and Crawlers repairing battle-damaged units, Fortress and Manual Mode mechs preparing for a mass roll out. All to the soundtrack of Droid Bishop or Chris Huelsbeck, or your pick of 80s Commodore Amiga game soundtracks. You know what else having more than one Dia-Battles affords you the luxury of? Modular building of ridiculous unofficial fan modes!
Truly, with the amount of connecting ports, tabs and square peg clamps, your imagination is what will limit how much enjoyment you derive from this spectacular first Diaclone reboot release. Oh, and your wallet. Getting three of these has been quite a crippling financial experience.
And of course, I bought the limited edition DA-01EX Dia-Battles V2 Prototype.
For a fair number of people, this was the irresistible colour scheme that finally allowed them to cave and experience the joy of Dia-Battles V2. As mentioned at the start of the article, this is somewhat reminiscent of one of the Nitto modelkit colours used for the vintage Dia-Battles, but it’s also tied into the story of the defence of Earth from the resurgent Waruders. He’s a lot more bluey-grey in person than I thought.
Stunning isn’t the word. For many of those getting just one Dia-Battles V2 set, picking between two equally gorgeous paint schemes will have been a very difficult choice I imagine. In addition to the overall uniform colour scheme, the V2 Prototype offers yellow/black Dianauts (but only 3) as opposed to the red/black of the regular V2, you get a gold Road Viper, smokey canopies and wicked clear light piping for the combined robot. Keeping the red of the quad-barreled arm blasters was a masterstroke.
What’s that you say? Combine the regular and Prototype for a mix and match Dia-Battles V2? I thought you’d never ask.
Because the arms are connected by sliding their square pegs onto the provided rails of the Battles 02 wing pack or the Battles 01 pod, you can connect more than one set of arms. Using the grey arms of the Prototype on the regular V2 makes it appear as though he has shoulder cannons, an idea suggested by a particularly imaginative TFW forum member! Legs and wing pack are of course interchangeable, so you can go for pretty much any combination of colours you want.
Yep, you’ve been thinking it, and I’ve been trying it. All three of the Dia-Battles V2 sets I have can be connected to make a centipede-like mega-combiner Battles Triser mode. You simply have to see this thing in the flesh. It’s ridiculous, insane and ultimately it is your imagination and the soul of your inner child made manifest via the beauty of robot toys. If one had even more Dia-Battles V2 sets, they could conceivably have this concoction expand out to the sides as well, using the flip-out leg tabs. The fact that there are multiple connection points on virtually every component means that combinations and wild variants will continue to be shared by collectors well into the future.
Imagination, play value, lasting engagement and stunning aesthetics are basically the core appeal of Dia-Battles V2. I was in for this set originally because Diaclone, because beautiful looking robot and because TakaraTomy. What I’ve realised is that for the high price, despite getting a smaller non-die cast toy, I’ve got a product of absolute luxury. This is proper high end TakaraTomy showing what they can achieve when they charge what they have to. The Dianauts are a stark reminder of what can be achieved on a small scale.
Together with the inherent quality and genius simplicity of the Dia-Battles components, engineering and interactivity, I feel like I have got my money’s worth and value with DA-01 more than I have with most of the Masterpiece Transformers that I have bought. That is, if one judges a product without nostalgic attachments thrown into the mix.
Not an unattractive configuration or mode among the many official and unofficial possibilities, Dia-Battles is a huge success. Without a doubt this release has usurped the 2016 crown for best figure thus far from Masterpiece MP-27 Ironhide. I love that the story for this figure does not involve it just being a ‘Masterpiece’ of the original toy, but rather a proper version 2 with upgrades, new technology and features to combat the returning evil of the Waruder race.
Come on. Join the new Diaclone Adventure World, this science fiction twist on the concept that eventually birthed your beloved Transformers, this “Mission for the Space Frontier”. These are the days of the running man, the time of the diamond cyclone and hopefully – Tokyo Toy Show announcements permitting – the start of a beautiful toy line. It’s Diaclone, it’s new, it’s back, and it’s better than ever.
Many kind thanks to Livio Fazzalari for GiG Diatron images, to Bryan Wilkinson for story translations and to Dave Barry for the model kit images via Japanese blogs.
All the best