Pokémon: gotta call 'em all

Just when you thought it was safe to pass a shop with your child, here comes the latest craze - Pokémon on your mobile phone.

Bandai, the Japanese toymaker that has made a speciality of generating playground crazes, has started testing its latest scheme on Tokyo's schoolchildren.

The company which unleashed Tamagotchis and Power Rangers on the world now has a partnership with Nintendo, giving it the right to use the games maker's Pokémon characters.

The Pokémon craze began two years ago in Japan, but has branched out to a global market of fascinated children. It has generated a series of collectable trading cards, a film, endless toy figures and a video game.

But now the company has taken the fad one stage further. In Japan, where a huge number of schoolkids own mobile phones, Bandai is offering constant telephone access to the Pokémon phenomenon.

The pre-teen users simply call the service each morning and download one of the 200 Pokémon characters to their phone. All day, the screen will show an image of the cartoon monster, and make its individual noise.

The scheme is the fledgling service of what experts believe will prove to be the future of Bandai. The database of figures is just one of a potentially vast range of other services.

Since launching in January, 1.5 million kids have signed up, and the number is growing by 100,000 a month. If it continues to rise that fast, say analysts, revenues will soon outstrip the main business of toymaking.

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