Do you think "Yu-Gi-Oh!," "Hamtaro" and "Zoids" are hot, new, cool? Something your parents would never understand?
Think again. Those shows and others, including "Pokemon" and "Transformers," are just the latest in a long history of TV shows created in Japan and played on American television. Just ask your mom or dad (or your teachers) if they remember shows called "Astro Boy" or "Speed Racer." (Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Goooo!)
These shows (the new and the old) are examples of a Japanese cartoon style called "anime." You can tell it's anime because of the large eyes and spiky hair of the characters.
The biggest show in anime these days is "Yu-Gi-Oh!," the tale of a shy guy named Yugi who gains incredible powers from an ancient Egyptian pharaoh and uses them to fight in Duel Monsters competition.
The show, whose title translates as "Game King," is based on a comic book series that ran in a 1996 Japanese magazine called Weekly Boys Jump. Now an American magazine called Shonen Jump runs the "manga" (printed) version of "Yu-Gi-Oh!" among other stories.
There's a hugely popular card game based on the Duel Monsters game played in the Yu-Gi-Oh! series.
Jake Stormoen, 14, of Reston was a Magic card player when a friend told him about the Yu-Gi-Oh! game. "I soon found myself buying them as well," he said. "It is definitely unique and original, from its rules to its story line. It is far different from anything I have ever played before."
But if you're a Yu-Gi-Oh! card collector like Jake, don't hold your breath waiting to get a copy of every card. There are about 2,000 Japanese cards, and only a fraction of them have been translated and released in the United States.
Before Yu-Gi-Oh!, there was Pokemon, the anime-TV-show-card-collectible phenomenon that started it all in terms of making anime widely known, loved and sold. Pokemon was an explosion of toys and toothbrushes and bedsheets and underwear and anything else that could have a yellow Pikachu or the Pokeball logo on it. While anime shows such as "Speed Racer" had been popular among kids, there had never been an anime show as big as Pokemon.
Largely because Pokemon was such a hit, anime is now everywhere. Cartoon Network and Kids WB show many anime series, and there are plans for a 24-hour anime cable network that could start this year. Most video stores rent anime series and films. There are stores that specialize in anime products, and the Internet has hundreds of sites for fans. There are even anime conventions, just like the ones for "Star Trek" fans. About 4,000 people attended a recent anime convention in Crystal City. About 10 percent of them were kids.
"We basically spend all our money on anime," said Grace Poltrack, 12, of Reston. She and friend Margo Westenhoff, 13, buy anime books, magazines and DVDs and trade them with friends so they can keep up with their favorites.
They say they like anime better than American cartoons. "Everything is done carefully and it all looks pretty and visually appealing," said Margo. "The plots are fairly intricate, and make you care what's going to happen."
For others, the appeal of anime is the action and battling.
Dominick Dixon, 13, and his brother Alexander, 8, watch "Zoids" -- an anime show that features teams of amazing animal machines that do battle with other teams.
At a recent anime convention, Dominick bought a model of a Zoid called the "Geno Breaker." Kids build and then battle their Zoids like the teams on the show. "It's Japanese, so it's something I could only find here," he said.
Whoever your favorite anime character is now -- Yugi or Sailor Moon or Goku -- you'll probably have many more in the future. Anime looks like a lasting phenomenon, not some passing fad. And 30 years from now, when your kids are talking about the latest, coolest show with awesome wide-eyed cartoon characters, you can tell them about the Egyptian god cards and morphing robots you enjoyed as a kid.
Just don't expect them to believe you!
-- Marianne Meyer