It's toy season. For boys, one of the hottest items on the market this year builds on an ancient concept: the spinning top. The tops are called Beyblades, and I discovered them on the playground of my son's elementary school, where I saw this pack of boys, huddled around something that looked possibly illicit. I was suspicious, but now I let them do the same thing at home.
They were battling tops. Yes, I know — kids have been spinning things for fun since there were acorns. But Beyblades have a lot of 21st century extras: Different colors and styles, a "stadium" in which to compete (fancy word for a plastic tub, but it keeps the blades off the floor), and names like Gingka and Ryuga. There's even a show on the Cartoon Network.
Derryl DePriest, Vice President for Marketing at Hasbro, says what kids like most about Beyblades is the ability to customize them with interchangeable parts. "Some tops, if they have a very flat bottom, will launch into the arena, not move very much at all, but kind of spin forever," says DePriest. "Those are called stamina tops. Some tops, if you have a little narrow pencil point at the tip, will launch into the arena and jump all over the place. And those are called attack tops."
Hasbro hit the jackpot with Beyblades. They're competitive, mechanical, collectible and under ten dollars. The company says 120 million of them have been sold worldwide. They first hit the U.S. market in 2002, and they were popular then, too. But Derryl DePriest says it was only conceived as a "three-year brand." So to spruce up the relaunch, and to capture a whole new generation of boys, they added a website where kids can have virtual Beyblade battles.
The original Beyblade was made by the Japanese company Takara Tomy. the same folks who made Transformers. And, like Transformers, there are different Beyblade characters like Storm Pegasus and the nefarious L-Drago who, curiously, spins to the left. DePriest says the Japanese company created the series with a storyline built around a collection of kids "who harness and master the power of spirits." Moreover, he says, "The spirits are drawn from constellations who have kind of housed themselves in the form of tops."
That heady, spiritual stuff is lost on my six-year-old and his buddies, but not on 11-year-old Zakiah Garcia from Los Angeles. He is the very first National Beyblade Champion, thanks to his winning battles against dozens of other kids from around the U.S.
Garcia says his "strategy" is to practice a lot and to understand what all of the parts do. He also gives credit to his Beyblade of choice, the "underdog" Big Bang Pegasus. "Big Bang Pegasus has stamina, then defense, but it's still the underdog," says Garcia. "But hey, I made it to the world championships so I guess Big Bang Pegasus has been working for me."
Garcia will defend his title when he battles "Bladers" from over 25 countries at the World Beyblade Championship in Toronto in March, 2012.