Japanese video producer-distributor Bandai Visual has announced an animated feature film starring the popular tamagotchi virtual pets.

The first feature foray for the franchise, entitled Eiga De Tojo! Tamagotchi Dokidoki! Uchu No Maigotchi!', is set for a December release through Toho. The production consortium includes Bandai Visual, WiZ, Toho, Asatsu-DK and OLM.

It will be directed Jouji Shimura, who helmed recent New Year's box office hit Doubutsu No Mori (Animal Crossing), with character designs by Pokemon veteran Sayuri Ichiishi.

The adventure story follows several tamagotchi characters as they befriend a human girl who travels from earth to their home star.

The digital pet began life in 1996, designed by Aki Maita and released by Bandai Co. The subsequent phenomenon saw more than 30 models released and sales of over 70 million units to date. The franchise also spawned video game console versions such as the recent US release Tamagotchi: Party On! for the Nintendo Wii platform.

One of Japan 's largest video producer-distributors, Bandai Visual has been a member of production consortiums for such live-action titles as Nobody Knows, and all of Takeshi Kitano's films. Bandai Visual also produces original animated contents.

Established in 1983, Bandai Visual opened a US branch in California in January 2005 and became a listed company in February of last year, with current capital stock of $217.6m.

Bandai Visual is a Namco Bandai Holdings group company. NBH operates core businesses of visual and music contents, toys, video games and amusement facilities.