Pokémon, Japanese Icon

Pocket Monsters first launched in Japan back in early 1996 on the Game Boy. Later that year, a card game followed. By the late 1990s, the series was supposed to be a fad, a passing fancy.

Yet this month in Japan, two Pokémon feature films hit Japanese theaters. Pocket Monsters isn't a fad, in Japan, it's become a cultural institution.

Starting in 1997, the first Pokémon anime was broadcast on Japanese television, and even after an episode that sent hundreds of kids to the hospital, the series spawned a feature animated film the following year.

And now, every summer, like clockwork, a new Pokémon feature film is released in theaters. And every Thursday night at 7pm, kids across the country know that Pokémon is on TV (there's also a Pocket Monsters Sunday morning variety program).

Since 1996, Pocket Monsters has ascended to the pantheon of children's entertainment in a way that few shows, characters, or creations have before or since. There aren't just video games and toys—like with Gundam, there are Pokémon planes.

There are a few anime, manga, and video games that have stood, and continue to, the test of time. Fads come and go, but only a select few stay.

Pokémon occupies the same space as Doraemon and Ultra-man. Like both of those, Pokémon greets each generation of kids with toys and TV.

Kids like dependability, things they can count on, and for generation after generation, Pokémon hasn't let them down.

For gaming, the Pocket Monsters themselves are not as iconic as, say, Mario. However, they are iconic for childhood. It's now to the point that Pokémon is a part of growing up—a rite of passage.

There's an endless array of cute and colorful characters, as well as strong and cool ones, too. It's not only a matter of memorizing the ones you like but memorizing their powers, which ones are more effective. It's bug collecting 2.0. Take the ending song for the latest Pokémon anime that asks if you can say the Pocket Monsters' names.

So much of Pokémon's success is the rhythm its established via a regular (and consistent) release of new games and new anime, featuring new Pokémon. Kids like dependability, things they can count on, and for generation after generation, Pokémon hasn't let them down.

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(Top photo: Game Freak | ATV)