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BIG IN JAPAN
Pocket Monsters

Pocket Monsters
The argument that children are not seriously affected by what they watch on television received a damaging blow on Dec 16, 1997 when hundreds of children across Japan suffered fits and convulsions while watching their favorite cartoon program. After inquiries, the culprit was found to be a series of strobe-style flashing colored lights during a cartoon character' transformance scene. The number of victims had been increased by the fact that the incident had occurred during the most popular cartoon series in recent years, Pocket Monsters.

Pocket Monsters, or "Pokemon," began life as a Nintendo game in Feb 1996, based on every child's obsession - monsters, and lots of them. One hundred and fifty of them to be exact, all nurtured by the owners of the tiny gameboy devices. The marketing ploy that led to Pokemon's initial success was that the gameboys were sold in two different sets. By linking up the different gameboys with a special lead, children could swap monsters and pit them against each other in arena-style battles - like the trading card system, only better. Also, the monsters were not designed to frighten but to appeal. These were cuddly, cute, peculiarly Japanese monsters that you would quite happily take home under your coat if you found one in real life.

Impressive sales garnered a lot of industry attention and in April 1997 Pokemon debuted on Japanese TV as a children's anime series. One monster in particular became the series mascot, embedding itself in the nation's consciousness alongside Godzilla and Ultraman. This was the small, yellow, rodent-like creature known as Pikachu. This rosy-cheeked little devil now appears across the nation in the form of soft toys, key rings, snack foods, candy boxes, not to mention being scrawled in the back of every pre-adolescent's schoolbook. The anime show also introduced some human characters, such as the young boy Satoshi, whose dream is to become the world's greatest trainer of fighting monsters. Conflict is provided by the villains, Musashi and Koliro, who are always trying to spoil Satoshi's dreams and steal the glory for themselves.

The "Pokemon Shock Incident" (as it was dubbed by the tabloids) led to the suspension of the program and a public apology from the chairman of TV Tokyo. However, nothing stands in the way of profit and the series returned to the small screen in April 1998, more popular than ever.

Having conquered the domestic market, the Pokemon masters are now setting their sights on the rest of the world. Since Sept 1997, the program has been aired on TV stations across the US with phenomenal success. The Summit Media Group, which markets the program in the States, reported that it was "spreading like wildfire" among American children. It has also been shown in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Shogakkan Production Co., the program's overseas agents, are currently negotiating with mainland China, Italy and Germany. Masakazu Kubo, a senior executive at Shogakkan, has stated that they intend to turn Pikachu into a global icon as ubiquitous as Mickey Mouse.

Watch out! That loud thump you hear could well be the sound of thousands of Western kids hitting the floor - their brains failing to cope with the overdose of cuteness.


John Paul Catton
 

BIG IN JAPAN:
299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
Singer/songwriter
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
Comedian
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
Author
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
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