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Fans Young & Old Come Out for Tokyo Toy Show 2017

posted on by Kim Morrissy

Tokyo Big Sight, June 3, 2017. 9:00 am Japan Standard Time.

The 2017 International Tokyo Toy Show had just begun, and the line of entry snaked all the way across the enormous venue. The children paced around and tugged at their parents’ sleeves, unable to conceal their impatience. Next to me, an infant burst into tears, and couldn't be soothed into silence despite the parents’ best efforts. Are the toys worth the wait? I found myself wondering. Will the children be excited by what they see?

A few minutes later, I reached the front of the East halls and found my answer. Instantly, I was overwhelmed with bright colors and flashing displays. Almost every exhibit I saw had toys for anyone to pick up and play with; my inner child cheered with delight. And most importantly, the kids themselves were having fun watching demonstrations and dancing along to the stage shows, as well as trying their hands at almost every kind of toy imaginable.

The International Tokyo Toy Show isn't just any old toy exhibit; it's a marketplace of brands and ideas. In hyper-capitalist Japan, anime begets toys, and toys beget anime. This swirling matrix of cross-promoting media and affiliated companies (known as the “media mix” in Japan) is what funds most anime productions. For this reason, the International Tokyo Toy Show has plenty of interest to anime fans. Even though I was just focusing on anime-themed toys for this coverage, I was occupied for hours by a seemingly endless panorama of merchandise.

Here you'll find: Beyblades, Gundam, Dragon Ball Z, Anpanman, and more!

Beyblades Wins Big at the Japan Toy Awards

Beyblades has swept the grand prize in the boys’ category at the Japan Toy Awards for its second consecutive year. The franchise may have faded from the limelight somewhat in the US, but evidently it's still going strong in Japan. The spintop designs have seen some improvement over the years, evolving from the bulky and cumbersome tops of the first generation to the smaller, sleeker designs of Beyblade Burst

  To celebrate the big win, a number of stage events were held at the Takara Tomy exhibit throughout the day. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take pictures of these shows, but just from watching them it was immediately obvious to me why this franchise would appeal to young boys in particular. They were, in a word, “cool.” Some hip-looking young men would simulate Beyblade battles on stage with energetic pop rock music from the show's soundtrack playing in the background. These stage shows were noticeably more packed than the other ones dotting the exhibition hall—it was hard to even get a proper view!

Will Beyblades top again next year (pun not intended)? That remains to be seen, but for now, let it rip!

Formania EX V Gundam—a Toy Not Meant for Children

Building your own mecha figure out of model kits is popular among kids and adults—but mostly adults, because the process requires much practice and dexterity for the more detailed models. One such example of a toy not meant for children is Bandai's Formania EX V Gundam, which is based off a mobile suit that first featured in the 1988 film Char's Counterattack. Its retail price is a whopping 21,600 yen (US$196), but its level of detail won it the grand prize in the High Target Toy category. Some toys are evidently not to be played with, just admired from a distance.

Shoot Your Own Kamehameha with the Dragon Ball Z VR Headset

VR is heralded as the next big thing, and to reflect that, Dragon Ball Z now has its own VR headset. This new toy won an Excellence Award in the Innovative Toy category, and it's easy to imagine why—apparently, you can enter a scene from the anime and shoot kamehamehas at virtual aliens.

I didn't get to try the VR headset myself, unfortunately, but you can easily find videos of people using it if you google “BotsNew Characters VR DRAGON BALL Z”. Japanese media outlets have been hyping this one up like crazy—will it ever make its way to the States?

The Unsung Champions of Japanese TV Anime

Passing through the Big Sight Hall, I saw plenty of early promotion for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed up as Mario at the closing ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympics, the foreshadowing was clear—Japan would be using its pop culture icons as ambassadors for the Tokyo Olympics. What's interesting to me is which characters in particular will become Japan's mascots.

Goku, Sailor Moon, Astro Boy—these are all immediately recognizable in the US, but what of Crayon Shin-chan and Precure? Anime fans who grew up in the Asia Pacific may be more familiar with these daytime TV anime shows, but they are sadly under-acknowledged in the West even in hardcore anime circles, where late night anime tends to dominate the discussions.

At the Toy Show, at least, Anpanman had a strong showing. This nostalgic children's TV series has been on the airwaves since 1988, meaning that multiple generations have grown up with it. This was one of those shows where the parents seemed to be more into it than the children; Anpanman character toy sales have been declining over the years, and the show itself doesn't attract the ratings it used to. But I'm sure the parents had a good time dancing along with their kids to the Anpanman stage shows.

Another children's show that was popular here was Rilu Rilu Fairilu, which is currently on its second season in Japan. It's another example of cross-generational appeal. The franchise was co-created by Sanrio of Hello Kitty fame, and the anime exists primarily to promote the company's cute character goods. The show is popular among young girls, but the stage show was performed by young women dancing to an idol routine. This attracted attention from a sizable number of adult male onlookers, and I'm sure the TV show itself has an adult following, much like many other popular shows aimed at very young girls.

Other Highlights

The fidget spinner craze has made its way to Japan, but the kids don't seem to know what to make of it!

There's still some late night anime goods to be found at the Toy Show, ranging from Love Live! Sunshine!! to Yuri!!! on Ice and Mr. Osomatsu.

I was much too embarrassed to try it myself, but you can wear your own Saiyan Armor at the Toy Show.

CAPCOM's Monster Hunter had some nifty toys, ranging from cute and fluffy to detailed and terrifying.

Speaking of video games, Level-5 is releasing a new game called The Snack World, which is set in a very Dragon Quest-esque world. An anime adaptation started airing this April, which is animated in full CG. It actually looks very attractive!

My Hero Academia has a trading card game, featuring some neat character art based on the anime's second season.

Studio Ghibli's Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Kiki's Delivery Service are still getting new toys, with some beautiful ones on display here:

Bandai was promoting its new Yo-kai Watch Busters Treasure game with very detailed-looking treasures.

It might be a bit early for Halloween, but you can still get spooked out by Pikachu and Doraemon.

And to finish off this report, here's my new favorite toy, a sushi ferris wheel. I'm not sure what purpose it serves:

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