|BIG IN JAPAN
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
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.