0 Items | £0.00

VIEW BASKET

The Rise and Fall of Pokemon

Friday 10th August 2012

Jonathan Clements on a book that dissects Pokémon (what a thought)

PokemonOn the 16th December 1997, in the big finale of the Pokémon episode ‘Cyber Warrior Porygon’, Pikachu defended his owner by delivering a blue and red jolt of electricity. It alternated swiftly in a hypnotic pattern, and made several hundred children throw up or have seizures. Thanks, anime! But as two of the writers observe in Pikachu’s Global Adventure, the notorious epilepsy incident of 1997 did little to diminish the appeal of anime’s new hit show. Far from it – for many people around the world, it was the first they had heard of the phenomenon that would all too soon be bearing down upon them.

Pikachu’s Global Adventure offers a collection of essays on the ‘rise and fall of Pokémon’, including studies of its origins, the campaigns against it, and the efforts made in localising it for foreign markets.

The book is impressive, at least in part, because it represents a true convergence of disciplines. Far too many such collections swiftly accrete an inertial gunge of cultural theorists and solipsistic drama llamas, wittering about peripheral issues in a vain attempt to justify an undeserved grant. But contributors to Pikachu’s Global Adventure come from anthropology, pedagogy, and media studies. Two are Japanese. One is a primary school teacher. Some elements of the book are personal, but are focussed resolutely on the observation of researchers’ children as they watch Pokémon, play the game, and in one case, drag their stock-trader Dads down to the swap-meet in order to get tips on card exchange values. Such an emphasis could have all too easily backfired into wittering about whatever someone’s kid did at school today, but thankfully remains tightly focussed on what Pokémon means to the kids. We have, presumably, editor Joseph Tobin to thank for this, who comes to the task from a background in Early Child Education.

Ever since Liliane Lurcat’s ground-breaking study A Cinq Ans, Seul Avec Goldorak, the academic world has had plenty of opportunity to investigate what it is that kids actually get out of their anime. The toy industry certainly does – I have seen massive, brick sized collations of commercial-in-confidence documentation by Child Psychology PhDs, amounting to racial profiling and empirical data on the world’s children. When I once worked for a well-known toy company on the idea for a new cartoon franchise, every one of my ideas was run past a panel of accountants and a panel of seven-year-olds. In other worlds, when it comes to the business of selling to children, the industry players do not screw around whereas academia often forgets about the kids altogether. For this reason, Tobin’s inclusion of child-focussed studies is to be commended.

PokemonThere’s some great stuff in here. Christine Yano has a whale of a time chronicling the anti-Pokémon backlash, citing criticisms from concerned parents, religious nutcases and racist bigots. Julian Sefton-Green puts his own son in the spotlight, and chronicles a year in the life of a Pokémon fan. Dafna Lemish and Linda-Renée Bloch cover the history of Pokémon in Israel, to which the brand stumbled as late as 2000. And Gilles Brougère asks ‘how much a Pokémon is worth’ by examining the way in which French kids assign value to pieces of (theoretically) worthless card. Perhaps most fascinating to readers of this blog is the coverage of the localisation of Pokémon, and the arguments over the ways in which the original had to be compromised in order to make it truly huge.

Koichi Iwabuchi talks of two kinds of difference, a ‘cultural odour’ that needs to be damped down a bit, and a ‘cultural fragrance’ that can add to the appeal. A quote from one of Pokémon’s producers admits that the Japanese had observed the rise and plateauing of Sailor Moon, and determined that one of the many reasons it didn’t quite take the world by storm was that elements of it were too Japanese. Unlike, say Astro Boy, which Tezuka was persuaded to render ‘stateless’, Sailor Moon retained Japanese street signs and tatami-mat family settings, all of which served to put some of the mass audience off. Instead, Hirofumi Katsuno and Jeffrey Maret in Pikachu’s Global Adventure speak in a mixture of awe and fear of Gail Tilden, the ‘dragon mother of Nintendo’ (now its US vice president), who pushed for a deeply invasive but demonstrably populist re-versioning of Pokémon in the overseas market. There are stories here of soundtracks ripped out in their entirety, of massive alterations to dialogue and character and of the infamous ‘lost episodes’, but all such considerations are discussed in blunt and business-like terms. Pokémon the anime is merely a tool to sell Pokémon the Everything, and there are strong arguments in this book that it’s this very lack of respect for the ‘integrity’ of the original that made it possible for it to sell so well. Other authors get to grips with the world-beating Japan rhetoric of the period, and note that Japanese media companies have often tripped up when trying to deal with foreign clients, and that the real success stories are to be found among those Japanese companies that find a foreign partner who can do their work justice. Such as, it says here, Manga Entertainment, a company which made such a success of Ghost in the Shell. Which is nice to hear.

Nobody can really quantify Pokémon’s success. Trust me, if they could, then there would be another phenomenon as big, already. So it would be unfair to wonder why the academics spill so much ink over Pokémon, without offering much practical advice about why it worked. They don’t know, but then again, neither does anyone else. A few reviewers online have carped that Tobin’s book has missed the point, and that Pokémon is ‘still popular today’. In claiming this, they rather miss Tobin’s point, which is that the demonstrable, quantifiable Pokémon explosion was already fizzling out by 2001. Ten years on, Pokémon still has a residual appeal and a long tail of dedicated fans, but it is nowhere, nowhere near the global phenomenon that it was at the turn of the century. Tobin actually welcomes this fact, noting that academics should be just as interested in the decline of a phenomenon as with its rise, and that often one helps explain the other.

Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon is out now from Duke University Press.

The Rise and Fall of Pokemon

MANGA UK GOSSIP

Dragon Ball Season 4 (episodes 84-122)

£26.25
sale_tag
was £34.99
Goku's headed for a showdown with a sinister green fiend!
A new breed of evil - more powerful than anything ever experienced - is taking the world's greatest martial artists down for the count. Goku is quick to join the fight, but he's about to meet his match in the form of King Piccolo. This menacing monster has the power to pulverize the planet, and his murderous rampage will not stop until he controls the power of the seven magic Dragon Balls.
When Krillin is the first hero cut down by the monster's minion, the stage is set for a brutal grudge match between Goku and Piccolo. Earth's greatest champion vows to avenge the loss of his best friend, but first, he must journey to Korin Tower on a quest for the Ultra Divine Water: a magical elixir that could give him the strength to save humanity - or send him straight to the grave!
This epic box set contains the Tien Shinhan Saga and the King Piccolo Saga.

FEATURED RELEASE

RELATED BLOG ARTICLES

Who's Who in Dragon Ball 1

Ever wonder just how Goku and friends became the greatest heroes on Earth?
Wonder no more, as the original Dragon Ball reveals the origins of Akira Toriyama’s beloved creations! The faces may look familiar, but everything else is different in this classic series!

Who's Who in Dragon Ball #2

Continuing our round-up of the usual suspects
Ever wonder just how Goku and friends became the greatest heroes on Earth? Wonder no more, as the original Dragon Ball reveals the origins of Akira Toriyama’s beloved creations! The faces may look familiar, but everything else is different in this classic series!

Who's Who in Dragon Ball #4

A rogues' gallery from the latest DVD box set
Ever wonder just how Goku and friends became the greatest heroes on Earth? Wonder no more, as the original Dragon Ball reveals the origins of Akira Toriyama’s beloved creations! The faces may look familiar, but everything else is different in this classic series!

Who's Who in Dragon Ball #3

Wonder no more, as we reveal the origins of Akira Toriyama’s creations!
The faces may look familiar, but everything else is different in this classic series!

RECENT FEATURED POSTS

The Ninja Museum

Stephen Turnbull risks nine deaths in the eye of the ninja storm... or does he?
There is more to the ninja myth than meets the eye. By 1638 all wars had ceased under the police state of the Tokugawa family, yet within twenty years armchair generals were busily writing manuals of military theory, including speculations about sneak attacks, night-fighting and backstabbing.

London Ghibli Season

BFI announce a festival of Miyazaki, Takahata, et al...
The BFI South Bank cinema in London will be screening a Studio Ghibli season throughout April and May. Curator Justin Johnson will be giving an introduction to Ghibli on the 2nd April, followed by screenings of all the major Ghibli works and a number of relative obscurities

Blood C: The Last Dark

Director Naoyoshi Shiotani on getting the darkness right
“In every theatre you have different light, so you can never be sure what it’s going to look like. So you have to think; will this be okay, will you lose details in that kind of darkness? It was hard to calculate all that.”

Gekiga at the Cartoon Museum

Jonathan Clements visits an exhibition of manga’s pioneers
Running upstairs at London’s Cartoon Museum until 29th November, Gekiga: Alternative Manga From Japan charts the evolution of truly adult comics, both in terms of content and style, in the post-war period.

The Weird World of Rotoscoping

Andrew Osmond on the history of animation’s corner-cutting secret
Rotoscoping and its descendants are an important part of American cinema, and recognised today. Many film fans know, for example, that Gollum, Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the rebel anthropoid Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes reboot are all based on physical performances by one actor, Andy Serkis. Again, it’s common knowledge that the Na’vi aliens in Avatar were human actors ‘made over’ by computer – the digital equivalent of those guys wearing prosthetic foreheads and noses in the older Star Trek series.

The magnificent 47 Ronin

Stephen Turnbull asks what (if anything) went wrong with the 47 Ronin?
When T. H. White’s great Arthurian fantasy The Once and Future King was first published the New York Times described it as “a glorious dream of the Middle Ages as they never were but as they should have been.” A very similar comment would not be inappropriate to describe the strange world of old Japan conjured up in the movie 47 Ronin.
Contact Us   |   Refund Policy   |   Delivery Times   |   Privacy statement   |   Terms & Conditions
Please note your card statement will show billing by MVM. The Rise and Fall of Pokemon from the UK's best Anime Blog.