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Pokemon is Just Another Fad

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 1999-12-10

Why Pokeman? How did this creation become a fad in the United States? Pokeman is everywhere! The once popular Nintendo game has expanded into several different outlets. It is on TV, featured in video games and merchandised to death. An entire movie has even been made about the little Japanese-created monsters. Who would have thought that the cartoon that induced seizures in children in Japan would become so popular, rivaling other famous toys like the Cabbage Patch doll, Elmo or those cute little Beanie-Babies? What is so wonderful about a yellow rodent/cat like creature that shoots lightning named Pikachu?

Pokeman are known as Pocket Monsters in Japan, created by a man named Satoshi Tajiri. They are as famous in Japan as Walt Disney creations are in the United States. What started out as a Nintendo Gameboy game has now become an incredibly popular fad in the United States. The main goal in the original Pokeman video game is to find, capture and train different monsters, eventually to become the greatest Pokemon trainer. Originally, Tajiri created 151 monsters (officially there were only 150 monsters, but Tajiri had added 1 more to the software) and more have been added each year.

Pokeman was first introduced into Japan in 1996 and the characters immediately captured the attention of children of all ages. Creatures like Pikachu were mass-marketed and soon seen on everything from key chains to food packages.

Realizing the popularity of Pokeman, Nintendo decided to produce an animated TV show. It quickly became a top-rated children's show in Japan. Then in December of 1997, an unexpected catastrophe occurred. Some 700 children in different localities suddenly collapsed and lost their senses while watching the show. According to several analysts, certain light combinations and lightning bolts emanating from Pikachu had induced the seizures, causing the show to shut down while government investigated the production of the show. Eventually, the producers revised the animation and the TV show was back on the air after about 4 months.

Following its success in Japan, Nintendo decided to market Pokeman to the western world. Part of the original marketing plan was to hide the fact that the creation was indeed Japanese. Punching scenes were taken out, as well as scenes that were thought to be religious or discriminatory. The names of some of the characters were even changed to sound more western. For example, the character "Satoshi" (named after the creator) became Ash, and "Shigeru" became Gary. The craze soon spread to the entire United States and in September of 1998, the Pokemon TV series became an instant success. Eventually, Pokemon could be seen on games, toys and comic books - Pickachu's face couldn't be missed in a toy store. Children swarmed to the closest shopping mall to collect and trade Pokemon cards. A competition was set in motion of who could collect the most cards prompting some US schools to ban them.

The latest craze seems to be a multitude of web-sites devoted entirely to Pokemon - collecting cards, solving the video games, learning more about the creatures. All the hype begs the general population to ask, why? Why has any one toy become popular? Do we question our children for loving Pokemon because it is not a western creation? The popularity of Pokemon is not unique to the U.S. The fad has spread to Europe and South America too. The key to the popularity seems to be not only the clever ways that the item is marketed, but also the collectibility of the item. Some children, and even adults, just love to collect things. Beanie Babies were so popular that some people -adults and children alike- were willing to spend hundreds of dollars to collect a single animal that had been retired, and many spent hours on the web at auction sites.

If may be difficult for some observers to understand why Pokemon gadgets are so popular nowadays. However, most Ameriacan adults can compare the phenomenon to many others in the past. Nearly two decades ago, for example, one particular doll nearly caused riots in toy stores - it was the Cabbage Patch Doll. A young American lady living here in Okinawa told Japan Update that her own mother spent several nights searching for new Cabbage Patch dolls that she did not yet have. Store shelves were stripped as soon as they were stocked, all for a plastic-faced doll, that came with an adoption certificate that could be mailed away. To a young girl, the idea of adopting a "baby" was exceptional - thanks to an ingenious marketing plan.

Of course, like all fads, the Cabbage Patch Doll too died out. As will the Pokemon craze. So, maybe the question shouldn't be "why?", but "when?" What will the next mania be? For sure, many marketing specialists out there must be already trying to figure out clever strategies for the new popular whim of the new year.

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