Once upon a Time in a Backstreet Boys ruled world, Japanese culture in America was almost non-existent in popular media forms. Even most video games that came from overseas were Americanized. But then one day something funny happened and these little toys started popping up of cute monsters. Most kids had never played a game or seen an anime but yet they latched on to the designs just by seeing them in a toy store. Then all of a sudden, almost out of nowhere, the game and anime launched and Pokemania evolved into a worldwide pandemic.
Kids love animals and that’s a pretty well-known fact, the mass Beanie Babies reign could tell anyone that. But now there is a series that combined kids love of animals with collecting cute creatures and kids lost their minds. Pokemon was addicting and had no shortage of merchandise with 151 different creatures to make products out of. You could go in almost any store and see scores of plushies, figures, and pokedexes being sold. The game’s appearance even brought Nintendo an amazing number of Game Boy purchases as well as a box office hit movie.
It wasn’t just kids though, adults where also getting into this phenomenon. Pokemon was a complex strategy game that had a level for everyone plus an anime in a time where Sailor Moon and DragonBall Z hadn’t even aired yet. I remember seeing the first episode of Pokemon and it becoming my favorite show instantly. The draw of another culture’s concepts was a major pull for an audience who hadn’t seen much out of Japan’s gorgeous art styles before. There was also a comic series launched that was a lot darker and more mature called The Electric Tail of Pikachu and today it’s still considered one of the best manga series.
Pokemon then started to be put on everything. There was even a Heinz ketchup marketing campaign in the U.S. at one point. Kids went wild and parents bought into it. Trips to the grocery store became “buy everything with Squirtle’s face on it”. There were even collectible jars of jam that were extremely well made and durable that kids demanded to buy and empty to have a cool poke-cup to drink pop from. Even Burger King got involved by selling high quality Pokemon toys that included around 57 different pocket monsters.
Then at the perfect moment, Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back was put into theaters. This movie set up the next generation of Pokemon by showing of Marill, Snubull, and Pichu among others of generation 2 which had just launched in Japan. On top of that you got free cards for going which was the perfect bribe for kids to go multiple times. Luckily for weary parents the movie was actually very well done and is even responsible for making most fans cry at their first movie. Did I mention that this added Mew to the Pokedex and kids went wild trying to find them in-game?
One of the most magical aspects of all of this though was the lack of the internet. It was a lot harder to just google about Pokemon especially since computers where rather costly and parents didn’t want their 5-12 year olds playing on it. This gave discovering each Pokemon, place, and secret a genuine feeling of excitement. It even helped establish a lot of friendships at school and Pokemon cards and trades became the new currency on the playground. The games have a magic of bringing fans together and have even made amazing friendships for me personally.
What about you though? What was your first Pokemon toy or experience? Do you have any great stories about how it helped you make friends? Who would win in a fight between two Magikarps? Let me know your answers in the comments below!