When Pokémon Got a Little Too Nazi Germany

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Pokémon. It's a card (and video) game for kids. You capture monsters, they faint a lot, it's all good, clean, harmless fun. Right?

Well, mostly. Except for a few occasions where the series has been in trouble in the West for allegedly using Nazi imagery.


Since the franchise debuted in the 1990s, there have been three occasions in which Pokémon has either had to be recalled or edited for a market due to concerns over gestures and symbols used by the Nazis before and during the Second World War.



One of these involved the Pokémon animated series. In 2003, the episode All Things Bright and Beautifly! had a sequence involving the evil Team Rocket edited for the English release because the trainers (and their minions) were sticking their arms up in a move that it was felt looked way too much like a Nazi salute.


Another, and this one is quite subtle, involves a single Pokémon, Registeel. In the European release of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the creature's one-armed stance - which again looked slightly like a Nazi salute - was changed so that both his arms were at his side. Note this only affected the European release of the game; in the US, his Nazi salute remains unchanged, as in the original Japanese version.

The third example is probably the most famous, and also the most ridiculous. In 1999, as Pokémania was hitting its stride in the US, consumers began noticing something strange on one of the series' first run of cards. Golbat, an otherwise forgettable Pokémon, had on a trainer card an image that looked just like a Nazi swastika.


The card in question (the swastika is in the upper left)

Cue a torrent of complaints from parents and organisations like Jewish groups and the Anti-Defamation League, which resulted in Nintendo of America withdrawing the card from sale in the US, saying at the time "What is appropriate for one culture may not be for another".


While Nintendo's reasoning at least acknowledged this, the problem with most of the complaints was that the image was not a "Nazi" swastika. It was simply a swastika, a religious symbol of good fortune that has been used in Hinduism and Buddhism for centuries. In Pokémon's native Japan, the symbol is known as the manji, which even features the symbol as a character in its Japanese spelling (卍字).


So for it to feature on a Pokémon card had nothing to do with Nazi Germany whatsoever!

(Images courtesy of Bulbapedia)

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.


You can contact Luke Plunkett, the author of this post, at plunkett@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

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