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Aki Maita – The Creator of Tamagotchi

Aki was around 30 years old when she came up with the Tamagotchi virtual pets. Hoping to work with children, she joined Bandai in 1990, working in sales and marketing. She came up with the idea of a portable pet when she saw a commercial of a young boy trying to carry his pet turtle around.

In October 1996, she passed out prototypes of the toy to 200 high school girls in Tokyo. The toy went on sale the following month, on November 23, 1996. It was originally developed as a gender-neutral brand, but as the majority of the audience was women (over 60%), the toy would later be marketed primarily to girls, while Aki would later help develop Tamagotchi’s brother franchise, Digimon.

Whoa, this post is suddenly blowing up after I posted it a year ago. So I’m going to clarify: Yes, Digimon and Tamagotchi are related franchises.

When Tamagotchi first launched in Japan, Bandai marketed it as neutral gendered. But sales statistics indicated more women were gravitating toward Tamagotchi than men, and Bandai wanted to make a version for boys. Aki worked with them to develop a nearly identical virtual pet, except instead of the sweet, gentle animal designs Tamagotchi had, these were more monstrous, vicious, aggressive. That was the birth of Digimon.

Essentially, the Digimon virtual pet is a Tamagotchi turned on its side.

The Digimon virtual pet grew up and was cared for exactly the same way as a Tamagotchi; feeding and playing with it would make it stronger and healthier. Once the Digimon reached the “Rookie” stage, they can start fighting. There were a metal connecting pin at the top, allowing two Digimon pets to interlock. Then they fight, with the winner gaining a score on their “Victory” points while the loser got injured (or sometimes even died if pushed too hard).
The device is basically the ancestor for the Digivice.

Now you may have looked at that toy and said “I’ve seen this before but I don’t know where.” Well if you’ve ever played Digimon World for the PlayStation, have you looked around inside Jijimon’s house?

For the record, the game Digimon World was based on the virtual pets, not the Digimon anime that came out later. The English speaking world got the anime before the game though.

Digimon’s actually been able to sneak in some references to Tamagotchi. (Tamagotchi can’t do the same in kind, mainly because of Digimon’s more mature content compared to Tama.) Remember Belphemon, one of the most powerful and dangerous god Digimon? It has a “Sleep Mode”. Look at its alarm clock.

But the REAL connection – the link between two brands with such extremely different tones – is how they’re raised.

On the Tamagotchi virtual pets, how you care for your pets determines what it grows into. Take good care, and you’ll get something cute, sweet and smart. Like Mametchi, Pochitchi, Lovelitchi, and others. Take bad care, and it can become something unsettling, ugly, rude. Like Tarakotchi.

Digimon follows that exact same principle. The bond between a Digidestined and their Digimon, how well they’re cared for and how well they’re trained, determines what it becomes. Despite the anime having primarily linear growth lines for the Digimon, this principle has shown up there too.

In Digimon Adventure, Tai learned that there was a stage after Champion, and did everything he could to force Agumon to become more powerful. But his behavior was reckless and even abusive. And instead of becoming the benevolent and badass MetalGreymon, he became…

…that. And it took a bit of time, healing, and learning to trust each other and themselves again before Agumon could become MetalGreymon.

So yeah, for anyone that has the misconception that Digimon was developed as a competing brand for Pokemon, here’s your clarification. It’s Tamagotchi’s younger brother.

Huh. No idea.

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