IF Labs readies first wave of toys
TV ratings hog Dragon Ball Z will figure prominently in the initial release of product from newly-minted toyco IF Labs. A joint venture between Fort Worth, Texas-based Funimation Productions and Toronto, Canada’s Irwin Toy, the company is hitting the market with two assortments this month, featuring nine-inch figures based on characters from the fourth and fifth Dragon Ball Z direct-to-video releases.
‘Our reason for forming IF Labs was to enable us to better support our own brands by having the figural license to ourselves,’ says Gen Fukunaga, CEO of IF Labs and Funimation, which controls North American distribution and merchandising rights to a number of other anime TV properties besides DBZ. Coinciding with the launch of the figures, Funimation will release the fifth movie, Coder’s Revenge, on video and DVD. The property will also get a marketing boost from Burger King, which is giving out DBZ toy premiums as part of a national QSR promotion with Cartoon Network this month.
Fukunaga says that adding toy activity to Funimation’s portfolio will also make the company more attractive to Japanese production companies from which Funimation purchases TV rights for a number of anime shows; these include Yu-Yu Hakusho, a popular Japanese show that Cartoon Network will begin airing weekday evenings this month. In support of Yu-Yu, which follows a group of teens that battles evil spirits, Funimation will release an assortment of nine-inch Yu-Yu action figures this March, as well as episodes of the show on DVD and VHS.
While IF Labs will focus on developing figures and other toys based on anime properties, Fukunaga hasn’t ruled out scoring licenses based on quirkier cult properties that would offer strong collector appeal. ‘I think Todd McFarlane is a good model [for IF Labs], though our product will be a lot more mainstream,’ he says.
Rush Hour game goes electric
Binary Arts’ hit board game Rush Hour is inching over to the electronics aisle. The Alexandria, Virginia-based company recently inked a deal with Radica Games to create electronic handhelds modeled after Rush Hour, which is sold in the U.S. exclusively through the specialty retail market. Initially, Radica will develop one SKU that will closely mirror the play of the original puzzle game, in which players try to maneuver tiny car game pieces out of grid-locked traffic. To date, the Rush Hour franchise, spanning four different titles, has sold two million units worldwide. Radica will release the game (US$14.95) this fall, and depending on how initial sales go, it may produce additional handhelds in the future.
Homer toys… for your mantle?
The first family of domestic dysfunction is being immortalized in die-cast next month, when Forest Park, Illinois-based toyco Rocket U.S.A. will release a range of collectible Simpsons toys made from die-cast and tin metal. Among other items, the line will include three-inch die-cast figures based on the Simpsons family and other characters in the show; an eight-inch, walking wind-up Homer Simpson; and Itchy and Scratchy tin click toys, which will be released in Q2. All of the products will sell for between US$1.49 and US$49.99 at mass and specialty retailers.
Art Asylum engages Star Trek
Brooklyn-based toyco Art Asylum has snared master toy rights to Star Trek. As per the three-year deal, Star Trek licensor Viacom Consumer Products has granted Asylum rights to create figures, ships and roleplay toys based on all the shows and movies belonging to the entertainment franchise. The agreement also covers the latest film in the works, Nemesis, which is tentatively scheduled for a 2003 release.
Due out at mass next fall, Asylum’s initial launch will consist of half a dozen seven-inch figures (US$8.99 to US$9.99) based on the first episode of the current TV series Enterprise. The company will also release an additional six figures, which come with a base and a slightly higher price point of US$14.99, to specialty retailers.
Separately, Asylum has signed a deal with Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products to create toys based on its live-action sci-fi show Dark Angel. This fall, Asylum will launch a range of action figures based on the characters from the show.