PLUS - game


Pocket Pikachu
Courtesy of Nintendo

"Insect collecting is a hobby few can share," Shonen Knife once sang, but Pokemon creator Tajiri Satoshi begs to differ. His childhood memories of looking for stag beetles and fireflies in fields long since concreted over led to the basic collect, train, and fight premise of Pokemon. Like bugs, Tajiri' creations also metamorphose from young to adult but are far more visually appealing, of course.

The world of Pocket Monster is a largely rural one, with the cities given poetic names like Viridian City, Cerulean City and Pallet Town. The monsters roam wild in the lakes and the forests between the cities, and the boys and girls who hunt and collect them are known as trainers.

The Pocket Monster cast is headed by Satoshi, known in the US as Ash Ketchum, a ten-year-old boy whose dream is to be the greatest Pokemon trainer in the world. His sidekick is Pikachu, the monster now known to millions as the cute yellow thing with the lightning-fork tail, whose ability is to stun its opponents with electric shocks.

He is guided on his quest by the friendly sensei figure Professor Oak, and accompanied by his friends (and sometimes rivals) Brock, Gary and Misty. The villains of the piece are Team Rocket, always scheming to grab the glory for themselves - and always failing, tripped up by their own selfishness, naturally.

It would be impossible here to list all of the monsters, but they are divided into categories based on the properties of terrestrial animals or plants, and when caught, most evolve onto their mature forms, which makes them more formidable fighters. There are water types, rock types, bug types, and electrical types (of which Pikachu is one).

Some are hybrids of two types, such as the bug/grass monster Paras, and its adult form Parasect, looking like a giant mushroom which scuttles around on long claws and two fearsome pincers. There are several bug/poison hybrids, clearly based on predatory plants such as pincer plants and Venus fly traps.

Grimer has the ecologically sound ability to consume toxic sludge (yes, there are environment problems in the Pokemon universe!) but evolves into the disgusting and highly toxic Muk. The absurdly named Wigglytuff, by contrast, looks harmless, but its psychic "Sing Attack" can hypnotize the unwary.

Some do not evolve at all, such as the machine-like Magneton. Instead, they bond together in threes to form the electrically-charged Magnetite, which shocks its enemies into submission.

The Gold and Silver cartridges (just released in Japan) add to the natural history of the Pokemon world by introducing 109 new monsters, as well as Wakaba Town, where lives Doctor Utsugi, who holds the key to the whereabouts of the three monster "eggs" that promise special powers to whoever finds them.

There are also clear echoes here of the folk tale Momotaro, where the prodigal youth bids farewell to his parents, saying he's off to seek adventure and to kill monsters. It may not be ideologically sound to kill them anymore, but as the tag line says, "You gotta catch eem all" - and who knows? You may just learn something along the way.

John Paul Catton

299: Pokemon
The world of Pocket Monsters
298: December Exhibitions
Compilation of art shows in Tokyo
297: Early bird shopping
One-stop shops for Christmas presents
296: Oseibo
The end of the year present
295: Books on Japan
A compilation of books on Japanese culture
294: November Exhibitions
Compilation of art shows in Tokyo
293: Leisure
Where to see the turning of the leaves
292: Pets
The unwanted - wrestling with the truth
291: Film Festival
Tokyo International Film Festival
290: October Exhibitions
Compilation of Tokyo's art shows
289: Write on
Resources for writers
288: Stamps for Charity
An easy way to volunteer
287: Early Autumn Matsuri
Tokyo's exciting autumn festivals
286: September Exhibitions
Compilation of Tokyo's art shows
285: Lost and Found
Getting your companion back
284: Help in English
The Metropolitan Tokyo Consumer Life Ordinance
283: Yoga
Tokyo's little Mediterranean resort
282: August Exhibitions
Compilation of Tokyo's art shows
281: Flea Market
Summer guide to bargains
280: Gakko no Kaidan 4
"School Ghost Stories"
279: Boom boom II
Another guide to the best firework shows
278: July Exhibitions
Compilation of Tokyo's art shows
277: Drinks on the house
Finding free drinks in the city
276: Fireworks!
Wallet-sized guide to the best shows
275: Yokohama Chinatown
The good places to visit
273: Books
The Cape and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto
272: Asa-ichi
Popular morning markets
271: Kikujiro's Summer
Beat Takeshi's acclaimed film
270: Hachioji
Guide to Hachioji
269: Kick ASS shorts
Short films become big business
268: The house of the Dead 2 on Dreamcast
Review of the new Dreamcast game
267: May Matsuri
Tokyo's two most exciting festivals
266: Boy's day
May 5 celebration
265: Home is where the party is
Tokyo's foreign societies
264: Free ticket to nowhere
Free government coupons
263: Kimono hunting
Second-hand and antique kimono boutiques
261: A sakura feast for the senses
View the infamous blossoms at Yozakura Noh
260: Ripe for the viewing
Prime Tokyo spots for hanami
259: St. Patrick's Day
Where to catch the craic March 17
258: Instant happiness - just add water
Instant ramen
257: The Global Perspective
Impoverished nations of the Pacific Rim
256: Streets of Tokyo
Guide to Omotesando
255: Interview
Film director Brett Ratner
254: Valentine's day
Doing the day in style
253: American Football
Predictions for the upcoming season
252: HELP Asian woman's shelter
Overcoming archaic attitudes about women
251: Ebisu gang
Vintage analog effector shop
250: Money landering
Zeniarai Benten shrine in Kamakura

ISSUES 349-300