It’s not just Japanese pop culture that has caught on with American kids; some of today’s most popular TV shows for preschoolers come from Britain.
Japanese cartoons, British preschool shows and even books from other countries translate into popular American toys. The foreign licensed toy market includes such classic properties as “Thomas and Friends” and newer players such as “Ben 10.” Whether it’s the lure of something new and different or what’s popular on television at the moment, foreign licensed products are hot commodities in the toy industry.
One of the reasons for their popularity is that kids in America are already familiar with hot foreign properties from surfing the Internet, explained Daniel Marks, managing director of VIZ Media B.V. VIZ, a manga and animation licensing and publishing company, has joined with Bandai America Inc. for video games and trading card games for its new hit series, “Shonen Jump's Naruto.” The animated series will launch on Cartoon Network this fall and may be as popular (fingers crossed) as the older shows “Power Rangers” and “Gundam.”
“For the older children at least, Japan has become an arbiter of what’s cool and new,” said Michael Riley, vice president of marketing for Bandai.
However, for Wal-Mart in Bluffton, Ind., toy department manager Ira Lautzenheiser said the toys based on Japanese shows “don’t seem to move” in his store.
In July, Bandai will launch numerous toys based on the show “Ben 10,” which debuted in January on Cartoon Network. Products will include action figures that can manually transform into working spy gear and collectible 1" miniatures that come encased in a ball that dissolves in water.
Bandai will also work with Warner Brothers to make products for preschoolers based on the television show “Firehouse Tales” that targets 2- to 5-year-olds. It’s the story of three junior fire trucks and their friends.
With the numerous successful foreign licensed properties in the market right now, the variety is overwhelming, Marks said. “Card games are very hot right now, as well as action figures. Action figures are always successful if the story warrants the character-based figures,” he said, adding, “we are confident that ‘MÄR’ (a new show set to air this July) will be successful in these areas; the storyline is perfect for a successful card game, collectible cards with toys and other items.”
It’s not just Japanese pop culture that has caught on with American kids; some of today’s most popular TV shows for preschoolers come from Britain. From “Bob the Builder” to “Thomas and Friends,” shows that American children are growing up with reach across “the pond.”
And those shows translate into toy sales.
One such new show on the horizon is “Underground Ernie,” a series based on the London subway system. While the show’s characters are intended for toys, a representative for the U.S. market hasn’t been found yet, according Jane Garner, spokeswoman for Joella Productions Ltd. of England.
For Hit Entertainment PLC, the British owner of "Bob the Builder," that meant $68 million in sales of toys, games and other licensed products in the six-month period ending January 2005, according to the latest available data.
JAKKS Pacific Inc. is also banking on English preschool properties. It has a worldwide licensing agreement with HIT Entertainment to market and distribute its new TeleStory interactive books based on HIT's popular “Thomas & Friends,” “Barney & Friends,” “The Wiggles” and “Bob the Builder” shows.
The TeleStory system is a book-shaped interactive reading tool that plugs directly into the A/V jacks of standard televisions. Individual "mini-book" cartridges based on popular children's books are inserted into the TeleStory system.
When it comes to retail in this arena, Marks suggests that they should be looking for products that are distinguished from the norm in the market — those that have play value that encourages a child’s imagination. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess what foreign licenses will be next to win the hearts of American children.
The following is more information on licensed toys bred from foreign entertainment properties.
Ben's Animating Omnitrix by BANDAI AMERICA INC.
This can be worn by kids who can imagine themselves transforming into one of the aliens they see on the show. With three animation disks to be inserted into the watch’s face, kids can watch Ben transform before their eyes. More disks are available.
This is true to scale just like Ben’s alien watch on "Ben 10" that crash landed on Earth in a meteorite. The Omnitrix F/X allows kids to wear it on their wrists and reenact all the action that they see on the series. It features red and green flashing lights and transformation sound effects taken directly from the show. Images of each of the 10 aliens that Ben can initially transform into are also featured on the face of the watch. But be careful, it just may transform kids into those funny alien creatures!
This playset is an exact replica of Max’s RV on "Ben 10", lovingly nicknamed the “Rust Bucket.” But this isn’t an everyday RV, as it transforms into a cool Alien Laboratory where kids can conduct their own experiments! The included supplies allow kids to create their own alien figures using clay molds. Water can be added to the beaker and dropped in one or two of the (included) Transforming Alien Rocks to see which character will appear after the DNA has oozed off. And the exclusive animation disks can be viewed with the special microscope (three additional disks are included in-pack; other disks come with the 4” collectible figure line and the Omnitrix Alien Viewer).
When these alien rocks are dissolved in warm water, the "DNA" fizzes to reveal a miniature 1” alien figure hidden inside. They come in packs of two with the following character versions: Heatblast/Upgrade, Diamondhead/Wildmutt, Fourarms/Ghostfreak, Stinkfly/Greymatter, and XLR8/Ripjaws.
Shin Akuma is the baddest of the bad. Akuma at his full power — with white hair and burning hate in his eyes — is sure to be a fan favorite, but those wanting to get them all best hurry as it’s a very limited edition.
Dragon Ball Z TCG Transformation by SCORE ENTERTAINMENT
Score Entertainment and Jakks Pacific team up to create trading cards with action figures in their new Transformation series of Dragon Ball Z. Six highly detailed and articulated figures — Super Saiyan Goku, Super Saiyan Future Trunks, Super Saiyan Vegeta, Piccolo, Gohan and Frieza (Cybor) — are packaged with their own collectable trading card. Score Entertainment is the manufacturer for the Dragon Ball Z Trading Card Game and Jakks Pacific is the manufacturer for the Dragon Ball Z action figures.
2006 FIFA World Cup Figurine by BLUE SHIELD PTY. LTD.
Made of nontoxic rubber, this ferocious feline commemorates the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany victory. Blue Shield manufactures nontoxic, often brightly colored rubber figurines and images for gifts or collecting. Some of their products commemorate entertainment icons, while others celebrate sports stars. The FIFA World Cup Germany series comes in six other models. This one is a limited edition.
Toy Dyson Upright Vacuum Cleaner by HANIMEX INTERNATIONAL
One of the most popular vacuum cleaners to date from the Dyson stable! Casdon’s unique children’s toy, a scaled replica of Dyson’s revolutionary DC07 upright vacuum, features real suction through it’s detachable wand, imitation patented cyclone action and on board accessories.
Ripjaws 8” Transforming Figure by BANDAI AMERICA INC.
This large scale 8” Metamorfigure starts off as a harmless alien but transforms into something totally different: a mini role-play toy. Ripjaws, the water creature, can transform into a functioning squirt gun.
Greymatter's Alien Space Vehicle by BANDAI AMERICA INC.
Even though we really don’t know how the aliens in "Ben 10" wound up in the Omnitrix in the first place, we do know that they traveled their home planets in style! Greymatter's awesome alien ship is unique because of the special DNA structure or terrain in which they lived. Greymatter’s transforms into a flying saucer … with wheels, while Fourarm’s comes with two steering wheels to accommodate his numerous appendages! All the vehicles also have a fun “water-pumping” action feature. Push the pump on the top of each vehicle to see the water flow via specially designed power tubes.
Writer's Bio: Terri Hughes-Lazzell is a freelance journalist based in Ossian, Ind. After spending nearly a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, she has worked as a freelance journalist for more than ten years, writing about a variety of topics. Her work appears in newspapers, magazines and specialty publications nationwide. Read more articles by this author