As always, character-based action figures and models continue to perform well. For boys, the latest chapter of the never-ending robot saga is Gundam Seed, which makes its U.S. debut as part of Cartoon Network’s Action Block this April. The Bandai toy line, which will be introduced at Toy Fair, features three sizes of action figures, as well as vehicles, dioramas and model kits.
Takara continues to build on its successful franchise of Transformers robots with a new line (called Superlink in Japan and Energon in the U.S.) that launched last month. And Konami has recently entered the action figure market with a line based on a new Power Rangers-influenced ‘sentai’ show (live-action with costumed warriors) called Gransazers. Airing on TV-Tokyo, the 25 x half-hour series from Godzilla prodco Toho Company stars 12 fighters from different zodiac signs who unite to save the Earth wearing magic battle suits.
All that fighting is bound to lead to some emergencies, and a new trend in rescue toys provides some relief. Tomy’s Tomica die-cast car brand features a new line of rescue workers and vehicles called the Magnum Rescue-tai. At the core of the cluster is Magnum Guardian, with related products such as Magnum Fire, Magnum Ranger, Magnum Rescue and Magnum Patroller.
Bandai is also in crisis-management mode with a rescue toy line based on a new Sunrise (Gundam creator) anime series called Machine Robo Rescue that’s airing on TV-Tokyo. The toy line features a full cast of mechanically skilled robots and their human counterparts, who team up to take on any natural disaster. The specialist robots have skills that range from submarine navigation and drilling, to fire-fighting and jet propulsion.
One trend that seems to be resonating with both boys and girls is TV plug-in games based on patented technology licensed from Japan’s SSD Co. Ltd. Epoch’s line of Excite sports-based games feature easy-to-use controllers that plug into the RCA input jacks on TVs and allow for specialized video game-style action. The most popular games center on bowling, ping pong, fishing and tennis.
Square Enix has released a plug-in spin-off of its blockbuster PlayStation game Dragon Quest. This Final Fantasy-style RPG’s plug-in cousin features a magical sword that’s used as the controller. But the hottest game in this genre – Taiko de Popira – marches to its own beat. The drum game plugs in and allows kids to hypnotically bang away on its twin taiko-drum set for hours.
On the girls’ side of the toy aisle, estrogen-driven sports seem to be heating up in popularity. Takara is offering a vast array of colorful, accessory-laced batons under its Pretty Sports Twirl Baton brand, with one variation sporting licensed graphics from TV-Tokyo’s popular kids variety show Oha-Star.
Not to be outplayed in the girls sports category, Bandai has a new line of in-line skates called Paletteline that come in a wide array of colors and designs, with custom wheels and gear all aimed to please the fashion-conscious child.
Customization and collectibility are still hot girl hooks, and Bandai’s Are-Core character-based dolls (Sailor Moon and Ashita no Najica are the most popular SKUs) feature many interchangeable accessories, hairstyles, outfits and body parts.
Epoch’s 20-year-old Sylvanian Families collectible line is stronger than ever in Japan, with a mind-boggling array of accessory items, environments and animal characters. But Bandai’s also looking to tap into this market with a new Hello Kitty line called the Little Berry Collection, which, like Sylvanian Families, showcases a variety of detailed domestic-based settings and items.
Hope you enjoyed this report from across the Pacific. Have a safe and enjoyable Toy Fair – hopefully New York’s streets won’t be shut down by snow like last year!
Stu Levy is the CEO and chief creative officer of Tokyopop, a Tokyo- and L.A.-based company that imports, co-produces and creates manga and anime properties for the U.S. market.