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Beyblades: A New Spin Puts An Old Toy Back On Top

Dec 12, 2011
Originally published on December 12, 2011 7:08 am

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.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the hot toys this Christmas season starts with an ancient concept - the spinning top. This new version is called a Beyblade, and Hasbro is expecting Beyblades to be popular stocking stuffers. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: One day on the playground at my son's elementary school, I saw a pack of boys all huddled around, watching or doing something possibly illicit. I was suspicious. But now I let them do it at the house.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Three-two-one, let it rip.

BLAIR: They were battling Beyblades - these round metal tops. Six-year-old Charlie Mills has about six of them.

CHARLIE MILLS: You rip it with a launcher and a string and it falls in a stadium.

BLAIR: The stadium is really just a plastic tub.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah!

BLAIR: Now kids have been spinning things for fun ever since there were acorns. But the Beyblade has a lot of extras: different colors and styles. Its own cartoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEYBLADE: METAL FUSION")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When I battled with Ryuga at the Dark Nebula Organization, I made a mistake about when to make my move.

BLAIR: And, best of all, interchangeable parts, so you can build and customize them. Derryl DePriest is vice president for marketing at Hasbro.

DERRYL DEPRIEST: Some tops, if they have a very flat bottom, will just launch into the arena, not move very much at all and kind of spin forever. And those are called stamina tops. Some tops if you have a little narrow, like a pencil point at the tip, will jump all over the place. And those are called attack tops.

BLAIR: So they're competitive, mechanical, collectible and mostly under ten dollars - a jackpot for Hasbro. The company says 120 million Beyblades have been sold worldwide.

Hasbro has a history with Beyblades. The company first launched them in the U.S. about ten years ago. And they were a hit back then too. But Derryl DePriest says it was only conceived as a three-year brand. So to spruce up the relaunch and capture a whole new generation of boys, they added a website where kids can have virtual Beyblade battles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: 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 Gingka and the nefarious L-Drago who spins to the left.

DEPRIEST: Our Japanese partners created the series with a storyline built around basically a collection of kids who harness and master the power of spirits, spirits drawn from the constellations who have kind of housed themselves in the form of tops.

BLAIR: This year, Hasbro also held the very first National Beyblade Battle.

ZAKIAH GARCIA: My name is Zakiah Garcia. I'm 11 years old and my title is Beyblade National Champion for the U.S.

BLAIR: Zakiah Garcia lives near Los Angeles. He 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.

GARCIA: Big Bang Pegasus, I like it because it's stamina then defense. So it's still the underdog. But I like using the underdogs and, hey, I made it to the world championships, so I guess Big Bang Pegasus has been working for me.

BLAIR: In March, Zakiah Garcia will compete in the World Beyblade Championship in Toronto. Bladers from over 25 countries will compete.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.