Business / Tech

At the Tokyo Toy Show, a blend of old and new targets fans of all ages

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Holding a Bluetooth-enabled plastic toy gun with a smartphone attached, players fight virtual enemies appearing on the phone’s screen as it displays real surroundings.

The augmented reality gun battle was on display at the annual International Tokyo Toy Show, which kicked off Thursday as makers try to capture the attention of children and parents by blending new technology and ideas with classic toys and characters.

This is the clear trend at this year’s gadget fair, which brings 153 firms to Tokyo Big Sight in Koto Ward through Sunday.

The high-tech gun battle featured the AR Magic Gun was produced by Tokyo-based Kawada Co.

“If this was just a regular plastic gun, only children would play with it. But since this needs a smartphone, which children generally will need to borrow from their parents, they can play it with their parents,” said Shinichi Yanagida, an official from Kawada’s research and development department.

MegaHouse Corp. is also showing off a mix of old and new with its BotsNew Characters VR Dragon Ball Z, which takes users into the world of the popular “Dragon Ball Z” anime.

The product is a virtual reality headset designed to work with a smartphone. Users can go into an anime scene and fight with aliens, shooting virtual energy beams.

Because last year was said to be the beginning of the VR era, many people became interested in VR but have not had a chance to use it, especially male consumers in their 20s through 40s, said Kohei Takino, who works on the new business creative project team at MegaHouse.

Takino said “Dragon Ball Z” characters were likely to appeal to people in the target age group.

“When they were boys, they must have thought about how they could shoot a Kamehameha wave or being able to fly if they trained hard,” Takino added. “Well, let’s make it happen with the current technology.”

Tomy Co., a Tokyo-based toy-maker, is also incorporating new elements into its popular, long-selling products, such as Plarail train toys and Licca-chan dolls, both of which have been sold for decades.

This year, the firm came up with a new Plarail product incorporating the character Thomas the Tank Engine, with the Thomas train able to spray out steam, mimicking a steam engine.

Tomy said it produced a Thomas train in the past that could shoot out steam. It relied on a water tank, and since users could not take the train apart, the tank could get moldy.

But this year’s product doesn’t use a tank. It only needs a very small amount of water and uses ultrasonic technology, which does not heat up the water, making it much easier to take care of and safer for children.

The product won the annual Innovative Toy Award announced earlier this week by the Japan Toy Association.

The company is also introducing a new Licca-chan doll whose hair color can be changed. The material used to make the hair changes color when a special light is cast on it using an included device. The Licca-chan doll series marks its 50th anniversary this year.

While Japan faces a declining birthrate, the domestic toy market saw ¥803.1 in billion sales in fiscal 2016, an increase of 0.3 percent. Sales topped ¥800 billion in 2014 for the first time in 10 years and stayed above that figure for three consecutive years.

In 2014, Toys themed on hit animated films, like “Frozen” and “Yokai Watch,” helped improve sales. Fans from wider generations are also buying toys in recent years, according to the Japan Toy Association.

Although the industry has seen steady sales of character-based toys, including Anpanman and Licca-chan, it is also hoping to boost the popularity of new characters and create new lifelong fans.