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.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Maths Teacher

    £90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

    Maths Teacher

    £22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week