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Pikachu Pokemon characterPokemon has undoubtedly left its mark on pop culture. The Pokemon characters themselves have become pop culture icons. Two different Pikachu balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an appearance on the cover of Time magazine, Pokemon Jets operated by All Nippon Airways, thousands of merchandise items, and a theme park in Nagoya, Japan in 2005 and Taipei in 2006, all attest to the impact the cute little monster characters had on our culture.

During the 1990’s, Pokemon movies, games, and trading cards exploded in popularity with millions of games sold throughout Japan and the United States.  As the franchise expanded and demand exceeded supply, Pokemon trading cards were introduced which set off a trading craze throughout playgrounds all around the country.  Children bartered and traded in an effort to collect the most powerful, and sought after trading cards.

The Pokemon Game is Developed

Pocket Monsters Gameboy gameSatoshi Tajiri was a small child in Japan with a fondness for catching and collecting bugs. As he grew older, he wondered if he could develop a game that would entail catching and collecting creatures. When he reached adulthood, he formed the company Game Freak and much later the design studio known as Creatures. Setting his idea in motion, they began designing the Capsule Monsters game for the new Gameboy platform. After several failed attempts at pitching this idea to Nintendo, they finally agreed to fund the project. Six years were spent developing the “Capsule Monsters” games that would become a worldwide sensation. Before it was released in Japan, the name of the game was changed to “Pocket Monsters.” In the United States the product name was shortened to “Pokemon”.

The first Pokemon games came to the Nintendo Game Boy system in Japan on February 27th, 1996. The game allowed the players to catch, train and trade 151 creatures and become a Pokemon Master. Due to high sales, Pokemon Red and Green were swiftly followed up with Pokemon Blue, which had improved graphics and sounds.

Pokemon Franchise Expands

Pikachu trading cardAfter the release of the Gameboy video games, a Pokemon Trading Card Game was developed by Media Factory with its own set of rules. The first set of cards was released on October 20th, 1996.  The set contained 102 cards and became very popular with children all over Japan and the United States.

Soon Pokemon toys, comic books, lunch boxes, bedspreads, t-shirts, books, and other Pokemon paraphernalia were developed and sold in retails stores all over the country.

The TV series itself was a huge hit in Japan until the infamous December 16, 1997 incident which featured flashing blue and green lights that triggered epileptic fits and left about 700 some people sick. The show was immediately cancelled pending investigation. The following April (1998) the show returned and continued onward with no further incidents.

Why was Pokemon so Popular?

Charizard Pokemon trading cardTheories as to the success of the Pokemon characters vary. Most think that the success of the franchise was primarily due to the long list of character names that could be learned by children and repeated in their group of peers. The rich fictional universe provided plenty of opportunities for discussion and demonstration of the knowledge in front of their peers. Children could pick their favorite Pokemon and affirm their individuality while at the same time affirming their conformance to the values of the group, and they could distinguish themselves from other kids by asserting what they liked and what they didn’t like from every chapter. Pokemon gained popularity because it provided a sense of identity to a wide variety of children, and lost it quickly when many of those children found that the identity groups were too big and searched for identities that would distinguish them into smaller groups.

Pokemon has been criticized by some Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Christian concerns over Pokemon have primarily addressed perceived occult and violent themes as well as the concept of “Pokemon evolution” (which some relate to the theory of evolution), which is said to go against the Biblical creation account in Genesis, which the majority of Japanese, not adhering to Christianity, do not believe in. The Vatican, however, has countered that the Pokemon trading card game and video games are “full of inventive imagination” and have no “harmful moral side effects”. The game continued to be popular well into the year 2010.

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