Synopsis of Toy
There aren’t many toys with a back-story as colorful as Jenny’s. It’s a tale packed with international legal battles, an ingenius marketing scheme and a whole personality makeover. Buckle your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.
In 1981, American toy behemoth Mattel struck a deal with Japan’s Takara Company to manufacture Barbie dolls overseas. They were about the same size as the stateside doll (save their slightly larger, rounder eyes), with the same diverse wardrobe selections. But in 1985, Mattel took back its license. Owing in part to the eyes, Takara could still legally make the doll, but they couldn’t use “B-word” for the dolls. So the marketing suits at Takara went to work on a campaign of re-invention. Barbie became “Jenny,” Ken became “Jeff” and the Takara Barbies that were still on the shelves in toy stores were slapped with a label declaring that Barbie was now Jenny. Are you following all this?
The stickers were the least of it…Takara concocted a whole new mythology for their doll. “Jenny,” according to the company’s advertising, was just a character that Barbie played in a theater production. But the production was so successful and the Jenny role so winning, Barbie didn’t want to let her new persona go. The curtain finally did go down though, and now the real Jenny, not the character in the play but the real girl, could resume her regular life—that of a regular seventeen year-old high schooler from Los Angeles.
Jenny aficionados argue that their girl’s fashions and lifestyle props were (and are) niftier than her American alter ego. Japanese and European designers clamor to dress her, and her outfits range from ultra-hip Westernized casual wear to traditional Japanese attire—kimonos, with the appropriate footwear and hair accoutrement. Jenny’s friends, similarly, are anything but generic. Takara introduces new dolls regularly, and Jenny’s brood now weighs in at over thirty different plastic lovelies—boys and girls combined. Among these true individuals are Tom, a deadlocked break-dancer, and Raph, a blond, distinguished Lothario.
The translation on the box declares that Jenny is “very popular because she is high-spirited and is quit fashionable.” You can’t argue with that. Anybody who managed to extricate herself from the Barbie institution and then survive long enough not only to become her own person, but to become a huge doll bestseller…well now, that is high spirit.
Release History of Toy1981 - Japanese Barbies are licensed to Takara
1985 - Takara's Jenny