This never happened with space hoppers

The movie spin-off opens here soon, but in the US the lawsuits have started. Has the Pokemon super-hype turned sour? OLIVER SWANTON investigates

You can't have a fully fledged toy craze unless there's a hefty dose of "bad publicity", featuring angst-ridden parents fearing for the moral well-being, nay the sanity, of their darling offspring. Pokemon, the mother of all money-making machines ($6bn sales worldwide, and rising - fast), is no exception.

In the week that Pokemon the movie opened in America, taking more than any cartoon ever, a website, www.pokemonkills.com, has been launched by the parents of an American seven-year-old who died when he got one of the toys stuck in his throat.

It's only the latest incident in a surge of anti-Pokemon feeling. In California the game's makers have ended up in court after they were accused of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) law usually used to take down suspected Mafia mobsters. On Long Island, a nine-year-old has been charged with stabbing his 13-year old friend in the leg during a fight over Pokemon trading cards. In several states teens have been arrested for stealing the valuable collecting cards, which can change hands on the Internet for $100. Elementary schools all over the Big Country have "outlawed" the game.

Yet the irony is that Pokemon was billed as a parent-friendly street fighter. The aim of the original video game - the film version will open in Britain next year - is to collect and train Pokemon characters by fighting other trainers or wild monsters. But the cute-looking "monsters" like Wild Pidgey, which looks like a moderately angry pigeon, don't die when you beat them to pulp with your special skills, like bubble attack (remember this is parent-friendly) - they faint.

The genius of Pokemon is not that it's extremely addictive (it's been nicknamed Kiddie Crack), but that it's so much more than a video game. Pokemon truly is a phenomenon. It's a series of 151 collectable toys, trading cards, a television cartoon, a Hollywood film, sweets, even clothes. These are not simply spin-offs, they're exquisite money-making commercials for the game. The games (Nintendo has launched five so far) meanwhile are a constant product placement for the spin-offs. The synergy is perfect. Everything Nintendo and Hasbro have ever done has just been a dry run for this. Forget Tamagotchi and Furby, this is the real deal. And there's the rub. This, complain parents, is one toy craze too far.

Every year the newest toy craze is more and more intense. From Cabbage Patch dolls to Tickle Me Elmo, from Beanie Babies to Teletubbies, manufacturers, together with a relentless media, profiteering adults and increasingly sophisticated children, have forced the process into hyperdrive. Pokemon isn't a craze, it's a mania - and it's out of control.

As befits mania the "bad publicity" is extreme. In the latest furore a New York couple has filed a $100m negligence lawsuit against Hasbro and Toys `R' Us. Kevin and Adrienne Brazier filed their suit at Manhattan Federal Court over the death of their seven-year-old son, Robbie. He died on 10 January after a Pokemon Power Bouncer (an "ultra-clear" bouncy ball with a Pokemon character inside) got stuck in his throat. The Braziers believe Robbie, who was autistic, put the golf-ball-sized toy in his mouth to try and free the character inside (in the game and cartoon series monsters are captured in balls and later freed to fight). The packaging for the toy said the ball was safe for children aged four and over.

Hasbro and Toys `R' Us are denying culpability. In a statement they expressed sympathy for the Braziers, but said, "We remain confident about the Pokemon Power Bouncer Ball's design and manufacture. Approximately 8 million of these balls have been played with by children throughout the world without a similar incident."

If they win their case, the Braziers say they will use the money to warn parents about all "unsafe" toys. Their website has become a focus for concerned parents, and encourages them to "Boycott Hasbro and Pokemon!". Parents should think twice before purchasing Pokemon products, says the site. Many children have become obsessed with, if not addicted to, hoarding merchandising, it warns. Parents are encouraged to sign up, share "intelligence" and campaign together.

If you're thinking, only in America, think again. There's nothing we Brits like more than a backlash, and this one has started before Pokemon has even really arrived. The Early Learning Centre has already refused to stock Pokemon merchandise in its 217 stores. The firm had "no hesitation" in barring the toys, reported tabloid newspapers gleefully. Even otherwise serious commentators have not been able to resist the urge to muse lyrically on the darker side of Pokemon.

But bad publicity is just a prerequisite. Most American parents first became acquainted with Pokemon after hearing news that in Japan more than 700 children had been hospitalised after suffering seizures brought on by the strobing effects in the cartoon series. It didn't stop Nintendo and Hasbro taking more than $1bn in less than nine months and it won't stop them taking over Britain. The must-have toy this Christmas has never been in doubt and the backlash merely confirms it. Come New Year the noise of ringing cash tills will drown out even the most vocal critic.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

    £30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

    Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

    £40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

    £30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

    Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

    £35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game