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Pokémon, Japanese Icon

Illustration for article titled emPokémon/em, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome—game related and beyond.

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(Top photo: Game Freak | ATV)

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DISCUSSION

Manly_McBeeferton
Manly McBeeferton

Back in 1999, a little kid in a small town got his hands on a special Pokemon edition Game Boy Color and Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition. He was a little late to the party, and had only played Pokémon thanks to his brother owning Pokémon: Red Version, but it was all good. He played that game for hours, days even. He beat it multiple times, until he memorized every puzzle in the game. Yet it would never get old.

It wouldn't be long before he caught the anime on television. The first episode he saw being "Battle Aboard the St. Anne". At the time, this episode and the one following seemed extremely serious. He was hooked. Then came the Pokémon cards, and the various Pokémon school supplies, the Pokémon movies, and then... Pokémon: Gold and Silver Versions, Pokémon Stadium, Pokémon Snap, and so on.

People scoffed at Pokémon saying it would be a fad, but today it's still around, and our little kid is a grown man who still enjoys Pokémon. He now comments on Kotaku, posing as a Pikachu in a top hat.