PRODUCT Trading cards
HOW IT STARTED Yu-Gi-Oh! began life as a Japanese comic strip
JUDGMENT A secret world beyond parents; it's bound to succeed
From the same marketing masterminds who catapulted Pokemon into every U.S. schoolyard comes Japan's latest export: Yu-Gi-Oh!, featuring Yugi, a nerdy kid who uses magical powers to morph into a spiky-haired, hubcap-eyed hero with a grownup bod. Yugi is an ace cardplayer who battles (using cards, of all things) with electric lizards, man-eating bugs and all manner of mystical creatures in a complex, secret world that youngsters (mostly boys ages 9 and up) can't get enough of and--lucky for the kids--most parents can't be bothered to understand. Yu-Gi-Oh! began in 1996 as a comic strip in Japan (over $2 billion in Yu-Gi-Oh!-related products have sold there). In the U.S., it rolled out last fall as a Saturday-morning 'toon on Kids' WB!, where it soon ranked No. 1 in its time slot. In March the multimedia merchandising was launched: out came video games for Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Game Boy and action figures from Mattel. Also, beginning in that same month, came the trading cards--dribbled out just slowly enough to create scarcity. Interest, however, is anything but scarce: the Yu-Gi-Oh! website logs 1.2 million hits a day.
--By Janice M. Horowitz