Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Pokemon

Movie violence is a watered-down version of real violence. Keep diluting it, and you get TV violence, slapstick violence, cartoon violence, and finally: Pokemon violence. Good, honest thuggery, saturated with enough cuteness that kids can convince their parents to take them to see it.

Basically, a teenage runaway wanders around the wilderness, using magic globes (Pokeballs) to trap animals. These animals all have special fighting powers, but some (robo-sharks with lasers) are better than others (fwuffy wabbits with super “awww” factor). They beat each other senseless, but never bleed or die, so the censors are happy.

Origins

Satoshi Tajiri was a game fan and insect collector who grew up near Tokyo. As he watched the ponds and fields of Japan being paved over in the economic boom, he decided to give future generations the chance to hunt their own critters – a Pocket Monsters game.

In 1991, his Pocket Monsters idea reached Shigeru Miyamoto, the genius behind Mario. He brought Satoshi to Nintendo, and they spent the next 6 years working on Pokemon. It was released in 1997.

Sacriligious Pokemon

Some Protestan groups in the US believe that Pokemon is Satanic. Pokemon are daemons, captured and controlled using talismans. Not only do they have the ability to evolve (counter to creationist theories), but they also have pagan skills like mind-control and karate.

The Jewish community is offended by Pokemon’s use of swatstikas. Although the swastika (along with its inverted form) is a legitimate symbol of Buddhism, many Jews feel that its use in a children’s game and cartoon is inappropriate.

Last but not least, fundamentalist Muslims. Now, these are the guys you should take special care not to offend. Islamic speakers in the Middle East have claimed that Pokemon is part of a Jewish conspiracy to corrupt and distract Muslim children. They believe that “Pokemon” means “I am Jewish”.

Pokemon Epilepsy Shock

In 1997, Pokemon was almost pulled from Japanese TV, when seizures and other ailments were reported in almost 12,000 children who had been watching the show. In that particular episode, the screen was filled with flashing light at 6:51pm.

By 7:30pm, all hell had broken loose and 618 children had been taken to hospital. According to The Yomiuri Shimbun, victim’s families reported that children passed out during the broadcast, went into convulsions, and vomited. Later that evening, the strobe effect clip was played again, during the news report about the incident. Inevitably, this caused many more hospital cases.

Parents were outraged, demanding that Pokemon never be shown again. Eventually, it was found that the only children who were seriously affected had a history of photosensitive epilepsy, and suffered these fits on a regular basis.

Geller Sues Pokemon

Uri Geller, “Michael Jackson’s best friend”, is a widely-ridiculed Israeli mentalist, most famous for bending spoons on live TV. He is also highly litigious, but fortunately for those who incite his psychic anger, he usually loses his pedantic court battles.

The case against Nintendo, the makers of Pokemon, was no exception. Geller sued them for $100 million, claiming that they had used his name for Kadabra, one of the little fighting beasties. In Japan, “Kadabra” was “Un-geller”, and the Japanese letter ‘n’ looks a lot like the symbol for ‘ri’. Although the inspiration they drew is clear, he lost the case.

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