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Pokémania
Written By: Joel Fajardo

There is something quite unique that distinguishes Pokémon apart from all the other toy and accessory fads—Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmos, Virtual Pets, Furbies—that have flooded the American market within the last half-decade. Pokémon has gone under innumerable transformations, starting with a video game, to a television series, to toys, books, card games, posters, lunch pails, and just about any other peripheral that may suit the daily routine of an eight to ten year old. As manager Justin Dwisiniewski of K * B Toys, Valencia explains, “ Any product that you can possibly use can be bought here in one form or another of Pokémon.”

Pokémon, formerly introduced to the United States as Pocket Monsters, was the Messiah that Nintendo had been looking for to save their company from the flailing Nintendo 64 in the Japanese market. Using its portable system with a current user base of 100,000,000, the Game Boy churned out Pokémon Red and Blue, followed by Yellow, Pinball, Gold/Silver, and on the Nintendo 64, Pokémon Stadium and Snap.

What exactly is a Pokémon, however? Upon asking eight year old Mariah Romo, only more confusion was added. “They’re like… animals with magic.”

Her six year old sister, Deana, confirmed this, “Yes. Like magical animals.”

Of the 150 Pokémon currently in establishment, many of them follow a basic style. They are—for the most part—animals with magical abilities, whose body design is comparable to many creatures found at your local zoo, with few modifications. They reside in a circular contraption called a Pokéball until they are summoned out by their Pokémaster for battle.

The large success of Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue gave way to a television series in Japan, which on December 6, 1996 sent nearly 700 children of its 12,000,000 viewers to the hospital due to convulsions (many of the bright, explosive colors caused nausea in the young viewers) . The series, after testing, was put back on the air and scheduled for regular viewing—only this time, with media attention surrounding it.

The commotion that surrounded the convulsion incident set a precedent for the way Pokémon would be treated in the US—hyped and supported by the media. This inevitably increased its popularity exponentially as soon as it was released inside the US and the rest of North America. The popularity to date is both stunning and frightening.

Pokémon has unexpectedly reached unimaginable popularity in North America. This is due in part to the astounding media attention that has voluntarily drilled and cultivated “Pokémon culture” into the involuntary American citizens.

The craze for Pokémon toys and accessories (especially the trading cards) has been seen as uncanny. Even before the Pokémon was formally launched in the US, the governor of Topeka, Kansas, was kind enough to (jokingly) change the capital of Kansas—Topeka—to ToPikachu to match the name of the main Pokémon mascot, Pikachu. From here, a seven-state parade was organized—all in an attempt to honor Pokémon before it formally arrived. In Canada, two kids were brawling over a package of stolen Pokémon cards. The fight ended up in one kid being stabbed on the right shoulder. Many schools now ban trading Pokémon cards during school hours; the archdiocese itself in Mexico has condemned Pokémon altogether, saying that the characters promote “violence and sexual perversity among children.”

This is all a result of the mass media attention that Pokémon has gotten—unlike other trends, this one has not had an opportunity to die out; this is what keeps it indefinitely alive. Several promotions with no apparent connection to the video games or television series have been made. Kentucky Fried Chicken was the first franchise to provide consumers with the chance to win free Pokémon accessories when buying a meal at one of their many locations. Shortly after, Pokémon cards were offered in Lunchable Lunches. Following in 1999 and 2000, Burger King went a little farther and offered Pokémon action figures in a Pokéball (a capsule where Pokémon are stored) and in a second promotion, offered Pokémon posters and Pokémon trading cards for the Pokémon card game. The first promotion went notably well, except for the report of a two year old child’s death by choking on a Pokéball. It took Burger King two weeks to recall the products after they were ordered to (25 million balls were recalled, making it the biggest toy recall in the history of the world). As Claudia Mendoza, employee of Burger King, Sylmar recalls, “ It brought a lot of business that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Likewise, you can expect a Pokémon cereal to head its way to your local grocery store this fall. You may anticipate a new Pokémon motion picture coming out near Christmastime this year. You can expect Pokémon to invade every part of your child’s life—making this the reason why Pokémon stays so popular: there is no way to avoid it, whether it is turning on the TV or going to the movies, packing your kids a lunch or going out to eat, going shopping for a holiday gift or just visiting the mall. Wherever kids are, Pokémon is also there.

Adding to the Pokémon revolution is the positive attention that Pokémon has received from parents. A nationwide PokéMOM contest was recently held, where the title of being a true PokéMOM fanatic—as long as some prizes—was being offered. Many entered, only one won. Kids went crazy over wanting their mother to receive the honorary recognition. On September 20, 1999 Pokémon received the National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval Award, claiming that the Pokémon card game “…is of superb design and quality.” Due to popular request, LodgeNet Entertainment Corporation has set up Nintendo 64s with available Pokémon games in over 86,000 hotel rooms nationwide. All Nippon Airways (ANA)—the largest Japanese passenger airline provider—built and painted four airplanes dressed in Pokémon attire (the planes each resemble a specific Pokémon), making it fun to fly for kids (as if it ameliorates long travel flights). In the same attempt to fashion Pokémon in a pleasant way to kids and parents alike, several novelizations of the kids show have been formed, “helping kids learn to read” in the process.

Probably another reason of the large success of Pokémon is that their name stands out in each of their respective markets—and exceptionally. The video games for both the Game Boy and Nintendo 64 have found incredible fame among kids. The television series, likewise, follows a linear storyline, supported by authentic Japanimation, and involving characters. Most kids, when asked, watch Pokémon on a regular basis, following the story religiously. One kid interviewed, Andres Casillas, was able to name more than seventy different Pokémon in less than three minutes; he failed to identify the product of six and seven under thirty seconds.

The Pokémon trading card game also has involved many would-be Pokémasters. It gives the kids a sense of solidarity amongst each other. Not only that, but many older kids who play it (the average age, when asked in several interviews, appears to be anywhere from 8-12 years old) find the competition fierce and are very involved in the “battling” action of the card game.

Twelve year old Xavier Romo observes, “They spend more time now playing with Pokémon than they do on the playground, or at home.”

Claudia Mendoza also shares her suspicion. “They know more about that stuff than their homework. Pssh,” she sighs, “they even get mad if you call one of them by the wrong name.”

Justin Dwisniewski of K * B Toys notes though that, “Many kids who buy the cards just don’t know how to play with them or use them. They just buy it because the older kids are buying them, and the older kids are buying them because their friends are and their parents are letting them.”

It’s just something that everyone’s doing, I say.




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