If there is one anime you will have almost certainly have heard of, and most likely have seen, it is Pokémon – a subject of a craze back in the 1990s and early 2000s, in both its anime form and the original video games by Nintendo.
Pokémon is still going strong. The latest incarnation of the game has just been released on the Nintendo 3DS as Pokémon X and Pokémon Y. The anime is also still being broadcast and is now over 800 episodes long. Indeed it is the only anime TV series currently shown regularly on British TV. However, it should be pointed out another new digital channel, East Asia TV, is launching next year which aims to broadcast more anime (Sky Digital only). Anyway, as this new series is starting up it seems only right to look back at what is almost certainly the most successful anime in terms of commercial and global reach.
For anyone who has been living under a rock since 1997 the series is set in a world that is populated with creatures called “Pokémon” which come in all shapes and sizes, in all varieties and of all abilities. Some people study them, others use them for battles and so on. In the anime, a boy called Ash Ketchum (or Satoshi in the original Japanese) on his tenth birthday decides to go out into the world and become a “Pokémon Master”, collecting every Pokémon in the world. After sleeping late on the day he is supposed to start his journey, Ash is informed by his mentor and local Pokémon researcher, Prof. Oak, that he only has one Pokémon left for him: an “electric mouse” called Pikachu. At first the two do not get on, eventually they do bond and together they go out on Ash’s great quest.
Over the course of the series Ash and Pikachu meet many people, make many friends who accompany them on their journey, collect Pokémon to form part of their team, and move from town-to-town, taking on various challenges along the way. However, following them all the way are a villainous trio from the evil crime syndicate Team Rocket, consisting of Jessie, James and their talking Pokémon Meowth. They are constantly trying to kidnap Pikachu and any other rare Pokémon they can find – but they always fail with comic consequences.
Usually I talk about what makes the series noteworthy. The most noteworthy thing about Pokémon is that fact that I do not need to mention that it is noteworthy, because most people in Britain know about and many have seen at least bits of it. Indeed, Pokémon and its characters such as Pikachu are these days a shorthand for Japan and its culture in general.
This was the first ever anime to make it big in Britain as well as other parts of the world. The Pokémon craze was one of the major crazes around the turn of the millennium. I can recall at the height of the phenomenon, when the series was shown on Sky1, I read a copy of TV Quick when it listed a Pokemon marathon on a Bank Holiday which ended with the words: “If you are an adult, take the dog out for a very long walk.” That pretty much sums the series up. For kids it was great, for adults it something they only ever watched if forced to by their offspring.
One thing that should be mentioned is that this is a series which has attracted controversy in the past. The most notable incident, called the “Pokémon Shock”, occurred in an episode involving the Pokémon Porygon doing an attack which involved bright flashing lights. These lights resulted in seizures, convulsions, blindness and unconsciousness in viewers. Nearly 700 children were hospitalised. Other episodes have not been shown because they were thought to be inappropriate for children in the west because they were thought to be too violent, too sexual or possibly politically incorrect.
Pokémon is still however, one of the most successful anime in terms of outreach. Over 800 TV episodes, 16 films, many specials, and there is no sign it will stop soon.
Pokémon is currently regularly shown on CITV. Brand new series Pokémon XY starts on Saturday 19th October and Sunday 20th October at 11.40am. The latest film, Pokémon 16: Genesect and the Legend Awakened, premiers on Saturday 19th October at 9.25am. Most repeats are on weekdays at 7.45am.