Takara SF Land Evolution

Updated Transformers on 20 February

Takara SF Land celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022. The umbrella term used by fans to describe various toylines with sci-fi elements sold by Takara (Takara Tomy after the 2006 merger with Tomy), Takara SF Land encompasses lines like Henshin Cyborg (a 30cm-tall figure that could transform into other characters and into a vehicle), the groundbreaking Microman (10cm-tall action figures with stunning articulation for 1974) and the Diaclone robots and vehicles piloted by 3cm-tall figures with magnetic feet.

Takara SF Land toys are notable for being original designs as opposed to being inspired by popular manga, anime or tokusatsu series. If some of the resulting toys were stand out designs far ahead of their time, it’s simply because they needed to be — they couldn’t rely on brand recognition as a crutch.

There were, of course, toy-first Takara designs that benefitted immensely from the exposure manga and anime tie-ins provided. The Magne Robo Koutetsu Jeeg figure, for example, certainly got a boost from the Nagai Go manga and the Toei anime but the toy, competing as it was with Popy Chogokin based on other manga and anime, was arguably a huge hit in the Seventies because of its innovative magnetic joints.

The most famous Takara SF Land toyline of them all would be Transformers, the result of a decades-old relationship between two storied toy companies from two different continents. Hasbro coined the term “action figure” for the original G.I. Joe in 1964 and Takara transformed Joe into Henshin Cyborg, the founding figure of Takara SF Land, in 1972. Hasbro then combined toys from two major Takara SF Land lines, Diaclone and Microman, in 1984 to create Transformers and those rebranded toys returned to Japan the following year. The line, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2019, has sold over 500 million toys and other products in over 130 countries.

To study Takara SF Land is to see how toy designs evolve across multiple lines over the course of decades. More broadly, it is to trace how an idea travels from one country to another, gets adapted for local needs, impacted by geopolitical events and return in a completely unrecognisable form. Delve into one Japanese toy company’s history and you will see just how Hasbro’s 12-inch G.I. Joe turned into Mego’s 3¾-inch Micronauts.



The following timelines were compiled from the Omocha Johou Net site, Takara Tomy’s corporate brochure, Takara corporate history, Henshin Cyborg history and Tomy shashi.

The following chart and notes were largely adapted from the fantastic 2017 Futabasha book, Takara SF Land Evolution (ISBN978-4-575-31242-3). If you’ve ever wondered why some Microman Magne Powers figures seem more Magne Robo than Microman, wondered how Takara went from Combat Joe to Cybercop or wondered what exactly inspired Battle Beasts, the book is an essential purchase.

Takara SF Land thumbnail

(Click on the above image for a larger chart that’s more faithful to the source material.)


Takara (“treasure” in Japanese) was founded as Satoh Vinyl Industries Ltd by Satoh Yasuta in 1955 and later named after the old Tokyo neighbourhood where it started, Takara-cho. The Japanese toy company may be renowned internationally for its clever action figure designs but it was initially famous for its dolls.

Takara’s first major success was a vinyl doll named Kinobori Winky (colloquially known as Dakko-chan), which was unfortunately based on a racist golliwog caricature and even more unfortunately, inspired the company logo from 1961 to 1990. Its next hit was more wholesome. Licca-chan, a petite doll with a smaller dollhouse for smaller Japanese homes, made its debut in 1967 and quickly became the nation’s favourite.

Takara didn’t enter the action figure market until late 1969. (It wouldn’t even have a boys’ toys division until after Henshin Cyborg became a hit.) The company licensed G.I. Joe from Hasbro, had its doll designers redesign the American toy soldier’s head and rebranded the figure as New G.I. Joe for the Japanese market the following year.

The Japanese Joe initially sold well — so well that Takara was emboldened to expand the line with enemy figures. Unfortunately, these figures included SS officers complete with prominent swastikas.

There was also the matter of the war in nearby Vietnam. Japanese parents may have been increasingly uncomfortable about purchasing an American toy soldier for their kids especially when there was growing resentment over the presence of American military bases in Japan. The Koza riot, for instance, took place in 1970.

It’s not clear Takara was responding to this directly but like the American Joe, who went AWOL to lead a life of adventure, his Japanese counterpart turned his back on war. Takara first sold costumes in its Sports Series to turn the toy soldier into inoffensive sportsmen and then, through its Seigi no Mikata (Ally of Justice) series, into Japanese tokusatsu heroes like Ultraman, Mirrorman and Silver Kamen. (Ideal’s Captain Action may have been the inspiration.)

Henshin Cyborg (1972)

When New G.I. Joe’s sales slowed down, Takara reused the mould to create a clear plastic figure with mechanical innards. Henshin Cyborg 1, now recognised as the founding figure of Takara SF Land, was a major hit and a strong influence on the lines that followed. The figure had grey, silver, gold and blue colour variants.

Taking a cue from New G.I. Joe’s Seigi no Mikata series and the ongoing henshin hero boom on television, Henshin Cyborg 1 could henshin (or transform) into other characters by donning costumes. Henshin Sets sold costumes of Ultraman, Kamen Rider 1 and other popular characters of the day while Chojin Sets sold costumes based on the original character designs Birdman, Fishman and Beetleman. Additionally, Cyborg Sets sold soft vinyl weapons of various designs that could slide over the figure’s forearms.

Like New G.I. Joe, Henshin Cyborg 1 could square off against enemy figures. Thankfully, however, King Walder, a space invader, was much less controversial. King Walder (in blue, green, purple and yellow) had his own Kaijin Set costumes (Dokuro King, Satan King and Shokubutsu Kaijin) and Cyborg Set weapons.

The line was further expanded with Cyborg 2, Henshin Cyborg 1’s younger brother. Being shorter at 20cm tall, Shonen Cyborg (silver, gold and blue) couldn’t make use of his older sibling’s costumes so he had his own. He could also be upgraded with Cyborg Sets consisting of various weapons and gadgets made of hard plastic.

Cyborg Jaguar (silver, gold and blue), Shonen Cyborg’s pet leopard cub turned cyborg, followed the same pattern with Henshin Sets that transformed it into animals like a jaguar as well as Weapons Sets and Cyborg Sets containing weapons and parts upgrades. In addition to those, there were Choju Sets that turned Cyborg Jaguar into Doberman-J (Doberman Jack) and Condor-V (Condor Violence), a flying quadruped with bird-like elements.

(Takara’s designers would revisit the jaguar, doberman and condor design themes frequently over the years and the Cyborg Jaguar mould itself would be reused for Takara’s Yoroiden Samurai Troopers Byakuen-Oh a.k.a Ronin Warriors White Blaze.)

The stylish Cyborg Station CX-1 carrying case for the Cyborg figure was probably inspired by the New G.I. Joe Secret Base and James Bond’s gadgetry. This was a child-scaled attaché case which opened up to reveal a base of sorts. When placed upright with weapons and accessories attached to its various hardpoints, the Cyborg Station had a passing resemblance to the Diaclone Car Robot Battle Convoy robot maintenance dock but what’s more noteworthy is Takara would come up with some creative concepts based on secret agent attaché cases in later lines.

The greatest innovation of the Henshin Cyborg line saw Takara’s designers take the transformation concept beyond cosplay. By attaching parts from the Cyborg Rider motorcycle, sidecar, exploration car, minibike and weapon sets, Henshin Cyborg 1 could be turned from action figure into a toy motorcycle which Shonen Cyborg could ride. Almost half a century later, the Cyborg Rider remains a startling design that demonstrated the young company’s creativity and ambition. From that point on, Takara’s sci-fi toys would consistently push action figure design as far as it could go given the limitations of the era.

Some of those limitations were geopolitical in origin. Various Middle Eastern crises resulted in oil prices spiking in the early Seventies and this caused severe problems for Japan since it imported all of its oil. This naturally had a major impact on the toy industry because the price of oil affected the cost of plastic used to manufacture playthings. Henshin Cyborg, for example, required raw materials that were prioritised for daily necessities and automobiles so Takara’s Okude Nobuyuki had to convince a supplier that children all over the country were eagerly awaiting the toy. He succeeded but the oil crisis continued to be a vexing problem for the Japanese toy maker.

Android A (1974)

Originally meant to be part of the Henshin Cyborg line, Android A (Android Ace) was released in 1974 as its successor instead. Much like the Cyborg Rider, Android A took the concept of transforming beyond costumes. The 30cm-tall figure could replace its head, entire limbs and even its removable chrome-plated chest engine. There were three types of full sets: the standard Android A, the Chojin (superhuman) form and the Robot form. There were also accessory sets to turn Android A into his powered-up variant forms. 

Just as Henshin Cyborg had the alien King Walder to contend with, Android A faced off against Shonen Cyborg-sized alien opponents of his own. The Aliens — the scientist Zeros, the vicious Zone and the mysterious sorcerer, Jagra — could increase their threat level with weapon sets sold separately. (The trio would be reborn as Neo Henshin Cyborg villains in the Nineties.)

The aliens could tool around in a large UFO-7 vehicle with a removable inner cockpit/vehicle. This was a substantial piece of plastic at a time when the cost of it was rising so it’s perhaps understandable Takara decided to sell these components separately.

(Japanese toy makers weren’t the only ones affected by rising costs. Denys Fisher resorted to selling scaled-down Shonen Cyborg-sized versions of various Henshin Cyborg and Android A figures for its Cyborg line in the UK.)

Takara had a big problem on its hands. The solution was to think small. In doing so, the company came up with its greatest Takara SF Land hit.

Microman (1974)

Takara designer Ogawa Iwakichi had attempted creating a smaller posable action figure as far back as the New G.I. Joe days after his superior recognised that vehicles scaled for the 12-inch toy soldier were prohibitively expensive. Ogawa gave up the effort thinking there was no way of making it viable for production but if he had succeeded, the first 3¾-inch G.I. Joe may well have been A Real Japanese Hero in the Seventies. He revisited the idea when the full impact of the oil crisis hit during the production of Henshin Cyborg and this time he succeeded after much trial and error.

Ogawa’s initial Microman figure design was clearly based on Henshin Cyborg but, being one-third of the size, various design simplifications were made. Instead of a removable clear vinyl head with a chromed cybernetic inner skull, Microman had a chromed head. Instead of a clear plastic torso with mechanical innards, Microman had a chrome-plated chest piece on a clear plastic body that tried to evoke the same effect.

What really stood out about Microman was the fact it was a 10cm figure with stunning articulation for the time. Keep in mind the Kenner Star Wars figures released a few years later only had five points of articulation. Like a Star Wars figure, Microman could move at the head, shoulders and hips but the Japanese figure also had elbow and knee joints, an O-ring waist joint (almost a decade before Hasbro’s 3¾-inch design) and even  ball-jointed wrist joints.

It wasn’t just the articulation of the figures that made the Microman line extraordinary, however. The other major reason it stood out was the sheer variety of remarkable toy designs produced over the span of a decade. There were incredible bases, vehicles and robots — most of which could be taken apart and recombined with each other in new forms. The more Microman toys you had, the more possibilities you had. It was a creative and imaginative line that encouraged creative and imaginative play.

The inspiration for this was, of course, Lego. But Ogawa also revealed Microman’s Yukei Block (usually translated as Material Block) approach was meant to get Japanese boys, apparently a particularly urbane and sophisticated prepubescent set in the early Seventies who thought Lego was for babies, interested in block-style creative play.

The Yukei Block approach made block play cool by making each clearly defined “block” element representative (a Microman wing part actually looked like a wing especially when compared to how Lego bricks of that era were abstracted as one) and imbuing it with sci-fi design elements.

The connectivity between parts was based on standardised 5mm-sized pegs and ports so you could freely mix and match parts to create your own variants. (Mego’s Marty Abrams cited Microman’s construction and building play pattern as a key reason for licensing the Japanese line and rebranding it as Micronauts for the US market in 1976.)

Takara realised early on this was a key advantage and made sure kids understood this connectivity extended to interchangeability between Takara lines. The 1974 Microman and Android A catalogues provided a brief writeup of how Microman encountered Henshin Cyborg 1 and Android A, and formed an alliance to repel the alien invaders menacing Earth. The cross-line appeal of this “Victory Plan” borne of this alliance was made clear by illustrations of combinations made from Henshin Cyborg 1, Shonen Cyborg, Cyborg Weapons, Cyborg Rider, Cyborg Jaguar, Android A and Microman parts. This was arguably the moment Takara SF Land came into its own.

The most notable toy resulting from this Victory Plan crossover was the Microman Robotman. The packaging pointed out Robotman’s “helbrain” was derived from Henshin Cyborg 1’s brain and, toy-wise, the Robotman’s cockpit enabled the 10cm-tall Microman figures to interact with the 30cm figures from the Henshin Cyborg and Android A lines. The prominent “V” and “S” on Robotman were from “Victory Series” indicating it was intended to be the first of many such crossover toys. As it turned out, the Henshin Cyborg and Android A lines ended even as Microman went from strength to strength.

Microman’s success was partly attributed to the abundance of motifs and gimmicks used throughout its initial run. The Seventies fascination with mysteries and mythologies, the ancient and the alien — typified by In Search Of Ancient Astronauts — was reflected in the Japanese toyline. Speculation about alien visitors inspired the Microman storyline, Rapa Nui mo’ai and Egyptian sarcophagi inspired hibernation capsule designs, Nazca lines inspired chest designs, and so on.

The thing to remember is all this was  before Star Wars, Gundam and the robot anime boom. For many a Japanese kid, Microman was their first encounter with sci-fi and the fantastical. The relative paucity of sci-fi material back then didn’t just affect fans; it was an issue for creators as well. Design Mate’s Higuchi Yuichi, who worked on Microman toy designs and packaging, recounted how there was little in the way of reference material even for designers in those days. Hayakawa’s SF Magazine was the major Japanese sci-fi publication of the day but Higuchi, not being a sci-fi fan or a military buff, turned instead to American department store catalogues. A lawn mower, for instance, inspired some of his mechanical designs.

In terms of gimmicks, Microman ran the gamut. There were rubber-band-powered plastic model vehicles, a remote-controlled vehicle, motorised robots, robot-vehicle hybrids, transforming cars, transforming robot cars, combining robots, etc.

And then there were the toys powered by magnets.

Magne Robo (1976)

It’s generally assumed Takara based the Magne Robo Koutetsu Jeeg toy on Nagai Go’s design and later reused Jeeg’s Magnemo gimmick for its Microman Titans figures but Magnemo’s origins are a little more complicated than that.

Takara’s Okude revealed Magne Robo and Microman were developed simultaneously but Magne Robo (another invention of the underappreciated Ogawa) was put on the back burner in order to focus on Microman’s product rollout. Company president Satoh Yasuta later asked TV Magazine editor-in-chief Tanaka, who was working with the toy company on the Microman manga, to come up with a similar treatment for Magne Robo and handed him the prototype. Tanaka then passed it on to Nagai who came up with the final design.

The Jeeg manga debuted in March 1975 and the Toei anime began that October. Okude noted Takara was one of the first Japanese toy makers to sponsor a television show based on its product. This was a gutsy move for the small company considering its initial reluctance to spend money advertising Microman on television for its nationwide release a few years earlier.

The investment paid off handsomely. The Jeeg toy was a major hit and the Magnemo gimmick was a major reason why. The Magnemo-powered Jeeg used magnets in the figure’s torso to connect magnetically to iron spheres affixed to limbs and other parts. (The spheres came in two diameters: the larger 11mm Magnemo-11 was used for Jeeg while the Magnemo-8 size was later used for the smaller Microman Titans figures and cheaper toys.)

The resulting articulation was superb for its time (particularly when compared to the Popy Chogokin Mazinger Z it was competing against) but on top of that, the magnetic connections meant parts could be easily attached and detached. Jeeg’s Mach Drills, for example, could be placed on Jeeg’s back or they could replace limbs. Panzeroid, Jeeg’s simple but elegant steed, could be transformed into a goofy wheeled mode politely described as a tank or combined with Jeeg to form an impressive centaur. Magnemo’s connectivity, while less expansive than the Yukei Block approach, followed the same mix-and-match play pattern that made Microman such a success.

Magnemo toys were also released by Takara licensees, Mego and GiG, and since Takara didn’t patent the gimmick, competitors quickly produced Magnemo-like toys of their own.

Takara itself reused the gimmick for its Magne Robo Gakeen and Chojin Sentai Balatack toys as well as a few other lines. Decades later, the toy company would include Magnemo joints in its revival of Microman and Henshin Cyborg to produce some of its best action figures.

Timanic (1977)

Space Traveler Timanic was a short-lived line consisting of visually impressive figures and peculiar vehicles. The Timanic 1, Timanic 2 and Timanic 3 figures had opaque armour pieces which could be removed to reveal translucent and chrome-plated cybernetic parts. At 18cm tall, the figures stood between Henshin Cyborg and Microman.

The story line, set in the distant future of 2004, was novel and perhaps befuddling for the elementary school kids who were the target audience. The Timanic were Neo Cyborg — human consciousness controlling a cybernetic body capable of withstanding the rigours of hyperspace travel. They travelled light years to battle aliens who were after Earth’s water.

(If the recurrent theme of fearsome alien aggressors with advanced technology seems overdone in Takara SF Land, consider Japan’s historical experience with the same.)

The Timanic figures included an underwhelming non-Magnemo magnet-powered gimmick: the head lit up when the figure was disassembled and combined magnetically in a variety of odd ways with the motorised Time Machine vehicles.

The Timanic 3 Deluxe figure variant set included a battery pack that enabled the same feature. Interestingly, the battery pack was largely identical to that for Takara’s Gimca FMB System diecast minicars. However, the contact widths differed so they weren’t interchangeable.

It’s perplexing Timanic didn’t make extensive use of Microman-compatible 5mm joints or Magnemo-compatible magnet joints. If there had been cross-line appeal, perhaps it would have fared better. Today, it’s largely overlooked even by Takara’s fans.

Takara’s designers, however, ever cognisant of their company’s rich heritage, would give a nod to Timanic with the Microman Magne Force Achilles, Theseus and Icurus figures in 2005.

Combat Joe (1984)

Combat Joe: Real Action Figure Series was a line of 1/6-scale military and law enforcement figures for the nascent adult collector market. Though it wasn’t quite in accordance with the 20-year-old rule, it seems safe to assume the line was aimed at Japanese men who grew up with Takara’s New G.I. Joe in the early Seventies.

Combat Joe’s inclusion in Takara SF Land seems anomalous until you consider the figures were based on the Henshin Cyborg 1 mould (which was in turn based on New G.I. Joe) with redesigned heads.

Combat Joe was notable at the time for the relative accuracy of its cloth uniforms. Oddly enough, the line also had a non-military issue Godzilla costume set. This coincided with the release of the 1984 Godzilla film (The Return of Godzilla) and the included Combat Joe figure represented the original Godzilla suit actor, Nakajima Haruo.

(Two decades later, the Microman KiguruMicroman Series Godzilla set was released to coincide with Godzilla: Final Wars.)

Super Cyborg (1987)

Super Cyborg was an unreleased line developed for overseas markets.  The 20cm figure (the size of Shonen Cyborg) initially had realistic clothing like Combat Joe and was intended to have several outfits but that feature was dropped after the clothes looked baggy on the smaller frame.

The line was meant to update Henshin Cyborg but the emphasis would be on subterfuge rather than transformation. Super Cyborg was a suave business suit-clad secret agent who could replace his forearms with weapons retrieved from attaché cases. He could also make use of Container Bike, a foldable scooter, and Container Gyro, a gyrocopter, which were hidden in a container and trailer respectively. (The Microman Magne Powers Spy Heli set, which had a Microman-sized gyrocopter stored in a noodle cup, is an interesting take on this concept.) A larger trailer, which unfolded to become a playset, was also planned.

The Super Cyborg project was cancelled when Takara switched focus to the domestic market with Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru, Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (Ronin Warriors) and Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop. This was probably the result of the 1985 Plaza Accord which set in motion a complex series of events whose repercussions are still being felt in Japan today. The rapid appreciation of the yen following the signing of the accord made Japanese products less competitive in foreign markets and there was a concurrent effort by the Japanese government to spur domestic demand. Takara Tomy chairman and CEO Tomiyama Kantaro noted in the company’s 2020 annual report the Plaza Accord caused a major crisis at Tomy  because the company relied on exports for most of its sales and Takara was forced to make adjustments as well.

Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop (1988)

Cybercop was Takara’s first foray into the world of tokusatsu. The Toho live-action television show looks cheesy by today’s standards but the Bit Suit action figures were phenomenal designs for the era. Takara designer Takaya Motoki revealed in the Futabasha book the cancelled Super Cyborg project served as a starting point for Cybercop’s development but there might be more to the story.

Design Mate’s Higuchi Yuichi made an extraordinary claim in a 2018 Hobby Japan Mook interview: Cybercop began as an idea for the Jenny line. Although he didn’t specify the timeframe, this would most probably have been in 1986 when Takara began preparations to rebrand its version of Barbie as Jenny after Mattel terminated Takara’s Barbie license. Higuchi’s wife suggested creating a male “fashion cyborg” for the Jenny line to make it stand apart from the other boy dolls in the market (e.g. Licca-chan’s Wataru-kun). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “fashion cyborg” concept was deemed a little too unusual for a line of dolls but Takara’s boys’ toys designers apparently adapted the concept for Cybercop. Higuchi noted the basic details of Cybercop were more or less “fashion cyborg”  aside from the head which was redesigned for the Toho show. He expressed frustration Cybercop was seen as a Robocop-derivative when the “fashion cyborg” concept predated the American movie. (It’s worth noting the tokusatsu Metal Hero series began before both Robocop and “fashion cyborg.”)

The two origin stories are not irreconcilable. The initial concept for Super Cyborg was a cyborg secret agent who could dress up in different outfits — something that could have certainly been inspired by an offbeat design concept for a fashion doll line. Furthermore, Takaya took over the Super Cyborg project (under supervision from his seniors) after many concept sketches and prototypes of the figure and a supercar had already been completed so that doesn’t rule out the possibility Super Cyborg was derived from the unused “fashion cyborg” idea and Cybercop was then inspired by the cancelled Super Cyborg project.

Regardless of its origins, Cybercop, like Super Cyborg before it, should ultimately be considered an 80s update of Henshin Cyborg. The Cyborg Weapons concept from Henshin Cyborg was updated as Cybercop’s stylish Cyber Arm and Cyber Weapon arms and accessories. These weapons could then be stored in Black Chamber cases, which were inspired by Super Cyborg’s accessory containers.

The figures were well-articulated with unique head and shoulder designs for each character and most had removable armour pieces. Lucifer Bit was the most striking of the figures and came with a remarkable assortment of cool accessories and gimmicks. The multifuctional Gigamax, in particular, was a standout design and a harbinger of complex transforming accessories to come. This was a flying drone that could also be a flight pack or shoulder-mounted heavy cannon and could split apart to become a gun/sword and shield. Being a Green Ranger-style adversary turned ally, Lucifer Bit had a menacing facemask that could be removed to reveal a face design resembling the other characters.

There was also a sleek futuristic vehicle, the Cyber Machine Blade Liner, with an odd gimmick for a very specific purpose: there were auxiliary wheels that extended sideways to enable the vehicle to drive up vertically between buildings.

There are three other things worth noting about Cybercop. First, Jupiter Bit‘s mystifying horned antenna and beetle-style wings, deployed for his underwhelming power-up form, were remnants of an abandoned insect-themed character design. Second, animal-themed support mecha — a doberman (in the tradition of Henshin Cyborg’s Cyborg Jaguar and Microman’s Dober Machine) and a bird-like Scout Falcon — were planned but not produced.

Finally, Takaya would pay tribute to the line years later in a completely unexpected format.

Cyberman (1989)

Cyberman (or Cyber 3), the follow-up to Cybercop, was developed while the Toho show was still being broadcast.

The main character would first transform into a human-sized hero and then into a giant cyborg which could then combine with combat vehicles to form a giant robot. That might seem like overkill but this was intended to improve upon Cybercop Jupiter Bit’s uninspiring power-up form.

The hero had a knight motif (with a Gridman-esque head design) and was accompanied by non-transforming android sidekicks with heavily-armed fighter and ninja design themes.

Cyberman’s dramatic shifts in scale resulted in some interesting design concepts. A large hoverboard used by the hero in human-sized form, for example, would double as the sword for his giant cyborg form.

Prototypes of the giant cyborg form, air combat vehicle and the land combat vehicle (which resembled Gridman’s God Zenon God Tank) were created and were sufficiently developed to form the giant robot. The combined form broadly resembled Gridman’s Thunder Gridman with the upper body reminiscent of Metal Jack’s Silver Jack Armor.

It’s not clear why Takara halted development  on Cyberman. Cybercop fan sites report the toys sold poorly so that’s the likeliest explanation for cancelling the follow-up.

Once again, however, Takara would take ideas from an unproduced line and develop them further in later lines.

Kikou Keisatsu Metal Jack (1991)

The Metal Jack toys were produced for Sunrise’s anime series. Although it’s considered by some to be the animated sequel to Cybercop, Metal Jack began development as Outer 3, Sunrise’s own sci-fi police project.

Takara did submit Cyberman prototype samples to the animation studio for consideration and it’s also likely Metal Jack’s Lander and J Bird were influenced to some degree by Cybercop’s unproduced mecha animals.

The final Metal Jack designs clearly took inspiration from the Cyberman concept of powering-up by combining with vehicles but introduced some new elements. The Cyber Police Dog Lander, for example, could either transform into the hover bike, Jack Speeder, or combine with the main character to become the Red Jack Armor power suit.

When considered from a Henshin Cyborg perspective, Takaya noted this was akin to having a Henshin Set that could also transform into Cyborg Jaguar and Cyborg Rider.

Denkou Chojin Gridman (1993)

Gridman was Takara’s tokusatsu collaboration with Ultraman series producers, Tsuburaya Productions. The toyline took the Chojin Set power-up concept introduced in Henshin Cyborg to the very limit.

The line was essentially built around the DX Gridman figure. It had sound and light effects which were fairly unimpressive on their own but remarkably, they were activated depending on what pose the figure was put in. Raise an arm skywards, for example, and the Gridman figure would give an Ultraman-ish battle cry. (Takara’s best-selling Tetsujin 28-go FX toy had similar gimmickry.)

Takara, being Takara, went further. The Gridman figure could combine with the support robot God Zenon (itself a combination of the Thunder Jet, Twin Driller and God Tank vehicles) to form Thunder Gridman or combine with Dynadragon (a mecha dragon combination of two jets, King Jet and Dyna Fighter) to form the massive King Gridman and his Dragonic Cannon. Astonishingly, Gridman’s sound and light effects could still be activated even with all those complex combinations.

Aside from the brilliant toy engineering involved in creating all that, it’s notable how the humanoid Gridman figure was scarcely recognisable once transformed into the boxy robotic powered-up forms. This effectively transformed an Ultraman-style tokusatsu hero into a Takara SF Land-style giant robot.

Dangarn-V (1985)

Dangarn-V (Dangarn Five) was an unproduced line intended for overseas markets. Takara designer Takaya Motoki, who was shown photos of the prototypes when he joined the company in 1987, considers the line to be the missing link between Microman and Battle Beasts/BeastFormers.

At least six prototype figures were created along with several vehicles. The roughly Microman-sized figures had human and anthropomorphic animal designs. The most notable of these was the Dangarn-V Heavy Machine Gunner figure, a visored anthropomorphic serow which influenced the design of Battle Beasts Deer Stalker a.k.a. BeastFormers Big Serow.

Dangarn-V would also later inspire Takaya’s early character designs for Microman Magne Powers Arthur, Odin, Izam, Walt and Edison and is even reflected in the final design by the characters’ animal-influenced helmets.

It’s not apparent why Dangarn-V was cancelled but considering Battle Beasts consisted of smaller and simpler figures, it’s possible Hasbro, always cost-conscious, asked Takara to come up with a cheaper line for the US market.

Chojiryoku Robo Magnators (1995)

Takaya Motoki’s first entry for Takara’s internal idea contest, Takara no Takara (Treasures of Takara), was a plan to reboot Magne Robo. It won and Takaya was given the go-ahead to begin the project.

Chojiryoku Robo Magnators (as the project eventually became known) made use of powerful neodymium magnets which enabled new play patterns that were impossible for the Magnemo figures from the Seventies.

The line revolved around three Magnator figures which could pass for early design drafts for the Magne Powers Robotman Ace, Baron and Cross figures. The major difference was the Magnators were also designed to be transformable Magne Robo-style into vehicle modes. This was accomplished by transforming the Magnator’s torso and head into a Magne Core Unit and replacing the limbs with machine mode parts.  Each of the Magnators had a specialised role: land, sea and air.

In addition to those, there were Power Unit Machines in the form of mecha animals with the same land, sea and air design theme: a big cat, a shark and a bird. Like the Magne Powers Magne Animals, these mecha animals were meant to power-up the Magnators by combining with them. (The art for the Magnator Aeros and the bird mecha combination had a striking resemblance to the combined form of Magne Powers Robotman Ace and Hurricane Bird.)

On top of that, a large Mechagodzilla-esque figure was designed to combine with the three Magnators to form a Super Magne Robo. One Magnator would fit in the torso and form part of the head while the other two would replace the arms.

Takaya and his colleagues were in the process of refining the Magnators designs for an anticipated anime tie-in when the Magne Robo reboot project was itself rebooted. The designers were ordered by the company president to incorporate Microman elements into the modern Magne Robo line and this eventually led to the long-overdue revival of Microman.

Gattai Senshi Blockman (1984)

While Blockman was a Diaclone offshoot, it could also be considered the ultimate realisation of the Yukei Block concept introduced a decade earlier with Microman.

In Blockman, each individual block was a 5.7cm-tall robot action figure made of plastic and diecast metal with four points of articulation and 14 5mm connection points. The smallest sets included a solitary Blockman and accessories while the larger giftsets contained over a dozen Blockman figures. The latter also included fixed-pose chromed silver figures which, at 3cm tall, were the size of Diaclone pilots (discounting the magnetic platform shoes).

By combining several Blockman figures, parts and accessories, you could construct sci-fi vehicles and larger robots. The official combinations described in the instructions, catalogue and packaging were bland but the real appeal of any Yukei Block toy is mixing and matching parts to come up with your own creations.

Sadly, the line was shortlived due to lacklustre sales. It’s a real shame because Blockman could have been the linchpin for Takara SF Land in the mid-Eighties. The line had numerous parts that could take advantage of Microman’s 5mm pegs and ports, and the vehicle and robot cockpits could accommodate Diaclone pilots. The combination of those elements also meant Blockman had crossover appeal with the first few waves of Transformers.

Takara never saw fit to revisit and update Blockman but Bandai’s Machine Robo Mugenbine was very Blockman-like and indy toy designers like Matt Doughty and Ben Mininberg have certainly taken inspiration from it.

Microman Magne Powers (1998)

Magne Powers represented the major return of Microman after being in hiatus for over a decade. On the face of it, it might have seemed a no-brainer for Takara: take a once-great, now-moribund line, update it to reflect modern trends and rub your hands gleefully as the money pours in. But it just wasn’t that simple. What might have been successful in the Showa-era Seventies might not pass muster in the Heisei-era Nineties because as times change, so do kids and their attitudes towards toys.

The major problem affecting Takara and other Japanese toy companies was demographic in nature: there were far fewer kids due to the declining birth rate. Matters were made worse because those kids were quicker to outgrow their toys and turn their attention to other amusements like videogames. As toy industry analysts of that era kept nervously pointing out, the kids were getting older younger. Aside from this “age compression” aspect affecting their already-dwindling domestic market, the Japanese toy makers also had to grapple with the fact the kids who did get toys were mainly content with figures which meant peripheral products like bases and vehicles weren’t likely to sell as well as they did in the Seventies and Eighties. If that wasn’t enough, Takara’s designers also had price restrictions to consider. Their superiors suggested keeping the toys below the 3000 yen price tag if possible since that was considered a key reason for Beast Wars’ success in Japan.

The designers had to keep all that in mind as they set about reviving Microman for a new generation. In order to keep production costs for vehicles and bases low, the line revolved around a smaller figure design. To ensure the 8cm figures interacted well with peripheral products, the designers emphasised gimmickry based on magnets. The core figure would have magnets on the feet (much like Diaclone pilots) to allow it to easily attach to metal surfaces on bases and vehicles as well as magnets on the chest and left hand to activate gimmicks on those items. Since Takara had to target a younger demographic, the figures were designed to be durable to prevent the magnets being dislodged and ingested.

(The stylish Super Microman figures, released in a later wave, ditched the chest magnet, replaced the arm magnet with a magnet on a weapon accessory and improved the articulation.)

Magnets were also a key part of the Robotman designs, some of the finest figures Takara has ever produced. Like the cancelled Magnators figures, the Robotman figures’ stronger neodymium magnets enabled more ambitious interchangeability options compared to the original Magne Robo figures.

There were, of course, obligatory nods to previous Takara SF Land lines. Some of these relatively overt. The Giant Acroyear component, AcroBeta, was immediately recognisable as an homage to the Microman Micro Robot 1 (a.k.a. Micronauts Microtron). Other references to older Takara lines were so subtle as to be barely discernible. The combination of Robotman Ace and a pair of Magne Titan JetMogura did superficially resemble Drill Jeeg; the combination of Robotman Cross and Hurricane Bird parts did make him look like he was cosplaying Death Cross; a Robotman Baron powered up with a pair of Rocket Punch parts wasn’t that far off from Emperor, the Baron Karza variant by GiG. Considering the younger designers’ penchant for callbacks to their predecessors’ work, it’s likely these faint resemblances to classic Magnemo-11 toys were intentional rather than coincidental.

There were several toys in the line that were designed to interact with both the smaller Microman and the larger Robotman figures. The Magne Animals Hurricane Bird, Magne Jaguar and Magne Cougar, for example, could either be mounts for the Microman figures or Magnemo-11 power-ups for the Robotman figures.

The traditional 5mm ports and pegs, initially downplayed in the line, were abundant in the U-Borg accessories released by Media Factory. These were school stationery items that also functioned as Microman accessories. The Microwing 10 ruler, for example, served as a flight pack, a compass doubled as a Power Sword and a pen, fittingly, was the even more powerful Unit Shell Laser.

There were also numerous 5mm connectors in the Microman Kit — mechanical creatures sold as plastic kits that could be transformed into Microman vehicles — and these kits could be combined into something  that could pass for a mecha if you tilted your head to the side and squinted at it intensely for several minutes.

The centrepiece of the Magne Powers line, the Microstation base, was a combination of the classic Road Station base and a Playstation-type console. Aside from being an impressive piece of design, it was a clever way of acknowledging the major obsession of modern kids and integrating it into the toyline. The Microstation transformed between non-functional game console, flight mode and base mode, and included various gimmicks that were activated by the figures’ magnets. Its Road Station-inspired tracks could be used by the goofy Zenmain toys and those tracks could be extended with ChoroQ rails.

The initial marketing for Magne Powers played up the fact this was the Showa-era Microman fans, now adults, passing on their love for Microman to their children. However, when Takara marketing man Itagaki Kozo visited stores on release day, he discovered the older fans were purchasing the entire line-up for themselves. He went so far as to suggest Magne Powers’ initial success was partly due to the enthusiasm of these older collectors. The Studio Pierrot anime series, Chiisana Kyojin Microman, proved popular when it debuted in 1999 but toy sales soon began to stall. Itagaki attributed this to the slow rollout of bases and vehicles for the figures.

There were other factors involved, however. Takara was experiencing a lot of problems internally during this time and this would affect the development of the Magne Powers sequel as well.

Microman LED Powers (2000)

Takara was in bad shape in 1999. The company announced a loss for the half-year period ending September and it was nearly bankrupt. Satoh Hirohisa resigned as president and his father, Takara’s founder, returned briefly to save the company. It would not be an easy task. Feeling creatively stifled under the previous president, employees had left and those who remained were in low spirits.

The 2000 Microman line was developed under those conditions which explains why it was a strange mishmash of interesting new designs and desperate recycling of old ones.

The Magne Powers sequel downplayed magnets (the new figures only had them on their feet)  and focused instead on LEDs. Each figure had one on its chest which was activated by a battery-powered backpack.

Perhaps anticipating the possibility a child of the new millennium might not find a light turning on and off to be a tremendously entertaining diversion, a subsequent wave introduced Secret Breast versions of the characters. Kids were invited to rub each figure’s chest vigorously to reveal a colour that indicated the secret mission the character was embarking upon. This probably would have been more suspenseful if a sticker on the back of the package didn’t give the colour away. If the figures’ colour schemes seemed murky overall, it’s because they were a nod to the old Microman Real Type toys (which were influenced by the Gunpla boom of the early Eighties).

The Shining Tector wave had the best-looking figures of the line. Perfect Shining Solomon, in particular, was a beautiful design with the gold, metallic green and translucent yellow of the figure enhanced by the translucent blue accessories.

In terms of innovation, the standouts were the Microboy sets. These were Game Boy-inspired toys that transformed between non-functional handheld game console, piloted mecha, vehicle and base modes. The Microman pilot figure included in each set had a modified backpack with an infrared transmitter that could flip open several panels on the Microboy. That may seem fairly underwhelming as gimmicks go but keep in mind the severe constraints the designers were working under.

These constraints were more apparent when it came to the other peripheral products. If these vehicles and bases seemed to be an awkward fit for the line, it’s because they were refurbished Transformers moulds hastily thrown into the mix. (Considering Microman contributed some noteworthy Transformers toys back in 1984, this could also be construed as Takara SF Land’s greatest brand repaying an old debt.) The 1990 Action Masters Armored Convoy Optimus Prime set was turned into the Microtrailer, the 1995 Generation 2 Laser Cycles Road Pig and Road Rocket were modified to become Micro Bikes and the 1989 Micromaster Countdown set was now the flagship item of the LED Powers line, the Micro Rocket Base. Takara was presumably forced into this course of action because of a limited development budget and the need to fill retail space reserved for the line.

The lack of funds also meant there was no anime tie-in for LED Powers so Takara had to make do with storytelling through in-package pamphlets and a manga tie-in. While this approach may have been successful for Microman in the Seventies, it did not go over well with Heisei-era kids and LED Powers fizzled out.

But even as the line ended, Takara’s situation improved under the leadership of its fourth president, Satoh Keita. The youngest son of the company founder would not only turn things around, he would take Takara to new heights. He did this partly by asking his demoralised employees, “What do you really — really — want to do?” The Microman designers’ answer to that question produced some of Takara SF Land’s most ambitious figures.

Microman 200X (2003)

When LED Powers ended in 2000, Microman seemed finished as a brand as well but Takaya Motoki was not prepared to give up on it. His plan to reboot Microman won Takara’s internal idea contest the very next year.

The “Microman 2001 Rebirth Plan” involved creating a 10cm figure with as much articulation as possible. However, the target market would now be adults rather than kids. There were several possible reasons for this change in direction: Magne Powers and LED Powers didn’t seem to resonate with Heisei-era kids, Takaya had success with the 2000 Cool Girl line aimed at older toy fans and this approach was in line with Satoh Keita’s goal of expanding Takara’s customer base.

In order to broaden Microman’s appeal, the plan also called for licensing popular characters in the beginning before eventually developing a “Takara SF World” story background aimed at adults. For some reason, Takaya was never approached to be a part of the development project but the lines resulting from his 2001 plan would eventually be collectively known as Microman 200X.

As the 2005 Microman Perfect Works book makes clear, however, the origins of the reboot predate this. Designer Ichikawa Hirofumi had been working on an 8cm Microman figure design with dramatically improved articulation in early 2000. Although it was the size of a Magne Powers figure, it had double-jointed knees, ankles and shoulders. The prototype based on this design improved the articulation even further — the elbows were now double-jointed as well.

This base body was dubbed the “Hadaka Microman” (Naked Microman) but despite the outstanding articulation, Takara had trouble deciding how to use the figure. One slightly mystifying suggestion was creating customised figures as souvenirs for local tourist spots.

In 2002, the prototype figure was reworked to become 10cm tall — about the size of the Showa-era  Microman figures — but there was little desire for a simple nostalgia-driven retread of classic designs from the Seventies. After meeting with prominent Microman fans in June, Takara finalised plans to use the new figure design for a modern Microman line as well as a line of licensed characters. The emphasis would be on producing superbly articulated, gimmick-free figures with cool designs.

The initial design sketches were extraordinarily ambitious. At one stage, the designers were planning on creating a Microman-sized Neo Henshin Cyborg. This would have neatly paralleled the 1974 Microman line which was essentially Takara’s attempt at shrinking the 30cm-tall Henshin Cyborg 1 figure to a more cost-effective size.

But the 21st century version would see Takara taking the idea to the next level. The Microman-Cyborg would have a removable head that revealed a cybernetic inner skull (like Henshin Cyborg 1) and could replace its forearms with weapons (like the Cyborg Sets of old). If that wasn’t enough, there were plans to create Henshin Sets to transform the figures into characters like Dokuro King.

Most astonishing of all, the 10cm-tall Microman-Cyborg would also transform into a Microman-scaled Cyborg Rider. A fusion of action figure and vehicle, the Cyborg Rider was an ambitious design for a 30cm-tall figure in the Seventies; to attempt to do the same with a 10cm figure was mindboggling. While none of these ideas made it even to the prototype stage, it provides a clear indication of the designers’ mindset: they were intent on pushing this 10cm action figure design to the limit.

Since the Microman 200X figures were aimed at toy fans aged 15 or older, the designers were less restricted by concerns over safety and durability. Thus, the line had a lot of chrome-plated parts (which might be easily scratched by rough handling) and the accessories were relatively small and delicate. Designer Shinohara Tamotsu, being a toy fan himself, estimated each figure would be handled lightly for about two hours on the day of purchase, 2 to 3 times more in that same week before finally being placed on display.

(On the downside, the figures were perhaps a little frustrating to handle. Move a limb here and an accessory would fall off there. Reattach that part and another tiny piece would decide this would be an opportune moment to detach and find itself a hiding place. Unlike the Magne Powers and LED Powers figures, the 200X figures simply weren’t meant to be fiddled with absentmindedly.)

The first of these all-new, all-different Microman-branded lines was MicroForce. Commander, Ninja, Gunner and Spy were released in May 2003 for about 980 yen in Japan and about 5 dollars in the US. Those were remarkably low prices considering what you got. Takara did stint on packaging — MicroForce came in a flimsy plastic cannister containing a paper insert and plastic baggies for the accessories — but you forgot all about that once you had the figures in hand. The articulation for these 10cm figures were as jaw-dropping in 2003 as that for the original Microman figures must have been in 1974. Most of the joints may seem unremarkable today even on similar-sized figures but back then the MicroForce design had no real competition. A ball-jointed chest joint was simply unprecedented on a figure this size.

The superb articulation lent itself well to the Tatsunoko Fight series of licensed characters based on Takara’s 2000 Playstation fighting game. These figures used the MicroForce body but lacked the traditional Microman elements like the chromed head. This line would eventually morph into the Micro Action Series and be expanded with the goal of attracting more casual toy fans who weren’t familiar with Microman. Accordingly, Takara licensed characters from various anime, movies, comics and games.

Microman fans weren’t content simply buying figures of licensed characters, however. Takara’s Abiko Kazutami, who took charge of the Microman 200X lines after the release of MicroForce, was aware fans were customising MicroForce and Tatsunoko Fight figures to turn them into other characters and were even coming up with their own creations. Seeing the demand for Microman-sized blank figures, Takara teamed up with Toys ‘R’ Us Japan to sell the Material Force line based on the MicroForce body design. These plain, unadorned figures with unsculpted faces made a perfect base body for customising and the 499 yen asking price was very agreeable. Unsurprisingly, they immediately sold out so Takara produced more in a variety of colours.

There was a lengthy 10-month gap between the release of MicroForce and the next wave of original Microman designs, and Takara spent some of that time contemplating how to proceed. Customer survey responses suggested fans would be partial to accessories that could not only attach to the figures but could also be combined into a vehicle of some sort. There were complications, however. Market research done back when Takara was selling replicas of classic Microman figures also revealed collectors in general were less enamoured of large vehicles. (The only large Showa-era Microman mecha or vehicle to be reissued was Robotman.) The typical Japanese domicile wasn’t designed with a large action figure collection in mind and vehicles, in particular, took up a lot of space. Shinohara himself had to get rid of his G.I. Joe vehicles when he moved because he just did not have the space for them. He firmly believed Microman vehicles ought to be small, be able to combine into a more compact form like the old Armoured Machine Cosmic Fighter and Transfer Fortress vehicles, and their component parts should double as accessories for the figures.

With all that taken into account, the MicroForce follow-up should really be seen as Takara’s tentative, nervy attempt at introducing Microman 200X vehicles. MasterForce originally consisted of three figures representing land (Groundmaster Alan), sea (Divemaster Roberto) and air (Skymaster Hayate). Automaster Ryan was almost an afterthought but proved to be the most popular of the four. This was perhaps unsurprising since his futuristic bike was the best-defined vehicle design.

The success of Masterforce inspired the designers to develop the vehicle/accessory concept further for the next Microman wave. The BioMachine vehicles, little larger than the figures themselves, could be combined into an exceptionally shiny chrome-plated BioSuit mecha to take up even less space. This approach proved popular and would later lead to the Automaster Ryan-inspired Road Spartan vehicles combining into something vaguely Transfer Fortress-ish. Both these waves would also have parts that detached from the vehicles to become armour and accessories for the figures.

The Microman figure designs, meanwhile, grew incredibly diverse over the next few waves as Takara experimented with different styles. The BioMachine wave figures were notable for their beautiful chrome plating and more mechanical design. The Road Spartan wave figures, on the other hand, had minimal chrome plating and were more anime-influenced.

The Military Force figures were apparently the result of several ideas: Ichikawa’s sketch for a Soldier Microman troop builder figure, Shinohara’s idea for a mass-produced android, Abiko’s suggestion for a lightly-armed and inexpensive Acrosoldier grunt, and customer feedback requesting cheap generic troops with lots of weapons. Space Rescue, Techno Wave, Lava Planet, Virtual Task, Night Recon, Stealth Camo, Forest Hide and Sand Storm were intended to let fans easily personalise the figures by mixing and matching parts — something very much in line with Microman’s traditional Yukei Block appeal. The design had numerous 3mm ports all over the body and the body itself could be disassembled relatively easily. (The body design would later be reused for Samurai Armor Batman and other figures.)

Aside from different looks, there were different body shapes to provide even  more variety. Acroyear-X2 AcroMedalg, for example, introduced the “massive” male body which added more bulk without hindering posability.

Microman 200X was also notable for its large number of female characters. Ichikawa felt older collectors would be more receptive to them compared to the young boys who were the target market for previous Microman lines so he had sketched a female body design even before the release of MicroForce. However, development only began in earnest after Abiko took charge.

The female body was shorter at 9.5cm, had a different shoulder structure, thinner arms, a tighter waist and even the screws holding the figure together were thinner and had a smaller diameter. But the designers took pains to ensure whatever changes were made didn’t sacrifice posability in any way. The thigh swivel joint, for instance, was moved closer to the knee in order to maintain the correct proportions for the lower body. Interestingly, the designers had specific poses in mind for the female figure and reworked the design to ensure the prototype was capable of those poses. The body design was then adapted for different characters. GaoGaiGar’s Swan White was noticeably more voluptuous compared to the svelte Utsugi Mikoto.

As popular as the female characters were, there was some spirited debate at Takara over the design direction. Abiko and marketer Yasuda Takahiro were initially opposed to Quanto magazine’s proposed design for Xiang-Ni, worrying that going the cute route would damage the Microman brand but as it turned out, the Quanto Zero One magazine exclusive figure proved to be so popular it influenced Takara’s own design for AcroElsa and likely the Micro Sisters as well.

The Magne Force Microman were arguably the best figures of Microman 200X. Code named “Magne Titan” during development, Achilles, Theseus, Icurus, Phobos, Atlas and Metis had striking looks, superb articulation and were, all in all, a brilliant update of the Magnemo gimmick. The use of magnetic Magnemo-8 joints for limbs meant the 2005 figures were interchangeable with the Microman Titans from 1976 but the new designs went further. The 11mm iron ball connecting the upper and lower halves of the body (unique to this series of Magnemo figures) not only provided phenomenal torso articulation for a Microman figure but the 11mm size also gave the Magne Force figures compatibility with Magnemo-11 parts from Magne Powers from the Nineties as well as Magne Robo toys from the Seventies.

Shinohara was asked to give the Magne Force figures a Titans-like mechanical design (which was the obvious direction to go) but he opted instead to differentiate the characters with unique armour pieces. Since these detachable armour pieces reminded him of Timanic, Shinohara then decided to base the final designs of Achilles, Theseus and Icurus on the obscure Takara SF Land line.

The designers also experimented with different materials for the 200X line. The KiguruMicroman figures, for example, came with soft vinyl monster costumes while the Thunderbirds figures had cloth costumes.

Not every experiment was an overwhelming success. AcroPhantom‘s coat, for example, impeded posability despite being made of more pliable material. More disappointingly, the use of translucent plastic for some figures’ elbows and ankles sometimes resulted in those joints cracking or breaking outright while posing the figures. But then attempting the ambitious with a 10cm figure was always going to involve taking some risks and not every gamble pays off.

Satoh Keita would understand that well enough. By 2005, his risk-taking, go-with-the-gut management style — a marked contrast to his older brother’s stolid and stifling leadership — led to heavy losses after he made one gamble too many in his bid to turn Takara into a “life entertainment company.” He was forced by Konami, Takara’s biggest shareholder, to relinquish the presidency but his risk-taking didn’t stop there. As Takara’s chairman, he approached mobile company Index to purchase Konami’s shares and then broached the idea of a merger with Tomy. The negotiations between the two toy makers were brief but heated. It’s telling Satoh had to be repeatedly reminded by photographers to smile during the press conference announcing the merger because the terms were not favourable for Takara. Indeed, the merger would be deemed by some to be a de facto bailout. The merged company would be known as Takara Tomy domestically and Tomy internationally as the latter was adjudged to have more brand recognition outside Japan. The merger was clearly one last roll of the dice for Satoh but the goal may simply have been to save Takara, the company founded by his father in 1955 and helmed by his family for half a century.

It would be overstating matters to assert Takara’s fate was intertwined with that of Microman. For one thing, Microman didn’t show up until well after the company had major hits like Licca-chan, and moreover, the brand was on hiatus for most of the Eighties and Nineties as Takara focused on Transformers and the Brave series. It is possible, however, to make a case Microman’s fate was intertwined with that of the Satoh family. Takara’s founder, Satoh Yasuta, encouraged his designers to improvise and it was during his tenure that Takara turned the 30cm Henshin Cyborg into a 10cm Microman to great success even as the full impact of the oil crisis hit Japan. His eldest son, Hirohisa, ordered the revival of Microman during the Heisei era which resulted in Magne Powers and LED Powers. And it’s doubtful the groundbreaking Microman 200X line would have been approved without the impulsive youngest son, Keita, at the helm. It’s therefore fitting Microman slowly came to an end as the Satoh family lost influence once Takara became subsumed in Takara Tomy.

Microman 200X represented the last Microman figures recognisable as such released by Takara. As the last hurrah for the legendary brand, it did reasonably well and there were certainly stellar designs produced during that run. The question of why it ended is an interesting one. Did it simply run out of steam like most toylines eventually do or was it a casualty of the post-merger reorganisation? Whatever the reason, it seems fairly evident Takara Tomy doesn’t rate Microman very highly given the company’s indifference to the line’s 40th anniversary in 2014.

Yet it’s hard to believe the influential line is completely done with the 50th anniversary approaching. Considering how well the Diaclone reboot is doing as a premium-priced collector’s line, it’s possible Microman may return in the near future in a new form.

Cool Girl (2000)

Cool Girl was Takara’s attempt at merging dolls for girls and action figures for boys with the aim of creating 1/6-scale cool and sexy figures targeting the adult collector. That was unusual in itself but the project’s origins were even more startling: it began as an idea for a military version of Jenny, Takara’s fashion doll. To fully appreciate just how absurd that was, it’s necessary to look at Jenny’s history.

While Takara is usually associated with Hasbro when it comes to partnerships with American toy makers, the Japanese company once had a working relationship with Mattel. Barbie, Mattel’s crown jewel, was originally manufactured in Japan but the doll didn’t dominate the Japanese market. In fact, Mattel withdrew from the Japanese market a few years after Takara released Licca-chan in 1967. By 2017, Takara had sold over 60 million Licca-chan dolls.

Although it’s tempting to attribute Licca-chan’s popularity solely to the fact it was a Japanese doll by a Japanese toy maker geared towards the Japanese market, the story is a little more complicated than that. Takara initially intended to create a portable dollhouse for Mattel’s Barbie and Ideal’s Tammy but realised Japanese rooms wouldn’t have much space for a dollhouse scaled for American dolls. A smaller dollhouse required a smaller doll so Takara designed the 21cm-tall Licca-chan.

Licca-chan’s features, with a side-glance and an ambiguous expression, were also said to be more appealing to Japanese sensibilities. But Licca, the character, wasn’t purely Japanese. She was biracial (the prototype doll was named after Takami Emiri, a mixed-race child model) and her fashion sense reflected the Japanese fascination with all things European and American. That said, she was undeniably a product of her culture. Her manga-inspired big eyes — an artifact of Tezuka Osamu’s obsession with Walt Disney — marked her as such. The Japanese doll, in its fusion of East and West, made the West appealing to Japanese girls in a way Barbie did not.

Acknowledging Takara’s dominance of the Japanese doll market, Mattel licensed Barbie to Takara in 1980. Just as Takara localised G.I. Joe with New G.I. Joe, the Japanese toy company altered the American fashion doll for its domestic market. After spending 19 months and 100 million yen during development, Takara’s Barbie, with  a rounder face and bigger eyes, was released in 1982. The fashion doll was targetted at upper elementary school girls and nicely complemented Takara’s own Licca-chan, which was popular with younger girls.

In 1986, Mattel and Takara’s doll partnership came to an end, as these things tend to do, over giant robots. Mattel had a sneaking suspicion Takara was more invested in selling Transformers than selling Barbie because Takara reportedly sold 26 million dollars’ worth of Barbie dolls in 1984 and sold 165 million dollars’ worth of Transformers to Hasbro that same year.

There were other reasons for Mattel to believe the Japanese company was less than fully committed to selling Mattel toys. For instance, Takara hadn’t bothered getting the Masters of the Universe cartoon aired on Japanese television and Mattel believed MOTU needed the cartoon to sell the toys. (Takara, for its part, had had a lot of success with Takara SF Land lines that sold without a media tie-in.) Mattel was also nervous Takara’s relationship with Hasbro would lead to trade secrets being leaked.

However, the likeliest reason for the tensions between the two companies may have been Takara’s reluctance to set up a joint venture company with Mattel to sell Barbie in Japan because the first thing Mattel did when it abruptly terminated the partnership with Takara was to set up a joint venture company with Takara’s major competitor, Bandai, to sell Barbie in Japan.

Takara promptly filed a lawsuit alleging the Ma-Ba (Mattel-Bandai) Barbie, which also had a rounder face and bigger eyes, was a little too similar to its version of Barbie. (Mattel, for its part, has a long history of thoroughly entertaining lawsuits involving Barbie.) The upshot of all this is Takara later rebranded its version of Barbie as Jenny and continued selling the doll.

So, when Takara’s designers proposed creating a military version of Jenny, picture a beaming Barbie (with a rounder face and bigger eyes) brandishing an accurately modelled assault rifle.

One of the reasons Takara attempted this unusual project was the overseas market for 12-inch figures aimed at adult collectors was growing at that time. Companies like Dragon, 21st Century and BBi, surpassing ancient standards set by Hasbro with G.I. Joe, were producing 1/6-scale figures with improved articulation and detail. After analysing those figures, Takara must have been reasonably confident it could raise standards even further given its experience with dolls and action figures in that scale. (Combat Joe, a 1/6-scale military figure line aimed at the adult collector market, was released back in 1984.)

Although Takara initially planned to create a doll with a military theme that could also use the clothes, shoes and accessories of its other dolls, the company quickly switched focus to creating an original 1/6-scale female figure aimed at adults. The overall design concept was a figure that was cool rather than cute, one more likely to have a handgun rather than a handbag.

In terms of figure design, the Cool Girl body was intended to be a movable statue — a depiction of the human form that looked good on display but with sufficient articulation for dynamic poses. The inevitable problem that arose was a realistic depiction of the human form would preclude unsightly joints making it little more than a statue whereas a superbly articulated figure would look like a cyborg with joints, hinges, rivets, screws and seams everywhere.

Takara briefly considered a seamless skin over wire internals — a method used for some dolls back then — but the technology was deemed insufficiently developed for the company’s purposes. It was also a little too suggestive of a bendy figure.

(Companies like Phicen/TBleague have since come up with some absolutely stunning 1/6-scale seamless figures using a metal skeleton.)

Takaya Motoki, who was responsible for the figure designs, character backgrounds and story setting for the line, considers the Cool Girl series to be the ultimate challenge for him as a toy designer as it required the sewn clothes and rooted hair common in dolls along with the sculpting and articulation of action figures.

His first challenge was getting a prototype ready. Development took place around 1999 — right about the time Takara was experiencing a lot of internal issues. (This would also affect the development of the company’s other 2000 lines like Microman LED Powers and Transformers Car Robot.) Takaya, without much of a product development budget, had to come up with the prototype himself. He even taught himself sewing after buying a book on handmade doll dresses in order to create clothes for the prototype.

Takaya’s solution for covering up the Cool Girl figure’s joints was a form-fitting catsuit — an idea with origins dating back to 1987 when he worked on a swimsuit for the cancelled Super Cyborg project. (The catsuit for the first Cool Girl figure, CG-01 Ice, was blue in tribute to Super Cyborg.) To avoid using screws, the figure was put together with ultrasonic welding.

The prototype designs were unveiled at the 2000 Tokyo Toy Show and the first three figures, Ice, Ash and Raven, were released that November. These were well received and sold well both in Japan and overseas. Encouraged, Takara expanded the line with male figures and even a villain.

Cool Girl was divided into two sublines: the first was based on original character designs while the other was based on licensed characters reinterpreted in the Cool Girl style. (Takaya would later propose taking the same approach for his Microman 2001 Rebirth Plan which eventually led to Microman 200X.)

On the face of it, Cool Girl seemed to have little to do with Takara SF Land. However, close inspection would reveal some interesting connections. The X-Borg (Cross-Borg) male figures, for example, were completely unrecognisable Neo Henshin Cyborg figures. Takaya would describe these figures — X-01 Guard of CG, X-02 Burai-Maru and X-03 Gekiryu-Maru — as his take on Henshin Cyborg. The figures had improved ankle articulation but more interestingly, their accessories were interchangeable with those for Neo Henshin Cyborg. (In another nod to Takara SF Land, the background story for X-01 namedropped Android A.)

Meanwhile, the CG-13 V.I.S. (Violent Interception Squad) Codename: Eris figure paid tribute to Cybercop (among other things). The figure was released on October 2, 2008 — the 20th anniversary of the Toho show’s debut — and the Battle Integration Trooper Suit armour and Fire Slugger II weapon were references to Cybercop’s Bit Suit armour and Cyber Weapon Fire Slugger.

Like many other Takara SF Land properties, Cool Girl was released without a media tie-in at the outset. Takaya, however, slowly developed the storyline and world setting as figures were released. The Cool Girl characters were part of Cardinal Garrison, an organisation which traces its history all the way back to a group of medieval female knights. Their task was to combat global conspiracies propagated by that dastardly organisation, XIXOX (Sixox).

Like many other Takara SF Land properties, Cool Girl had a media tie-in once the line developed a following. Konami, then Takara’s largest shareholder, released a videogame in 2004 to great indifference.

Despite that, the Cool Girl series lasted for 11 years, making it, somewhat improbably, the longest-running Takara SF Land line after Transformers.

GenX Core (2006)

GenX Core was a series of 1/6-scale male action heroes based on the GC Body, a “next generation core” body design. It was described by designer Takaya Motoki as Takara’s fourth generation 12-inch male action figure design. (Assuming Henshin Cyborg 1 was the first, Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 and Cyborg 99 would be generations 2 and 3.)

If GenX Core seems a particularly awkward name for a series of 1/6-scale figures, it’s probably the result of desperate scrambling to come up with something that would have “GC” for initials. Takaya would later deadpan in an interview it’s purely coincidental the acronyms for Cool Girl and GenX Core mirrored each other.

Unlike the Cool Girl series, though, the GenX Core lineup consisted solely of licensed characters. The overarching goal for the line was to achieve such a level of realistic detail that a photograph of the 12-inch figure would look like a real person wearing that outfit.

The project was a Cool Girl spin-off that was conceived when Takaya was consulting with Oshii Mamoru, the writer and director of Kerberos Saga, during the development of the Washio Midori Cool Girl figure. Oshii expressed a desire to see a male version of the Protect Gear with the same level of detail and quality. Instead of a one-off figure, Takaya proposed a series of figures to showcase the history of the Protect Gear as a way of justifying creating multiple variants.

Although the Protect Gear figure was first GenX Core project to be worked on, it ended up being released after the Batman Begins in GC figure due to Takaya’s commitment to getting the details on the Protect Gear figures right. The heat vents on the MG-34’s barrel jacket alone apparently required an expensive six-way slide mould.

The Protect Gear figures sold well despite the higher price tag but the GenX Core series itself was relatively short-lived.

Battle Beasts (1986)

Battle Beasts was a Takara-developed line of cheap collectible figures that was first released  in the US by Hasbro in 1986 before returning to its country of origin as Beastformer the following year. It was initially marketed in Japan as a Transformers spin-off. In addition to Battle Beasts’ Wood, Fire and Water heat rub symbols, the Beastformer figures were also designated as Cybertron or Destron on the Transformers-influenced Japanese packaging and the characters even appeared in an episode of Transformers: The Headmasters.

In terms of design, however, Beastformer’s main connection to Takara SF Land was the cancelled Dangarn-V project which also featured armed and armoured anthropomorphic animals. It’s worth noting the 5cm Beastformer figures only had swivel joints at the shoulders which made them smaller, less posable and thus cheaper than the Dangarn-V figures would have been. A kid could quickly amass a veritable army of the 200 yen Beastformer figures with a weekly allowance and could refine that collection by trading with others to get specific figures with specific symbols.

Also noteworthy was the fact the Battle Beasts line appeared in the US shortly after M.U.S.C.L.E. (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere), another Japanese toyline repackaged by an American company. The Mattel line was originally released by Bandai in Japan as Kinkeshi in 1983 to tie in with the popular wrestling anime, Kinnikuman. Mattel simply grabbed the rubbery figures, ignored the manga and anime storylines and then partnered with Ogilvy & Mather to create ads to market the line.

The precursor to both Beastformer and Kinkeshi was the supercar-shaped rubber eraser called keshigomu which was popular during the supercar craze in the Seventies. The craze began with the publication of Circuit no Ookami (Circuit Wolf) in 1975 and peaked in 1977 with the release of the movie based on the racing manga. The supercar keshigomu were obtained through gacha gacha vending machines for a mere 20 yen which made them appealing to kids who couldn’t afford a plastic kit or diecast scale model of their favourite supercar. The added bonus was the 3cm-long keshigomu could be stored in a pencil case and taken to school. These rubber racers were actually rubbish at erasing and were used instead as playthings. Some of them even had janken symbols on the underside — a more traditional approach to resolving disputes compared to Beastformer’s Wood, Fire and Water symbols.

Takara would later release its own Beastformer-themed  keshi in the form of pencil-toppers. They were done in the Super Deformed style, were even smaller than the Beastformer figures, had no articulation whatsoever yet retained the heat rub symbols.

The Beastformer line was expanded further with vehicles and mobile fortresses. This was more in the spirit of Takara SF Land properties like Diaclone which emphasised diorama-style play combining figures, vehicles and playsets. The Beastformer Wood Beetle forest station, for example, transformed from beetle mode to a base that included a capture claw and a prison cell aside from the obligatory weapon emplacements. The Beastformer vehicles, meanwhile, had pullback motors and a mouth-chomping action.

The 250 yen Laser Beasts (known as Shadow Warriors in the US where it had a limited release), which came out towards the end of the line, replaced the heat rub symbols with an orb on the chest that revealed hidden symbols when held up to a light source. Their Battler Cruiser vehicles were significantly less impressive than their predecessors indicating perhaps Takara recognised interest in the line was waning.

Neither Battle Beasts nor Beastformer were wildly successful but someone pays tribute to them every once in a while and Takara Tomy would eventually reboot Beastformer 25 years later.

Beast Saga (2012)

After spending a decade working on the Cool Girl line, Takaya Motoki switched to the boys’ toys division to remake Battle Beasts/Beastformer. This was a return to basics of sorts for the designer because when he  joined Takara in 1987 he did his on-the-job training working on prototype drawings for the last wave of Laser Beasts.

Beast Saga was originally intended to be a line of inexpensive toys exclusively for overseas markets. With that in mind, Takara Tomy tapped Guido Guidi, the Italian comics artist best known for his Transformers work, to contribute some designs. As might be expected, there were callbacks to Battle Beasts/Beastformer figures — Big Serow and Goldar, for example — but the designs were updated for the new line.

Aside from increased sculpted detail and paint application, the Beast Saga figures had double the articulation of the older ones — which sounds impressive until you remember the original figures only moved at the shoulders. Takara Tomy’s gacha and candy toy subsidiary, Takara Tomy A.R.T.S. (formerly known as Yujin Co.), even sold fixed-posed Gacha Booster figures in gacha machines. These gave kids a cheap way of bolstering the ranks of their Beast army.

In another nod to the original line, there would be Wood, Fire and Water symbols but instead of heat rub emblems, the gameplay was now based on dice fired from each figure’s chest.

In internal discussions with colleagues during the development of the line, Takaya stressed Beast Saga would be Takara SF Land-like in its emphasis on diorama play featuring figures, vehicles and playsets. In what was a very odd move, however, the vehicles and playsets weren’t scaled for the 6cm-tall Beast Saga figures but came instead with unpainted, unposable 2cm minifigures which were roughly the size of Diaclone pilots.

(A Beast Charger vehicle scaled for the larger Beast Saga figures was prototyped but never released. It included a dice-shooting gimmick of its own that worked in conjunction with the figure’s.)

The most interesting thing about the vehicles and bases was the designs were apparently influenced by the shape of the dice: both the Zip Lot Machine vehicles and the Zip Lot Base mini-playsets transformed from compact 5cm-sized cubes. The bases, once transformed, could be attached together to form a larger playset.

The flagship item was intended to be a large cube that transformed into a temple base playset. According to Takaya, it would have storage space for the smaller cubes and its gimmick would be linked to their’s. This was the reason why the Zip Lot Machines had activation switches in the same spot. There were also plans for more vehicles — a hovercraft and a drill tank — as well as a giant robot dubbed the Beast God made of combining cubes.

Beast Saga was later reoriented for the domestic market for unstated reasons. The designers scrapped plans for the more ambitious toy designs, replaced the simple janken-type play based on Wood, Fire and Water symbols with a more complex ruleset and the line was marketed as a battle hobby game. Takara Tomy promoted the line with anime and manga tie-ins but it did not seem to catch on.

However, Takaya’s work on Beast Saga did get him thinking about Diaclone and how to update that 80s Takara SF Land line for the 21st century.

Neo Henshin Cyborg (1998)

Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 was a redeco of the DX Henshin Cyborg Shishioh Guy figure from the 1997 Takara-sponsored series, Yuusha-Oh GaoGaiGar (or The King of Braves, GaoGaiGar). Guy, in turn, was inspired by the Henshin Cyborg 1 figure from the Seventies to the extent he had a similar origin in the Sunrise anime: he was severely injured in an encounter with alien invaders and turned into a cyborg by his father.

The Shishioh Guy figure itself had most of the signature features of the 1972 Henshin Cyborg 1 design. It had visible mechanical innards (once the armour was removed), a light-up feature for the chest and even the Cyclone Mark embossed on the torso. The key missing feature was the translucent head and the cybernetic inner skull but these could be acquired through upgrade kits sold as Wonder Festival event exclusives.

Regardless of whether the DX Henshin Cyborg Shishioh Guy was a subtle attempt to gauge interest in a Henshin Cyborg revival or simply a case of Takara’s designers paying a quiet tribute to the founder of Takara SF Land on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, it eventually led to Neo Henshin Cyborg the next year.

The storyline, recounted in pamphlets and magazine articles, described how Henshin Cyborg 1, Katagai Kenichi, was attacked by the remnants of the Walder army while on patrol in the distant Red Galaxy, had his nuclear reactor destroyed and was left incapacitated. Years later, he somehow managed to send a signal to Earth whereupon his allies, Android A and Microman Tom, were despatched to retrieve his broken body. Happily, his father, Professor Katagai, a man whose immediate response to any problem, no matter how complex, is to turn something into a cyborg, knew exactly what had to be done. Using the Cyborg Station CX-1, he turned his cyborg son into another cyborg. And so Henshin Cyborg 1 was reborn as Neo Henshin Cyborg 1.

Like the Showa era original, the Heisei era update had multiple colour variants. There was the default Silver form as well as variants representing Neo Henshin Cyborg 1’s various powers and abilities: Gold (for hyperspace travel), Yellow (superstrength), Smoke-Silver (with Android A’s abilities), Blue (superspeed), Red (with all the abilities of the other variants), Copper (tunneling underground) and Gunmetal (a chipper personality apparently counts as a power or ability).

Each colour variant came with a piece of the clear NeoTector suit along with a weapon or gadget. Silver, gold and black versions of the full NeoTector Henshin Set costume and Cyborg sets featuring weapons and accessories were also released.

Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 would need all the gear he could get because he not only had to contend with his old foes Dokuro King, Satan King and Shokubutsu Kaijin but he also faced Android A’s opponents, the Invader Aliens. Zeros, Zone and Jagra were taller but like the King Walder Kaijin, they were now underwhelming soft vinyl figures.

As Takara lines go, the collector-oriented Neo Henshin Cyborg was relatively modest in scope — there would not be an improbable and probably prohibitively expensive update of the Cyborg Rider — but it did kickstart the revival of other Takara SF Land properties.

The Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 figure design would later be modified and released as Guard of CG for the Cool Girl line in March 2002 with more dramatic redecos, Burai-Maru and Gekiryu-Maru, released in June the following year.

Henshin Cyborg 99 (1999)

The original Henshin Cyborg, for all the Takara touches, was still recognisably a G.I. Joe derivative and Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 was a relatively conservative update despite being produced a quarter-century later.

With Cyborg 99 (Double Nine), Takara’s designers had the opportunity to step back, reassess the Cyborg concept and come up with a modern take which was more representative of the company’s action figure designs of the Nineties. This desire for a fresh start was even reflected in the storyline: this Cyborg wasn’t a Katagai.

That’s not to say the new Cyborg was intended to be a complete break from the past. The Heisei era designers, being first and foremost fans of their predecessors’ work, would have been keenly aware of the significance of 1999 in Henshin Cyborg lore — it was the year of Cyborg 1’s birth. Thus, there were references to the Takara SF Land founder right on the Cyborg 99 package. The Cyclone Mark was prominently displayed as part of the logo on the front flap and there were graphics heavily influenced by the Cyborg Station CX-1 on the inside. Once the figure was taken out of the package, however, it quickly became clear this was a brand-new Cyborg.

Cyborg 99 featured a sharp character design by Shinohara Tamotsu but it was in terms of engineering that the figure really stood apart from its predecessors. It was especially notable for the way it incorporated magnets into the design — something Takara’s designers were very much into at that time. Cyborg 99, like the Microman Magne Powers Robotman figures released that same year, featured Magnemo-11 joints in addition to the traditional 5mm joints. In theory, this enabled Victory Plan-style interchangeability between the two lines. In reality, these figures ended up in the hands of collectors who were content to relegate toys to shelves rather than doing something so demeaning as play with them. Anyone who presumed to do such a thing would have appreciated Cyborg 99’s improved articulation. The arms, for example, had a greater range of motion compared to Neo Henshin Cyborg 1 thanks to double-jointed shoulders.

Collectors who focused on the thrill of the hunt might have felt let down by this line as there were far fewer variants to track down compared to Neo Henshin Cyborg. Cyborg 99’s gunmetal and blue variants were widely available at retail while the silver variant, Cyborg Satake, was a Hyper Hobby exclusive Henshin Set based on the martial artist, Satake Masaaki.

Other Henshin Sets paid homage to Thunder Mask and P Productions characters like Spectreman, Denjin Zaborger, Kaiketsu Lion Maru and Tetsujin Tiger Seven. If those old tokusatsu characters seem like particularly odd choices for licensed Henshin Sets, it’s probably because Takara lacked the wherewithal to obtain the rights to more popular characters. (The company would announce major losses for the half-year ending that September.)

The new Cyborg had his own nemesis, King Walder II, who had the same figure design but with different colours and head sculpts, and more organic internals and weaponry. Takara released a Walder Henshin Set a few months later to transform him into the Spectreman villain, Uchuu Enjin Gori.

If that wasn’t enough, the following year saw the debut of King Walder, Jr., a Shonen Cyborg-sized villain. Thankfully, Shonen Cyborg was reissued right about then to help deal with him. (In case anyone was oblivious, Takara made sure to point out Shonen Cyborg was born in the year 2000 according to the Showa era storyline.)

The Cyborg Team was further reinforced when Henshin Cyborg 1 was reissued in 2003. This time around, Takara had the means to acquire licenses for more recognisable characters. After releasing an Ultraman Jack Henshin Set for the 40th anniversary of Tsuburaya Productions, Takara went on to release sets for Mirrorman, Casshern, Mazinger Z and Devilman. Cyborg 1’s old foe, King Walder, followed with a Kaijin Set featuring the much-requested Dokuro King.

Though the period between 1998 and 2004 has been described as the second golden age for Henshin Cyborg, Cyborg 99 did not do particularly well. One indication of this is several Cyborg 99 and King Walder II figures were announced but later cancelled. It’s been speculated fans and retailers were overwhelmed by the numerous Neo Henshin Cyborg variants the previous year to go through the whole process again with Cyborg 99.

Unfortunately, Takara Tomy has steered clear of Henshin Cyborg since then. Perhaps the company doesn’t quite know how to position it for the current market. (It’s worth noting Hasbro hasn’t done much with its 12-inch Joe line either.) Or it may well be Takara Tomy, without a sentimental member of the Satoh family in charge, has little interest in its Takara SF Land heritage.

It will be interesting to see what happens in 2022. The fact Microman’s 40th anniversary in 2014 only saw homages by third-parties doesn’t suggest a major tribute to Henshin Cyborg is in the offing for its 50th anniversary.

Still, it would be a shame to simply mothball the brand given its significance. Takara, being more known for dolls like Licca-chan back then, didn’t even have a boys’ toys division until after Henshin Cyborg 1 became a hit. This was the figure that started it all.

Diaclone (1980)

Takara SF Land’s greatest hits were often the result of collaborations with outsiders. These collaborators were usually aspiring mecha designers who honed their craft in the Japanese toy industry in their early twenties before gaining renown in other fields like anime and gaming. They usually weren’t credited for their contributions but it must be said most of them rarely called attention to their journeymen efforts in the toy industry anyway. For instance, it wasn’t widely known that one of Japan’s most influential mecha designers had been involved in Takara SF Land as far back as Henshin Cyborg and Microman.

Miyatake Kazutaka never expected to become an artist even though he whiled away the hours drawing warships and insects as a young boy in Yokosuka. He had some vague ideas about being a scholar but his life changed the moment he set eyes on a movie poster in 1968. Robert T. McCall’s promotional art for 2001: A Space Odyssey featured the spaceship Orion leaving a space station and it was love at first sight for the teenage Miyatake. He watched the Stanley Kubrick movie that same month and he was, in his own words, moved to tears.

Miyatake then joined some university students who were hardcore sci-fi fans like himself in a group founded by Matsuzaki Kenichi called SF Central Art that met up once a week at a coffee shop in Ikebukuro. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say the nucleus of this fan circle would go on to have an immense impact on science fiction, anime, mecha and toy design in Japan during the Showa era.

Their beginning was interesting enough. SF Central Art produced a doujinshi called Crystal and Miyatake’s contribution to the fan magazine was a detailed structural plan of the Discovery ship seen in 2001. To ensure the proportions of his illustration would be accurate, he watched the movie more than 50 times and even took into consideration the curvature of the screen. Stanley Kubrick’s obsessive attention to even the minutest detail, which the perfectionist director attributed to his need to ensure the audience would find what was happening onscreen believable, had apparently inspired similar obsession in his devotees.

Miyatake’s labour of love not only helped raise the profile of SF Central Art in sci-fi fandom, it was impressive enough that it led to his first professional gig – providing a similarly detailed illustration of Kamen Rider’s New Cyclone for the children’s magazine, TV Land. That in turn led to a Nagai Go request for a cross section illustration of Mazinger Z to appear in the end credits of the anime. Nagai’s only instruction was that it should look cool to children.

Miyatake had learned a lot from his scholarly study of the Discovery and applied those lessons in his own work. His approach was Kubrick-esque in that the young Japanese designer wanted realistic details in his sci-fi illustrations so that they would appear plausible. For example, he intuited that Mazinger Z would require suspensions and shock absorbers in its legs and knees to prevent the impact of the giant mecha’s movement being transmitted all the way up to the pilot in the cockpit. The added bonus was suspensions and shock absorbers would be recognisable to kids who would have seen those mechanical components on motorcycles in the real world. Mazinger Z’s photon power engine, by contrast, was very much in the realm of fantasy.

However, he also took note of how Kubrick rejected the heat sinks that were present in early design drafts of the Discovery because the director thought they might be mistaken for wings that were common in spaceship designs of that era. Miyatake’s takeaway from that was realism and scientific accuracy had to take a backseat to the authorial vision or worldview. Kubrick, for instance, found it necessary on occasion to remind the technical experts he hired during the production of 2001 that they were only making a movie.

Another Miyatake influence, Syd Mead, made a related observation: each story world, no matter how weird or preposterous, had its own internal logic and rules which the designer had to take into account. Therefore Miyatake’s giant robots and spaceships had to effectively be characters that served as representatives of the worldview.

The central dilemma for the sci-fi designer, as Miyatake saw it, was determining just how much realistic detail was necessary to make something that did not exist appear real. He discovered it was possible to take things too far when he worked on Zero Tester, an anime series intended to be the Japanese version of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds. (More specifically, Zero Tester distributor, Tohokushinsha, which also distributed Thunderbirds, wanted an anime series that was as profitable merchandising-wise as Thunderbirds was in Japan.) The Tester No. 1 combining jet, Miyatake’s first original design as a professional, was influenced by Narita Toru’s Ultra Hawk No. 1 design for Ultra Seven but unsurprisingly incorporated details found on actual aircraft. Unfortunately, animation being a collaborative medium that required art that could easily be reproduced by multiple artists, the design had to be simplified.

Not everyone would browbeat Miyatake into paring back his efforts, though. While working on the seminal Uchu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato), he was asked by the producer, Nishizaki Yoshinobu (a man for whom descriptors like flamboyant and colourful were wholly inadequate) to increase the number of lines of the main design, the resurrected and now spacefaring Yamato.

Miyatake and three former SF Central Art members founded a design collective known as Studio Nue shortly before Yamato debuted and their involvement in the series drew the attention of fans. As the only coverage Yamato got back then was in children’s magazines like TV Land, some teenage fans would visit the studio to learn more.

One of those curious Yamato fans was a young Kawamori Shoji. He had never seen mechanical designs depicted with that level of thought and care before so he got together with a group of his friends and paid Studio Nue a visit the spring break after graduating from junior high school. He was shocked when he discovered the creators of those amazing sci-fi designs he so admired were working in wretched cramped conditions. It was like something out of a horror movie, he thought. At the same time, he was also intrigued by how sci-fi designs for broadcast animation could be done by hand with limited resources.

A spark had been lit. Kawamori began drawing spaceships after watching Yamato and then switched to giant robots after Yuusha Raideen. He then attended monthly meet-ups organised by Studio Nue known as Crystal Convention (Kuri-Con) where he presented his artwork to Miyatake and his colleagues only to receive scathing criticism. Far from being deterred, Kawamori kept at it and his persistence paid off when he was asked to help out at the studio on a part-time basis when the in-demand designers became swamped. Though never credited for it, Kawamori got his first job in anime while still attending high school.

At university, Kawamori studied mechanical engineering with the intention of designing rockets or perhaps cars for a living. There was no NASA-sized organisation in Japan to guarantee employment, however, and he knew he wouldn’t be granted the freedom to design an entire car at a car company. Mulling it over, he realised animation would provide him the opportunity to design spaceships and cars as well so he joined Studio Nue as a professional designer when he was 19. The timing was propitious because Nue was involved in multiple projects within a short period of time that would gain it fame beyond sci-fi circles.

The first of these projects was a Nippon Sunrise anime series titled Kidou Senshi Gundam (Mobile Suit Gundam). Though not always credited for it, Nue influenced Gundam’s background setting both before and after the series aired. Some of these contributions may have been indirect in nature but had a major impact nonetheless. For example, Nue personnel had popularised various sci-fi and scientific concepts in Japan by passing on information gleaned from books and science articles and some of these ideas, like Gerard O’Neill’s space colony, made their way into Gundam’s background.

More directly, Nue personnel came up with ideas during Gundam’s development that gave the series a more realistic flavour compared to the Super Robot shows that preceded it. Nue’s Takachiho Haruka, for example, proposed using Miyatake’s Powered Suit design as the basis for Gundam’s main mecha and for a time, Nue seemed to be a shoo-in for the mecha design job. Unfortunately, Gundam’s character and animation director, Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, had earlier worked with Nue on Yamato and anticipated Sunrise’s animators would have trouble dealing with the sci-fi-obsessed designers’ detailed drawings so he chose to go with the simpler designs of the laidback Okawara Kunio instead. Aspects of Miyatake’s Powered Suit can still be glimpsed in Yasuhiko’s early design draft for the Guncannon, however.

Another Nue member, Matsuzaki Kenichi, proposed Minovsky particles to wave away multiple problems in Gundam – the most vexing being why close combat requiring mobile suits would even be necessary when missiles were capable of striking targets beyond visual range. Back at Studio Nue, Kawamori was listening to the others discuss Gundam’s various sci-fi concepts during its development and suggested Zeon forces use a colony laser as a response to the Earth Federation’s Solar System reflector. The idea was passed on to Sunrise by Matsuzaki but Kawamori was once again uncredited.

Kawamori didn’t mind one whit because Gundam had fired up his imagination. As soon as Gundam aired, he and his friends at university started a fan club called Gunsight which later published an influential doujinshi of the same name. Gundam may have been hailed as a realistic robot anime but as far as Kawamori was concerned, it was still a pretend war with robot pro-wrestling because the background setting wasn’t fleshed out to his liking. The Gunsight doujinshi set out to fix that by providing a scientific rationale for various elements Sunrise had glossed over. For example, the Active Mass Balance Auto-Control (AMBAC) concept, which involved Newton’s Third Law of Motion, inertia and manoeuvrability in a zero-G environment, was a convoluted way of justifying the humanoid shape of mobile suits. The material these young Gundam superfans produced was so good the series creator, Tomino Yoshiyuki, later drew upon it for the official Gundam Century reference mook published in 1981. Gunsight, Kawamori and his Nue colleagues were all listed in the credits.

Studio Nue’s reputation was growing and there was a lot of interest in what the designers who contributed to Yamato and Gundam would do next. It must have come as a surprise to many when the Japanese edition of the sci-fi magazine Starlog revealed in 1980 Nue had been working, not on a sci-fi anime series, but a toyline.

Takara’s Okude Nobuyuki left the Microman team briefly in 1978 to work on girls’ toys and when he returned to the boys’ toys division, he wanted to start a new project. According to Okude, the main impetus for developing a new robot-based line was the popularity of transforming and combining robots at that time. He believed giant robots were an ideal theme because boys have heroic aspirations and are fascinated by mechanical objects.

A more immediate concern was Takara struggling to compete with Popy’s best-selling Chogokin line of diecast robots. Takara’s Microman line had been on the market for years but the lustre had clearly worn off. The Popy Deluxe Chogokin Mirai Gattai Daltanious toy, for example, outsold the Microman Robotman two-to-one. Though the Chogokin toys were pricey enough that they were mainly popular during the end of year sales period, they still benefited from the regular exposure provided by anime they were tied to while the series aired.

Anime tie-ins were by no means a sure thing. Takara might have done very well with its Koutetsu Jeeg toys but its 1978 Uchu Kaizoku Captain Harlock (Space Pirate Captain Harlock) line was a flop because the show drew the attention of an older Yamato audience who had no interest in merchandise for children.

Nonetheless, Takara’s first proposal for a new robot-based toyline included plans for an accompanying anime titled Senkan Robo Dion. The concept was intriguing given the timing: it was to have a battleship that transformed into a giant robot. The hint of a Yamato influence in the title and concept is probably due to the fact Saraba Uchu Senkan Yamato: Ai no Senshi-tachi (Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato: Warriors of Love) broke box office records in Japan for an animated movie in 1978. Even more interesting was how the concept of a spacecraft that transformed into a giant robot would really take off in another series debuting a few years later. It’s all the more intriguing considering who Takara turned to for assistance to further develop the idea.

Kawamori had been an employee at Studio Nue for only a few months when Takara showed up. As he recalled, it was right around the time Gundam started airing which meant it would have been April 1979 or thereabouts. Takara’s robot-based toyline had gone through some changes by then.

The project name, for example, had been changed to “Scale Zone Diaclone.” Although the storyline later claimed Diaclone was derived from “friendship as strong as a diamond and friends as powerful as a cyclone,” internal communications revealed the name was inspired by the project’s goal: to create a storm (cyclone) in the marketplace with something that surpassed Chogokin’s diecast metal (diamonds).

The “Scale World” of the title, meanwhile, referred to the fact the toyline would consist of 1/80-scale robots and vehicles. To ensure kids would intuitively grasp the scale, an inch-tall figure known internally as Inchman would be included. There was debate at Takara whether the Inchman figures ought to be the titular Diaclone because the attention-grabbing giant robot base seemed a better choice. Okude justified the decision to name the line after the smaller figures by stating they would be the main characters and the common element in a line that would expand beyond the giant robot base.

That’s not to say Takara was about to downplay the giant robot’s role. In fact, it was intended to be Diaclone’s flagship item and would be made available right at the launch. To truly appreciate the audacity of that move, imagine Hasbro had kicked off G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero in 1982 with the USS Flagg.

Some elements of the background story had already been decided upon by Takara and would be for the most part unchanged. The basic premise was an alien civilization was determined to plunder earth’s energy resources – a theme that was undoubtedly influenced by the 1979 oil crisis. There was a large powerful computer named Robo-Puter (though on the alien side). Standing against them was earth’s mightiest defenders, Diaclone, which consisted of children. (Try to picture a menacing alien taskforce hellbent on conquering Earth taking on Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.)

The idea of an anime tie-in had seemingly been dropped as well. Instead, Takara approached Studio Nue to come up with ideas for a serialised manga. Nue’s first proposal, written by Matsuzaki Kenichi with character designs by Hosono Fujihiko and mecha designs by Kawamori, was largely an elaboration of Takara’s scanty background. It added sci-fi elements to satisfy children’s craving for more sophisticated fare and probably satisfy Nue’s own fervent desire to popularise sci-fi in Japan. It justified reckless child endangerment by noting children were less rigid in their mindset than adults and more resilient with greater powers of recuperation. As such, they were more receptive to the augmentation procedures carried out by the city-sized supercomputer Landmaster following which they would possess greater physical strength than professional athletes and surpass Nobel Laureates in mental acuity. The energy theme was expanded upon and now included a new energy source, Freezon, which powered Diaclone technology and provided the justification for the alien invasion. The giant robot base meanwhile was named DaiFortress and was accompanied by Dia Core vehicles (based on a common fuselage with different functionality depending on the attached parts) and the triplechanging mecha DiaGolem.

Nue’s second draft made some minor changes to the background setting and these probably reflected suggestions from Takara. The Diaclone Corps was now despatched by a benevolent council of advanced alien races to help defend Earth. The most interesting aspect of this revision was a reference to Henshin Cyborg: the antagonists were now the Walder race led by King Walder. (The name would be tweaked slightly and the Henshin Cyborg connection would be omitted before launch.)

By May 1979, Takara had finalised most of the details of the line as it was aiming for an October rollout. The initial background setting was largely retained. The energy theme was still prominent, Diaclone remained a juvenile defence force (though it now consisted of five boys recruited from around the world) and the scale continued to be 1/80 (but “Scale World” was dropped from the title).

A Takara document written during that period before production (the details of which were later published in the 2017 Diaclone World Guide mook) provided remarkable insight into the company’s thinking when it came to positioning the line. The goal, plainly stated, was to take on Popy in the boys’ toys market. The target demographic was boys in kindergarten or early primary school. Takara reaffirmed that giant robots would be of central importance and the play value would involve transforming and combining as well as the diorama aspect of the bases. The main material used would be chogokin (diecast metal). The initial product line up would consist of the giant robot, sci-fi vehicles and sets of combiners. The Inchman figures included with the giant robots would provide a contrast and draw attention to their massive size.

There was also a clear delineation made between Microman and Diaclone. Microman’s core concept revolved around the 10cm-tall Microman figures whereas Diaclone focused on the giant robots with the Inchman figures merely being accessories. The document also recommended emphasising to distributors that Diaclone was a new line and taking measures to ensure it had a separate space on the sales floor to prevent any confusion with Microman. Large diorama fixtures, with back panels that could be replaced at regular intervals, would be placed at key department stores to introduce the world of Diaclone. Other planned promotional efforts included television ads with special effects and tie-ups with children’s magazines.

The first toy to be worked on was the giant robot base which was tentatively named Kyodai Robot (Giant Robot). Takara had Inoue Tsutomu of one of its affiliated companies, Inoue Kenkyujo, create a mock-up to evaluate the size and gimmicks. The first mock-up was plain and had a simple transformation based on the unreleased Microman toy, Kyodai Robo G-1.

The final product had to look appealing and for that job, Takara tapped Nue once again. Kawamori was despatched to Inoue Kenkyujo to check out the mechanical mock-up while Miyatake focused on the Inchman design.

Kawamori was already working on two anime series, Toshi Gordian and The Ultraman, at the time but he saw the Diaclone project as an opportunity to broaden his horizons and expand his skillset. Anime design required 2D design skills and the details could be fudged for the screen but toy design required thinking in 3D because it had to be translatable to a commercially viable physical item.

Although Kawamori is simply credited as a mecha designer for Diaclone, he is keen to draw a distinction between design and styling. He points out design dealt with the concept, mechanisms and gimmicks whereas styling dealt with appearance. In toy terms, it might be said design broadly determined how a toy played while styling determined how the toy looked. The lines were often blurred because a mecha designer might work on the concept and the appearance simultaneously. On Diaclone, Nue’s work sometimes involved styling something Takara’s toy designers had already created and in other cases Nue started from scratch. What this means is when someone mentions they worked on a particular Takara SF Land toy, it’s not always apparent the extent to which they were responsible for it.

In Kyodai Robot’s case at least, Kawamori’s role was clear because he described it as being primarily a styling exercise. There was still plenty of opportunity to leave his mark on the toy. He reworked the head and shoulders, and drew inspiration from the distinctive sloping lines of Nakano Sun Plaza for the lower legs. The tracks on the feet, meanwhile, were inspired by those of the crawler-transporter used at NASA’s Launch Complex 39. (Kawamori was a huge fan of the Apollo programme and had been heartbroken when it ended.) As Kyodai Robot’s transformation underwent several changes during its lengthy development, Kawamori had to redo the styling each and every time.

Once the toy design had been locked down and Kawamori had done his part, Takara contacted Nikko Toys to produce a new prototype. Kutsuma Toshikazu, who was responsible for the job, considered Takara to be especially particular about the appearance of its toys and recalled being given strict instructions to stick closely to Nue’s designs. Kutsuma was forced to make minor alterations nonetheless. The robot mode stance, for example, had to be adjusted because the lower legs would otherwise be unable to support the toy’s weight when they were split apart for the tank base mode. The transforming gimmick, on the other hand, had to be changed for safety reasons. The tank base was originally intended to convert to the robot mode at the push of a button but that feature had to be removed for fear kids might get their fingers caught.

With Takara’s approval, Nikko Toys even added its own touches to the toy. Kutsuma detailed the interior of the Robot Mode chest compartment after Takara requested the robotic equivalent to internal organs. The elevator at the rear was a suggestion from the prototype maker that was adopted by Takara but saw a change in materials in order to reduce production costs. Other cost-cutting measures saw the plastic reduced in thickness for some parts and the packaging made less lavish.

Similarly, Miyatake’s Inchman design underwent changes during prototyping and production. Nikko Toys was given a 10x mock-up which had to first be reduced in size using a ‘narai’ copying lathe for the final 2.7cm-tall prototype. The magnet intended for the figure’s back was omitted presumably for budgetary reasons leaving a square bulge where it would have been attached. Later versions of the Inchman figure saw a more mechanical appearance, an increase in size and strength for the magnets on the feet as well as additional diecast for the torso.

Although the larger robot figures were always meant to be the main attraction of the line, the Inchman figures were arguably the more ambitious undertaking. No other toy company at that time would have had the imagination or the audacity to produce a figure that small with four points of articulation. The figures were impressive enough that Takara even considered selling them individually, Microman-style, for 180 yen each and went so far as to produce a prototype case with a gear mechanism that opened it to reveal the figure within. Ultimately, however, the company chose to make the Inchman figures available only through sets with robots and vehicles.

The rest of the launch lineup consisted of smaller and more affordable items to complement Kyodai Robot. The most notable of these was a three-vehicle combining robot, DiaBattles, which could be purchased either as a set or individually. In addition to that, there were the Attack Machine vehicles, Cosmo Roller (a Kawamori favourite) and DiaTrain, with spring-powered transformations. Finally, the Power Bases were four types of combining mini-bases that included an Inchman figure. Aside from being the cheapest way of sampling the line at launch, the mini-bases added to Diaclone’s diorama appeal.

Other designs were prototyped but failed to make the cut. Kyodai Robot was intended to have additional Inchman-piloted vehicles (an F1-style racer, an attack helicopter and a fighter jet which seemed to be a refinement of the Dia Core mentioned in Nue’s first manga proposal) and these were probably left out to keep the cost down. There was also a medium-sized transforming robot that could either turn into a tank or fighter aircraft depending on which parts were attached to it. (This may have been DiaGolem.)

The challenges involved with Kyodai Robot’s production and Takara’s trouble nailing down the rest of the product lineup saw Diaclone’s launch pushed back to the following year. At some point during that period, Takara decided to rename Kyodai Robot, the giant robot that transformed into a base, Robot Base (or The Great Robot-Base in English).

When it was unveiled at a trade fair in June 1980, Robot Base won industry plaudits but that didn’t translate to blockbuster sales when it was released the following month. Okude noted Diaclone, as a whole, was slow out of the gates compared to Microman.

Takara attempted to pick up the pace in 1981 with the release of some interesting designs. The Powered Suits, compact armour for Inchman figures, clearly drew inspiration from Miyatake’s influential design of the same name. Big Powered was a combiner comprising the amphibious craft Earth Powered, fighter-bomber Mach Powered and heavy tank Land Powered and came with a Powered Suit which could be docked in robot mode or stowed away in any of the vehicles. The vehicles were later sold separately and each came with a different type of Powered Suit.

The Waruder enemy finally made their debut in toy form as well. The first toy released for the bad guys was Warudaros, a combiner made up of the vehicles Mosquider, Arinder and Sasorander. The included pilots, Bagmos, Arick and Sasolon, were the Waruder versions of Inchman. The mosquito-inspired Mosquider, ant-inspired Arinder and scorpion-inspired Sasorander were sold separately the following month. Waruder forces were reinforced in 1982 by the motorised Walk Insecters which came in two types and included a non-posable Waruder Suit and a Waruder figure in each set.

The line was expanding and the toys were selling but Diaclone didn’t appear to be making a splash in the marketplace let alone creating anything resembling a cyclone. It was, at best, a diamond in the rough. The main problem was there was no anime to promote the line and explain Diaclone’s concepts. The sci-fi setting may have flown over the heads of its intended audience – a six-year-old may not have fully appreciated the allusions to the energy crisis of the Seventies — and the sci-fi mechanical designs may not have appealed to their youthful sensibilities either.

On the development side, there was the challenge of thinking up new sci-fi vehicles. Okude lamented there were only four basic types — the jet, the supercar, the drill tank and the sub – and it was difficult to distinguish variants. (The vehicles that constituted Gats Blocker were a case in point.) Okude wanted Diaclone to be a consistent seller for Takara and that was difficult to achieve when the designers were struggling to come up with something recognisably different.

There were other developments that influenced Takara into changing its approach with Diaclone. Japan had become the world’s leading exporters of cars in 1980 and Japanese cars were also doing well in the toy aisles. Tomy’s Tomica series, launched in 1970, had a lineup of 100 models by 1974 and produced over 100 million miniature toy cars by 1976. The supercar boom peaked in Japan a year later (one of the high points was the Sunstar Supercar Show) and that led to booms in radio-control cars and eventually 1/43-scale diecast model cars.

From a toy design standpoint, cars were appealing because they were easily distinguishable — a Nissan was styled differently from a Toyota. In addition to that, it was easier to produce striking variants of real vehicles and thus rapidly expand the lineup of products. A flashy sports car could be turned into an imposing patrol car simply by attaching emergency lights to the roof and slapping on some paint and stickers.

The other major development was the popularity of sci-fi toy robots and models in the Real Robot genre following the release of Bandai’s Gundam plastic models and the Gundam compilation movies. Takara was keenly aware of this trend towards robot designs more grounded in reality as the company’s Character Hobby Division had enjoyed tremendous success with its Gundam-influenced Taiyo no Kiba Dougram (Fang of the Sun Dougram) line. The demand for Dougram toys and models was so great at the height of its popularity the moulds had to be replaced as they were wearing out from overuse.

Thus, it was inevitable that Takara would take cars from the real world and combine them with robots from the sci-fi realm. The company had been slowly but surely heading in that direction for a few years in the Microman line anyway. The Magnemo Racing Titans, Microman with a robotic appearance that could be dismembered to combine with vehicular parts to create racing cars, were released in 1976 and could be considered another take on the 1974 Henshin Cyborg Cyborg Rider. The concept was further developed the following year. Takara released the even more robotic Magnemo Titan Command figures whose legs could be removed to combine with Gimca FMB sci-fi-themed diecast slot-cars along with two transforming cars, Command Tyrell Machine and Cosmo Porsche, which were loosely based on real vehicles. But it was the 1977 Microman Cosmo Countach, a tricked-out Lamborghini that transformed into a crude robot-car hybrid, that presaged what was to come.

Okude must have felt the time was right to take transforming cars to the next level so he gave the order for a new Diaclone subline. It may have been saddled with the incredibly generic and instantly forgettable name Car Robot but it would have a long-lasting impact on Takara (and other companies). That had everything to do with the talented designers who worked on it.

One Takara employee, in particular, would have such a strong influence on Car Robot he would be closely identified with it for the rest of his career. Ohno Koujin joined Takara in 1980 and after almost a year of marketing training, transferred to the product development side. By then the Microman and Diaclone development teams, which had previously been rivals in the company as they competed in the same market for the same demographic, had been combined under the supervision of Okude. Ohno joined this group but was little more than an errand boy at first. He was assigned menial tasks like duplicating parts by plastic casting, removing silicone from the Robot Fortress X prototype or running over to Studio Nue to retrieve the latest design drafts. When he was finally permitted to design toys, his first few creations, the AcroSatan for Microman and the late model Inchman figures and Walk Insecters for Diaclone, were mostly unremarkable.

Ohno’s first transforming toy designs, however, proved epochal when they were released in April 1982. The Car Robot Countach LP500S Super Tuning was recognisably a Lamborghini but it was sufficiently embellished to make it almost a bridge between real vehicles and the sci-fi vehicles that preceded them. That was probably due to the influence of the senior Diaclone designers who supervised Ohno’s design. (Ohno later revisited the LP500S, gave it a more accurate vehicle mode along with a new transformation and robot mode and it was released as New Countach LP500S the following year.)

Given a free hand for the Onebox Cherry Vanette, Ohno ensured the vehicle mode resembled its real world counterpart. The van may have been less glamorous than an exotic supercar but Ohno expected kids would find a vehicle they saw around their neighbourhood more relatable. Besides, even a humdrum van was appealing if it just might be a mecha in disguise.

The first two Car Robot toys were an immediate success and even outsold Robot Fortress X, the flagship Diaclone item that year. Takara released variants, a police car for the Countach and an ambulance for the Onebox Cherry Vanette, two months later and these sold well too.

Although 1981 Diaclone catalogue proclaimed the scale to be 1/72 and the 1982 catalogue revised it to 1/60, the Car Robot vehicles were closer in size to the 1/43-scale miniature car models that were popular then and had similar features like diecast bodies, clear plastic windscreens and rubber tyres.

Popy’s Machine Robo 600 Series debuted the same month as Car Robot with those same features but Car Robot was clearly a cut above its competition. That could partly be explained by the fact the Car Robot toys retailed for twice or thrice the price of the 600 yen Machine Robo toys. Takara’s designers benefitted from having a bigger budget and that translated to larger toys with additional detail, increased articulation, more satisfying transformations and gimmicks. At the same time, the Car Robot toys were more affordable than Popy Chogokin and sold steadily throughout the year instead of being primarily end-of-year wishlist items like its more expensive competition.

The other reason for Car Robot’s success was the robot modes had that extra little bit of style and panache courtesy of Studio Nue. Surprisingly, Kawamori was oblivious to the fact Car Robot was a Diaclone subline when he worked on it and according to him, that was the reason why his design lines were different. Far from being a drawback, it resulted in designs that stood apart from previous Diaclone releases.

The Car Robot designs were also given silhouettes that made it easier to tell them apart individually. Kawamori knew the outlines were just as important as fine details because Miyatake had impressed upon him that his designs ought to be distinguishable even if they were blacked out. Miyatake, who had worked with Takara on the Henshin Cyborg Cyborg Station CX-1 base/case and the Microman Titans figures earlier in his career, had learnt the lesson himself when the toy company flatly informed him it would not approve a design without a distinctive silhouette.

It must be pointed out, however, Takara was not reticent about releasing minor variants in Takara SF Land and Diaclone alone had a significant number of them. For example, Ohno’s favourite Car Robot designs, the Honda City and the Fairlady Z — both collaborations with Kawamori — had multiple colour and mould variants. The Honda City, a popular hatchback at the time, included a foldable Motocompo minibike like the real thing and was available as City R and City Turbo models with different robot head sculpts. (One of Kawamori’s unused design drafts for the City R robot head was later used for the Fairlady Z.) The red City R version was particularly noteworthy as that happened to be the colour of Ohno’s own ride. The Fairlady Z was released in silver, silver/black and silver/blue and later had rally car and patrol car variants. Being a bit obsessive, Ohno took pains to ensure the rally version had spoilers and sportier detailing.

Car Robot’s realistic vehicles presented different challenges compared to the earlier sci-fi vehicles. Nikko Toy’s Sakuma Keiichiro had trouble finding reference photos of specific vehicle models when creating prototypes of the toys and had to resort to scrutinizing car catalogues to get the details right. On the other hand, adhering too closely to the real versions caused problems as well. Kawamori had to be especially careful when designing curved surfaces due to the limitations of toy manufacturing during that era and Sakuma was told he went too far with a Car Robot bonnet (he believes it was for the 4WD Hilux) because it was difficult to extract that part from the mould.

Sakuma had a particularly tough time creating the prototype of one of the largest Car Robot toys released. A trailer truck was conceived early in Car Robot’s development as the core of Car Robot World, a line-up of toys separate from the earlier sci-fi-flavoured mecha and vehicles. It was to be the Car Robot equivalent to the previous bases, Robot Base and Robot Fortress-X, with similar base-play features. Thus, the trailer section of the toy served as a transport for the smaller Car Robot vehicles and transformed into a support base with numerous seats for Inchman figures. The prime mover section, meanwhile, transformed from an ordinary truck into a seemingly nondescript mecha.

Sakuma, who worked on the truck section, was handed design sketches along with a crude mock-up made out of styrofoam and put together with tape and bamboo strips that demonstrated the transformation. Sakuma then made a prototype to check the overall strength and verify that the transformation was possible. He ensured parts had sufficient clearance during the transformation by precisely positioning hinges and determining the angle parts would need to bend. Takara also furnished clay models of the head and hands – believed to be sculpted by Yoke Hideaki – and prototypes of them were created using Toughron dental rebase.

Sakuma described the truck prototype as a tough job as it took an entire day for just one arm. He took three weeks in total to complete the prototype and had to pull all-nighters for a week. After getting Takara’s approval, the prototype was polished, painted and then handed over to the technical staff responsible for blueprints used to create the moulds.

That one thing that remained after all that was the name. The other Car Robot toys had plain names that were usually little more than the models of the vehicles they were based on. These were, after all, piloted mecha rather than, say, individual characters with fully realised personalities. But for some reason Takara tried something different for the Car Robot trailer truck playset. There had been a popular American movie about trucks (based on a song) released in Japan a few years earlier and the name of the movie had come to be identified with those types of vehicles. Takara simply appended Battle to the movie title and named the set Battle Convoy. The truck section, which transformed into a red and blue mecha, was dubbed Convoy Robo.

The Battle Convoy set was released in Japan in October 1983. Though there would be other notable Diaclone toys following its release, Takara signed a fateful agreement the very next month that would see the trailer truck gain international fame and become the most famous toy in Takara SF Land history. Diaclone would end as a consequence.

Kawamori had no idea the toy he had worked on for Takara would turn into an icon but then it’s entirely possible he wouldn’t have had the time to reflect on it. He was consumed by work as usual. While working on Car Robot, he had been simultaneously doing designs for Gold Lightan, the Crusher Joe animated movie, Asteroid One (an unrealised collaboration with Tomino) and developing an in-house project for Nue. The last of these would not just push his abilities to the limits but would ultimately make his reputation as a standout creative talent in both the anime and toy fields.

It all started when Kawamori got his hands on Tomino’s Gundam proposal after the series aired. After going through it, he was convinced he could come up with one of his own. He had been at Nue for less than a year but that was hardly an impediment. There was no hierarchy at the studio because the sci-fi fans turned professionals still retained a fan circle mentality in some ways. If an idea had merit, it was accepted by the others regardless of who proposed it. (The flipside of that, as Kawamori discovered, was a terrible concept or design would invite rebukes along the lines of “Idiot” or “You’re better off dead.”) Nue had been working as a hired hand on robot anime productions for years and the rest of the studio saw Kawamori’s series proposal as an opportunity to create something in line with the studio’s own sensibilities.

First called the G Project and then Genocidus, it had a hardcore sci-fi setting involving stars collapsing one after another. Kawamori wanted a new type of mecha for the project, something that would surpass the Gundam mobile suits. Humanoid robots were so common at that point he thought it was difficult to distinguish them.

And originality, or more generally being first, had always been important to Kawamori. As a child, he was incensed when he watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon because he had wanted to be the first one there and even as an adult, he preferred to travel to remote locales no one would visit. He had been a Thunderbirds fan like most kids his age but unlike most kids, he made papercraft of the rescue vehicles instead of building the same plastic models everyone else had.

Coming up with an original main mecha design for Genocidus wasn’t easy. Stumped for ideas for over a year, Kawamori took a break during the New Year holiday and hit the slopes. Inspiration struck as he considered how his knees were bent while skiing. A mecha with bent knees still didn’t seem like much of an innovation until he thought of changing the direction the legs bent. A non-humanoid mecha with reverse knee joints seemed wholly unique. It actually wasn’t because when he returned to Nue and revealed his design, he discovered Miyatake had come up with a mecha with reverse knee joints as well. The difference being Miyatake’s design was a quadruped while Kawamori’s was a biped. As a four-legged mecha would be more laborious to animate, Kawamori’s design won out.

Kawamori then got Miyatake to create a transforming mecha based on the concept. He suggested using the A-10 fighter for inspiration and later added tilt rotors to Miyatake’s design. The result was a small aircraft that transformed into a 3 metre-tall non-humanoid bipedal mecha with reverse knee joints. It was dubbed “ga walk” (we walk) before Matsuzaki named it Gerwalk. (It later became GERWALK when Matsuzaki came up with “Ground Effective Reinforcement of Winged Armament with Locomotive Knee-joint” to justify it as an acronym.) The design was certainly different. That, unfortunately, was a problem. When Nue gave presentations to potential sponsors for a proposed show featuring the Gerwalk design, the studio discovered toy manufacturers preferred a more conventional humanoid mecha. In other words, something that looked like the best-selling toy robots of the era.

Frustrated, Nue regrouped and reconsidered its approach. If the toy companies found the hardcore sci-fi setting of Genocidus unpalatable, perhaps a lighter touch would be more appealing. Kawamori, Miyatake, Matsuzaki and Morita Shigeru spent a whole night cracking each other up as they put together a tongue-in-cheek series proposal called Megaload that would serve as a Trojan horse to get the attention of sponsors before they unveiled their actual project. To their astonishment, the parody, which combined a desperate war for survival and a romantic comedy, was accepted so they had to scramble to tone down the more over-the-top elements. (Plenty remained.)

Megaload quickly turned into Macross. It was set aboard a spaceship of the same name that transformed into a giant robot – which seemed to be the trend at that time – and from then on the concept developed in a series of (almost) logical steps. The spaceship had to be huge because it would contain an entire city of civilians to set it apart from Gundam. (Kawamori had earlier proposed having a city within Odyssey, the spaceship he designed for the French-Japanese animated co-production Ulysses 31, but the idea was nixed.)

Initially a kilometre long, the Macross spaceship was made 1.2 kilometres in length because, as Miyatake explained, fractions were more realistic. That didn’t seem to leave a lot of room for an entire city. After going around Ginza measuring streets of shops, Nue determined that a 700m-long shopping arcade could fit within the spaceship. If there were shops, there would probably be a Chinese restaurant like in Chinatown back in Kawamori’s home town of Yokohama. Perhaps there’d be a young Chinese waitress working there, an aspiring idol who would affect the enemy in some way with a song like Lili Marleen. (Kubrick, it should be noted, did something similar in Paths of Glory.)

That left the question of what type of spaceship it would be. Yamato had been a battleship so Nue made its spacecraft a carrier. To provide a contrast and better emphasise its size, the giant robot would have an entire aircraft carrier attached to its left forearm. A giant robot with a pair of aircraft carriers for forearms would be boring, Miyatake thought, so he made the right forearm a boarding craft with a large hangar for mecha. A carrier would have fighter craft onboard so Miyatake designed a sci-fi aircraft named Breastfighter. To placate sponsors who thought toys of aircraft and ships wouldn’t sell, there was also a humanoid mecha named Breastsoldier. The Breastfighter and Breastsoldier designs were later combined to become a transforming mecha to make things easier during the production of the animation series.

Kawamori, however, was still dissatisfied with the design. The aircraft enthusiast in him objected to the fact it wasn’t aerodynamic in fighter mode because the mecha’s bulky arms and gunpod formed the nose of the aircraft. He also thought it resembled every other transforming sci-fi mecha of the time. Kawamori took it upon himself to redesign it to ensure the resulting products had greater commercial appeal. If the merchandise sold briskly, he believed the sponsors would leave the series alone regardless of ratings.

Kawamori took so long to fix the transforming mecha that Miyatake, who was responsible for most of the other mecha during that period, designed the Destroid and its variants to serve as a substitute just in case. After struggling for several months, Kawamori finally had a breakthrough when he examined a plastic model of the carrier-based F-14 and spotted a space under the fuselage between the engine pods where the mecha’s arms could fit. From that point, it took a mere two weeks to complete the new transforming mecha.

Kawamori’s VF-1 Valkyrie was a sensational design for its time. It could be mistaken for a real aircraft in its fighter mode and transformed into a humanoid Battroid mode without requiring the parts replacement typical of transforming toys back then. Yet Takatoku Toys was at first reluctant to give its approval. Transforming mecha seemed out of fashion during the Real Robot boom and besides the toy company had doubts the sophisticated design could even transform. It just seemed too good to be true. Takatoku remain unconvinced after Kawamori presented them with a crude handmade model crafted out of paper and wood so he contacted model maker Watanabe Giken to produce a high-quality wooden mock-up. Two months later, Watanabe Giken delivered a transforming mock-up that left no room for doubt. The mock-up had one interesting flaw, though. The legs didn’t lock in place in fighter mode so they flopped about. Fate had handed Kawamori the opportunity to slip in an intermediate Gerwalk form into the design.

Incredibly, there was an additional hurdle to overcome after Takatoku approved the three-mode Valkyrie. Takatoku’s management wanted to the company to focus on the SDF-1 Macross as a spaceship that transformed into a giant robot seemed more impressive. The company’s planning department, on the other hand, insisted the product lineup ought to centre on the Valkyrie because it would make a better toy. After debating the issue for a week or two, Takatoku’s management relented.

The Takatoku Toys 1/55-scale Valkyrie (Ichijo Hikaru type) was released in November 1982, a month after the show debuted, and became an instant hit with 200,000 units sold during the year-end sales period. Takatoku took advantage of the huge demand by releasing multiple variants and ended up shipping over a million Valkyrie toys in 1983. Remarkably, the Macross toys sold so well that the decision was made to extend the series past episode 27.

It’s tempting to claim Kawamori’s experience on Diaclone led to his later success with Macross as there were some intriguing common elements in the two projects he was working on simultaneously. A huge sci-fi craft transforming into a giant robot certainly was a remarkable coincidence. However, that just feels like one of those headsmackingly obvious concepts, combining as it did aspects of Yamato and Super Robots. It also seemed inevitable that someone would have come up with the idea of turning a real world vehicle into a mecha at some point during the Real Robot boom.

Still, Kawamori himself has never dismissed or downplayed his involvement with Diaclone. Instead, he has mentioned in various interviews how much fun he had working on the line and has even expressed a desire to work on a modern Robot Base. He’s also been upfront about how valuable the experience was, noting that working on the Takara toyline helped him fine-tune his sense of what would be commercially viable. Miyatake, on the other hand, credited his Takara experience for influencing him to design anime mecha with a view of turning them into toys.

All that would have contributed to the success of the Macross toys and the enduring appeal of the Valkyrie in particular. The design, which Kawamori still calls his favourite due to the sheer amount of effort he put into it, would be referenced again and again by multiple companies for multiple franchises over the years. The Valkyrie would even become part of Takara SF Land to Takara’s chagrin.

Transformers (1985)

Yoke Hideaki joined Takara in 1977 and was assigned to the Microman team. He would see the line go through some dramatic changes over the next few years and also see it end in very unusual circumstances.

Although Takara had been keen to emphasise the differences between Microman and Diaclone while developing the latter, the two lines seemed to be converging and becoming almost indistinguishable. Following the release of Diaclone, Microman was first rebooted as New Microman in 1981 with a greater emphasis on transforming and combining robots and when Diaclone’s Car Robot subline based on real vehicles did well in 1982, Microman released a subline with a not too dissimilar concept. The 1983 Microchange series consisted of real world items (or child-scaled equivalents) that transformed into robots.

This could be explained by the fact that Microman, a line that managed to incorporate just about every concept and gimmick conceivable in action figures during its lengthy run, was only adapting to trends in the marketplace. Since the major trend of that era was a shift towards robots tinged with realism following Gundam’s unexpected success, Microman simply followed suit.

There were still notable differences between Diaclone and Microman even if they both featured transforming robots. The Microchange line was 1/1-scale and based on items you might find in a Japanese boy’s room – ChoroQ minicars, airsoft pistols, cassette recorder, etc. The Diaclone vehicles, on the other hand, were anything between 1/43- to 1/160-scale depending on the whims of the designers. However, someone oblivious to the differences in scale or simply not caring might be under the impression the Microchange and Car Robot toys were from the same line.

The designers who worked on Microman and Diaclone would object strenuously to that. There had previously been a rivalry between the two brands as both vied for the same demographic. According to Yoke, this made for a lively work environment as the young designers, brimming with energy, imagination and inspiration, competed with each other to develop ideas for new products. The Microman and Diaclone teams were later combined shortly before the release of Car Robot which gave one of Takara’s newer employees, one Ohno Koujin, the opportunity to work on both lines during their last, best years.

Yoke himself worked on New Microman toys like the Microrobot series (some of the more ingenious transforming toys Takara produced in those years) and a number of Microchange toys. He named Microscope Robo as his favourite creation for its transformation mechanism, robot design and fun play features. At the same time, he made it a point to acknowledge the contributions of the freelance mecha designer who helped refine his rough sketches for the toy. Yoke would spend the rest of his career overseeing the development of transforming toy robots in close collaboration with others.

Yoke’s collaborator on Microscope Robo was Aramaki Shinji. Although known mainly as a CG animation director these days, Aramaki started out as a mecha designer. His first job as a 21-year-old was doing styling work for Takara in 1982. In his six-month association with the toy company, he worked on the faces, details and decorations for Microscope Robo, Camera Robo, Cassette Man and the Microcassettes.

As a mecha designer, Aramaki is best known for a transforming mecha he created after he joined the planning and design group Artmic. The Mospeada Ride Armor was a motorbike that transformed into a power suit for its rider and it was impressive enough a design that Artmic created a series proposal based on it. The 1983 Kikou Souseki Mospeada (Genesis Climber Mospeada) series was originally meant to be centred on motorbike action but the sponsors requested a transforming aircraft as well because that type of transforming mecha was all the rage at the time. Artmic obliged them with the Legioss, a transforming design with fighter aircraft and humanoid mecha modes as well as an intermediate form dubbed Armo-Diver.

The reason for the popularity of transforming aircraft back then was the Takatoku Toys 1/55-scale Macross Valkyrie based on Kawamori Shoji’s design. There had been transforming toys since the Popy DX Chogokin Raideen but nothing quite as sophisticated as the Valkyrie. The F-14-inspired fighter mode seemed like a real aircraft; the intermediate GERWALK mode with its reverse knee joints was unconventional; the Battroid humanoid mecha mode was superbly articulated for the time; the transformation between the three modes didn’t require additional parts. Kawamori’s creation reflected his preference for sci-fi designs grounded in reality as well as his ability to perceive the potential for the extraordinary in the everyday and mundane.

In an interesting turn of events, Macross, Mospeada and another unrelated Japanese anime series, Southern Cross, were combined together, somewhat preposterously, to be aired as Robotech in the US in 1985.

While working on Mospeada mecha designs, Aramaki was also busy creating a line of transforming toys for Takatoku Toys. Inspired by the Diaclone Insect Robo, the 1984 Kikou Mushitai Beetras (Armoured Insect Battalion Beetras) line consisted of transforming robotic insects that were meant to be (slightly) more realistic and included insect-appropriate gimmicks. As it happened, the Beetras toys would end up, again somewhat preposterously, being combined with the Diaclone Insect Robo and the Valkyrie in a single toyline in the US in 1985.

Takara, encouraged by the success of Microchange and Car Robot in Japan, had already made its own efforts to sell its transforming toys in the world’s biggest toy market. Takara USA had been established in 1980 and sold the Choro-Q line as Penny Racers but the cheap minicars did not sell as well as they did in Japan. The company fared worse when it briefly sold the Diaclone toys as Diakron in 1983. The line simply made no impact whatsoever. The lack of marketing was clearly a problem but Takara didn’t have the budget to mount an effective campaign in the US  as the costs were much higher. If Takara wanted its toys to go over well in the US, it needed an American partner.

Fortunately, Takara’s toys had already attracted the attention of Hasbro. Here the story gets muddled with some question as to how this actually happened. A Hasbro representative apparently spotted them at the 1983 Tokyo Toy Show in June but it’s also been stated Henry Orenstein, founder and former president of Topper Toys (which went bankrupt in 1973 in shady circumstances), notified Hasbro CEO Stephen Hassenfeld after spotting the Diakron toys at the New York Toy Fair earlier that February. In another version of the story, someone informed Hasbro’s Steve Schwartz that Diakron was selling very well in a few small stores in New York City.

The next part is better established. Hassenfeld despatched George Dunsay, then head of Hasbro’s R&D section, to Japan where Orenstein introduced him to Takara. (Takara had sold Topper’s Dawn doll in Japan in the early Seventies and sold the Dawn-like Pico-chan in 1974.) Dunsay looked over the Japanese company’s products and picked out toys that might be suitable for the US market.

Back in Rhode Island, Hasbro’s management team reviewed Dunsay’s selection and immediately identified a sure-fire future hit: the Turbo Magnum rechargeable minicar. Hasbro signed a licensing deal with Takara in November 1983 for the toy along with a bunch of transforming toy robots the Japanese company had also submitted for consideration. As it turned out, the rechargeable minicar was much too costly for Hasbro to manufacture. The transforming toy robots, not considered a major part of the Hasbro-Takara deal at the time, proved to be more significant to the fortunes of both companies.

With the rights to Takara’s toys secured, Hasbro made three key decisions as it set about adapting the Japanese toys for the American market. The first was to combine the Microman Microchange and Diaclone Car Robot toys in a single toyline and the second, a natural outcome of the first, was to discard the Diaclone pilots. The differences in scale between the two lines meant the 3cm-tall Diaclone pilots would have looked out of place next to the Microchange robots that were designed as sidekicks for 10cm-tall Microman figures.

Ohno and his colleagues at Takara were nevertheless incredulous when they heard about this. To understand why, just imagine some Japanese toy company had combined the vehicles from the 12-inch and the 3¾-inch G.I. Joe lines and sold them together without the drivers and pilots.

More to the point, the Diaclone and Microchange toys had play features that were designed specifically for the Diaclone pilots and Microman figures Hasbro had ignored. Diaclone Car Robot Battle Convoy was a playset with numerous seats for Diaclone pilots while Microchange MC-13 Gun Robo Walther P-38 U.N.C.L.E. Set’s accessories combined to become a howitzer complete with a seat equipped with a 5mm joint to hold a Microman figure in place. From the viewpoint of Takara’s designers, Hasbro had diminished the play value of the toys.

Hasbro, however, was adding immense value elsewhere. The third decision the company made, the one that was crucial to Transformers’ enduring success, was to create a brand new setting for the line. Although Diaclone had a barebones storyline and Microman had a long-running manga, Hasbro felt both lacked standout characters and the American toy company believed, with good reason, that characters sold toys.

Hasbro already had a go-to formula for creating those characters. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, released in 1982, was a major success for Hasbro at a critical time in the company’s history and provided the springboard for Hasbro’s astonishing rise in the Eighties. The company naturally relied on the same playbook for Transformers. This involved getting Marvel Comics to create the background for the line (and in the process turn the Japanese toy robots into American comic book characters), providing Marvel a licence for a comic book, advertising that comic book on television and finally, creating an animated show for syndication to serve as a program-length commercial for the toys.

Hasbro put up 8 million dollars in total to market Transformers in 1984. Tonka, by contrast, had an introductory ad budget of 2.5 million dollars for its rebranding of Bandai’s Machine Robo, GoBots. But then GoBots also had the advantage of a five-month headstart over Transformers.

Bob Prupis, the marketing manager of Hasbro’s Boys’ Toys, was still upbeat about Transformers’ chances and forecast the line would make 30 million dollars in its first year. To put that figure in context, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero sold about 51 million dollars’ worth of figures in 1982 and Coleco’s Cabbage Patch Kids set the record for first year sales, 65 million dollars, in 1983. Hasbro’s management thought Prupis was much too optimistic and revised the forecast downwards to 15 million dollars.

Transformers exceeded everyone’s expectations. The line made a reported 111.6 million dollars in its first year and lost out on another 70 to 100 million dollars in sales simply because there wasn’t enough product to meet demand. In 1985, its biggest year, Transformers had 333 million dollars in sales and contributed 27 per cent of Hasbro’s net revenue. (By 1990, Hasbro had earned a total of 950 million dollars from Transformers and, although sales had understandably slowed down after seven years, the line was still making 35 million dollars the year it ended in the US.)

That success had a major impact on Takara as well since the Japanese company was earning royalties from Hasbro’s Transformers sales. According to the Takara no Yama book, 1985 was a record year for Takara with Transformers royalties from the US market contributing most of the company’s profits.

It was therefore an easy decision for Takara to bring Transformers over for the Japanese market. The decision was made even easier as Hasbro had given Takara the rights to Transformers marketing materials – this included the animated show, itself a collaboration between Marvel Productions and Toei Doga — as compensation for reneging on the Turbo Magnum deal.

Unfortunately, the decision to bring Transformers to Japan also led to the cancellation of Microchange and Diaclone. Ohno was understandably disappointed as he had a personal attachment to Car Robot in particular but he became incredibly enthusiastic about Transformers once he saw the animated show. The bad guys were portrayed in such an interesting way that he thought even their toys would sell well.

This was one of the reasons the Transformers series stood out in Japan. Okude Nobuyuki (a Takara executive who played a vital role in the development of Takara SF Land in the Seventies and Eighties before becoming Takara’s fifth president in 2005) pointed out the Japanese hero robot genre typically focused on a single robot character who would also be central to product marketing efforts but Transformers had a large cast of robot heroes and villains.

Yoke, meanwhile, had misgivings about selling the same Microchange and Diaclone toys in Japan albeit in different packaging and colours. Still, there were upsides to this. As there was no need to invest in new moulds, Takara could devote more of its budget to marketing the line. (Some of these marketing attempts included creating a Convoy costume and more eccentrically, Convoy-shaped household goods for department stores.)

Transformers kicked off in Japan with 24 items in late June 1985 but a young Ichikawa Hirofumi (a future Transformers mecha designer) first spotted the toys when they were test-marketed as imported toys in the fall of the previous year. It wasn’t until he later saw the animated show, renamed Tatakae! Chou Robot Seimetai Transformers for the Japanese market, that he was absolutely blown away. The background setting crafted by Marvel Comics left a deep impression – Ichikawa would become a major fan of American comics — and despite the Japanese origins of Transformers, the animated series appealed to him as an American product. While acknowledging it was clearly a kids’ show aimed at selling toys, he appreciated the differences between the American and Japanese representations of the same toy robots. In Japan, he noted the piloted robots were a stand-in for superpowers whereas the American approach was to treat the robots as characters with distinctive personalities.

Anime critic Hikawa Ryusuke, on the other hand, argued the Transformers show, though Americanised, was still in the tradition of Japanese robot anime with roots that could be traced all the way back to Tetsuwan Atom in 1963. Yet the robots in Transformers were unusual in that they were neither Super Robot like Mazinger nor Real Robot like Gundam. These were strange alien robotic life forms with moving mouths that just happened to transform into real world vehicles and household items. They were at once exotic and familiar.

Future Transformers designers Kobayashi Hironori and Hasui Shogo had a similar reaction to the toys when they first encountered them as kids. Transformers came across as strange variants of the Diaclone and Microman toys they had already seen. Even so, the Transformers toys sold like hotcakes in Japan and the animated show was a major reason for that success.

Hikawa attributed the show’s popularity in Japan to two related trends. The first had to do with timing. Transformers was a robot anime aimed at kids that appeared just as the Real Robot anime boom ended. There had been a surfeit of robot anime geared towards middle schoolers and high schoolers during the boom which left younger audiences underserved and just waiting for a series like Transformers to come along.

The other thing Hikawa noted was Transformers, with its Marvel Productions scripts being animated by Toei Doga, was a textbook example of the co-production trend of the mid-Eighties. Japanese anime studios and top-tier creative talent were keen on partnering with foreign studios to tackle lucrative overseas markets at a time when the Japanese yen was undervalued.

(Unfortunately, there was a corresponding decline in the quantity and quality of robot anime produced specifically for the Japanese market. This was one of the reasons cited for the end of the Real Robot boom in Japan. The situation only improved once the rapid appreciation of the yen made these co-productions untenable.)

Although it’s generally not regarded as such, Transformers ought to be considered the most successful of these East-West collaborations due to its international impact and lasting influence. Its potent, if peculiar, mixture of Japanese toy craftsmanship and American marketing muscle, robot anime culture and American comic book characterisation could have only been possible through the combined efforts of Takara, Hasbro, Griffin-Bacal/Sunbow, Marvel Comics, Marvel Productions and Toei.

American toy companies had adapted Japanese lines prior to this — Mego had turned Microman into Micronauts and Mattel’s Shogun Warriors had combined Bandai’s Jumbo Machinder and Chogokin – but Transformers was still notable for being a close collaboration between multiple companies from two countries. Hasbro wasn’t content repackaging Takara’s toys and Marvel Productions wasn’t simply redubbing anime by Toei Doga.

These close relationships did, however, increase the friction between the different parties. Each not only had ideas of how it should perform its assigned task but sometimes had opinions about how its partners should do theirs.

But they had to first get the message across. Besides the language barrier, there was the challenge of communicating across vast distances. In the days before video conference calls and e-mail, the main mode of communication was through handwritten faxes.

At Takara, Yoke was given the responsibility of coordinating the communication with Hasbro. It was a challenge for him because his command of English wasn’t stellar. At first, he passed his Japanese writing to the supervisor of Takara’s overseas business development to be translated before faxing the results to the States. Frustrated by how much time this took, he eventually resorted to communicating directly to his counterparts at Hasbro. It was difficult but in time, he not only forged a good working relationship with the Americans but grew interested in interacting with people from different cultures who had a different way of looking at things.

And Hasbro and Takara certainly had different ideas of what Transformers should look like. Take, for instance, the robot heads.  The Japanese designers preferred a smaller head to emphasise how huge the robot was overall, which was how giant robots were usually depicted in anime. Hasbro, on the other hand, would constantly urge Takara to enlarge the heads to make it easy to tell characters apart. However, acceding to Hasbro’s request meant Takara’s designers had to figure out how to hide the larger noggins when the robots were transformed into their alternate forms.

The two companies also differed when it came to colours. Hasbro complained Takara tended to restrict itself to a mere three colours whereas the Americans favoured a larger palette which occasionally resulted in colour schemes reminiscent of poison dart frogs. Yoke thought Hasbro’s selection of colours not typically seen in Japan were horrible but eventually got used to them. Ohno was especially shocked by Hasbro’s Devastator redeco but recognised the new colours made the Constructicons look like a unified team which stood out among the large cast of characters. He was more effusive in his praise for the new colours of his all-time best designs, the Triplechangers.

While Hasbro was relaxed when it came to colour schemes, it was much stricter about production costs. As a result, the Transformers toys released after the first two years of the line had plastic instead of rubber tyres, less diecast and a less complicated transformation to reduce the number of parts.

At the same time, Takara also had to incur extra costs to meet the more stringent safety standards of the American toy market. According to a Takara designer, the Diaclone and Microchange toys that made up the initial batch of Transformers didn’t actually meet Hasbro’s quality standards but were nonetheless released as they were.

The toys designed after that had to pass American strength tests that far exceeded Japanese ones. One of the more unusual safety tests the toys had to undergo was dubbed the “dreaded crotch tear test” by Takara’s designers. It involved using 20 pounds of force to pull apart a figure’s legs to determine if anything broke into dangerous shards. The designers’ crude workaround to pass the test was connecting the lower legs of the robot mode with a horizontal piece of plastic. Unfortunately, this additional plastic not only increased the cost of the toy but also prevented Transformers of that era from having better articulation.

Some of the better articulated Transformers toys from that era weren’t, in fact, Takara designs. Hasbro began acquiring the rights to every Japanese transforming toy robot it could in order to fulfill the seemingly insatiable demand for them as well as to prevent competitors from snagging them for themselves.

(There were still enough transforming toys produced by Japanese companies to go around. Matchbox sold the Popy Chogokin Golion as Voltron in 1985 and Mattel incorporated Bandai’s Tamagoras into the Masters of the Universe line in 1986.)

The most notable of these non-Takara Transformers was the Takatoku Toys Valkyrie. Hasbro had an agreement in place with Takatoku to sell the toy in the US but the Japanese company went out of business in May 1984. The Valkyries were still being produced for overseas markets by Takatoku Toys’ manufacturer, Matsushiro, until it suffered financial problems of its own. The Valkyrie moulds ended up being owned by Bandai. This was an uncomfortable situation all around because Bandai was also producing Tonka’s GoBots. To its credit, Bandai decided to honour the agreement with Hasbro and so the licensed Valkyrie was turned into the Transformers Jetfire (formerly Fireball). Takara was presumably miffed at the thought of having a major competitor’s toy in its co-developed line and promoted by the animated series so the character model, initially faithful to the toy, was altered. Even then, the story bible noted the character, known as Skyfire on the show, should only be used sparingly.

(Hasbro also acquired the Beetras toys from Bandai, gave them garish colour schemes and sold them as Deluxe Insecticons. They proved less controversial because they never appeared on the show.)

By November 1985, it was clear Transformers was popular on television as well as in the toy aisles. It was the number one syndicated cartoon available in 139 markets covering 91% of the US. There were occasional problems in this area as relations between Marvel Comics and Marvel Productions were strained and Hasbro sometimes meddled in the process. At one point, Hasbro insisted the names in episode scripts be left blank until the toy company had decided which products would be promoted. According to the book Toy Wars, the story editors complained to Margaret Loesch, the head of Marvel Productions, who demanded more creative freedom from Hasbro and got it.

Hasbro had other bright ideas that didn’t quite pan out. Flush with success and the number one toy company in the US in 1985, it decided Transformers ought to hit the big screen even before the first season of the series had completed airing on television. Like the toyline itself, the 1986 animated movie was a rush job, taking only 1½ years to complete.

Crucially, the movie character designs were the creation of Marvel Productions rather than Takara and it turned out giving the American animation studio greater creative freedom caused problems for the Japanese toy company. For one thing, the toy designers had to figure out how to make transforming toys out of the character models. It would have been particularly challenging for the new guy on Takara’s Transformers team. Kunihiro Takashi had joined the company in 1984 and Hot Rodimus (Hot Rod) and Rodimus Convoy (Rodimus Prime) were among his first Transformers designs. He got as far as the prototype stage for both before he was told the price points had been changed which meant he had to go back to the drawing board to design toys with simpler transformations.

Then there were problems with specific characters in the movie. Yoke took exception to the older-looking robots in particular. How was Takara supposed to market toys of geriatric robots to Japanese boys, he wondered. Some of the characters looked like they were about to drop dead at any moment. (He felt sufficiently strongly about this that he was still complaining in interviews decades later.) He tried to make his objections clear to his Hasbro counterparts – a process made difficult because again, his English wasn’t great. A compromise was eventually reached: the animation models would remain as they were but the toys wouldn’t have such wizened faces.

The movie debuted in August 1986 and did poorly, earning a mere 5.8 million dollars. It did, however, change the direction of the toyline, which continued to do well both in the US and in Japan. The movie and post-movie toys were notable for their futuristic vehicle designs – a reversal of Diaclone’s switch from sci-fi designs to Car Robot’s realistic vehicle modes. The upside was it would be easier to distinguish the Transformers’ vehicles modes — next year’s model of a real car wasn’t going to be that dramatic a departure from the current one – but it also meant Takara’s designers had to once again come up with futuristic designs that appealed to kids.

Takara also had the difficult task of coming up with designs that appealed to a small group of demanding adults. The executives at Hasbro now had a greater say in the line’s development and would not only pick and choose product concepts to refresh the line but would sometimes expect transforming toys be made out of the oddest of ideas.

Ohno recalled one particularly difficult product development meeting in Tokyo during which Hasbro’s executives kept rejecting proposal after proposal by Takara. The Japanese designers regrouped, had an all-night brainstorming session and Ohno finally drew upon another Takara SF Land hit for inspiration. What if, he thought, Koutetsu Jeeg was a Transformer? And what if that Transformer’s detachable head also transformed into a minifigure? This led to the creation of the Headmasters.

It also led to the creation of the figure that would be, for decades, the tallest Transformer toy. The ultimate Headmaster, Fortress Maximus, was a massive triplechanger whose head detached to become another robot whose own head detached to become a minifigure.

The Fortress Maximus concept was originally part of the Jizai Gattai project (renamed Scramble Gattai in the spring of 1985), which was Takara’s attempt to refresh Diaclone towards the end of that line. The company had wanted to return to Diaclone’s roots and in particular the base-play concept of Robot Base and Robot Fortress X so the designers came up with transforming city bases of three different sizes as well as a new style of combiner robot to complement them. In contrast to the earlier Diaclone combiners, Train Robo and Kensetsu-sha Robo (which would become the Constructicons), the Scramble Gattai combiners could swap around their limbs and had torsos whose appearance could be changed by attaching different parts.

Hasbro found the idea appealing so the transforming city bases and the new combiners were adapted as Transformers. The first of the city-bases to be produced was the medium-sized one, Metroplex, which was later sold as Metroflex in Japan. The design was particularly noteworthy for the way it interacted with the Aerialbot, Stunticon, Protectobot and Combaticon combiner teams. The smaller robots which formed combiner limbs could be attached to Metroplex’s robot form while the larger robots which turned into the combiner torsos could be transformed into mini-base modes to expand Metroplex’s city mode.

(The fact the Decepticon Stunticons and Combaticons were capable of connecting to the Autobot Metroplex is due to the toys’ Diaclone origins. The Scramble Gattai robots were all originally intended to be part of Earth’s defences in the Diaclone line.)

Fortress Maximus, the largest of the city-bases, was the next to be developed. The price tag for the toy had been decided in advance so Ohno was free to create a toy that was of a sufficiently large volume to justify it. Hasbro did want the design to include a Headmaster gimmick because that was the theme in the US the year it was to be released but that request was easy enough to accommodate.

The design of the city-base itself required further attention, however. According to Ohno, the main challenge with Fortress Maximus lay in making the toy look like something that was recognisably a city or at the very least, a group of buildings. The key, he found, was to focus his efforts on making the central tower look like a skyscraper.

Then there were the design issues caused by the sheer mass of Fortress Maximus. Although city-transformers were easier to design when it came to transformation (especially when compared to the challenge of turning a recognisable car model into a cool-looking robot), Ohno still had to ensure the heavy toy could easily be handled by a child. He came up with a simple transformation that could be accomplished with Fortress Maximus placed on the ground. In addition to that, he had to resort to using diecast metal for the hinges that connected the tower to the main body of the toy to strengthen the joints.

When Fortress Maximus was released in the US in 1987, it was the tallest, heaviest and priciest toy in the line. It could not have been produced without the involvement of Hasbro, Ohno asserted. He never expected an item that large with that eye-watering a price tag to be released in Japan as well but his superiors decided to risk it.

Success would hinge on effective marketing and Takara must have been feeling confident about its prospects after its earlier Destron no Gyakushu (Destron’s Counterattack) campaign. Meant to boost the sales of Destron toys, the campaign completely ignored the anime that was airing at the time and featured instead a unique storyline that saw the villains emerge victorious. It was a resounding success with Destron toys, which had previously made up 30 percent of Transformers sales, almost achieving parity with the Cybertron toys. Notably, the best-seller during the campaign was the flagship item, Predaking, then the largest and priciest combiner of the line.

To gee up interest in Fortress Maximus, Takara first came up with the Scramble Daisakusen contest. It required kids to mail in 3 Robot Points clipped from the packages of the combiners for a chance to win one of 300 Hasbro Fortress Maximus figures. The response was so good Takara marketing man Arai Takashi took the bold step of making the toy costing over 10,000 yen the main product for the year. The toy was subsequently made the focus of marketing efforts and even turned into the Cybertron leader for Toei Doga’s Transformers The Headmasters anime. Arai then suggested adding the Master Sword to the general release of Fortress Maximus in Japan to distinguish it from the earlier prize figures.

As a result of those marketing efforts, Fortress Maximus became the best-selling toy in what would be the best-selling Japanese Transformers series of that era. According to Ohno, it was amazing to see an item costing 12,800 yen sell like hot cakes.

On another occasion, Takara’s designers were completely stumped by a Hasbro request. They were presented with a 12-inch figure that had a robot inside it for some reason and were told to make the robot transform. Takara designer Ishizawa Takayuki described the outer figure as Tarzan-like in that it was muscular and clad only in underpants, and thought it resembled a larger version of the He-Man figures that were popular in the US at the time.

(The Masters of the Universe line was, in fact, at the height of its popularity earlier in 1986 after making $400 million in the US — Transformers had dipped to $214 million during the same period — but sales of the Mattel line plunged to a mere $7 million the following year.)

Ohno noted diplomatically he was puzzled by the unusual toy concept – he thought it must have originally have been for another Hasbro project — while Ishizawa’s reaction was more along the lines of “You have to be joking.”

Hasbro had further conditions that made the task even more challenging. The outer figure had to be playable as an action figure yet be able to split apart while the inner robot had to be removable, transformable and had to fit in any outer figure. If that wasn’t enough, the whole thing had to somehow be a simple design that was the size and price point of a He-Man figure. It was, Ohno said, a struggle to fulfil all those requirements.

Ishizawa’s first thought was to come up with something Henshin Cyborg-like – suggesting he was considering a human costume that unzipped to reveal a robot underneath — but the price point made that impossible. Then he thought of Saint Seiya, which was popular in Japan at the time. Bandai’s Saint Seiya Saint Cloth Series toys featured diecast armoured pieces that attached to a human form so it’s possible Ishizawa was thinking of having organic parts attach to a robot figure.

After considering a number of other approaches, Takara’s designers finally settled on having the robot ensconced within an outer shell. Mecha designer Saito Masakatsu, who worked with Takara to refine the character designs, had previously wondered what a human who transformed might look like and was no doubt nonplussed to discover the result was reminiscent of monaka.

The Pretenders, as the concept became known, were robots in disguise (in disguise) but the designers had trouble translating the idea into actual toys. For one thing, the giant robots on the Cybertron (Autobot) side had by necessity to be smaller than their outer human disguises. Furthermore, the inner robots had to be more or less identical in shape because Hasbro wanted them to fit in any other shell. Finally, the transformations had to be simplified because the price point meant the designers were severely constrained when it came to the number of parts that could be used.

Once the design of the toys had been broadly sorted out, Takara’s designers had to figure out the character designs of the outer shells and inner robots. Hasbro had furnished Takara with pencil sketches of three outer shells – these would eventually become Cloudburst (Phoenix in Japan), Landmine (Lander) and Waverider (Diver) — and expected the Japanese designers to come up with everything else. As the Pretender concept seemed to be a Hasbro response to He-Man’s success in the US, Ishizawa looked to He-Man designs (Takara briefly sold the line as “Makai Densetsu He-Man no Tatakae” in Japan), foreign movies and the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual for ideas. It was difficult to discern the tastes of American kids back then, he explained, because America was a long way away and there was little information available on foreign figures. Ishizawa couldn’t resist adding a Japanese touch, however. He got the designer of the Henshin Cyborg prototype (unnamed but it was probably Kobayashi Dan) to work on the Pretender outer shell prototypes specifically because he wanted something of Henshin Cyborg in the Pretenders.

The production of the Pretenders presented its own set of problems. Transformers in general were more challenging to produce than typical action figures because they were not based on a standard figure design. Most had a unique robot mode, a unique transformation and a unique alternate mode and that meant more parts to produce and assemble.

The book, Inside the Robot Kingdom, revealed some interesting details about the work involved in manufacturing Transformers when the toys were made in Japan. The 1986 Ultra Magnus figure (based on the 1984 Diaclone Powered Convoy) had 50 pages of specifications and was comprised of almost 50 parts (including screws). Those parts, produced by Takara’s secondary subcontractors, were created from metal moulds which might take 45 days to cut compared to the 30 days required for standard toys. The parts were then sent to Fuji Bussan, one of Takara’s 15 primary subcontractors, which could assemble by hand 380 Ultra Magnus figures per hour. The book noted it would be impossible to assemble the toy if the parts were not precisely produced. While that might also hold true for most other toys, Transformers were particularly vulnerable to  that problem due to their myriad of parts moving and shifting about during transformation.

Matters became more complicated when it came time to produce the Pretenders. The rapid appreciation of the yen during that period meant that it was no longer feasible to manufacture Transformers in Japan so Takara’s designers had to work with a Hong Kong factory for the first time. There were notable differences in the way the two sides approached toy-making. For example, the Hong Kong factory worked with much larger 2-up prototypes while the Japanese designers were more comfortable working with smaller versions that were closer in size to the final product. When Ishizawa visited the factory to supervise the work, he was startled when he was asked to check the shape of a concave mould since the Japanese designer was more accustomed to checking convex moulds. Then there was the problem with aesthetics. Ishizawa noted Takara’s designers were particular about getting the visual balance right when it came to facial details whereas their Hong Kong partners were content as long as the eyes, nose and mouth were present.

Despite the considerable difficulties Takara faced during the development of the Pretenders, the company was nevertheless fully committed to making them the focus of the line in Japan. Takara went so far as to create a Japanese exclusive, Metal Hawk, with a more heroic appearance to serve as a recognisable leader character for the good guys. (Lander was considered ill-suited for the role – Ishizawa, for one, thought a fat yellow guy wasn’t a heroic figure designed with Japanese boys in mind – and was turned into a mail-away campaign figure.) Unfortunately, the Pretenders sold poorly in Japan even after being featured prominently in early episodes of the Transformers Masterforce anime.

After conducting a survey, Takara determined there was greater demand instead for another toy that had been developed exclusively for the Japanese market that year. Super Ginrai was notable for several reasons. The toy was inspired by Optimus Prime and looked like Optimus Prime but wasn’t actually Optimus Prime. The character wasn’t even Convoy, the Japanese equivalent to Optimus Prime.

It all started when Hasbro received phone calls and letters from distraught kids who had seen Optimus Prime die in the movie. (It was dubbed “Instant Childhood Trauma: The Movie” for a very good reason.) After being made aware of just how upset the customer base was, Hasbro hastily ordered the return of the character in the series. If Bobby Ewing could do it, why not Optimus Prime, mused one executive. Hasbro then decided to produce a new toy of the character for the line.

It was the first time Takara remade any Transformers toy. In terms of appearance, Ohno designed the robot mode so that it better resembled the character model seen in the series. It was by no means show-accurate but with its triangular-shaped chest and reworked waist section, it was closer to the show version than the original toy.

When it came to play features, the new Optimus Prime toy had three gimmicks of note. The first, the Powermaster gimmick, saw the included minifigure transform into a key that unlocked the truck’s transformation to robot mode. Takara realised kids might lose the minifigure so the transformation could also be unlocked by pressing a button on the toy.

If the first gimmick was novel, the second took inspiration from the past. Much like the Diaclone Battle Convoy that became the first Optimus Prime toy, the new toy’s trailer section could transform into a base. The minifigure could even man the weapons emplacements Diaclone pilot-style although in this case it meant straddling the seats rather than sitting down.

The toy’s third gimmick, the most ambitious, was seemingly another nod to Diaclone. Much like Powered Convoy (the toy that became Ultra Magnus), the new Optimus Prime could combine with the trailer for a powered-up form. If the robot head for the Powermaster form seemed especially pronounced, it was because Ohno enlarged it at Hasbro’s request. Powermaster Optimus Prime wasn’t featured on the show – a puppet of the character did appear in new sequences bookending reruns – but the toy still did well in the two years it was sold in the US.

In Japan, however, Toei decided the Convoy-lookalike would be a new character, Ginrai, in the Transformers Masterforce anime, which was in the Japanese tradition of having a new main character for every series in long-running franchises. Thus, Ohno was handed the unusual opportunity to remake his remake to enhance the toy’s appeal for the Japanese market. The Powermaster Optimus Prime design was retooled so that Super Ginrai would have diecast for the front of the cab, clear plastic parts for the windows and retractable fists.

Takara went further. The company released another toy, God Bomber, which was designed specifically to combine with Super Ginrai so that Ginrai’s power-up form would have its own power-up form. As Super Ginrai was not originally intended to combine with another toy, it was a tricky piece of engineering but Takara’s designers pulled it off. God Ginrai proved popular enough that the toy designers returned to the concept of the ultimate power-up combination to create impressive flagship items for future lines.

There were other Transformers concepts suggestive of older Takara SF Land lines. The Micromasters, for example, harkened back to Diaclone with downsized Transformers now standing in for Diaclone pilots. The Action Masters, on the other hand, were awfully close to Microman in size and construction, and the fact each figure sported a 5mm port on its back and the accessories had 5mm pegs made the connection between the two lines stronger. (The connection was strong enough that Action Master Optimus Prime‘s vehicle was later reused for Microman a decade later.) Whether this was a case of Takara quietly reinserting elements Hasbro had discarded back in 1983 or simply coincidental, only the Japanese designers know for sure.

One of those who might know is no longer at the company. Described as the only person who had some contact with every Transformer from every generation, Yoke was inducted into the Transformers Hall of Fame in 2010. After retiring in the spring of 2017, he visited Hasbro to bid farewell to his American colleagues. He used the occasion to give a presentation that recounted the history of the collaboration between Takara (now Takara Tomy) and Hasbro. At the end, he posed a question: why have these two companies been able to work so well together? The answer, he suggested, came down to the way each company exploited its respective strengths without riding roughshod over the other. In order to accomplish this, he said it was important to respect each other, take into consideration each other’s intentions and keep a close eye on the results.

The unusual decades-long collaboration between Hasbro and Takara Tomy, two companies that actually compete with each other in some segments of the market, continues to be the driving force behind the success of Transformers. If anything, the relationship has grown even closer over the years with a former Hasbro employee describing the Transformers creators as one team that just happens to be paid by two different companies.

Although current numbers are hard to come by, Hasbro reported in 2016 Transformers had brought in more than 10 billion dollars since 2004. The brand is now strong enough to support multiple toylines aimed at different demographics and is promoted by a variety of shows and comics.

That Transformers has not only survived but thrived is partly due to its Takara SF Land lineage and that spirit is still being kept alive at Takara Tomy by the likes of Ohno Koujin. Having devoted his youth to the Transformers brand during its formative years, he was just as important behind the scenes later. When Takara decided to reenergise Transformers by returning to its roots for the aptly titled Transformers Car Robot in 2000, Ohno played a key role even though he was no longer part of the design team. Then the head of marketing, he drew upon past experience to push the Fortress Maximus variant, Brave Maximus, through the Cybertron City mail-away contest and even used his son as a model for promotional photos. However, his biggest contribution to that pivotal line was simply challenging Takara’s Transformers team, which by that time included Kobayashi and Hasui, fans who stated their intention to work on the brand during their job interview, to go beyond merely recreating the past. He urged them to take what was best about it and improve upon that by incorporating modern technology.

Although Ohno was happy to see just how capable his younger colleagues were, he admitted to feeling jealous seeing their creations. (He was less than overjoyed when Yuki Hisashi’s Metroplex design overtook Fortress Maximus as the tallest Transformer in 2013.) The 43-year veteran of the toy industry did get the opportunity to show the young whippersnappers he still had what it took when he rejoined the Transformers team to help design the Masterpiece Trainbot Raiden, a collector-oriented update of his first Diaclone combiner.

Ohno Koujin was inducted into the Transformers Hall of Fame along with his long-time colleague Yoke but couldn’t attend the ceremony due to work commitments. (He was still apologising years later.) Ohno did make it to the Transformers convention, BotCon, in Illinois in 2015 where he was to appreciate firsthand the impact his toy designs had on a global audience. He gave a presentation recounting the history of Transformers which was well received despite his rusty English and said it felt good to receive a standing ovation at the end. There was even an autograph session afterwards and Ohno was genuinely touched to meet with fans. One had brought along a battered Sunstreaker that his grandfather had bought for him. It was, of course, the Transformers version of the very first transforming toy Ohno had designed, the Diaclone Countach LP500S Super Tuning. For Ohno, the man who considers Transformers to be a part of himself, it was a truly blissful moment.

Transformers Zone (1990)

The first Transformers line, retroactively named G1, ended in the US in 1990 after sales had dwindled to a mere 35 million dollars — about a tenth of what the line brought in at its peak five years earlier.

Transformers still chugged along in Japan with the release of Transformers Zone. The line was relatively small in scale with only a single OVA episode to promote it and it mostly revolved around toys previously released in the US as Micromasters.

The Micromasters are an interesting example of how Takara and Hasbro diverged in how they positioned products for their respective markets. It’s generally assumed Hasbro released Micromasters in 1989 in the US with the intention of countering Galoob’s Micro Machines. Galoob had introduced its line of 1¼-inch vehicles in 1987 and according to Toyland, sold 200 million of them in two years. Their cheap price — 10 dollars for a pack of 5 — made them appealing to parents who were also expected to splurge on pricey videogames back then. Hasbro’s answer to cheap tiny vehicles was cheap tiny Transformers.

Takara, on the other hand, viewed Micromasters from a Takara SF Land perspective. The Transformers Generations book reported the company briefly considered adapting Micromasters as a Microman line in 1989 – and as preposterous as that may seem at first, a Micromaster toy was indeed turned into a Microman item a decade later – before opting to sell them as Micro Transformers.

Although it’s unclear what inspiration, if any, Takara took from Diaclone when designing Micromasters, there was no doubt at all that Diaclone was a major influence when Takara planned to market Micro Transformers in Japan. Takaya Motoki, who worked on Transformers Zone after the Cyberman project was ended, revealed Takara wanted to revitalize Transformers by emphasising Diaclone-style base-play and dioramas.

Conveniently, there already were vehicles and bases designed for Micromasters when the figures were released in the US the previous year and this included an obvious centrepiece, the Micromaster Rocket Base. However, Takara was set on having a brand-new Japanese-exclusive toy as a flagship item for Transformers Zone so the designers studied the play features and transformation of Diaclone toys like Robot Base, Cosmo Roller and Diatrain with the aim of producing a gimmick-heavy motorised toy.

The result would be Diatlas and his fellow Powered Masters, Sonic Bomber and Road Fire. The Powered Masters were triplechangers with robot, vehicle and base modes but on top of that they were designed to combine with each other in various ways to form different vehicles. Sky Powered, for example, was a combination of Sonic Bomber and Diatlas while Land Powered was a combination of Road Fire and Diatlas. All three Powered Masters could also combine to form a massive jet named Big Powered. The name had a dual meaning: in addition to signifying it was a big-sized Powered Master vehicle, Big Powered was a reference to the Diaclone toy of the same name.

The Diaclone-influenced Transformers Zone line would later influence Diaclone in turn. Takaya took inspiration from the way Sonic Bomber’s head popped up during transformation when designing the first toy of the 2016 Diaclone reboot, DiaBattles v2. The Futabasha book went so far as to describe Transformers Zone as the missing link between the two Diaclone lines and while that may seem like a stretch, the relatively obscure Transformers line does serve as an example of how Diaclone continued to inspire Takara’s designers and Takaya Motoki in particular.

Diaclone (2016)

After Takaya Motoki concluded his work on Microman 1999 (the line that was refined and released as Microman Magne Powers), the toy designer began contemplating an interesting problem. He had been at Takara for over a decade at that point and had a pretty good idea of what it took to develop boys’ toys but it had become clear by then there was a burgeoning new market for toys in Japan: adults.

Toy companies were certainly aware of the existence of adult collectors of children’s toys but the general attitude in the Nineties was reflected by a Hasbro executive’s airy dismissal: “Collectors are a pimple on the elephant’s ass.” In other words, they scarcely seemed to be worth the effort.

Nonaka Tsuyoshi, on the other hand, found that pimple intriguing. Then at Bandai, he started working on an update of one of the company’s legendary hits, the Chogokin Maginger Z. (That 1974 figure and the Chogokin series of diecast toys it spawned proved so successful in Japan that Takara felt obliged to come up with the Diaclone line in 1980 to compete.) Nonaka’s new Mazinger Z would not only be a lavish update of the toy from the Seventies but it would be targeted specifically at adults which made it a highly unusual project at the time. It was so unusual a project that, aside from Nonaka, no one at Bandai actually believed the toy was going to sell. Still, he persisted and did the rounds promoting the figure everywhere he could in an attempt to generate buzz for it. When the Soul of Chogokin Mazinger Z was finally released in December 1997 for 5800 yen, it sold out so quickly Bandai immediately ordered another production run. It turned out there was money to be squeezed from that pimple.

Takara’s initial offerings for the same “high-target” segment of the toy market included reproductions and modern interpretations of Takara SF Land classics like Henshin Cyborg and Microman. The packages usually stated these were meant for toy fans 15 years or older but given the asking price and taking into account the fact that these were properties from the Seventies, it was fairly obvious the target audience was adults with a lot more disposable income than your average Nineties teen. The approach taken by Takara to target adults at that time was the approach most toy companies took — and still do — which was to appeal to nostalgia.

Takaya himself chose a far riskier path when he worked on Cool Girl, which was a line of 1/6-scale figures targeted at adult collectors. It had some connections to Takara SF Land and included tributes to characters from the world of anime and tokusatsu but was largely an original series with no brand name recognition and minimal media promotion. Takaya still managed to skilfully shepherd the line and keep it going for over a decade — a remarkable achievement considering the uncertainty and volatility of the toy industry. (Toy Wars noted only 28 out of 257 action figure lines introduced between 1982 and 1993 were successful.)

Cool Girl (and its spin-off, GenX Core) incorporated some of the ideas Takaya had come up with for the adult market – the basic figure design concept was that it looked as good as a statue when placed on display but was as well-articulated as any action figure — but he still remained largely dissatisfied with the direction that segment of the market was taking.

In his view, toys targeted at adults were not really toys to be played with. Though certainly cleverly engineered, they were toys to be fiddled with occasionally or toys to be admired but not toys that fired up the imagination or inspired adults to actually play with them.  Instead, they invariably ended up on shelves and in display cases, waiting impassively to be joined by more of their like.

Takaya even thought that toys designed for adults seemed more like work than play. The intricate transformations seemed very involved and complex, not to mention time-consuming, and whatever pleasure was derived seemed mostly from diligently checking and verifying that the transformation and the gimmicks of the toys were indeed faithful to on-screen depictions of the characters. He conceded there was absolutely a market for toys like these but expressed discomfort about how this trend seemed to be escalating every year.

(The natural outcome of this approach to toy-making would be apparent to anyone who’s looked at a complex transforming toy on the shelf, thought about transforming it to another mode, considered how long the process would take and how exasperating it would be, and decided the toy was just fine as it was.)

It was not the Takara way, Takaya felt. Okude Nobuyuki, whose involvement in Takara SF Land dates back to the days of Henshin Cyborg, once reminded him that Takara was a toy-driven company rather than one that relied primarily on media for its designs even as the company set up a Character Toy Division. Toys, Okude asserted, were at the centre of Takara’s business.

The phrase “toy-driven” stuck with Takaya over the years. It was almost as if Okude was entreating him to consider “the dignity of toys” and this probably explains why Takaya wanted to take a different approach when targeting the adult market. It would be an approach that prioritised the toys. It would be a Takara SF Land approach.

As Takaya saw it, the essence of Takara SF Land was to convey a worldview through the figures, vehicles and bases – the toys were tools for the imagination. The old Takara SF Land lines were aimed at children but Takaya saw no reason why an adult might not be similarly inspired. He thought an adult still possessed a rich enough imagination to look at a tiny plastic figure on the desk and see in the mind’s eye a brave warrior standing with his back to the setting sun after a tough battle. If a toy robot or flying vehicle was placed next to that figure, he believed it could conjure up a spectacular sci-fi drama that no one had ever seen before.

However, Takaya wasn’t content to develop toys that simply sparked an adult’s imagination. He intended to create an original line of toys that actually got adults playing. In describing his thoughts on the matter, he almost seemed to be channelling Takara’s founder. Satoh Yasuta believed that every hit toy, regardless of whether it looked like Licca-chan or Transformers, had one thing in common: it could light up children’s eyes and make them lean forward to reach out for it. Satoh’s shorthand for it was “Pika, Kakkun, Su.” Takaya apparently wanted his toys to have the same effect on the older toy fan.

(It may not have been as impossible as it seemed. When another company founder was asked why his creations appealed to both adults and children, he answered that everyone at his company was sure of just one thing: everybody was once a child and in every one of us remains something of our childhood. Operating under that assumption seemed to have worked out all right for Walt Disney.)

Takaya then decided to raise the bar even higher: he wanted to make playing with toys an acceptable and enjoyable hobby for adults alongside reading books or watching movies. (He could have added videogames.) It would be a true challenge for him as a toy designer and he spent a few years thinking about how to go about achieving his ambitious goal on his own initiative.

In a bid to solidify his ideas, he looked to model train collecting, which has been enjoyed by adults as a hobby for decades. It had all the elements he thought were important for his planned line: detailed vehicles and figures that caught your eye and immersed you in a tableau which gradually grew more expansive as you added pieces to it.

(One adult model train collector bought himself a set as a 47-year-old, kept it in a room adjoining his office, ran it in his spare time and delighted in showing it off to visitors. Shortly afterwards, he built a much larger 1/8-scale miniature railroad called the Carolwood-Pacific Railroad which ran on a half-mile track around his home. It was large enough adults could sit on top of the boxcars. A few years after that, he spent millions building the world’s greatest train layout and called it Disneyland.)

As a sci-fi fan, Takaya naturally gravitated towards themes and settings from that genre. He considered a 60s space exploration theme or something revolving around a secret base construction or even something set in the interior of a giant futuristic vehicle. The more he thought about it, the more he came to realise that what he was conceiving had already been produced: it was Diaclone.

This belated realisation was particularly comical considering how much that old line had influenced Takaya at various points in his career. He had studied Diaclone when designing the Transformers Zone Powered Masters in 1990 and decades later, insisted that Beast Saga would be partly Diaclone-like in its play pattern.

Diaclone — derived from “friendship as strong as a diamond and friends as powerful as a cyclone” because it was the Eighties and because it was Japanese — was a Takara SF Land original line that featured transforming vehicles and bases along with figures for them. There was a background setting which told of a conflict against the alien Waruder and even a manga but the main draw was not the storyline or the characters; it was a toy-driven line.

Conveniently, Diaclone was the one major Takara SF Land line that was overlooked during the flurry of revivals during the late Nineties and early Aughts so when Takaya was given the opportunity to join Takara Tomy’s newly established High-Target Division after Beast Saga, he began work on what would become a Diaclone line for the 21st century.

Instead of being a complete break from the past, it would be a continuation of the original line to the extent that it would incorporate the timeline of the original background story. But Takaya took things even further. As he explained in Diaclone World Guide Next, he would use the timeline for product planning with the conceit that ongoing developments in the war against the Waruder aliens would produce new weapon systems and countermeasures. Thus, the order in which the products would be released was the order in which they were developed in the fiction.

The background story, though more a chronicle of events than a detailed narrative, still required a shift in tone. The original Diaclone storyline was meant for kids; the new one had to appeal to adults. Takaya opted for a setting reminiscent of Real Robot anime from the Eighties but at the same time he didn’t want fans to get bogged down with extraneous details. There would not be deep dives into the motivations of the villains nor any navel-gazing about the true nature of justice. The Waruder invaders were evil incarnate; the Diaclone side were valiant defenders with hearts burning with justice. End of story.

This is not to say Takaya did not spend a lot of time thinking about Diaclone’s background. He did and often in completely unexpected areas. For example, he wanted to come up with an answer to the question, “Why do these vehicles have to combine to become a robot?” The actual answer, he recognised, was obviously, “It looks cool.” But Takaya wanted a deeper rationale, something that would appeal to an adult’s sensibilities. He came up with the concept of expendable combat machines that could serve as spare parts even during a heated battle. Instead of returning to base for repairs whenever part of the robot or vehicle was damaged, the malfunctioning component was simply detached and another machine would swoop in to provide parts for a transformation into a different configuration to resume fighting.

That wasn’t just an aimless creative exercise; it also influenced product development. Takaya had a different take on designing combining vehicles or transforming robots: he first pictured a dramatic docking or thrilling transformation sequence and then came up with the mechanism, parts and joints necessary for it. Gimmicks like a robot head slowly emerging via a spring-powered mechanism or arm components sliding on rails from one vehicle to another during transformation were another result of this approach.

For ease of play, the transformations and combinations would have far fewer steps compared to other products in the market but to compensate for that, the toys allowed for custom combinations through the mixing and matching of parts. To further encourage play, some toy features would be left deliberately undocumented in order to give more inquisitive fans something to discover.

The toys would come in all shapes and sizes (and price points). There would be expandable bases, vehicles with different functionality, giant robots and compact power suits and, in line with Takara SF Land tradition, suitably menacing opponents to confront. All of these were powered by fictional Freezon energy in the story. Takaya wanted their toy counterparts to be fuelled by an adult’s imagination.

All he had to do was come up with designs that drew adults into the world of Diaclone. Takaya had big plans for accomplishing this but everything would hinge on getting one tiny detail just right: a 3cm figure that bore the weight of the entire line on its shoulders.

Dubbed the Dianaut, the new Diaclone trooper design typified Takaya’s approach to reviving the line: it was influenced by the past but it was by no means beholden to it. It was, in fact, a thoroughly modern design with Takaya flatly stating that it could not have been possible without the use of technology like 3D CAD software and 3D printers. All that hardware and software was necessary to fulfil Takaya’s objective of producing a tiny action figure that would surprise anyone who held one with the quality of its finish.

On a very basic level, however, the Dianauts, like the original figures, provided a sense of scale when placed alongside mecha and vehicles. Each Dianaut represented a 1/60-scale human clad in strength-enhancing Diatector armour capable of operating in all environments.

Taking another cue from the original figures, the Dianauts had magnets on the soles of their feet. Takaya originally planned to use cheap ferrite magnets but had difficulty sourcing magnets of an unobtrusive size so he had to resort to using smaller, stronger and unfortunately, costlier neodymium magnets. To take advantage of those magnets, metal stickers were included in the larger sets so the new figures could be placed in gravity-defying poses like the old ones.

There the similarities ended. This was immediately obvious from appearance alone: the Dianauts were better proportioned compared to their predecessors, eschewed the all-chrome heads of the Eighties (which in turn was a nod to Takara SF Land lines from the Seventies) and had a more realistic paint job.

However, the biggest indication of the line’s ambition was the articulation. The old Diaclone troop figures could move at the shoulders and hips which enabled them to stand stiffly at attention or sit down (stiffly) to pilot vehicles (stiffly). That was still remarkable for the era considering similar-sized figures produced by other companies were generally in a fixed pose. (Takara’s own Blockman line, a short-lived Diaclone spin-off, included unposable pilots.)

The first batch of Dianauts, on the other hand, had an astonishing nine points of articulation which enabled movement at the shoulders, elbows, mid-torso, hips and knees. Takaya wasn’t content with that, however. The female Dianaut design released three years later introduced an additional point of articulation at the head. Achieving that wasn’t just a matter of breezily announcing to the production factory that the figure’s head would now move. According to Takaya, there was a lot of heated debate on the production side of things whether it would even be possible to have an articulated head on a figure that small. It took repeated cycles of testing and delicate adjustments of moulds, and a special assembly process to maintain the strength of the joints and parts before the figure was finally ready to be mass produced.

Action figure aficionados might grouse lateral movement at the shoulders and hips wasn’t great but the overall articulation of each Dianaut was and still is jaw-dropping considering the size of the figure. Then again, perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising since Takara Tomy still contains many Takara SF Land veterans — one of whom is overseeing the Diaclone revival, of course — and breaking new ground in articulation was a very Takara thing to do. This was after all the company that made a concerted effort to emulate the articulation of the 30cm-tall Henshin Cyborg for the 10cm-tall Microman back in 1974 and produced an equally remarkable update almost three decades later.

But it might also be said it was a very Takaya thing to do. After spending decades designing action figures, Takaya believed that the more articulated a figure was, the more naturally expressive it would be. Thus, the Dianaut figures not only had enough joints to pull off expected poses like standing or sitting but they included joints for very specific poses for very specific situations. For example, the mid-torso hinge-joint that enabled the figure to lean forward or lean back was added so that the figure would look natural when climbing into a vehicle. It not coincidentally also allowed the figure to look cool when it was posed riding a motorcycle, which was of incredible significance to a toy designer who just happened to own a bike. Takaya even made sure that fans could immediately appreciate this fact by including a motorbike, the Road Viper, with the first product released for Diaclone’s relaunch in 2016.

DiaBattles V2 was the first of the Gattai System Machines, a series of combining fighting vehicles. It was also the first transforming and combining toy Takaya had designed since Thunder Gridman back in the Eighties but he was not short of ideas of what a combining toy designed for adults should look like. Crucially, though, he also possessed the talent and the know-how to turn those ideas into solid products. The concept of fighting vehicles that combined and detached expendable components during battle clearly came across in the DiaBattles V2 design and could easily be appreciated in the Cosmo Maneuver variant that could replace its arms with backups deployed from its weapons backpack.

The variants were actually intended to be Takaya’s own backup plan in case DiaBattles V2 sold poorly. There were certainly plenty of reasons to feel pessimistic about its chances. It was a pricey toy targeted at adults, it had little nostalgic appeal – the original DiaBattles toy was hardly a fan-favourite even among Diaclone diehards — and the line had no major media backing. In fact, Takara Tomy was so nervous about DiaBattles V2’s prospects in the months between the completion of the design and the actual release of the product that the decision was made to halt development work on the second Gattai System Machine, a larger design that required greater investment, until the sales figures for the first came in.

If the response had been lacklustre, plans would have been scaled back and the line would have thereafter consisted mainly of DiaBattles variants and other low-risk items. Churning out variant after variant required minimal investment on Takara Tomy’s part but Takaya recognised that this approach would have severely limited the line’s long-term appeal. After all, if the first Diaclone product did poorly, there was little reason to expect its variants would fare any better.

Thankfully, sales of DiaBattles V2 surpassed expectations. It did so well Takara Tomy ordered the quick development and release of the Cosmo Maneuver variant to fill the gap in the 2017 product line-up caused by the six-month delay of the second Gattai System Machine.

Released 18 months after DiaBattles V2, Big Powered GV was another update of an old Diaclone design. The “Big Powered” part of the name worked on two different levels. On one, it simply signified it was an update of the original. On another, subtler level, Takaya noted it was a nod to the design motif common to both (and it might be said of the line as a whole): power-ups for operating on different scales. In Big Powered toys old and new, a human-scale figure could board a larger Powered Suit which could then merge with multiple vehicles to form a towering mecha.

The “GV” in Big Powered GV, meanwhile, stood for “Gather V” which indicated the mecha was a combination of five vehicles. These vehicles could also be transformed and combined to become the first base released for the new line. The base aspect, which was non-existent at the start of Big Powered GV’s development in order to keep the cost low, was gradually emphasised when the sales figures of DiaBattles V2 and its variants, and the fan response made it clear the Diaclone line was building momentum.

That momentum had been building thanks to Takara Tomy’s efforts to promote the line. There were the usual interviews and articles for hobby sites and in specialist magazines but the most attention-grabbing promotion was done with videos. Takara Tomy partnered with LandQ, a CG company that had previously worked with Takara to create in-store promotional videos featuring Licca-chan and Microman Magne Powers, to produce similar videos for Diaclone to be streamed on YouTube.

The process for creating these promotional videos began with Takaya presenting a prototype of the toy, explaining its features and drawing attention to specific details. For example, the toy designer explained how Big Powered GV’s transformation would begin with Powered 03 accelerating to combine with Powered 04 and Powered 05 before using its boosters to stand up and he would point out where the thrusters on the E-Type Powered Suit’s chest and arms were and explain how they would be used to get the Powered Suit airborne. (The toy designer was not averse to making the occasional personal request. He asked LandQ to use Max Max: Fury Road’s soundtrack for inspiration when coming up with the background music for the Big Powered GV video simply because he was obsessed with the movie at the time.) LandQ’s director would then create a text storyboard describing the general flow and highlights of the video and the CG director would use that as a guide for a video storyboard with camera angles and shots worked out which would ultimately determine how long the video would be. Although it wasn’t necessary to limit the length of the videos as they weren’t going to be aired on television, YouTube stats showed that the most effective videos were about a minute long.

The video company would make use of CAD data of the toy provided by Takara Tomy to create the CG model for the video and then go through a painstaking process to refine it by removing unsightly pegs, screws and screw holes as well as removing internal details that would not appear onscreen. That said, LandQ’s directors had high praise for the detailed toys, noting that camera work for the videos was easy as there was little need to avoid angles that might make the CG model of the toy look bad.

What’s especially interesting about these promotional videos is that they would influence the designs of the toys as Takaya would think up features he expected to be highlighted. For example, he made Big Powered GV’s transformation even more elaborate by having the Talon Arms stow away Powered 04 and Powered 05’s cockpits as he anticipated this would look really cool in the video. (It did.) He knew LandQ could be trusted to get the details right after a seemingly minor suggestion he made – the caterpillar tracks on Big Powered GV should keep rotating due to inertia even after the mecha stood up – made it into the final video. Still, the toy designer had to restrain himself at times. He considered suggesting a scene first depicting foam being sprayed to cushion the impact of the cockpits being stored in Powered 04 and 05 and then showing how that foam would quickly harden to strengthen the legs but eventually decided that would be overdoing it.

Takaya had to show similar restraint with the toy design itself. He had ideas for additional gimmicks he wanted to incorporate into Big Powered GV’s base mode but had to pare back his plans due to cost limitations.

Despite its difficult development, Big Powered GV ultimately delivered the combined play value of a Diaclone playset and a transforming and combining toy with the ability to interact with the Powered Suits. Takaya credited it for being crucial to Diaclone’s early success as he believed, as a set, it best represented the line’s various concepts when it was released.

The third Gattai System Machine, on the other hand, was a bit of an outlier. The original Battle Buffalo toy was an odd-looking mecha with a spherical head without any distinctive facial features on top of a blocky robot body with a pull-back motor. It was an acquired taste even for the diehard mecha toy fan back in the Eighties and Takaya himself had little confidence younger Diaclone fans would find it appealing. That said, a customer survey made it plain there was interest in seeing the design updated for the new line so Takaya gamely took on the challenge.

The result would be Battle Buffalo Mk. IV Striker or Strike Buffalo for brevity’s sake. Takaya’s design was influenced by his belief that the name reflected the nature of the beast but at the same time, he also admitted he wasn’t entirely sure why the name “Battle Buffalo” was originally chosen. If you squinted, the toy’s head might resemble the silhouette of a buffalo’s head with the panels jutting to the sides and the weapons on top standing in for ears and horns but it might also resemble any number of other animals. It may simply be the original designers thought “Battle Buffalo” sounded more impressive than “Combat Cow.”

Regardless, the Strike Buffalo was designed to be an all-out offensive machine capable of charging through Waruder defensive lines. The head detached to become a Powered Suit for a Diaclone pilot, the torso and arms became a flying unit with grasping claws, and the legs turned into a transport for Powered Suits.

Takaya began development on the Powered Suits at the same time as Big Powered GV but these simpler items were released six months before the larger set. The Powered Suits were palm-sized articulated figures that were positioned as a cheap way of getting into the line to sample its various concepts. Accordingly, each Powered Suit came with a Dianaut pilot, weapons and accessories, which could all be stored together in a compact container called the Raid Chamber for transport or base-type play. The Powered Suits and Raid Chambers were also designed to attach to DiaBattles V2 and Big Powered GV in various ways.

To no great surprise, multiple Powered Suit variants were released. The A and B types were updates of the originals from the Eighties, the C type was meant for construction, the D type for training and rescue, the E type capable of flight and the F type for close combat. The specialised Powered Suits could be made versatile with Takara SF Land-inspired accessory sets sold separately. Takaya revealed the Gyroseptor and the Dartloader were intended to pay homage to Acroyear 2 and Shonen Cyborg.

The second-generation of Powered Suits, the Maneuver Series, debuted in 2018. Taller and with more humanoid proportions than their squat predecessors, the Maneuver Series Powered Suits could alter their appearance even more dramatically with Jacket Armor accessory sets. The inspiration was once again from Takara SF Land’s distant past. In this case, it was the Henshin Cyborg Henshin Sets. Proposed Maneuver Series accessory sets included a Sky Armor set for aerial combat and a Land Armor set for ground combat.

More intriguingly, a Jacket Armor concept prototype inspired by Microman Robotman (a.k.a. Micronauts Biotron) was unveiled at the 2018 Diaclone Expo. The Robotman Jacket RM-1 accessory set was a perfect fit for the Maneuver Alpha figure and it was even designed to be reassembled into a drill tank. Although it was meant as a tribute to the Victory Plan in line with the Expo’s celebration of Takara SF Land rather than an item to be commercialised, it did suggest tantalising possibilities in the future.

Sadly, Diaclone fans didn’t find the designs of the first two Maneuver Series Powered Suits, Maneuver Alpha and Maneuver Beta, to be particularly appealing. Takaya was discouraged by the reaction but he blamed himself for doing a poor job of communicating how the basic figures could be enhanced with upcoming Jacket Armor sets. Ultimately, only one accessory set was released for the Maneuver Series, the Sky Jacket, but keeping with Takara SF Land tradition, elements of the cancelled Land Armor design made it into products released later.

Determined to end the Maneuver Series on a high note, Takaya set about designing Powered Suits which were simply intended to look cool to the majority of fans without needing further embellishment. The results were the most striking figures of the series. If Maneuver Gamma and Maneuver Delta had a hardnosed sci-fi military look to them, the menacing Maneuver Epsilon could probably send the opposition packing just by showing up.

The release of the Battle Buffalo Mk. IV Moon Assaulter variant and the last of the Maneuver Series in 2019 marked the end of the first phase of releases. The next batch of designs was collectively known as the Vers System and the storyline justification for it was Diaclone forces required versatile and diverse machines to counter a complex and unpredictable opponent.

The toy designs took a new approach based on the Bullet Core, which was the new common core module used for vehicles, mecha and the next generation of Powered Suits. The products would be smaller and more affordable in anticipation of increasing manufacturing costs, the transformations would be simpler to accommodate an adult’s limited play time and there would be even greater emphasis on interchangeable components to enable Yukei Block-style custom combinations. However, the actual designs would be less tethered to the past in order to attract a younger generation of toy fans who might find the original Diaclone designs, even when updated, a little too old timey for their tastes.

Still, the first of these designs, the Trivers series, could have easily been mistaken for updates of the old Diaclone Dashers. While he was certainly aware of the old toys, Takaya admitted he knew little about them apart from seeing pictures as there weren’t any samples to be found at the company.

In line with the overall theme of the Vers System, the Trivers toys focused on transformation and combination for the sake of versatility and adaptability. Each Trivers mecha was the combination of three components: a top vehicle, a bottom vehicle and a Bullet Core containing the cockpit. Aside from the standard mixing and matching of parts and weapons, the upper and lower halves of each Trivers mecha were designed to be interchangeable with the others in the series.

In addition to that, the Trivers mecha could transform into a primary vehicle mode. While the car and the jet were vehicle forms commonly used for Japanese transforming mecha, the drill tank was more closely identified with Takara SF Land and of course, the bike was a very Takaya idea.

The features of the individual Trivers products also reflected Takaya’s preferences when it came to sci-fi designs. The Tridasher ground vehicle design, for example, was the result of his firm conviction that vehicle tyres ought to be as large as possible to enable all-terrain movement without being completely exposed to enemy fire. Trying to fulfil both requirements in a six-wheeled design that transformed into multiple modes took some doing.

Takaya’s creativity and ingenuity were also on display in a gimmick for the Tridigger mecha: the drills could switch from a shoulder-mounted Rush Attack to a forearm-mounted Hack Attack by sliding down the arm unit and rotating it at the shoulder and bicep. It seems a simple enough trick and it certainly wasn’t a new one — Takaya came up with the idea while working on the cancelled Magne Robo line in the mid-Nineties — but it does reveal the level of thought put into the design as well a desire to try something different. A less-accomplished toy designer would have been content having the drills pop off from the shoulder to replace popped-off hands. That said, Takaya had crucial advantages: he was designing for adults rather than children and he had a bigger budget to work with as the toys were meant to have much higher price tags.

Those factors would come into play when Takaya finally felt ready to tackle a task he had been putting off for years: updating the most famous Diaclone toy of them all, Battle Convoy. It was, of course, the toy that was renamed Optimus Prime by Hasbro for Transformers back in the Eighties and then Convoy for Takara’s version of the line.

But that was precisely the problem. Takaya was worried that a new Diaclone Battle Convoy and by extension, the line as a whole, would be dismissed as an attempt to exploit Transformers’ success. On the contrary, he wanted to steer well clear of Transformers and even went so far as to make sure he never mentioned Battle Convoy in his Diaclone project proposal (and many years after) because of its strong association with Transformers. One of the stated reasons for reviving Diaclone was, in fact, to create a line which Takara Tomy could plan, develop and market without restrictions imposed by external partners – something it pointedly could not do with Transformers.

As a result, even though Battle Convoy was one of the first toys considered for an update, Takaya put it off until he was satisfied the new Diaclone line had established its own identity. Even then, he considered naming the update DiaConvoy or Convoy Detonator to distance it from its famous Transformers counterpart. In the end, he settled on Battle Convoy V-Max, which both acknowledged the iconic original while indicating the new design was an evolutionary update rather than a straightforward homage to the past. In a way, Battle Convoy V-Max’s name exemplified the new Diaclone line’s relationship to the old. To put it in another way, the name reflected the nature.

Design-wise, Battle Convoy V-Max didn’t require a realistic vehicle mode as there was little need to disguise Diaclone mecha operations in the current timeline. What the Diaclone forces needed instead was a versatile fighting vehicle that doubled as a mobile base for frontline operations to quickly counter unexpected enemy offensives.

Thus, the Battle Convoy V-Max toy was designed to have multiple components — the Max-01 VTOL aircraft, the Max-02 ground attack vehicle and the massive Pod Grander trailer – which combined together in various configurations depending on situational requirements. Max-01 and Max-02 could combine to form the equivalent to the original Battle Convoy’s tractor section, the MAV (Multiple Attack Vehicle), which could haul the trailer around in Scramble Link mode or transform into a hauntingly-familiar mecha. Alternatively, Max-01 could dock with the trailer to form Rhino Grander, a lumbering vehicle, which, if you squinted, looked exactly unlike a rhinoceros.

The Pod Grander trailer could either serve as a transport for a Trivers-sized vehicle or transform into a base. Little flourishes were added here and there to add value to what was essentially a large empty box: the base command post could transform into a small UFO-type aircraft; the maintenance deck doubled as a cannon that could be mounted on Max-02; the massive treads had cunningly concealed compartments for storing mission-critical equipment (say, motorbikes).

Dianauts who preferred bipedal transport could choose the third-generation of Powered Suits, the V-Mover (Vers Mover) series. The new, improved Powered Suits had additional articulation at the waist and for the fingers, and could transform either into a vehicle mode or Bullet Mode, a compact form analogous to the Bullet Core module, making them interchangeable with the other Vers System items.

The V-Mover series had its own missionspecific accessories but this time around they were bundled together with V-Mover Powered Suits in larger (and costlier) Versriser sets. Each set included new connectors that enabled even more outrageous combinations as well as a rail adaptor that made the Vers System items compatible with earlier releases like DiaBattles V2, Big Powered GV and Strike Buffalo.

Earth’s valiant defenders needed every piece of equipment they could get their hands on because they faced an unrelenting enemy.

Keeping with Takaya’s desire to keep the story to a bare minimum, Diaclone’s antagonists remain mysterious. All that’s known of them is their probable name (Waruder), their point of origin (the planet Waruder in the Great Dark Nebula) and their objective (Freezon energy). Even the names of their mecha are simply codenames assigned by Diaclone for identification.

In terms of toy designs, the Waruder mecha were mostly Diaclone analogues with an evil twist. The most interesting aspect about the Waruder toys was their development almost seemed to be evolutionary in nature, starting with a small basic figure, progressing to a larger combining toy before ramping up to what was at the time the tallest toy in the line. This was a deliberate choice on Takaya’s part as he was testing the waters to see what the initial response to the Waruder toys would be before releasing more ambitious products.

The reason for his tentative approach is it’s generally accepted in the toy industry that villains don’t sell as well as their heroic counterparts. In fact, most Japanese toy companies don’t even bother releasing toys of villains because most toylines are media-driven and most baddies merely serve as punching bags for heroes and are disposed of quickly. It seemed pointless to release toys of characters with less recognition and thus less commercial appeal.

One of the many reasons Takara SF Land stood out was its “V.S. structure development” tradition of releasing toys of villains right alongside those of heroes despite having little media promotion. The villains were in fact necessary because of the lack of media promotion. Without them, the Takara SF Land heroes looked less heroic by contrast.

The V.S. structure development tradition had its roots in the pre-Takara SF Land line, New G.I. Joe, which in turn took a lot of its cues from Hasbro’s G.I. Joe. The original 12-inch Joe line had German and Japanese figures as part of its 1966 Action Soldiers of the World line extension which were marketed as authentic representations of contemporaneous soldiers. While Hasbro never described these figures as enemies, it seems fair to assume kids would have used them as foes for their Joes.

Takara later followed suit by releasing German officers and soldiers of its own for New G.I. Joe when Japanese kids clamoured for someone for their Joes to fight. (One unusual wrinkle was Germany was Japan’s ally during World War II so it’s not entirely clear how Japanese boys in the early Seventies handled this scenario during playtime.) The pattern continued in Takara SF Land with King Walder debuting two months after Henshin Cyborg, Acroyear appearing in Microman’s second year and the first Waruder toy being released nine months after original Diaclone line launched in 1980.

Despite that tradition, Takaya still expected the sales figures for Waruder toys to be much lower than those for Diaclone forces. With that in mind, he planned to release toys of the villains only after the new line had been firmly established. This actually happened much quicker than Takaya anticipated but he remained cautious, opting for smaller Waruder designs in the beginning before attempting anything riskier.

The first Waruder toy finally appeared in 2018 — two years after the Diaclone line was relaunched. (The delay meant the first few Diaclone promotional videos had to feature generic flying discs as Diaclone punching bags.) The Warudaroid, the equivalent to the Dianaut, came in various forms: Commander types, Intel types with human-like hands and clawed Combat types. Although the Warudaroid differed from the Dianauts slightly in terms of sculpts, they were otherwise identical in construction with the same nine points of articulation as the 2016 Dianaut. Takaya had attempted to differentiate the Warudaroid further by including lightpiping for the head – this is, again, a 3cm-tall figure — but just couldn’t pull it off. There may yet be room for improvement in the design, however, as Takaya suggested a Warudaroid II might be in the offing.

The next Waruder toy once again took inspiration from a previously released Diaclone design but this time around the final design was an evolutionary improvement rather than a straightforward analogue. The storyline justification for the Waruder Suit series was that it was the result of the alien invaders’ analysis of the Diaclone Powered Suit. However, as Waruder science was meant to be beyond human comprehension, it provided an opportunity for Takaya to take the Powered Suit concept in a far more interesting direction for the bad guys. The result was something that was more than a simple homage to the Waruder Suit bundled together with Walk Insecter-1 and Walk Insecter-2 back in the Eighties.

Each Waruder Suit comprised of a Worm Pod containing the cockpit and a Larva Unit which formed the limbs. In addition to being power suits for Warudaroid, the Waruder Suits could transform into various modes with different functionality. The Hammerhead form was meant for air combat, the Hunter form for capturing Dianauts while the Shrieker and Grappler forms were the primary combat forms.

The Waruder Suits had plenty of play value individually but they really shone when you had a few. That’s because they were inspired by toy building blocks and were intended to combine with each other in various ways, Yukei Block-style, to form much larger mecha dubbed Multiplies ∞. Takaya intentionally designed the Waruder Suits in such a way that, regardless of how they were combined, the result would look bizarre and it must be said faintly sinister. They were essentially evil space Lego. From a business standpoint, the Waruder Suits represented Takaya’s brilliant solution to the problem of selling merchandise of less appealing bad guys as they required minimal investment on Takara Tomy’s part while simultaneously encouraging fans to purchase multiple units for monstrous creations.

The success of the Waruder Suits proved that Waruder toys could not only sell but they could sell well so Takaya received the go-ahead to develop larger Waruder designs. The Waruder Machine series, consisting of Warudaraider Rapto Head and Warudaraider Bug Head, differed from the Waruder Suits in that their transformation from one mode to another required the separation and reassembly of their constituent parts. The Warudaraiders needed to be able to do that because they were basically expansion sets containing additional parts for Waruder Suit combinations. As might be expected, these new enhanced Evolise combinations of Warudaraiders and Waruder Suits looked even odder and more threatening.

However, Takaya also wanted the Warudaraiders to have standalone appeal so he resorted to what he calls the classic approach of adding fangs, claws and spikes to make them look intimidating. If the end result bore a vague resemblance to insects, reptiles and crustaceans, the fiction justified it by stating the Waruder chose those forms in order to exploit humanity’s innate fear of some creatures. (It’s also worth noting the original Warudaros was a combination of vehicles whose designs drew inspiration from a mosquito, an ant and a scorpion.) Still, Takaya took care to ensure the Warudaraiders looked like mecha beasts rather than something organic.

The Warudaros-class of mecha, on the other hand, was meant to be humanoid in structure complete with a recognisable face. In a nice touch, the first Warudaros released for the revived line had a head design reminiscent of the original. Appropriately named Gigantor, it was not only the largest Waruder figure produced but also the largest (and priciest) toy of the line when it was released. Even considering Takara SF Land tradition, diehard fans were taken aback by Takara Tomy’s decision to release a bad guy at that price point but it simply reflected the company’s increasing confidence in the line.

Story-wise, the introduction of Gigantor was meant to alter the balance of power between Diaclone and Waruder forces because up to that point, Diaclone releases had vastly outnumbered Waruder ones. As Takaya believed the more overwhelming the opposition, the more satisfying the victory, Waruder forces clearly needed a potent new weapon in their arsenal. That the odds were now firmly in Waruder’s favour was immediately apparent from the fact Gigantor was even taller than Big Powered GV.

For all its size, Gigantor still had elements in common with the Waruder Suits. Takaya pointed out the placement of the pod units in the chest, the way the legs connected together and the design of the tail gave the impression the giant mecha was the natural next step in the evolution of the smaller suits. The two also shared the same 20mm joints which enabled Gigantor to replicate the Gattai System Machines’ ability to continue fighting despite suffering heavy damage. In Gigantor’s case, its Absorise ability allowed it to replace damaged components with parts from Waruder Suits and Waruder Machines.

Gigantor had more tricks up its voluminous sleeves. Takaya knew it wouldn’t be possible to release Waruder toys with the same frequency as their Diaclone counterparts so he packed Gigantor with as much play value as possible. The result was the Waruder counterpart to Big Powered GV: a giant transforming mecha combiner that also doubled as a playset.

Gigantor comprised two individual mecha, Bullhead and Pod Bunker, which could in turn separate and combine together in various forms ranging in size from Powered Suit-class to Big Powered GV-class. The most notable of these combinations were the Kyoju (Giant Beast) Mode, a Godzilla-ish mecha beast which was intended for defensive operations, and the humanoid Majin (Demon) Mode, which was attack-oriented. As a Diaclone combiner, Gigantor was designed in accordance with the line’s approach to transforming figures: the greatest change in appearance with the minimum number of steps taken. Since Waruder forces could avail themselves of technology from the conquered civilizations of multiple worlds, it provided the rationale for a variety of designs. Pod Bunker, for example, was a flying battleship capable of transforming into a bipedal mecha. As Pod Bunker’s parts formed Gigantor’s lower half and therefore had to provide a strong and stable platform to support its combined weight, Takaya avoided including any complicated gimmickry. He was less constrained when it came to Bullhead, whose parts constituted Gigantor’s upper half. Thus, Bullhead was a mecha beast which could split apart into even smaller mecha beasts (the Horn Larva and Ant Heads).

Given the general theme of Waruder designs, it seemed only appropriate that Gigantor evolved further. A year after the toy’s release, Takara Tomy sold an exclusive variant set comprising two Raider Machines, Dragohead and Ghoulhead, through its online mall. Far from being a simple recolour of a previously released item, the new set not only had modified parts which enabled transformation into the more dangerous Evol-Gigantor form but also included additional parts which could be used to transform into an even larger monstrosity dubbed the Hakai-shin (God of Destruction) mode.

The Warudaros class was expanded and refined with the smaller Soldier types. Warudaros Soldier Types I and II represented Takaya’s attempt at producing Waruder figures that looked cooler with more “heroic” proportions than those previously released. These were succeeded by the taller Warudalegion figures, Ripper and Vajra, which were built around a new type of Warudaroid power suit.  The stocky Legio-Core suits were closer in appearance to the 1982 Waruder Suits yet retained the modular abilities of the modern version.

Takaya is intent on further developing the Waruder designs, noting the toys had an excellent track record. Intriguingly, he also expressed a desire to come up with Diaclone enemies drawn from other sources. What these other sources might be was left unstated but given Takaya’s penchant of paying homage to Takara SF Land history, it does suggest some interesting crossovers in the future.

For the present, the Diaclone revival has begun its eighth year. That’s an impressive achievement considering it’s a line aimed exclusively at adults and has no movie, manga or anime to promote it. It’s a measure of how risky an endeavour it was that even Takaya admitted to having doubts at the start of the project whether this was the right direction to take Diaclone. Fortunately, the better-than-expected sales numbers and the positive response from fans allowed the developers to proceed with greater confidence.

But a large portion of the success of this toy-driven line should be attributed to the efforts and talents of the man overseeing it. Takaya Motoki may not be the only one working on the line but he conceived it, developed it, shepherded it along and worked tirelessly to promote it.

A key part of those promotional efforts was his collaboration with Futabasha in 2017 for the Takara SF Land Evolution book. It not only provided a fascinating overview of Takara SF Land and some remarkable revelations of toylines that were never produced but more importantly, it firmly established Takaya drew upon decades-old traditions for the 2016 Diaclone revival.

Once the actual purpose of the Futabasha book is understood, it answers the question of why some lines made it into that Takara SF Land chart published on the third page of the book and why others were omitted. Why should Cool Girl be considered part of the Diaclone lineage? That’s partly due to its Henshin Cyborg connection but mostly due to the fact Takaya oversaw it. Why does Battle Beasts receive so much coverage and the Diaclone spinoff, Blockman, so little? Takaya worked on one line but wasn’t around for the other.

This is not to say Takaya was attempting to raise his profile or engage in self-puffery. If that had been his intent, he wouldn’t have chosen to work on a brand that was neglected for decades. The ultimate goal was always to elevate Diaclone and make it known the brand was back. To understand why that was so important, it’s essential to consider the time frame in which the Futabasha book was produced. DiaBattles V2 and the Powered Suits had already been released by then and had done better than expected but Takara Tomy was still nervous about the line’s prospects as there was no telling what the response to an expensive toy like Big Powered GV would be when it was released later that same year. Takaya needed to try anything and everything to get the word out about Diaclone and one of the ways of doing that was to impress upon Takara’s fans that the new line was, as the chart on page three put it, the culmination of Takara SF Land.

Takaya’s other efforts at promoting Diaclone focused on specific toys before and after they were released. He gave previews of upcoming items, solicited input from fans for a design at a toy show panel and did deep dives into the development of DiaBattles V2 and Big Powered GV in the Diaclone World Guide mooks. Taken as a whole, they provided valuable insight into the development of a modern toyline from the designer’s perspective. It is remarkable to see featureless CG blocks in 3D software slowly being turned into a model of the toy by incorporating details from artwork by mecha designers and then seeing that model repeatedly refined with features added and removed as required.

The real treat, however, is reading Takaya’s commentary throughout the process. He comes across as a toy designer who is dedicated to his craft and very thoughtful in his approach to toy-making. There’s always a good reason for the choices he makes and in describing the whys and wherefores he sheds light on some of the challenges he faced during the development process. Why was DiaBattles V2 significantly taller than the original? It needed to be that height because the chest had to be of a certain size to incorporate the spring-powered gimmick that saw the head pop up during transformation. Why did DiaBattles V2 come with a pair of swords? Takaya felt the toy lacked sufficient impact when it was placed in a battle pose so he negotiated with the production factory at the last moment to squeeze in a pair of swords in the limited space left on the mould and thus managed to add some stylish weapons without incurring additional cost.

If his extensive commentary on Diaclone’s development provided a glimpse into his thinking as a professional toy designer, his notes on Cool Girl, an offbeat line consisting more or less of militant dolls, provided a clearer look at his personality. It reveals him to be an unusual character even in an industry filled with offbeat personalities with odd sensibilities.

Proudly Japanese, he insisted on Japanese-looking faces for the Cool Girl figures from version 1.5 onwards to emphasise they were Japanese in origin even after his Hong Kong partners declared Japanese faces wouldn’t sell well in the Western markets. He was ultimately vindicated when Cool Girl Harley was declared the figure of the year in 2002 by an overseas magazine. Yet, like a lot of Japanese, he does seem have an affinity for Western culture. His favourite female vocalist: Lana Lane. His favourite comic artist: the bande dessinée artist Juan Giménez.

His tastes do tend to be on the quirky side. He prefers imaginative B-movies rather than boring blockbusters which goes some way in explaining his character design choices. The Cool Girl V.I.S. character design, for example, has nods to the American sci-fi movie Robocop, its Japanese tokusatsu derivative Lady Battle Cop and Takara’s own tokusatsu line, Cybercop. That quirkiness also explains why he chose to give the official Cool Girl website the feel of a bootleg site, going so far as to personally take photos of the figures on the company rooftop with a light purchased from a 100yen store. Even his designer notes eschewed bland corporate-speak for frank and forthright comments which he said were inspired by rock album liner notes. It made for an unusually personal tour of the development of that unusual line. He candidly revealed he was passing kidney stones during the process of designing the Cool Girl body and likened the experience to suffering birth pangs. Even considering the fact he was the driving force behind Cool Girl, making the line his baby so to speak, this might be taking the metaphor a bit too far.

Takaya has been a toy designer for over three decades now. He’s spent as much time at Takara Tomy as he had at Takara and he’s worked under multiple members of Satoh family back when they were running Takara. He’s seen trends come and go but it seems to be in his nature to veer off the beaten path. He’s certainly not one to pick the easy option. Reviving Diaclone, then a brand that had been lying moribund for decades, was by no means a safe choice. The safe play would have been working on one of Takara Tomy’s high-profile brands like Licca-chan or Transformers. Furthermore, he could have relaunched Diaclone with a new Battle Convoy in 2016 but that, of course, would have been taking the easy route.

Though the Futabasha book traces the evolution of Takara SF Land, it’s also the story of the evolution of one toy designer. Takaya Motoki began his career as a fresh-faced recruit producing design drafts of cheap rubbery toys in the late Eighties and decades later, as a veteran toy designer he’s about to release his greatest creation, a toy design costing more than a thousand dollars. He went from a designer of children’s toys to overseeing a toyline aimed at adults.

Sixty this year, Takaya is close to the end of his career as a toy designer but the best may yet come. The much-anticipated update of the 1980 Diaclone Robot Base is a major undertaking comprising two large playsets (Ground Dion and Cloud Across) along with multiple accessory sets giving him the perfect showcase to demonstrate everything he’s learned over the years and to pull out all the stops. If that jaw-dropping multi-toy design is not the capstone to a career that might go on for a few more years then it will certainly be a major highlight, something to look back on with pride and satisfaction.

Despite being close to retirement age, he can be as enthusiastic as any fan. He recounted how excited he was when he got the DiaBattles V2 prototype on the eve of Tokyo Toy Show in June 2015. The Diaclone booth had already been decorated but the prototype produced by a 3D printer and finished with a grey primer was only delivered in the evening. Though he had spent months manipulating the 3D model on his PC screen, he was still thrilled when he finally had the toy in hand. He spent hours marvelling and playing with the prototype instead of checking it or doing something so mundane as having dinner. When Takaya says he knows how DiaBattles V2 owners felt when they first took it out of the box, he comes across as sincere. When he says he was very happy to hear how Diaclone fans were having fun with the toy and losing track of time while playing with it, there is the sense he means it. Takaya’s goal for the Diaclone revival was to get adults playing with toys and perhaps more than anything the line should be celebrated for its ability to get jaded, cynical adults to experience that child-like joy once again. It could have only come from a man who understood and shared the feeling.

Takaya has been a champion of Takara SF Land throughout his career with references to lines past and little remembered appearing in the toys he’s worked on. He may be the only one at Takara Tomy keeping alive the memory of Henshin Cyborg through his designs. Whether it’s the Cybercop Cyber Weapons, Cool Girl’s X-Borg or the subtle references in the relaunched Diaclone, there always seems to be some nod to Takara SF Land’s founding father. He also keeps delving into Takara’s past for ideas for future lines. He looked to Magne Robo and Microman when submitting proposals for Takara’s internal idea competition, Takara no Takara, and those proposals were refined and eventually saw light as Microman Magne Powers and Microman 200X.

His personal experience with Takara’s SF lines preceded SF Land itself. He revealed he was disappointed with the way the Seigi no Mikata Ultraman figure had hands of bare grey-moulded plastic and even as a child thought it could have been done better. He also noted how impressed he was when the Henshin Cyborg Ultraman version of the character was later released, the way he thought it ought to have been, with gloved hands. It may not have taken much to impress the younger Takaya but the company’s commitment to improve upon on previous efforts undoubtedly influenced his own approach to toy design. He’s constantly striving to push the envelope, trying to challenge himself and raise his industry’s standards. A 3cm-tall figure with 10 points of articulation seems positively insane now but you just know that in a few years’ time companies are going to first emulate and then surpass that.

There always seems to be some designer somewhere who’s not content with things just the way they are but has the imagination, ambition and determination to conceive things the way they ought to be. That was true when Don Levine and his team at Hasbro produced the original action figure, G.I. Joe, back in 1964. A decade later, that someone was Ogawa Iwakichi when he developed Microman at Takara. In the Eighties, Kawamori Shoji’s Valkyrie design proved there was still a place for transforming mecha during the Real Robot boom. In the Nineties, it was Todd McFarlane and his toy sculptors, who set new standards for sculpted detail and paintwork for toy makers both in the US and Japan. Today, it’s Takaya Motoki, the company is Takara Tomy and the line raising the bar is Diaclone.

Who will it be tomorrow?


1. This should be treated as a work-in-progress with a lot more to come. Please do not hesitate to submit corrections and clarifications.

2. There are a lot of dates in the Futabasha book that conflict with other sources. According to the book, Henshin Cyborg was released in 1971 whereas every other source goes with 1972. Takara itself stated the figure was released in either August 1972 or October 1972. The book does note Microman was tested in Hokkaido before its nationwide release — and this is confirmed by the Microman Perfect Works book — so the different dates for trial sales and nationwide launches might be a possible explanation. However, there aren’t any sources that corroborate the Futabasha book’s release dates for Henshin Cyborg (1971), Licca-chan (1966) and Beyblade (1997).

3. It’s difficult to reconcile Microman’s original run being touted by the Futabasha book as Takara SF Land’s biggest hit with Takara Tomy’s corporate overview stating Transformers has sold over 500 million toys in over 130 countries since it debuted. It’s possible the book is only taking into account Showa-era Microman and G1 Transformers sales in Japan.

4. According to Vincent Santelmo’s Complete Encyclopedia to G.I. Joe, Hasbro considered a smaller-sized Joe as far back as 1968. Reasons given for a proposed 6-inch Joe included lower manufacturing cost and (presumably thinking in terms of vehicles in that scale) less battery power as well as less expensive motors and gearings due to the lower weight. However, nothing came of this proposal and Hasbro stuck with the 11½-inch size for G.I. Joe until the ill-fated 8½-inch Super Joe line in 1978.

5. When concern was raised over the swastikas on the helmet and belt buckle of the 1966 Hasbro G.I. Joe Action soldiers of the world German Soldier, company president Merrill Hassenfeld explained the figure was meant to be an authentic representation of that soldier. More laudably, this quest for authentic representation also produced the first African-American G. I. Joe in 1965.

6. The continuity between Henshin Cyborg and Microman extended to the storyline. The Microman manga by Kodansha’s TV Magazine depicted the adventures of Katagai Akira — the younger sibling of Henshin Cyborg 1 and Shonen Cyborg — alongside his Microman companions. The adult Akira would return in the Nineties as Professor K in Studio Pierrot’s Chiisana Kyojin Microman anime.

7. Takara released a more Lego-like line of block toys, Bloccar, in the early Eighties. The blocks were smaller than Lego bricks, included a pull-back motor in each set so you could have your Bloccar vehicles darting around ChoroQ-style and the blocks could be rearranged into robot forms vaguely resembling Diaclone Car Robot designs. Takara sold Bloccar in the US as Robotroid and like Diakron, its pre-Transformers repackaging of Diaclone, failed to make an impact.

8. Tom, the only Microman identified in the 1974 Victory Plan catalogue story, would later reappear in the 1997 Neo Henshin Cyborg catalogue story. Curiously, Takara never released a toy of the character until 1999. An Android A-esque clear black M10X-series variant, M100 Tom was a mail-away prize for the Chiisana Kyojin Microman Playstation game. Microman garage kit makers, Oriental Technology, helmed by Microman superfan, Sashida Minoru, later teamed up with designer toy outfit Gargamel to produce a Tom-inspired vinyl figure for Wonder Festival 2008.

9. The Micro Hoodman figures have an interesting origin. Higuchi Yuichi revealed he created the Kit Machines first in order to encourage kids to get into plastic models but in order to incorporate the kits into the Microman line, he needed a smaller figure design to ride the constructed vehicles. The 8cm-tall Hoodman were given their signature hoods to give them more of a presence.

10. Microman incorporated just about every toy gimmick around at the time and this tradition would continue in the Magne Powers revival of the brand in the Nineties. According to Higuchi Yuichi, the spring-powered Zenmain transforming toys initially had nothing to do with Microman but were included in the line to take advantage of the brand name. Conversely, there were toys that started out as Microman designs but were later spun off as an independent line. B-Daman, for example, was originally conceived as a way to combine action figures and marble play but eventually proved to be so unlike Microman during the course of its development, it was sold separately.

11. Magnemo inventor Ogawa Iwakichi, expecting a classy colour scheme along the lines of Nagai Go’s black and silver Mazinger Z, was taken aback by Koutetsu Jeeg’s garish colours but conceded the biggest hits in the toy industry tend to buck convention.

12. Aside from the common Magnemo gimmick in Magne Robo and Microman Titans, there were Magne Robo/Microman crossovers in the form of the diecast Microman Jeeg and Gakeen figures as well as the Robotman Gakeen figure.

13. Takara’s Combat Joe is frequently mistaken for its predecessor from the Seventies, New G.I. Joe. To further muddle the issue, Medicom Toy released Godzilla costume sets years later as part of its Real Action Heroes line which included a new figure design licensed from Takara dubbed New Combat Joe. The New Combat Joe figure was essentially Combat Joe but its limbs were removable (like Android A).

14. The Super Cyborg prototype was created by Kobayashi Dan, the same designer who worked on the Henshin Cyborg 1 prototype.

15. Takara’s initial concept for the Cybercop Blade Liner was a Cyborg Rider-inspired fusion of man and machine. Like Super Cyborg’s Container Gyro, the vehicle was to be stored in a truck trailer (the Mega Chamber) when not in use. The design was simplified at Toho’s request to make it convenient for the show.

16. Cyberman’s swordsman/fighter/ninja design template was first seen in Cybercop’s early design drafts for unproduced Knight, Ranbo (sic) and Ninja power-up armour. This template would later be reused for the Microman Magne Powers Robotman Ace, Baron and Cross figures.

17. Takaya Motoki revealed the Metal Jack Shadow Jack Armor combination of the human Shadow and his blocky support robot, Bolter, served to prove the feasibility of the Gridman and God Zenon combination.

18. The God Zenon component, Thunder Jet, was originally packed to the brim with batteries, sensors and speakers for various electronic gimmicks in order to make the set a must-have item even without Gridman. Unfortunately, the resulting Thunder Gridman combined form proved to be much too back-heavy to stand on its own so the Thunder Jet was redesigned in a hurry to meet deadlines for the show’s costume production and the toy release.

19. Takaya Motoki had a part-time job during his student days creating a giant robot costume for a live-action series. The process involved gluing urethane foam pieces shaped like robot parts onto an actor in a wet suit. This would later inspire his Gridman toy designs which in turn inspired the costumes for the Tsuburaya show.

20. The Takara BeastFormers Big Serow figure was updated for the 2012 Takara Tomy Beast Saga line.

21. Takara’s president during the development of Magnators was Satoh Hirohisa, the by-the-book eldest son of the company founder. His tenure from 1994 to 1999 was described by employees as “the dark time.”

22. Revell repackaged and sold Blockman as Robotech Robolinks in the US and Robotech Changers in France but didn’t fare any better than Takara. Interestingly, there was no Blockman equivalent to the Robolinks Force 50 and Force 51 sets. Equally interesting was how the French packaging ensured the line had no appeal whatsoever by placing photographs of the worst combinations possible front and centre.

23. In 1996, a Saitama-based garage kit maker named Romando obtained the surviving Microman moulds from Takara, repaired them and began producing licensed reproductions of classic figures for collectors under the “Microman 21” label. Romando’s license was controversially revoked after a year — this would have been after Satoh Hirohisa gave the order to revive Microman — and Takara began selling reproductions of its own in 1998.

24. There’s some speculation Takara originally intended the Microman revival project to be a Micronauts-inspired line aimed at overseas markets. It’s not completely implausible. For one thing, there’s an unexplained gap between the cancellation of Magnators in 1995 and the one year Takaya Motoki and the rest of the strategic development team took to develop the “Microman 1999” project before handing it over to the boys’ toys division for refinement in early 1998. Then there are the Micronauts references in Magne Powers — Endeavor, Baron, etc. The most compelling evidence is the fact Takara trademarked Micronauts during that period. However, there’s no acknowledgement of any of this in the Futabasha book.

25. The Magne Powers project, previously known as Microman 1999, began as The King of Braves GaoGaiGar was about to end. While the Brave (or Yuusha) series was always profitable toy-wise, Takara ended its sponsorship in order to focus exclusively on Beast Wars since it was aimed at the same demographic. A collaboration between Takara and the Kenner team at Hasbro, Beast Wars was a massive hit first in the US and then in Japan.

26. Takara’s Yuki Hisashi was working on designs for the ninth Yuusha series, tentatively titled “Photograiser“, when the project was cancelled and he was transferred to the Beast Wars team. Photograiser designs included a digital camera, a pair of binoculars and a handgun which transformed first into 1/1-scale “Super Deformed”-style robots and then combined with other mecha and vehicles to become larger Yuusha-style robots with “Real Robo” proportions. The Takara SF Land connection would be Microman Microchange which featured child-scaled items like a camera, a pair of binoculars and airsoft guns which transformed to robots.

27. Some of the early Microman 1999 character designs were dramatically different from the Magne Powers release versions. While two of the characters were more or less Arthur and Izam, the other three were completely unrecognisable. The early versions of Walt and Edison were closer to Dangarn-V anthropomorphic animals than anything resembling Microman while the Odin counterpart was a heavyset robot that apparently took a wrong turn leaving Cybertron.

28. The Microman 1999 designs were much more ambitious compared to the Magne Powers release. The Robotman, for instance, could turn into a wheeled vehicle when combined with a Machine Changer support robot or power up with weapons from an Arm Changer support robot. These support robot designs would eventually be simplified to become the Change Troopers. In addition to that, there was a Microman-piloted Magne Machine core unit that could combine with the Robotman to form a classy update of the original design. The Magne Machine could also turn into vehicles, either the Cannon Machine tank or the Gyro Machine aircraft, with parts from the Changer support robots.

29. The Magne Powers Robotman designs were refined by Transformers superfan-turned-designer, Ichikawa Hirofumi.

30. The Microman 1999 version of Microstation apparently lacked the flight mode of the final release and had instead a Crane Robo reminiscent of the classic Conning Tower.

31. In 2001, Takara released a line of remote-controlled ChoroQ toys, DigiQ, based on Konami’s Micro IR technology. Takara’s 2001 Web Diver and 2002 Daigunder lines, which awkwardly combined toys and videogames, also featured IR gimmickry.

32. Takara also dug into its archives to pad out the 2000 Transformers Car Robot line. The 1995 G2 Laser Optimus Prime was turned into Black Convoy, the 1987 G1 Fortress Maximus became Brave Maximus, the 1997 Machine Wars Hubcap became Wrecker Hook, etc. Takara had previously reused moulds for Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo but not to this extent.

33. The LED Powers versions of Arthur, Isamu (formerly “Izam”), Walt, Edison and Odin did appear in the credits of Magne Powers’ final episode. On a side note, Motown hits are just as irresistible in Japanese.

34. Satoh Keita was appointed president in February 2000 and took some drastic steps to change the company’s fortunes. He reduced headcount by a third, pursued a capital tie-up with Konami a few months after taking charge (the videogame company would become Takara’s largest shareholder) and used the capital infusion to diversify the company’s offerings. Success soon followed.

35. Beyblade, a line of battling tops, was released in 1999 but languished in the market. After consulting with his employees, Satoh Keita took the risk of sponsoring an anime tie-in in 2001 and was rewarded when Beyblade became a massive hit. It’s worth noting Takara had been diligently working on modern updates of traditional beigoma tops for years. Suge Goma, for instance, was a forgotten mid-Nineties attempt. The 1999 Magne Powers Giant Acroyear set included another example. The combiner’s shoulders were functional tops and the serrated swords doubled as ripcords. The idea was Magne Powers figures could be placed on the tops to battle each other but it didn’t catch on.

36. Takara’s other hits early in Satoh Keita’s tenure were quirkier. These included a banana phone, e-kara (a toy karaoke microphone) and Bowlingual (a dog translator). These weren’t conventional toys for Takara’s usual target markets but Satoh was intent on turning the toy maker into a life entertainment company. This, among other things, meant creating playful products for adults. The irony is these successful forays into non-traditional markets would also lead to his downfall.

37. In 2002, Bandai released BetaMidget, a series of cheap Microman-like gashapon capsule toys designed by a Microman superfan named Enari. Although work had already begun on Microman 200X by then, it seems likely this move by a major competitor would have spurred Takara’s own efforts.

38. Commander Microman‘s head design was inspired by the M10X design.

39. The desire to create cool designs for MicroForce extended to the hairstyles. Ninja Microman‘s distinctive coiffure was probably inspired by David Beckham’s faux-hawk at the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by Japan. Gunner Microman, meanwhile, was meant to have Rastafarian dreadlocks but it came out looking more like a bob on the released figure. Ichikawa Hirofumi conceded he should have made his intent plainer in anticipation of his design being misinterpreted.

40. Takara considered expanding MicroForce before the release of MasterForce. One proposed design was a “Doctor Microman” with a protective “lab coat” that could flip open to form something wing-like. This accessory design seems to have been reworked to become the wings for the Batman Flight Gear figure.

41. Takara marketer Yasuda Takahiro had never even heard of Microman before being transferred to the company’s Boys’ Marketing Department Next Hobby Team responsible for the Microman 200X line. (This would be akin to someone joining Mattel’s marketing department thinking a Barbie was some sort of cookout.) In his mid-twenties then, Yasuda was too young for the Showa-era Microman and too old for the Heisei-era Magne Powers and LED Powers lines but in some ways he was target audience for the Micro Action Series. Described as the chief strategist for the Microman 2004 lines, he suggested licensing Chun Li and Sakura from Street Fighter as these characters were well-known to his generation. Abiko Kazutami credited the Micro Action Series for not only attracting new fans but introducing them to Microman lines old and new.

42. Shinohara Tamotsu’s original concept for Magne Force was a magnetic figure with a mid-torso pachinko ball. The 11mm iron ball was intended to have decorative tampo print on it but that feature was dropped before release.

43. The “Space Traveller” variants released by Toy’s Dream Project provided another hint of Magne Force’s design inspiration. Shinohara Tamotsu, the Magne Force designer, later named the Space Traveller Achilles variant his favourite 200X design in comments published in his 2006 artbook, Icon.

44. Magne Force Theseus‘s green colour scheme was inspired by the 1975 Microman figure, M123 Miller.

45. The Microman Perfect Works interviews dropped some hints about a Microman 200X base that was never released. Shinohara Tamotsu mentioned Takara had an idea for a CD player that transformed into a base while marketer Yasuda Takahiro revealed Takara had a base prototype in 2005 that could record voices.

46. Abiko Kazutami was unimpressed by Shinohara Tamotsu’s head design for BioMachine’s Xeku at first but Shinohara sold him on the Bruce Lee-inspired design by claiming it was Son Goku. This led to the Journey to the West theme for BioMachine.

47. The BioMachine Machine Stinger and Machine Tiger vehicles were inspired by the old Spy Magician vehicles, Marine Condor and Drag Tiger. Machine Stinger (derived from “stingray”) was codenamed “M Condor” during development but renamed due to trademark issues.

48. The BioSuit was named after the New Microman model kits sold by Takara during the Gunpla boom of the early Eighties while the BioMachine line took its name from a bird-like mecha resin kit awarded as a prize for a New Microman modelling contest.

49. Abiko Kazutami revealed the BioSuit’s articulated fingers and all-chrome plating required a lot of fine-tuning of molds during the production stage and indeed the production staff was initially reluctant to take on the job. The chrome plating, in particular, was a challenge to execute as there were relatively few examples of a robot combiner that was completely chrome-plated aside from a few prize figures.

50. The KiguruMicroman line was inspired by the 1984 Combat Joe Godzilla set and like the set’s Combat Joe figure, Microman Harold from the KiguruMicroman Godzilla (1964 version) versus King Ghidorah set was based on the original Godzilla suit actor Nakajima Haruo.

51. AcroMedalg, the odd Acroyear villain with a lug nut for a head,  was one of the more unusual Shinohara Tamotsu designs for Microman 200X. Although Abiko Kazutami likened Medalg to a macho American comic character, the character’s silhouette closely resembles Shinohara’s Noppera-bo design for the sentai series, Kakuranger.

52. AcroElsa was originally meant to be a male centaur but the design was changed to accommodate requests seen in customer surveys.

53. Satoh Keita was appointed the vice-president of Takara Tomy after the merger and seemed poised to eventually take over as president but he was asked to step down in 2012. His father, Satoh Yasuta, a man described as the King of Toys, passed away in 2019.

54. The most significant releases commemorating the 40th anniversary of Microman in 2014 were licensed figures by Sentinel and ThreeA.

55. There were a few Transformers crossovers of note in Microman 200X. Takara released a set consisting of Super Link Grand Convoy and Microman Kicker in 2004 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Transformers and the 30th anniversary of Microman and followed it up the next year with the exclusive Ga’mede and Magnificus set.

56. Takara Tomy did release the Microman Arts figures almost a decade after the merger but it would be more accurate to call them spin-offs of the Micro Action Series since the Microman elements were so downplayed by that point as to be almost non-existent.

57. The Licca-chan portable dollhouse must have been the inspiration for the New G.I. Joe Secret Base which was in turn the likeliest inspiration for Henshin Cyborg’s Cyborg Station.

58. Takara partnered with Hong Kong-based BBi for Cool Girl. Takara was largely responsible for the planning and development of the series and BBi concentrated on the production. The line was rebranded by BBi as Cy Girls for overseas markets with different packaging but the figures were initially identical. BBi later came up with its own Cy Girls body design, dubbed “Perfect Body”, while Takara produced its own improved 1.5 and 2.0 updates of the Cool Girl body.

59. There was only a single (BBi-developed) villain, Bloody Rose, released for Cool Girl. Development of another, karn evil-9, was halted at the prototype stage.

60. There’s some confusion over when Takaya Motoki joined Takara. He stated it was 1987 twice in the Futabasha book but a 2021 interview goes with 1988 instead.

61. If Beast Saga’s figure-scale issues weren’t exasperating enough, Kabaya sold 3.5cm-tall Beast Saga W shokugan figures that stood between the minifigures included with the Zip Lot machines and the larger Beast Fight Collection figures.

62. Takara Tomy’s biggest hit in the battle hobby category, Beyblade, sold over 470 million units in over 80 countries. The company’s latest attempt to reproduce that success involves shooting bottlecaps. Bottleman sold over 300,000 units since its debut in October 2020 and won the Excellence Award in the Communications Toy category at the 2021 Japan Toy Awards.

63. A number of Beast Saga characters who appeared in the anime were unreleased as figures but were available as minifigures included with the Zip Lot vehicles and bases or Kabaya shokugan.

64. Aside from the Henshin Cyborg-inspired figure, Shishioh Guy was released in Microman form for the Microman Action Series in 2005.

65. The Neo Henshin Cyborg Gunmetal variant, a Toys ‘R’ Us Japan exclusive, included a Cyber Giraffe Gun which had the ability to detect arrivals and sales at TRU stores and allowed the Cyborg to communicate with giraffes worldwide. It’s unknown whether this was the reason why the Gunmetal Cyborg had a chipper personality. Other variants of note were the all-clear Hyper Hobby-exclusive Stealth Cyborg and the Katagai Kenichi set that depicted him in human form.

66. In addition to the Cyborg 99 Henshin Set, Satake Masaaki was released in Microman form as Super Satake and Laser Satake in the Microman LED Powers line. It’s also absolutely imperative to point out Satake is an avid toy collector himself, is deeply and sincerely inspired by Ultraman, who he likens to Mother Teresa, and has released Ultraman-inspired soft vinyl kaiju figures under his own label. He later ran for local office and despite impeccable qualifications — he was a Henshin Cyborg, a Microman and has a huge toy collection — he somehow lost.

67. For the 2004 reissue of Dokuro King, Abiko Kazutami purchased an expensive vintage set, passed it to Takara’s Chinese factory to use as a paint sample and insisted that every minute detail be reproduced to perfection. He was baffled by some white spots on the prototype he received from the factory and eventually discovered the painter at the factory had faithfully reproduced the mould on the old toy. This was fixed for the production version.

68. While Miyatake Kazutaka is credited for popularising cutaway illustrations of sci-fi mecha, he points out he wasn’t the first to do it in Japan. As a boy, he was impressed by the cutaway illustrations of Nagaoka Shusei (formerly Shuzo) in the Japanese magazine Boys’ Life. Nagaoka would later move to America and gain fame as an album cover artist. Among Nagaoka’s notable work was the 2001-esque cover for ELO’s Out of the Blue album in 1977.

69. The four core members of SF Central Art — Matsuzaki Kenichi, Miyatake Kazutaka, Katoh Naoyuki and Takachiho Haruka – formed a company named Crystal Art Studio in 1972 with the goal of making a living working on sci-fi projects. Unfortunately, while Miyatake found work in animation, there was nothing available for the rest. Through fandom connections, they got in touch with Noda Koichiro, a sci-fi author and translator, who also worked as a producer for Fuji TV and ended up providing content for a children’s television show, Hirake! Ponkikki. (Try to picture Syd Mead starting out on Sesame Street.) The gig paid the bills but Crystal Art Studio was quickly overwhelmed by the workload of a show airing five days a week. In order to extricate itself from its obligation to the kid’s show and refocus on sci-fi projects, the group took the drastic step of dissolving the company six months before reforming as Studio Nue in the summer of 1974.

70. When Miyatake heard Soeisha (the predecessor of Nippon Sunrise) was looking for a mecha designer for Zero Tester, he showed up with 200 designs. The interviewer, Numamoto Kiyomi, was one of the seven who co-founded Soeisha after leaving the floundering Mushi Pro. He took half an hour to pore over the artwork before instructing Miyatake to come up with a distinctive vehicle for the three main characters to pilot. Miyatake went back and came up with Tester No 1 only to be bluntly told the illustration was not fit to be shown to others. Numamoto further informed Miyatake he would never work as a designer in animation until he unlearned his calligraphy skills because he was unconsciously resorting to his writing skills while drawing. Miyatake spent the next two weeks strenuously relearning how to draw straight lines and radial lines – the artistic equivalent to an intensive kung fu training sequence – before redrawing Tester No. 1. When he returned to Soeisha, he learned Numamoto had left the company. He later met up with Numamoto at his new workplace and was asked to work on a toyline named Microman. And that’s how Miyatake began his association with Takara SF Land. When Takara was considering a manga for Diaclone a few years later, it was Numamoto who recommended Studio Nue.

71. Studio Nue’s prodigious output and its commitment to creating intricately detailed realistic three-dimensional designs led exasperated animators to come up with the term Yabanue which essentially meant it was best not to encourage the enthusiastic young designers lest they overwhelm the animators with their ideas. Nue’s designers not only got the message, they passed it on to their juniors. Kawamori Shoji recounted how Miyatake would nag him to simplify his designs because hand-drawn animation required as few lines as possible. In one anime series Kawamori worked on, he could not exceed 20 straight lines for a secondary mecha design, which was a genuine challenge since a simple triangle required three lines. Kawamori understood the necessity of it when he later worked on Macross. Knowing the Regult had to appear in large numbers during battles, he kept the lines of the design to a minimum to lighten the burden on the already-overworked animators. (Itano Ichiro, who was responsible for the mecha animation for Macross, was nevertheless hospitalised after the tenth episode.) Kawamori discovered for himself the difficulties animators had with intricate designs while working on Crusher Joe. Delighted to be given permission to add as much detail as he wanted to the heavy cruiser Córdoba, he went wild only to be nonplussed when he was then assigned the arduous task of animating it.

72. Uchu Senkan Yamato had its planned 39-episode run cut to 26 due to poor ratings but continuing fan interest emboldened the producer Nishizaki Yoshinobu to gamble on a theatrical compilation in 1977 with added footage. The Yamato movie did so well a sequel was released the following year to even greater success which, along with the Japanese release of Star Wars, helped kick off a sci-fi boom. Yamato set the stage for an influential robot anime series which followed a similar trajectory: a television series cut short by poor ratings and explosive success thanks to theatrical releases.

73. Yamato’s box office success paved the way for animation for teenagers separate from that aimed at kids. Even the language changed. What was previously TV Manga, something kids were expected to outgrow, became widely known as anime. Another knock-on effect was seen in magazine publishing. Gangbuster sales of Tokuma Shoten’s Yamato Complete Works Roman Album reference book led the publisher, which also put out the kid-oriented TV Land, to launch Animage, the first anime magazine aimed at older audiences in 1978. The magazine’s inaugural issue featured the Yamato movie sequel.

74. The first Yamato film was aired in the US but didn’t seem to have made much impact. Westchester later acquired the series and it aired as Star Blazers in 1979 (after being earlier promoted in trade magazines as Star Force). The series was dubbed by Hasbro’s ad agency Griffin-Bacal through its production arm, Sunbow (previously Sunwagon), and offered by Hasbro-owned Claster Television to independent stations through barter syndication in return for ad time for Hasbro products. (Hasbro was at that time the sixth-largest toy company in the US and had in the previous year suffered its biggest loss since it went public.) The Hasbro/Griffin-Bacal/Sunbow/Claster partnership would really pay off with another rebranded Japanese import a few years later.

75. Miyatake considered his Yamato experience invaluable as it taught him how to collaborate with others. That came in handy during Yuusha Raideen because the main mecha of the Mazinger Z-inspired series was co-designed by Popy’s Murakami Katsushi, Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, Miyatake and his Studio Nue colleague Katoh Naoyuki. The bringing together of a toy designer, an animation character designer and a pair of mecha designers produced the first transforming Chogokin, a best-selling toy robot that looked and transformed more or less as it did in the anime. Anime researcher and critic Hikawa Ryusuke described Raideen as a watershed for the robot anime genre as studios and toy companies would work very closely together from then on.

76. Although Soeisha (and its production arm Sunrise Studio) worked with Popy on Zero Tester, it didn’t see a single cent from toy sales because it was merely serving as a subcontractor for the distributor Tohokushinsha. As animation alone wasn’t sufficiently profitable for studios due to the high production costs involved, Soeisha had to try a different approach to avoid the fate of Mushi Pro. The company was renamed Nippon Sunrise in 1976 and partnered with toy company Clover on three successive robot anime series from 1977 to 1979 with the aim of earning royalties from toy sales. The first two series, Muteki Chojin Zambot 3 and Muteki Kojin Daitarn 3, did well enough but Sunrise was eager to create something Yamato-like that also had movie potential. The hope was theatrical success would make the studio’s reputation and pave the way for future projects. The project took inspiration from Jules Verne’s Two Years’ Vacation and was titled Freedom Fighter. At various points of its development, it was Uchu Sento-dan Gunboy or Gunvoy – the production committee was keen on Gun-something — before it aired as Kidou Senshi Gundam. The name Gundam itself was apparently coined by Takara’s Numamoto and was partly inspired by a series of Charles Bronson ads for the male cosmetics brand, Mandom.

77. Kawamori Shoji was aware of a designer’s impact on the finished product as early as the second grade. His father, who worked at a company that made electrical components for Isuzu, pointed out the Isuzu 117 Coupé was one of the first Japanese cars to be worked on by an Italian designer. A car lover by junior high school, Kawamori would head to Seaside Motor‘s maintenance factory in Yokohama with his friend Harada Norihiko (later to be the chief designer at the Italian coachbuilder Zagato) to gawp at the exotic supercars there. (This was shortly before the Circuit no Ookami-inspired supercar boom.) The teenage Kawamori even got to sit in a Countach once.

78. Miyatake’s Powered Suit, a detailed imagining of a concept barely described in Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers novel, had a huge impact on mecha design when illustrations of it by his Nue colleague Katoh and him were published in Hayakawa’s SF Magazine in 1975. (Katoh came up with additional Powered Suit illustrations for the cover and interior of Uchu No Senshi, the 1979 Japanese translation of Heinlein’s novel.) The design was a major step in the development of the Real Robot anime genre. Nue’s Takachiho later got Sunrise producer (and eventually president) Yamaura Eiji to acquire the rights to the novel only to be denied the opportunity to head the project. Released in 1988, Sunrise’s Uchu No Senshi OVA featured a refined Powered Suit design by Miyatake.

79. Gundam’s humanoid mecha were referred to as “powered suits” during development before Sunrise changed it to “mobile suit.” The reason for the switch was “powered suit” was American in origin and Sunrise considered America the land of lawsuits. That fear may have been overstated because “Powered Suit” was later used in Diaclone with seemingly no repercussions. Others have also pointed out Diaclone Powered Convoy was essentially a transforming robot in a transforming “Powered Suit.”

80. When Yasuhiko Yoshikazu joined Mushi Pro in 1970, he was hailed as a genius by Numamoto because the latter had introduced an IQ evaluation in the recruitment test for artists. Yasuhiko was more renowned for his work ethic as he was always seen at his desk drawing. (It would have serious repercussions on his health during the production of Gundam.) He was also renowned for his speed when he was younger — something he probably had to develop due to the punishing workload of a weekly anime series. Kawamori, who sat beside him at Kugatsu-sha during the production of the Crusher Joe animated movie based on Takachiho’s novel, recalled being terrified by how quickly Yasuhiko’s hand moved while drawing.

81. The more realistic depiction of war in Kidou Senshi Gundam drew an older audience compared to the “robot pro-wrestling” of Super Robot shows. (Nue’s Takachiho, a wrestling fan, was asked by Tomino Yoshiyuki for a list of moves to use as inspiration for Yuusha Raideen.) This scuppered the chances of the Clover Gundam toys which were closer to the Super Robot chogokin aimed at the younger set. Displeased by poor sales of its toys, Clover pulled its sponsorship of the series thereby prematurely ending it. Gundam exploded in popularity after the release of Bandai’s Gundam plastic models (which were more acceptable to older fans), the theatrical success of the compilation movies (which excised elements demanded by the toy company) and the series was reaired on television. Clover, meanwhile, declared bankruptcy in August 1983 after its Dunbine and Srungle toys sold poorly.

82. Astonishingly, Takara had the opportunity to snag Gundam for itself but allowed the rights to pass to Bandai instead. According to Numamoto, Takara was Clover’s largest creditor when it went bankrupt because Takara’s Tokyo factory, Takara Kogyo, had been producing character toys for Clover since Zambot 3. Clover, founded in 1973, had previously specialised in girls’ toys and needed Takara’s expertise to produce diecast robots. When Clover wanted animation to promote its toys, it was Numamoto, then at Takara Kogyo, who provided the introduction to Soeisha/Sunrise. As a result, Takara’s boys’ toys team was aware of Gundam’s development from its conception. Takara’s toy developers were actually doubtful Clover’s Gundam toys would sell – the mostly white anime design seemed at odds with the colour scheme of the best-selling Popy Chogokin for one thing – but Takara was impressed by the sophistication of the Sunrise storyline and even more impressed by the success of Bandai’s Gundam plastic models after the series ended. Takara’s newly-founded Character Hobby Division, led by Numamoto, set out to tackle the same market. Its first project, Taiyo no Kiba Dougram, was a collaboration with Sunrise and Gundam mecha designer, Okawara Kunio.

83. Dougram featured some unusual designs because Takara was keen on having more realistic mecha for the series. The company had earlier considered creating a live-action sci-fi series aimed at an older audience and wanted something along the lines of the Miyatake Powered Suit. That goes some way in explaining why Dougram’s titular mecha had a cockpit inspired by that of an attack helicopter instead of a robot face. Interestingly, Takara released a Diaclone toy named Battle Buffalo in March 1982 which also had a cockpit in place of the traditional robot head. Also worth noting is the Dougram project was initially titled Space Buffalo.

84. Nitto Kagaku, the manufacturer of Takara’s Dougram model kits, produced Diaclone kits as well. These were initially faithful to the toy designs to the extent they reproduced gimmicks on the toys but the resulting toy-like models weren’t all that successful during the Real Robot boom. The lukewarm response to them led to the cancellation of a Robot Base model kit which would have been costly to produce. Nitto had better luck with variants of its previously released Powered Suit kits dubbed Real Type that were intended to have more muted colour schemes. (Nitto also released Real Type New Microman kits.) The company then produced Diaclone kits based on Studio Nue’s design sketches which gave older fans an alternative to the toys.

85. Car Robot is usually described as a replacement for the sci-fi vehicles and mecha that preceded it but it appears Takara was initially content to offer both styles of Diaclone products. (Robot Fortress X was released a month after Car Robot debuted and Skybase was released seven months after that.) Ohno revealed the six Train Robo trains, released in two batches in April and May 1983, were originally meant to be sci-fi trains before Takara’s sales team requested a change to more realistic models following Car Robot’s success.

86. Once Takara played fast and loose with vehicle mode scales from Car Robot-onwards, the Inchman figures were slowly eased out of the line. The Inchman included with Train Robo appeared incongruous because Ohno designed the trains to be approximately N gauge (1/160-scale or thereabouts) so the Tomica-sized Kensetsu-sha Robo (Construction Vehicle Robo) omitted them the following year.

87. Takara’s Diaclone Car Robot redecos later resulted in an interesting mix-up in Transformers. Bob Budiansky’s bio for Sideswipe was clearly referencing features on the Sunstreaker toy (e.g. piledrivers and rocket backpack) while the Sunstreaker bio’s criticism of Sideswipe’s car design was obviously alluding to the humongous air intakes on Sunstreaker’s own vehicle mode. Bearing in mind the Car Robot Countach LP500S Super Tuning and New Countach LP500S both had red and yellow variants and the initial November 1983 licensing agreement between Hasbro and Takara specified the yellow New Countach LP500S variant, Budiansky probably had a yellow New Countach LP500S and a red Countach LP500S Super Tuning at hand and in mind for Sunstreaker and Sideswipe. For whatever reason, Hasbro later switched the colours of the Countachs and ended up confusing everyone. One knock-on effect of this was Marvel Productions/Toei had to conjure up a rocket backpack and piledrivers for Sideswipe in the cartoon and that in turn led Takara Tomy to produce multiple pairs of piledrivers (the cartoon being  consistently inconsistent) for the 2012 Masterpiece Lambor.

88. Just as Ohno Koujin owned the actual car the Diaclone Car Robot Honda City R was based on, Yuki Hisashi bought the Toyota Bb after working on Transformers Binaltech Skids.

89. Although Optimus Primal was an ape rather than a truck in Beast Wars, Ohno Koujin decided to rename the character Convoy when Takara sold the line in Japan in 1997. Aside from simply liking the name, Ohno thought it sounded like “Kong Boy.”

90. Diaclone returned to sci-fi mecha towards the end of the line because Ohno thought the line would be dull with only realistic cars. Taking inspiration from Mechani-Kong and Mecha-Godzilla (and quite possibly Takara’s Machine Saurer toy), he created the transforming dinosaur mecha, Dinosaur Robo. He even came up with a background story that saw Diaclone create the Dinosaur Robo to battle the Waruder’s army of dinosaurs summoned from the past. (Takara would later release Machine Dragon, a repurposed Machine Saurer missing its human pilot, as another Dinosaur Robo enemy.) The five Dinosaur Robo toys sold well enough Takara considered Cyborg Jaguar-style Henshin Sets to turn them into more realistic dinosaurs. They also proved to be popular characters when they were turned into Dinobots for Transformers. Ohno, who has a Grimlock on display at home, was thrilled to see them in action in Transformers: Lost Age (Transformers Age of Extinction).

91. A third Diaclone base to follow Robot Base and Robot Fortress X was prototyped but never made it to production. Initially named Road Station Robo and later reworked and renamed Lord Vulcan, it was a triplechanger with robot, construction base and crane truck modes.

92. While working on Diaclone and simultaneously developing the first Macross series, Kawamori was invited by Takara’s Inoue Tsutomu to go on a joyride in the latter’s Cessna. They flew over Tokyo (occasionally dipping under the minimum safe attitude) and Kawamori was even briefly handed the controls. He considered the experience invaluable so for Macross Plus, Kawamori signed up for Air Combat USA with animator Itano Ichiro to understand what high-G dogfighting would be like in order to depict it realistically in the anime. Kawamori discovered it was difficult to turn your head at 6Gs. Itano, on the other hand, wanted to know how you black out. (Step one of one: “… I grabbed the joystick and pulled right back on it.”)

93. If Kawamori and Miyatake were disappointed when toy manufacturers rejected the Gerwalk mecha design, they were stunned when they later watched The Empire Strikes Back. Big West’s Onishi Yoshimasa, who was sitting in front of them in Toho’s screening room, turned around after the AT-ST’s brief appearance and asked them if that was what Nue intended to do. According to Miyatake, the Genocidus project died there and then. While the AT-AT Imperial Walker was based on a Syd Mead concept for US Steel, the AT-ST Scout Walker, a “chicken walker” with reverse knee joints, was an original kitbashed design by Joe Johnston. Remarking on the coincidence, Miyatake pointed out there were only so many new forms for a non-humanoid bipedal mecha and reverse knee joints seemed a fairly obvious direction to go. After all, both he and Kawamori had come up with something similar at the same time. Miyatake thought it nothing more than synchronicity. Interestingly, early design sketches for the Walk Insecters published in Diaclone World Guide depict chicken walker-style mechas in biped and quadruped configurations.

94. Studio Nue’s tongue-in-cheek project, Battle City Megaload (as in it bore a heavy burden), was spelt Megaroad in English (as in a great journey). Big West’s Onishi didn’t care for Megaload as a title but still wanted the title to denote something huge so Nue played around with variations of Mega and Macro. At one stage, the project title was Mega Macbeth. Matsuzaki finally suggested Macross and got Onishi’s approval.

95. According to Miyatake, a mecha designer has to be a jack-of-all-trades to create the various objects that make up a fictional world. The job might entail not just designing an aircraft carrier and its fighter craft but also the shipboard tow tractor and all the nuts and screws on the deck. He concedes he occasionally overdoes it. When Kawamori proposed having a semi-3D computer-generated map of Macross City for the Macross Plus OVA, Miyatake went ahead and drew an elaborate 1:10,000-scale map by hand as he was not familiar with CG. He considered urban design and included details like food production factories, power generation and transport infrastructure. He spent so much time on the map that Kawamori went over to check and was completely blown away. Miyatake’s map had such a high level of detail that it was impossible to produce a cost-effective CG version given the limitations of computer technology circa 1994.

96. Syd Mead spoke of the necessity of the “recognisability trigger” for commercial sci-fi designs — something familiar in the concept people can relate to that would make it easier to appreciate the weird new ideas that were slipped in. The recognisability triggers for Kawamori’s VF-1 Valkyrie design were the F-14-inspired fighter mode and the humanoid Battroid mode while the Gerwalk mode provided the novelty factor to complement those relatively familiar elements. The Gerwalk on its own proved much too jarring for toy makers accustomed to humanoid mecha. (In Macross terms, it was a yack deculture moment.) The commercial success of the Valkyrie made sponsors more receptive to subsequent Gerwalk-type forms (e.g. the Legioss Armo-Diver).

97. For those anxiously wondering, Yoke Hideaki’s second-favourite design is Camera Robo (Reflector).

98. A fringe company in the Bandai group founded to sell character toys, Popy became a major player with hits like the Kamen Rider Henshin Belt role-playing item, the Popynica (Popy minicar) diecast vehicles and the Chogokin diecast robots. Kids found the Chogokin especially appealing because the heavy diecast robots were considered more substantial than the lightweight clockwork tin robots that preceded them. The first Chogokin toy, Mazinger Z, was so well-received when it was released in 1974 that it was revised and re-released multiple times within a short period of time. The fourth version was released in 1978 — two years before Takara would release Diaclone DiaBattles.

99. Aramaki Shinji’s decision to try his hand at CG animation was spurred by complaints about his detailed mecha designs from animators who had to produce, by hand, hundreds if not thousands of drawings based on them.

100. Aramaki’s Mospeada Ride Armor design was inspired by a bank loan. He had taken one out to buy a motorbike and the monthly installments of 20,000 yen provided the necessary motivation to come up with a stellar transforming bike design. It was initially conceived as a robot before being turned into a power suit for the rider. The design was complicated enough the prototype was reduced to a pile of parts because toy company executives couldn’t figure it out but it was eventually turned into a standout 1/10-scale toy by Gakken.

101. Kawamori Shoji was a stickler for details who complained about the implausible aspects of the Ultraman series even as a young child. He did, however, approve of Narita Toru’s Ultra Hawk No 1 design. Kawamori displayed a natural aptitude for design at an early age. Given a fischerteknik set in the second grade with only a few pieces to create models with, he built transforming variations with parts that shifted about, which led him to believe it was only natural for toys to transform. His favourite childhood design was the Thunderbirds heavy air transport, Thunderbird 2, and he was an aircraft enthusiast even before his father took him to an air show at Atsugi Air Base when he was in the third grade. After designing a transforming mecha inspired by the F-14 in 1982, Kawamori would go on to supervise the design of the F-15-based MP-3 Starscream two decades later.

102. Bandai ended up with an American partner as well for Machine Robo though it happened in a more circuitous manner. According to the book Toyland, Bandai’s American subsidiary had attempted to sell Machine Robo as Machine Men in the US and was showing off the products to trade buyers before the 1983 Toy Fair. While the buyers were upbeat on the line at first, they ordered only 40,000 units once they learned Bandai America’s television advertising budget had been eliminated after its parent company suffered losses in the electronics market in 1982. Tonka got wind of Machine Robo after hiring a former Bandai America executive and decided to license the line in 1983. Bandai, meanwhile, sold Machine Men in Australia from 1984 to 1986.

103. Interestingly, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was originally intended to be an “action vehicle line” with the figures meant as accessories for those vehicles.

104. Microman superfans, Paul Lorphanpaibul and Bryan Wilkinson, observed that Hasbro’s move to combine Microman Microchange and Diaclone Car Robot paralleled Takara’s own Victory Plan effort to create a unified worldview for Henshin Cyborg, Android A and Microman in the Seventies.

105. Transformers was something of a rush job. Hasbro got hold of Takara’s toys in June 1983, started developing the line around July and had to hustle to get something ready for trade previews in October/November. George Dunsay credited Hasbro’s ad agency, Griffin-Bacal, for doing 16 months work in about four or five months.

106. A number of Diaclone and Microchange toys weren’t adapted as Transformers for various reasons. In the case of the Diaclone Triplechanger Helicopter Type, the transformation was considered too complex for the US market.

107. The Transformers versions of the Diaclone Car Robot Onebox Cherry Vanette toys were just perplexing without their Diaclone pilots. Ohno Koujin had used Dougram’s cockpit-head as inspiration when designing the original forms of Ironhide and Ratchet so he was just as surprised as anyone to discover the cartoon versions had heads the toys were lacking.

108. In his book, The Real Toy Story, Eric Clark credited Griffin-Bacal’s Joe Bacal for coming up with “Transformers” during a 3¼-hour car ride from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to New York City. Others brainstorming in the car were his colleagues Tom Griffin and Paul Kurnit, and Hasbro’s Stephen Schwartz. Clark also claimed “Autobots,” “Decepticon” and more controversially, “Optimus Prime” and “Megatron” were also named during that ride. There’s reason to doubt this account because Marvel Comics Editor (and later Transformers comics writer) Bob Budiansky specifically mentioned he named “Megatron” and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter suggested Denny O’Neil probably contributed “Optimus Prime.”

109. Hasbro objected to a couple of names Budiansky came up with during his five-year run. “Megatron” was deemed to be too scary as it brought to mind the megatons associated with nuclear bombs. Budiansky retorted Megatron was a bad guy and was meant to be scary. Hasbro backed down. On the other hand, “Highbeams,” which Budiansky thought was rather clever, was rejected because a Hasbro executive notified him tactfully it was slang for part of the female anatomy where she came from.

110. Although both lines were neck and neck at one point, Transformers ended up outselling GoBots almost 2-to-1 in 1984. Transformers did even better the following year and still had 214 million dollars in sales when GoBots ended in 1986. Looking back, Tonka executives attributed Transformers’ success to three factors. First, kids preferred the more complicated Transformers toys and parents gave in despite the higher price points. Second, the Transformers regular series aired first on television on a weekly basis whereas Tonka waited until it had enough episodes to air Challenge of the GoBots on weekdays. Finally, Tonka, a 100 million dollar company at that time, simply couldn’t compete with Hasbro, which was a billion dollar Fortune 500 company by 1985.

111. Transformers was test-marketed in Japan as “Henshin Sentai Transformer” and the results were so good Takara was convinced it had a hit on its hands.

112. Japanese animation studios collaborating with American studios reacted to the rising yen by subcontracting most of the work to countries like South Korea where costs were much lower. For example, the labour-intensive ink-and-paint process, which cost between $10 to $12 per animation cel in the US back then, could be done for as little as $1.25 in Korea. There was another unstated advantage: the animators in Korea were expected to work much longer hours than their unionised American counterparts. AKOM, founded by Nelson Shin in Seoul in 1985, produced 300,000 animation cels in just 10 weeks for My Little Pony: The Movie.

113. The success of Transformers and its sequels in Japan would lead to a revival of robot anime for kids in the Nineties. Takara would be at the forefront of this with its sponsorship of the Transformers-influenced Yuusha series produced by Sunrise.

114. Hikawa Ryusuke and others in Japan found the moving mouths of Transformers unusual which is unusual in itself. Tetsuwan Atom featured a robot (though human-like and human-sized) with a moving mouth all the way back in 1963. It’s possible Japanese audiences had become accustomed in the Seventies to piloted Super Robots that were generally masked or didn’t speak.

115. Freelance writer and anime researcher Igarashi Koji got his first Transformer, Bumble (Bumblebee), as a kid after watching Transformers on a local station in Aomori three months after the major stations had started airing the series in Japan. He only realised the Microman connection when he bought a discounted Microman Gun Robo toy the next winter, took it out of the package and recognised it as Megatron. Over a decade later, Igarashi authored Takara SF Land Daizenshu, the first major book tracing all the interesting Takara SF Land links.

116. Takara’s discomfort over the Bandai-owned Valkyrie being promoted on the Transformers cartoon paralleled Hasbro objecting to Spider-Man’s appearance in Marvel’s Transformers comic. Marvel had hoped Spider-Man would help boost Transformers comic sales but Hasbro complained Mattel had a Spider-Man figure in its Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars line at that time. The comic company won Hasbro over by featuring Spider-Man’s black costume rather than his traditional red-and-blue. (Mattel later produced a Spider-Man figure in his black costume.)

117. At George Dunsay’s instigation, Yoke Hideaki moved to America with his wife (a designer of girls’ toys) to work at Hasbro for a few months (or a year). Yoke’s stint at Hasbro gave both companies a deeper understanding of each other and made the Transformers partnership even stronger.

118. Takara’s Ejima Takio revealed in Beast Wars Generations that he presented a Densetsu no Yuusha Da-Garn toy customised with joints from a 3¾-inch G.I Joe figure at a meeting with Hasbro in 1994 to demonstrate the feasibility of a more posable Transformer design. Hasbro executives were cool to the idea until their late-arriving superior swept in and marvelled at the concept at which point they immediately agreed it was, in fact, wonderful. Thus the G2 Laser Rod figures were born. From that point onwards, Transformers figures had better articulation and were still able to pass safety tests as the ball-jointed legs would pop off cleanly.

119. Although director Nelson Shin noted Transformers the Movie only took 1½ years instead of the usual three to four years to produce a feature film, it was preceded by two animated TV-to-movie toy tie-ins with even quicker turnarounds. The 1985 Care Bears movie took 8 months while Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer took a mere three months.

120. Attitudes towards elderly robots had changed in Japan by the time the crotchety old coot, Jetfire, appeared in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Takara Tomy marketing manager Yamazaki Masahiko was initially shocked to see the character but praised it as a memorable if unconventional design.

121. Since the 1986 movie Transformers were designed before the toys, the animators took a lot of liberties with the transformations between modes. For example, Hot Rod transformed five different ways in that one movie. When Onishi Yuya designed the 2020 Studio Series version of the character, he focused on the first time Hot Rod transformed.

122. The Transformers city-transformers derived from the Diaclone Jizai Gattai/Scramble Gattai project were Metroplex (Metroflex), Fortress Maximus and Micromaster Stations Hot House, Iron Works, Airwave and Greasepit (which would later be sold as Transformers Zone’s Micro Transformer Station).

123. Ohno thought the colour scheme Hasbro picked for his Metroflex (Metroplex) design was bland at the time but later came to appreciate its simple elegance. He picked a Diaclone-inspired colour scheme for Metrotitan, the Transformers Zone redeco of the toy.

124. Fortress Maximus’s Master Sword caused some problems for Toei Doga. Yoshida Tatsuya, producer of the Transformers The Headmasters anime, had to come up with a suitably challenging opponent for a ginormous robot wielding that massive a weapon because the character was only slated to battle Megazarak (Scorponok) later in the series. Thus, the first opponent for Fortress Maximus and his Master Sword was another mean green mother from outer space.

125. Following its extraordinary success with Fortress Maximus, Takara’s marketing team suggested selling a variant, Grand Maximus, in limited numbers the very next year because the company didn’t have sufficient items in its lineup for the lucrative year-end sales period. Although Ohno thought the move was a bit much, he created a new Pretender shell for Grand (a renamed Fortress/Cerebros) to fit the Transformers theme in Japan that year.

126. Takara Tomy’s Transformers team was dismayed to learn there wasn’t much of a budget for the 2016 Titans Return update of Fortress Maximus and it would therefore need to reuse about half of the moulds created for the 2013 Metroplex toy. As Metroplex hadn’t been designed with Fortress Maximus in mind, it seemed an impossible task. However, Hasui Shogo was determined to create a worthy flagship item because he knew how popular the character was with fans of the Transformers The Headmasters show. The design process was an unusual one by Transformers standards as Hasui had to remove or creatively reuse parts from Metroplex to save costs. Whatever new moulds that could be created were focused on Hasui’s three priorities for the update: the Headmaster gimmick, ensuring the toy was noticeably different from Metroplex and maintaining the base-play element of the original toy. Although Hasui wasn’t able to include all the elements of the original Fortress Maximus (some of the weapons and the elevator gimmick had to be omitted and Cog was sold separately two years later), the Titans Return Fortress Maximus included some impressive sound and light gimmicks.

127. According to Ishizawa Takayuki, Takara’s experience with the Pretenders came in handy when the designers later worked on the Japanese exclusive transforming Super Turtles figures seen in the Mutant Turtles: Chojin Densetsu-Hen OVA.

128. An early design draft for Powermaster Optimus Prime included a Roller which had its own robot mode and also transformed into the head of the powered-up form.

129. Transformers Masterforce’s greater emphasis on Super Ginrai brought Transformers closer to the Japanese hero robot genre and the next anime, Transformers Victory, did even more to play up the heroic character of its lead, Star Saber. Ohno considers Ginrai and Star Saber to be the progenitors of the Yuusha series of hero robots that succeeded Transformers in the Nineties.

130. The release version of God Bomber was less impressive than the prototype because Takara cut corners to reduce the price of the God Ginrai giftset. The God Ginrai formed from the God Bomber prototype had wings jutting out from the chest, larger wings on its back and pointed toes.

131. Though former Takara personnel never bring it up in interviews, the poor relationship between Mattel and Takara during the making of the Japanese Barbie in the Eighties is an example of what happens when one company throws its weight around in a collaborative effort.

132. Designer Akitaka Mika, best known for his Gundam and MS Girls designs, once worked at Takara although most of his designs never made it to production. Unfortunately, the one that did, Predaking, inspired a lawsuit. Bandai accused Takara of ripping off the Popy Chogokin Daltanious toy, tracked down Akitaka and immediately hired him because Predaking sold extremely well in the US. Akitaka worked at Bandai for about a year designing toy robots including Machine Robo.

133. When Yoke Hideaki retired, Hasbro presented him with a Perceptor, his favourite design, which had a simple inscription: Thank you.

134. Bob Prupis, who was instrumental in adapting Takara’s transforming toy robots for the American market, still believed in Transformers after Hasbro ended the line in the US. Then based in England as part of Hasbro’s European marketing operations, Prupis convinced Takara the brand was still strong in the UK and Germany so Takara’s overseas Transformers team, which had been reduced to Ejima Takio and his supervisor Yoke, began collaborating with Hasbro Europe. As the only Transformers designer at Takara working on products for the European market, Ejima played a big part in keeping the brand alive internationally in its leanest years until Hasbro relaunched Transformers in the US in 1993. His European exclusive designs included the Action Master Elites which took the radical Action Master concept of non-transforming Transformers and took it in an even more radical direction: the Action Master Elites were Action Masters that transformed. Ejima designed Action Master Elites intended to be Black Zarak and Bruticus but they ended up being named Double Punch and Turbomaster for unknown reasons.

135. Yoke Hideaki made key changes during Beast Wars to save development time and cost. He began the practice of creating a design brief that described each character (personality, body type, posture, etc.) and the prototype to be created (height, weight, the number of parts and moulds necessary, the paint applications, etc.). By sticking to that brief, Takara’s designers could quickly come up with a prototype that could be passed to the production engineer who would work out the technical details. Yoke also got the Chinese production plant to agree to a fixed manufacturing price for each class (e.g. Basic, Deluxe, etc.) regardless of cost fluctuations that might occur and provided an incentive in the form of a profit-sharing agreement if unit shipments should pass a certain threshold. The ultimate goal was to ensure Beast Wars could compete value-wise with other action figure brands. Yoke is credited for changing the designers’ mindset. They previously came up with a design and then figured out the price; Yoke’s approach made them focus on fun ideas that would make an interesting product given a specific budget.

136. Takara was concerned Japanese kids might find the Beast Wars creatures and their CGI depictions off-putting so the company visited the homes of those who had filled out marketing surveys and brought along toys and videos of the Mainframe show to gauge their reaction. As the show hadn’t been dubbed yet, Takara employees recorded Japanese voices which were then played from a boom box to accompany the visuals. Ohno Koujin played Convoy and Ejima Takio took the role of Megatron.

137. Beast Wars was such a massive hit globally that Takara, which was in charge of production, had trouble coping. The company even began duplicating moulds after determining the tremendous demand would still ensure profits after the additional outlay. Some of the moulds later began to wear out because they were in constant use for years. Ejima Takio revealed the combiner Magnaboss toy, his best-selling design, eventually developed burrs from mould degradation. Takara simply hired an additional 5,000 workers to remove the burrs.

138. Takara funded a spin-off cel animation series, Beast Wars II, while waiting for new CGI Beast Wars episodes from Mainframe and the line turned out to be the pinnacle of the Beast-era in Japan. (Ohno noted the second installment of a series usually ends up being the most popular. Taiyo no Yuusha Fighbird was apparently the most popular of the Yuusha series.) Yuki Hisashi is especially fond of BW II as it was the first time he was put in charge of an animation-associated line. His LioConvoy design, based on a white lion immediately familiar to Japanese audiences and Disney animators, sold particularly well.

139. Takara took one look at Hasbro’s unusual character designs for Beast Machines and decided they would be a hard sell for Japanese boys. (The show did eventually make it to Japan as Beast Wars Returns with the toys being Toys ‘R’ Us Japan exclusives.) Although there was a plan at one point to create a Beast Wars Neo sequel tentatively titled Beast Wars Neo (Dash) for the Japanese market, Takara’s designers felt that beast mode Transformers had been played out. After conducting a taste test featuring Beast Wars toys unreleased in Japan and vehicle transformers from the Yuusha line, the company discovered kids still liked beast Transformers but transforming cars and trains were far more popular. Takara decided to hedge its bet by creating a line with both types of Transformers. Ohno Koujin submitted a proposal for a line featuring working vehicles and that eventually turned into Transformers Car Robot. Though it wasn’t as wildly successful as Beast Wars in Japan, it did well and Yoke Hideaki considers the line (later rebranded as Transformers Robots in Disguise by Hasbro) to be the crucial first step in the journey to the 2007 live-action movie.

140. Hasui Shogo‘s first Transformers design was Beast Machines Skydive. His mentor handed him a picture of a Pteranodon and told him to turn that creature into a cool-looking robot. Hasui, who studied bioscience at university, scrutinised Transformers toys to learn from past masters as he developed his skills as a designer.

141. A Transformers fan since he was 10, Kobayashi Hironori showed up for his job interview at Takara with a scratch-built Arcee model that impressed his interviewer, Yoke Hideaki. (He submitted a modified version for the BotCon Japan 1998 custom contest and won.) Kobayashi was well-versed with the brand and had strong opinions about it which he immediately made known to his seniors when he joined Takara’s domestic Transformers design team in 1999. Team leader Yuki Hisashi was actually taken aback to discover the new recruit was a bigger Transformers fan than he was. Kobayashi’s advocacy for realistic vehicles and miniature car model features like clear parts for windscreens influenced the direction of Transformers Car Robot.

142. Kobayashi noted it was one thing to be a Transformers fan and quite another to be a Transformers toy designer. He had to learn to create the internal structure of the toys and consider mundane details like the diameters of shafts and how many screws would be necessary to secure parts.

143. While Transformers Car Robot Wild Ride, Mach Alert and Speedbreaker took inspiration from Diaclone Car Robot and shared elements like clear windscreens, rubber tyres and functional doors, each of those toys also reflected the tastes of the designer who worked on it. Yuki Hisashi, a fan of asymmetric robot modes, designed Wild Ride that way and got Kobayashi Hironori to do the same for Speedbreaker. Kobayashi, meanwhile, wanted Speedbreaker, his first Transformers design for Takara, to include elements of classic characters like Tracks, Hot Rodimus (Hot Rod) and Meister (Jazz). Speedbreaker’s half-visor was in fact a nod to Meister’s visor. Kobayashi was startled by some of the unusual touches included in his seniors’ designs. Yuki, for example, had Wild Ride’s robot head appear prominently where the driver would be in the passenger compartment while Kunihiro Takashi cleverly designed Mach Alert’s robot soles to double as bucket seats for the vehicle mode. (In a probably not-unrelated development, Kobayashi later designed Alternity Convoy‘s toes to double as seat backs in vehicle mode.)

144. Takara didn’t give much thought to creating Transformers for adult collectors until it saw the response to the 2000 G1 Convoy reissue. Kobayashi was tasked with creating new items for that segment of the market and that resulted in the Masterpiece and Binaltech lines in 2003.

145. Masterpiece Convoy was intended to be a one-off commemorative adult collectible for Transformers’ 20th anniversary but Takara later decided it would kick off a new series of high-target Transformers items. Even so, it was listed as MP-1 rather than MP-01 because Kobayashi had trouble envisioning  the series lasting more than nine figures. As it happened, the Masterpiece series is still going strong after 20 years.

146. Masterpiece Convoy was at least partly inspired by the 1999 Metalforce Convoy figure produced by Time House under license from Takara. It seems to be the first G1 Transformers toy to be targeted at adult collectors. The 12-inch non-transforming soft vinyl figure could be ordered at BotCon Japan 1998 or through the Time House web site, was sold for 6800 yen and was limited to 2,000 pieces. (A variant with metallic colours was released the following year.) The character model, based on the G1 cartoon, was supervised by freelance Transformers mecha designer Ichikawa Hirofumi and the figure came with accessories that are now considered standard for premium-priced G1 Optimus Prime/Convoy toys (e.g. the Matrix  and the Laser Axe/Energy Axe/Energon Axe). It also came with a booklet that discussed the character and one of the asides about how Convoy’s vehicle mode interior parts were rearranged in robot mode got Takara designer Kobayashi thinking about rotating the front wheels into the torso for Masterpiece Convoy.

147. Beast Wars story editor Bob Forward wanted to see Transformers made with diecast metal again because he thought the G1 Sideswipe toy he checked out at BotCon 1997 was cool. That almost certainly was the inspiration for the line he wrote for the 1998 episode The Agenda Part III, “Diecast construction. It’s a lost art.” Separately,  Kobayashi Hironori, who had previously sketched the Convoy he wanted to create while studying industrial design at university, took over the Masterpiece Convoy project sometime after joining Takara. Like Forward, Kobayashi thought it was time for a Transformers toy with a lot of diecast metal after years of plastic ones. However, the toy designer initially used so much of the material that the first testshot couldn’t stand under its own weight.

148. According to Kobayashi, Masterpiece Convoy took more time and effort than expected. It took three years to go from prototype to completion and required  23 moulds for the component parts alone but it was worth it in the end. Masterpiece Convoy proved so popular when it was released in 2003 that Takara produced multiple variants over the years and eventually wore out the moulds. The final variant, MP-1L Last Shot, was released in 2011.

149. Takara Tomy’s designers study the original Transformers cartoon every time they create a related Masterpiece product so Hasui Shogo noted with a laugh that it felt like they’re rewatching it endlessly. After acknowledging the old show was rife with errors, Hasui pointed out that from a creative standpoint there were interesting ideas in the way the characters were depicted (e.g. parts emerging to replace hands) and he tries to reproduce them in toy form in a cost effective way.

150. Starting with the 2011 MP-10 Convoy (a new Masterpiece design of the character intended to be comparable in size to MP-9 Rodimus Convoy), Hasui Shogo tried to stick to a consistent scale for the robot modes. It was tricky since Transformers was originally a hodgepodge of toylines with different scales and the animation wasn’t consistent in this regard either. Hasui was committed to the task, however. As a kid, he and his friends once got all their Transformers toys and lined them up, and he never forgot how impressive it was to see them all displayed together like that.

151. Nintendo had a significant impact on the American toy industry. After the NES was test-marketed in New York and Los Angeles in 1985 and released nationwide in late 1986, the action figure market went from 1.06 billion dollars in 1986 to 702 million dollars in 1987 and then shrank further to 523 million dollars in 1988 because eight- to ten-year-olds turned their attention to videogames. Hasbro responded to the videogame threat by taking it head-on in 1986. NEMO (Never Ever Mention Outside or possibly Nintendo Ends Mid-October) was described as an original, internally developed gaming system in Toy Wars and described in Toyland as the brainchild of Atari co-founder, Nolan Bushnell, who sold the idea to Hasbro. Hasbro killed the project in 1988 after spending 10 million dollars (Toyland) or 20 million dollars (Toy Wars) because the designers couldn’t bring the system down to the 199 dollar retail price point. When another outside inventor sold Hasbro the idea of a sophisticated VR system in 1991, the company spent about four years and 45 million dollars developing it before deciding the system, codenamed “Sliced Bread,” would also have been prohibitively expensive. Takara, which had previously sold handheld electronic games in the Seventies and a rebranded gaming PC in the early Eighties, had some interesting ideas for incorporating technology into Transformers in 1987. The Transformers Generations Deluxe book featured design sketches of a triplechanger that transformed into a futuristic vehicle, a robot or a light gun that reacted to action on television. (Mattel’s Captain Power toys were released that same year.) There were also ambitious proposals for tech-powered Transformers that made use of light and motion sensors as well as remote-control technology but none were produced. The one Transformers-related idea that did make it to market that year was uninspired: Takara’s Video Challenger light gun could detect visual effects in the opening credits of Transformers: The Headmasters. Takara and Takara Tomy did eventually produce impressive techpowered toy robots.

152. At one point, Takara intended to release a Transformers Zone giftset containing both Rocket Base and Galaxy Shuttle, which would have been a suitably impressive flagship item for the line. Galaxy Shuttle was a Japanese exclusive released for the previous line, Transformers Victory, but it seemed to have been designed with the Micromaster Rocket Base in mind. The shuttle mode could not only fit the Rocket Base launchpad but its compartments could accommodate both Brain Masters and Micromasters. Although the giftset idea never came to pass, Galaxy Shuttle was re-released for Transformers Zone.

153. As a student, Nonaka Tsuyoshi worked part-time as an artist at Studio Ox and had his Transformers illustrations published in TV Magazine. When Ohno Koujin saw Nonaka’s city-mode Metroflex/Metroplex artwork (a collaboration with Takahashi Asao), he wished his toy design was as detailed and impressive.

154. There were occasionally mystifying age recommendations on Takara’s packaging. The 1997 GaoGaiGar Shishioh Guy figure, for instance, was for children aged 3 or older while the 1998 Neo Henshin Cyborg figure based on the former was for ages 15 and up.

155. Model trains had their heyday in the Fifties — The Toy Book reported Lionel Trains was the world’s largest toy manufacturer at its peak in 1953 – but went out of fashion as most Baby Boomers turned their attention to slot-car racing and Hot Wheels in the Sixties. Not everyone would grow up and fall out of love with trains, though. Adult fans of model trains have included people you’d expect, like Tom Hanks, as well as people you wouldn’t, like Neil Young, Rod Stewart and Frank Sinatra. These days, model trains are very much an old man’s hobby with a 2016 report noting “the young bucks” of model train clubs are anyone below 60. It could hardly be described as a dynamic growing segment of the toy industry. Furthermore, not everyone into model trains actually plays with them. The ones who create layouts and take pleasure in seeing the trains in action are dubbed operators while collectors of model trains are content to shunt their toys to the showcase. All things considered, this wasn’t the best example Takaya could have come up with.

156. It could be argued that Lego has already turned toys into an enjoyable hobby for adults. Adult Fans of Lego (AFOL) are an important constituent of the Lego community who have influenced the company and produced some remarkable tools for their fellow fans’ enjoyment of the hobby. The extraordinary BrickLink Studio, for example, is free software that allows brick builders to use any official Lego brick, render a creation in CGI, produce a Lego-style instruction sheet as a PDF, price the pieces required and order them from Lego resellers. (Norman Mailer would have loved it. He thought the sound of actual Lego bricks snapping together sounded vaguely obscene.) Some adults even use Lego for work. Kawamori Shoji, for example, builds prototypes with building blocks to help visualise his transforming mecha designs.

157. The new Diaclone line can and has been described as a reboot but Takaya has taken pains to point out it’s actually a continuation of or a sequel to the original Diaclone. The not-a-reboot argument is undermined by the fact the first few years of the new line featured mostly updates of old designs. Granted, these were very modern, very stylish and very accomplished updates but they were updates nonetheless. To Takaya’s credit, the new line did come into its own once it had been established with some of the newer designs having a much harder sci-fi look compared to the Hero Robot-flavoured designs of the original.

158. Fans of the new Diaclone line include creative types like Sekiya Tetsuji. In an interview in Diaclone World Guide Next, he revealed he was a Microman fan as a kid who continued to use the figures as models for his art as he grew up. Too poor to afford the DiaBattles V2 set when it was first released, Sekiya grabbed the V2 Prototype (Moon Base) variant as soon as he had a manga accepted for serialization. Sekiya even went on to publish a short Diaclone-inspired story, “Yugo Meets Diaclone,” in the fourth volume of Kotobuki Empire, his manga about a sushi chef. The final panel depicts a line up of Diaclone toys exactly like Sekiya’s own collection.

159. As if to atone for its earlier lack of faith in DiaBattles V2, Takara Tomy came out with a deluxe variant in 2019 – three and a half years after the original was released. The Red Lightning upgrade had features like articulated fingers and candy-coat paint highlights that were first seen in items released earlier and could be further enhanced with the Takara Tomy Mall-exclusive Cosmo Battles 02 (Red Lightning) accessory set. That may have been the last of the DiaBattles V2 variants because Takaya Motoki hinted it was time for a V3.

160. Although the new Diaclone line consisted of premium-priced products, Takaya planned for inevitable rising production costs by cutting a few corners. For example, from Big Powered GV onwards, limbs for the larger mecha were identical on both sides to lower tooling costs. In other instances, features that were dropped for budgetary reasons in one design appeared in later releases. Big Powered GV was originally intended to have cockpits sliding around to form the chest during its transformation as well as articulated fingers but those ended up being used for Strike Buffalo and the Big Powered GV Independent Mobile Squad and Destroyer variants. On the other hand, a pair of prototyped gun turrets and an E-type Powered Suit were simply left out of the Big Powered GV accessory set, Land Battle Cruiser, when its asking price was reduced to make it more affordable.

161. The Trivers Bullet Core design is reminiscent of unreleased prototype vehicles for the 1980 Robot Base seen in Diaclone World Guide. Initially resembling the Bullet vehicles from Takara’s Uchu Kaizoku Captain Harlock ZMan55 Series, they were later refined to have a common Dia Core  fuselage which could be transformed into different vehicles (e.g.  race car or jet fighter) depending on the parts attached.

162. Drill tanks and drill accessories in general are so common in Takara SF Land that one fan observed when you think of Takara, you think of drills and when you think of drills, you think of Takara.

163. When Takaya Motoki was asked about the possibility of a Diaclone-Transformers crossover, he explained at length how the two brands differed, the rights situation was complicated and the product positioning would be challenging before finally conceding it was not entirely out of the question. Diaclone has already had one completely unexpected tie-up, after all. The 2021 Gridman x Diaclone crossover saw multiple products released (Battles Gridman, Diaclone vs. Gridman and Gridsuits) even though, on the face of it, both brands had little in common other than the fact Takara produced toys for them in the past. There was, of course, another, more personal connection between the two brands: Takaya Motoki was the co-designer of the original Takara Gridman toy.

164. The Gridman franchise has its own Transformers connections. Takaya asked veteran Transformers mechanical designer Saito Masakatsu to use Convoy for inspiration when designing God Zenon’s head and decades later, the SSSS.Gridman anime had subtle Transformers references in its human character designs.

165. Battle Convoy V-Max’s base mode was influenced by fan feedback received when the Space Station CX-1 bridge concept prototype, an example of what a playset designed for adults might look like, was displayed at the 2017 Diaclone Expo. The CX-1 in the name was a clear reference to the old Cyborg Station CX-1, the first of the Takara SF Land bases, and the Battle Convoy V-Max trailer included its own quiet tribute to that same Henshin Cyborg accessory.

166. One indicator of just how well the Diaclone revival is doing is there have been multiple accessory sets released specifically for Battle Convoy V-Max’s trailer. Anyone who thought the Pod Grander was too austere and spare could get the Pod Gantry accessory set which included a gantry for the maintenance of larger Diaclone mecha and a Lift Vehicle to provide access to hard to reach spots on them. If, on the other hand, additional storage area was required, the Pod Grander Expansion Unit allowed the trailer to be extended to such ridiculous lengths that Diaclone forces could rent the extra space out to drunken salarymen who needed a place to crash.

167. The belief that toys of villains don’t sell well seems strange given the fact Star Wars, which otherwise had a massive influence on the toy industry, did very well with its baddies. Chris Taylor noted there were 57 versions of Darth Vader produced between 1995 and 2012 and the character is consistently the most popular figure in Hasbro’s line. That’s all the more impressive considering how little screen time the character had in the original movie.

168. Takara produced some unusual Star Wars items in the Seventies. Its Darth Vader diecast figure, for instance, came with a crossbow while the C-3PO figure had a missile-launcher in its chest to deal with serious breaches in protocol. One of Takara’s licensed toys even drew the attention of George Lucas. Steven Sansweet reported Lucasfilm and ILM bought thousands of Takara’s windup walking R2-D2 – one of Lucas’s favourite Star Wars toys — for employees and friends. Lucasfilm urged Kenner to import the Japanese toy or produce something similar but Kenner was apparently loath to cannibalise sales of its own R2-D2 figure. (Kenner did give in to Lucas on occasion. It came out with Ewok plush toys after George insisted on having one for his daughter.) For Takara SF Land fans, the standout Takara Star Wars toy would be the “transforming” X-Wing which had detachable parts that could be repositioned to create variations. (The Japanese company had earlier produced more impressive reconfigurable vehicles for the Microman line.)

169. Before Hasbro met Marvel, the toy company didn’t have any villains for its proposed revival of G.I. Joe in the early Eighties because it expected kids would have their Joes battle the other toys in their collection during playtime. (The scene in The MASS Device Part II which shows Duke battling a much larger Conan-esque barbarian — keep in mind the difference between a 3¾-inch Joe and a 5½-inch He-Man figure — is perhaps a nod to this.) As it turned out, kids were really craving toys of bad guys. Cobra Commander was originally intended to be part of the second wave of figures before Hasbro’s Bob Prupis and Kirk Bozigian turned the toy into a mail-away exclusive that required fifty cents and 5 Flag Points clipped from G.I. Joe packages. Over the course of four years, kids redeemed almost 500,000 figures of the character described as “hatred and evil personified.”

170. Hasbro did attempt to produce more appealing villains for G.I. Joe at one point. The Dreadnoks were originally a bunch of cute furry critters – Marvel’s Larry Hama believes Hasbro wanted its own version of Ewoks for the lucrative plush toy market – until Hama pointed out it wouldn’t be a smart move to have the good guys shoot at cute teddy bears. (It was especially awkward considering the origins of the teddy bear. The classic toy came about after President Teddy Roosevelt – a future G.I. Joe — refused to shoot a captured and helpless bear cub during a hunting trip.) At Hama’s suggestion, the Dreadnoks were turned into a group of rough and tumble bikers partial to grape soda and chocolate candy.

171. Kids weren’t the only ones who were keen on toys of villains. In 2005, the CIA approached Don Levine, considered by some the Father of G.I. Joe for his role in the creation of the original action figure, to create a 12-inch figure of Osama bin Laden. Codenamed “Devil Eyes,” the figure was meant to have a head painted with heat-dissolving material which would reveal a demonic red and black face with green eyes. The expectation was Afghan kids would play with the figure, be shocked by its true form and turn away from the man it was based on. It must have eventually dawned on someone at Langley that Afghan kids might actually consider this a cool feature because the CIA didn’t proceed with the project. According to a spokesman, only three prototypes were ever produced and one of these was later auctioned off for almost $12,000. However, another source familiar with the project stated hundreds of the figures, part of a preproduction run, were shipped to Pakistan.

172. Takaya previewed another type of Waruder Suit combiner at Diaclone Expo 2018. Although in theory multiple Waruder Suits could be combined together to go toe-to-toe with a DiaBattles-class mecha (the same show presented combinations of 16 and even more preposterously, 60 Waruder Suits), Takaya didn’t expect fans to go that far. As an alternative, he came up with the Waruder Suit Extension Machine concept. It consisted of only four Waruder Suits along with upgrade parts which combined together to form a mecha that was taller than DiaBattles V2. (There naturally was a Takara SF Land homage thrown into the mix: the bipedal mecha could split its legs, Acroyear 1981-style, to form a four-legged mecha.) However, Takaya had trouble justifying its release as he couldn’t figure out how to position it as a product. The Warudaraiders, another type of Waruder Suit upgrade set, were already in the pipeline and he was also worried the Extension Machine would diminish the impact of the Warudaros mecha when they were eventually released. Since the only thing the Extension Machine had going for it was its size, Takaya opted against commercialising it.