Rules that 'protect' American kids from exploitation by toymakers prevent the advertising of licensed toys on shows that feature the same characters. In Japan, which suffers under no such prohibition, advertising Gundam toys on a Gundam anime program has long been standard practice. Well, the Japanese toy giant Takara has taken the whole process one step further with Bakuten Shoot Beyblade (see 'Six New Anime'), a new animated series that debuted on Japanese television on January 8th. The entire series is built around a gyroscopic toy top and an elaborate contest in which boys attempt to become the top Beyblader in Japan. The gyroscopic tops, which are launched into motion with a plastic knife (hence the 'blade') sell for under $10 in Tokyo shops, and are already hot items in Japan. Takara plans on bringing out an entire series of tops and toy accessories by the end of the year. In the game kids launch their tops onto a small playing surface attempting to knock tops from other players off the surface and out of the game. In the cartoon, virtual characters live in the tops, which provides an important fantasy/adventure element familiar to viewers of Pokemon or Digimon.
Although the Bakuten Shoot Beyblade series is still in its infancy, the craze does appear to be catching on. A Gameboy version will be out by the end of the year, and a manga series, based on the anime, is planned. So far no one has talked about exporting the concept to the U.S. or Europe, but if these little gyroscopes prove to be a big hit in Japan, it is likely that both the tops and the anime will wind up in the U.S.