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Pokémon at 25: How 151 fictional species dominate the world

Author Oscar Holland of CNN

When Gameboy’s games “Pocket Monsters: Red” and “Pocket Monsters: Green” were first released in Japan in 1996, few people could predict what would happen next.

The concept is simple: the player will travel through a fictional world, capture, train and fight against the creatures that live in it-this task is contained in the game’s famous slogan “Gotta Catch’Em All”. But within a few short years, the Portmanteau Pokémon with the Japanese name “Poketto Monsuta” has become a global phenomenon.

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999, the game had been launched in multiple Western markets and later became one of the most successful franchises in history. It gave birth to an animated series that was translated into more than 30 languages ​​and swept the world’s playgrounds in the “Pokémon” of the late 1990s.

It also imprinted the identities of 151 completely fictitious characters in the memories of millions.

Japanese children participated in the 1999 Pokémon card game competition.

Japanese children participated in the 1999 Pokémon card game competition. credit: no Kaichi Noo/AFP/Getty Images

For a quarter of a century, millennials have known many first-generation Pokémon the same way they knew children. This is partly due to the revival after 2016, inspired by the mobile game “Pokémon Go” and the movie “Detective Pikachu”. However, the success of the franchise lies not only in clever marketing-it is the result of unique roles that are sufficiently versatile to cross cultures, and are sufficiently diverse to make capturing all challenges a challenge, not trivia.

Their origins can be traced back to Tajiri Satoshi, the creator of “Pokémon”, who liked to collect errors since he was a child, which inspired a game with very similar premises. However, most of the personal designs are the work of illustrator Ken Sugimori.

Sugimori and Tajiri collaborated with “Game Freak” magazine, which eventually grew into the game company behind Pokémon. As the company’s art director, he turned his collaborators’ visions into reality through complex and imaginative taxonomy, combined with individual evolutionary routes and fictional genera, such as grass-type or dragon-type Pokémon.

Bulbasaur, one of the most famous Pokémon of the first generation.

Bulbasaur, one of the most famous Pokémon of the first generation. credit: Courtesy of Pokemon Company

It is always difficult to give a character a unique personality. Even if there are supporting TV series, most people can only say their names repeatedly. Therefore, their appearance is particularly important.

Sugimori’s design is dazzling and is based on science-not only biology and zoology, but also geology (see Geodude, which is essentially a lively rock), chemistry (hazardous gas clouds Koffing and Weezing), Paleontology (similar to the fossil Amant and Omastar) and physics (people like Magneton, who loosely borrowed the principles of electromagnetics). The resulting catalog of creatures (called Pokédex) is essentially a periodic table of elements for game fans-and for many people, it is easier to recall.

Go global

Joseph Tobin, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Georgia and author of the book “Pikachu Global Adventures: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon” published in 2004, said that Pokémon’s evolutionary ability is part of their appeal. He readily admits that it is completely impossible to predict the revival of franchising).

Tobin said in a video interview: “With Tamagoki, the story is that you are taking care of them.” “You will take care of them and grow them, and the children will recognize that they are stronger. But you also make sure that They don’t die to take care of them. It’s unusual to do this in a combat game…some features of war are used and then combined with nurturing.”

Squirrel, light blue tortoise.

Squirrel, light blue tortoise. credit: Courtesy of Pokemon Company

The lovely Squirtle (above) evolved into Wortortle and finally into Blastoise (below).

The lovely Squirtle (above) evolved into Wortortle, and eventually into Blastoise (below). credit: Courtesy of Pokemon Company

This juxtaposition is embodied in designs that are both cute and fierce-or through the process of evolution, from cute to fierce, from the big-eyed childish little squirrel to the powerful Blastoise (via Wartortle). However, no one can better embody this dichotomy than Pikachu, the most successful and marketable franchise. Chunky, rosy cheeks, high-pitched voice, charged mice are also powerful warriors.

According to Tobin, the design of the characters also influenced the broader driving force of Japan’s export of popular culture in the 1990s.

He said: “The idea is-or the corporate strategy as a country is-we want’our’ mouse to compete with Mickey Mouse.” “So I think Pikachu’s mouse-like creature is not accidental, but (role ) Is considered super cute-cuter than Mickey or Minnie.”

However, people worry that the Japanese “kawaii” aesthetics will not resonate with children in other places. At the time, superheroes in the Western market were generally sharper and stronger than their Japanese counterparts. According to reports, before the game’s US release, the late Nintendo boss Hiroshi Yamauchi (Hiroshi Yamauchi) was shown a more powerful alternative to Pikachu, although the company’s US subsidiary still insisted on its 1998 release. Original design.
Not all Pokémon talk about topics in the playground-just like the crescent-shaped butterfly Meta Metapod.

Not all Pokémon talk about topics in the playground-like the crescent-shaped butterfly Meta Metapod. credit: Courtesy of Pokemon Company

But even though glasses like Pikachu and Bulbasaur have stolen the limelight and become the most important commodities, sheer variety has power. Some of the huge cast of Pokémon are neither cute nor fierce.

Take Diglett (a kind of crude sausage-shaped mole) or Metapod (a kind of drooping, stationary) for example, their only ability is to harden their outer shell. All of them are useless in battle. None of them are the most sought-after poker cards on campus. But they are part of a complete universe-everyone has one thing. Tobin said this was important in the toy marketing world with gender norms in the 1990s.

He said: “(At the time) in the toy store, you have a blue aisle and a pink aisle.” “But the Pokémon was created to reach the aisle.”

The art of localization

Although the character design has remained the same overseas, “Pokémon” still adapts to different markets, especially in terms of language.

Cultural references are inevitably lost in translation: many characters are rooted in Japanese folklore. Although Japanese viewers may have realized the influence of the fox fairy Kitsune in Pokémon like Vokpix, or the influence of the mythical Rajiu in Pikachu’s design, these will never be transformed.
A woman browses merchandise in a Pokémon store in Tokyo.

A woman browses merchandise in a Pokémon store in Tokyo. credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

However, Pokémon’s new names are often loyal to the spirit of the original. Take Sawamura and Ebiwara as examples. They are named after Japanese taekwondo and boxers, but they are called Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan in English. These are the names of martial artists that Western children will recognize: Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Or Ivysaur, whose Japanese name Fushigisou combines “fushigi” (strange) and “sou” (grass), so a similar principle is used in the French version: Herbizarre.

Some names, such as Pikachu (Pikachu), are more or less directly translated from Japanese. But in other places, there are portmanteaus like “Psyduck” (duck with mental power), or names that only resonate with the user of the spoken language, such as the lazy “Slowpoke”. There are also some puns, from Tentacool like Hai Enta to the quality of Exeggcute (Raging Eggs).

Psyduck, a duck with mental abilities.

Psyduck, a duck with mental abilities. credit: Courtesy of Pokemon Company

Some lack of imagination. There is a horned seal called Seel, and a crab called Krabi. The snake-shaped Ekans and Arbok only need to reverse the “snake” and “kobra” (sic). But there are also moments when the language is complicated. The three “legendary birds” of the game are named Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres, and their Spanish suffixes -uno, -dos and -tres reflect their sequential order in Pokémon. Amorphous spots that can take the form of things seen are appropriately named Ditto.

The animation series has also cleverly adapted to the overseas market. For example, the human role is more important in the American version of the narrative because it is believed that “Americans want people to recognize more than bugs and animals,” Tobin said. However, he added that Pokémon has always retained typical Japanese characteristics.

“I think it’s surprising that it hasn’t changed much. Not only is the Japanese not responsible, it is also related to’Cool Japan’. The kids don’t like it because it is Japanese, but they definitely know it. It’s a bit exotic.” He said, comparing it to a kind of soft power in the country.

‘Intergenerational nostalgia’

The design keeps appearing. Today, there are almost 900 characters, although it can be said that many characters are more memorable than their predecessors. Descendants of Pokémon include: Chandelure, Milcery, the chandelier with sound, cream-based Pokémon that resembles a splash of milk, and the inexplicable floating key ring Klefki, which “continues to collect keys… (and) will protect them. What does it matter.”
A Hasbro employee displayed the components of the Pokémon Battlefield in the company's showroom in New York in February 2000.

A Hasbro employee showed off the components of the Pokémon Battlefield in the company’s showroom in New York in February 2000. credit: Richard Drew/Associated Press

However, the feelings for the first generation are still there. The original 151 may only represent a small part of Pokémon, but they accounted for more than half of the Pokémon in the 2019 movie “Detective Pikachu”. Last December, the first version of the holographic Charizard card was sold for a record US$369,000.

Tobin failed to predict the lifespan of Pokémon last time, but he is more optimistic about the team’s prospects for the next 25 years.

He said: “I was wrong because I thought Pokémon would rise and fall like most children’s media or cultural products, and be replaced by the next big thing.” “But I think I and the other authors in the book are correct. It was (understood) what made Pokémon so attractive at the time. What made it attractive is not limited to the culture of the 1990s.

Performers dressed up as Pikachu in the

Performers dressed up as Pikachu in the “Pikachu Explosion” event held in Yokohama, Japan in 2018. credit: Oumi Tomohiro/Getty Images

He added: “I think it has become one of these very rare products, because it accounts for a large part of the public imagination, so it will never end now.” “It has this kind of nostalgia that has been passed down from generation to generation. Value, parents who grew up with Barbie may now want (buy them for) children, or those who grew up with baseball cards want to do it with their children.

“It becomes recognizable-its own reputation has value.”

Top photo captions: 1999 (from left to right) Pikachu, Psyduck, Togepy, and the turtle in the animated film “Pokémon: The First Movie”.

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