?Tis the Season for Toys: America?s Pop Culture Looks Toward Japan..
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?Tis the Season for Toys: America?s Pop Culture Looks Toward Japan.

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by: ARA
(ARA) ? The hustle and bustle of the holiday season has officially arrived. As Jack Frost begins to nip at your nose, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the variety of toys available for your little ones. In perusing toy shelves during holiday shopping this season, you'll be sure to notice the popularity of Japanese influence in American kids? brands continues to dominate.

Go to the movies, walk down a toy aisle, or turn on Saturday morning cartoons and you?re more than likely to find all sorts of Japanese influence on current American pop culture.

A prime example of this trend is Power Rangers, the colorful taskforce of teen do-gooders that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in the United States. But the Japanese have known about the Power Rangers for much longer than that. In 1975 ?Himitsu Sentai Goranger!? first premiered on Japanese television and began the Ranger craze. It would take 18 years before Haim Saban would import the hit live action show for American audiences, replacing Japanese actors with a cast as ethnically diverse as the colors of their uniforms. Today in the United States, the Power Rangers craze has taken various forms of entertainment, including a wildly popular television series and top-selling toy line. Numerous licenses, such as books and video games, have made Power Rangers a holiday favorite for boys.

Master toy licensee Bandai America Incorporated introduced Power Rangers action figures, megazords, vehicles and playsets to American kids more than a decade ago. This has earned Power Rangers the distinction of ?best selling action figure brand of all time.? Today, enough Power Rangers action figures have been produced to fill toy chest space in two thirds of U.S. households.

Another embodiment of Japanese influence, and extremely popular import fodder are robots. From Astro Boy to Voltron, robotic heroes of all forms have translated well from their native country to the United States. Most recently leading that trend is ?Gundam? (and its various incarnations), an animated series and toy line with a rich, 25-year history in Japan that is attracting an increasing, loyal American fan base. Gundam features giant robots controlled by human pilots battling one another in stories set in the future.

In terms of collectibles, what sets Gundam apart from others is its focus on customization. ?Action Figure Model Kits? are the core staple of the toy line. Fans assemble a highly articulated action figure from various parts, and are given an array of decals and paint schemes to make it their own. To ensure smiles of glee during this holiday season, Gundam guarantees to be a success.

With giant robots, megazords and black knights, it is easy to assume that only boys are leading this trend. But girls, too, are caught up in the flurry of the holiday spirit and enjoy the popularity of Japanese trends. For example, girls of all ages are attracted to the feline phenomenon known as Hello Kitty. Starting out as a greeting card character for the Japanese company Sanrio in 1974, Hello Kitty proved so popular she quickly adorned everything from backpacks to toasters. She made her way to the United States just two years later, and now you can find a Sanrio Surprises store in almost any mall filled with dolls, T-shirts, stickers and more.

So what is the fascination with Japanese influences and how do they crossover to American pop culture during the holiday season? Besides the unique appearance of the characters and toys, and the appeal of complex action sequences, what is so special about these imports that make audiences respond with such fervor? Some say it is the underlying message that accompanies the stories and images.

?There?s always a unique subtext to a majority of the Japanese characters,? says collector and fan Dan Goldberg. ?I grew up watching Godzilla movies on Saturday afternoons, and while the initial appeal was watching these giant creatures battle one another, what you had underneath the surface was a parable about messing with Mother Nature and overarching lessons about good guys and bad guys.?

Following that same ideology, Power Rangers spend much of their time battling villains with less than noble intentions who attempt to wreak havoc with the delicate eco-system of the Earth. While themes of teamwork, camaraderie and victory over evil are constant among the Power Rangers storyline, the franchise is constantly reinventing itself each season with a new cast, new plot and a new line of ?Megazords,? motorcycles and action figures -- making Power Rangers an ideal gift for your little ones.

Bandai America, which produces toys for both Power Rangers and Gundam properties in the United States, is more than happy to quench American audiences? thirst for this recent cultural explosion during the 2003 holiday season. ?Power Rangers is a proven phenomenon that works in the United States because the toys and the TV show work together to translate the brand?s theme of teamwork and good versus evil,? said Bill Beebe, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Bandai America. It will be difficult not to notice the Japanese influences in toy aisles during this holiday season, which is translating loud and clear to American culture ? creating a whole new breed of entertainment in the United States. And what kid doesn?t like the trendiest gifts during the holidays?

Courtesy of ARA Content

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