More Cute Critters From Japan

LOS ANGELES Move over, Domo. There’s a new cute Japanese weirdo blob debuting at the Licensing International Expo this June. Mameshiba are puppy-faced cartoon characters who live inside of beans and spout random bits of trivia.

The franchise, which has generated more than $30 million in retail sales during its 2008 debut in Japan, will use the show to seek partners in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries.

The 25-plus Mameshiba characters, who sport names like Fava Bean, Tiger Bean and Lentil, were created by the advertising agency Dentsu. Dentsu America-subsidiary DCI Los Angeles is handling licensing in English-speaking territories.

Mameshiba got its start in animated shorts created by Dentsu, which run as filler when Japanese TV stations haven’t sold ad time. (Dentsu manages about 50 percent of the terrestrial TV time in Japan.) In Japanese, tidbits of trivia are sometimes referred to as “beans” of trivia. “Mameshiba” translates to “beandog.”

Dentsu is hoping Mameshiba will be the girls’ answer to boy-skewing Japanese cult character Domo, which stormed Target Stores last Halloween.

In addition to suburban tween girls, there’s a secondary market in older urban Japanese culture fanatics. “It used to take a year or so before some of this stuff would make it over here, but that’s closing,” said Marc Harrington, vp, business development for DCI Los Angeles.

U.S. partners in the toys, apparel, accessories and collectibles categories are being pursued for the program, which will be anchored by plush toys. “These poor beans have no legs or anything,” said Harrington. “So they make the perfect inaction toy.” The Japanese program has 250 products and more than 20 licensees.

While Mameshiba is expected to morph into an entertainment brand, DCI is having fun with its hip cult factor for now. Currently, the Japanese segments can be viewed on YouTube  with English subtitles. In one animated spot, a boy is seen eating his lunch when a green pea rolls off his spoon and feeds him a bit of bizarre trivia. “Did you know, in French, dandelions are called pissenlit, which means ‘urinate in bed?’” The kid then screams for his mother.