Monday, December 26, 2016

Quick Look - Diakron DK-1

In the later half of 1983 Takara had established a spin off of its Japanese Diaclone toyline in the United States through its subsidary Takara US (Takara Toys Corporation), based in New York. The toyline was called Diakron and featured a very limited number of toys from the Diaclone Car Robot series, Dasher series, as well as the multi-vehicle robot Guts Blocker. A Toys-R-Us exclusive, the toyline didn't do particularly well, ostensibly because Takara did not well understand the US market. Ultimately, Takara US's rights to market and distribute the transforming Diakron toys in the US were acquired by Hasbro Industries along with the rights to the bulk of Takara's transforming Diaclone and Micro Change toys in late 1983, to be released as The Transformers the following year. And so marked the the end of the very short and obscure Diakron toyline. Takara US would re-enter the US market with Kronoform, comprising various toys that Hasbro had not used for The Transformers, some featuring Transformers branding, but in the end another unsuccessful and obscure foray into the US toy market.

One of the featured toys, and sequentially the first, was DK-1. Fittingly, it is the same toy as the the first of the Diaclone series, indeed historically the first transforming car-robot ever, the Lamborghini Countach LP500S Super Tuning version. Like the Diaclone, DK-1 was released in red and is the only other release to have done so, making a red variant considerably rarer than it's yellow incarnation; typically G1 Sunstreaker; but also found yellow in the Italian GIG and French Joustra releases, as well as in the Milton Bradley Sideswipe box.

Diakron DK-1 (Front)
Diakron DK-1 (Back)

One of the interesting things about the Diakron release, is that though unsuccessful, many of its packaging details appear to have made it into The Transformers line. The box dimensions are identical in length, height and width to the G1 Autobot cars packaging. Only the height of the box flap differs, being 1 cm shorter on the Diakron. The window placement is identical from the bottom-left co-ordinates and is only slighter taller on the G1. The G1 adopts some of the grey bordering between the window and the character cut-out. And finally both share similar copy, where the Diakron's 'Changes from Racecar to Robot and back!' becomes 'TRANSFORMS FROM RACECAR TO ROBOT AND BACK!' on the G1 packaging.

G1 Sunstreaker (Front)

The internal packaging is quite horrendous. It is a soft, almost vinyl-like plastic tray. It engulfs the toy, making it difficult to see anything more than the side view. In this regard the clear blister arrangement of the G1 is superior. From the back you can see that the tray is in some places only as thin as a supermarket bag. For this reason I haven't dared to remove the toy, as I fear I will do irreversible damage to the tray.

Circle stamped figure with 'Diaclone' pilot
Back of tray

In an interview with Hasbro R&D VP at the time, George Dunsay (Source), he recalled that Diakron did not have many of the elements that made The Transformers successful as a brand - marketing, conflict, commercials. Certainly, the packaging is overloaded with copy, bombarding the viewer with messages about what is inside and how to enjoy it. It is evident that Takara didn't have a good handle on what was required for the market. Hasbro knew how to get people storming into the toy aisles. Diakron looked like a foreign curiosity that you'd be lucky to come across in the first place, let alone be compelled to buy.

Diakron DK-1 (Top)
Diakron DK-1 (Side)

If Takara had scant idea how to sell toys in the US, they certainly acknowledged they needed to find out. The toy was accompanied by a feedback card to ascertain some very rudimentary information about buyers and their impressions of the toyline.

Toy decal sheet and feedback card
Yes, they were really there.

The catalog that doubled as the instruction sheet interestingly didn't feature any other toys from the toyline. Instead, it featured a bunch of penny-racer pull-back cars, known as Choro Q in Japan. Catch some old school commercials for them here, and here.

DK-1 instruction sheet
Penny Racers. A whole different breed of speed.

Even as an example of a poorly executed campaign, the subsequent success and longevity of The Transformers as a global brand have elevated its Diaclone and Diakron predecessors to legendary status. For collectors, the scarcity of the red variant and its historical significance as the pioneering car-robot transforms this obscure piece into an unlikely holy-grail.