Nihon Day Twenty Four: A Guide to Pokemon

Unless you live under a rock (no judgments if that's the case), you have probably heard a barrage of news about Pokemon over the last week, due to the release of the mobile game, Pokemon Go. If you aren't tuned into Pokemon you might have thought something like "Pokemon? Didn't that die out in the early 2000s?". In which case, hell no it didn't. Or, if you have never been tuned in that direction you might have thought "What the heck is Pokemon?" Well, this post is for both of you, or for people who just like Pokemon, because I hope they enjoy it too.

Let's star by going way back to 1989, the year that the Japanese company, Nintendo, released the Game Boy, a handheld video game device. This was a pretty big deal back then, though I can't attest to that from experience, since I was still two years away from being born. No longer would you be tethered to the screen in your home, you could play video games wherever you wanted. No more boring trips to the grocery store, no more uneventful car rides. They were an instant hit. There was a demand for games and the video game designer Satoshi Tajiri had a pretty good idea for one. When he was a boy, he had enjoyed the hobby of insect collecting and decided to work from that concept. After years of development, in 1996, Nintendo released Satoshi Tajiri's Pokemon Red and Green.

These two NPGs (Role Playing Games) took place in a fictional universe where the world is populated by Pokemon. These animals came in a variety of species, a total of 151 in the first games. The goal of the game was to catch as many of these Pokemon as you could and to train them to fight. That sounds pretty intense, but it's actually super adorable and not terribly violent.

The name Pokemon came from Pocket Monsters or Poketto Monsuta, but Pokemon are usually as monstrous as real animals. From Pidgee, a small bird type Pokemon, to Rhyhorn, a large rhinoceros looking creature, many look familiar. Others, like Chansey, are just cute, while Grimer and Muk are just blobs of purple slime. All Pokemon have powers, usually based on what type they are. Pikachu, an electric Pokemon, can shoot lighting bolts, Squirtle, a water Pokemon, can shoot bubbles. When a Pokemon reaches a certain level they will often evolve into a different type of Pokemon. For example, Pikachu evolves into the bigger and more powerful Raichu. 

Pokemon Red, Green, and then the expanded Blue, were hugely popular in Japan and soon an anime was created around the story, and a trading card game. By 1998 the new Pokemon Red and Blue (based on the Japanese Blue) were released in the US, and soon Yellow which tied in both with the anime and the thee available colors of the Game Boy. If you were alive during the late 90s, and knew any children at all, you surely noticed the Pokemon craze. It was everywhere, children were obsessed, and I should know because I was one of them.

Now I didn't go to grade school (proud homeschooler) and I had recently moved back to civilization from the Alaskan bush, so this was my first real introduction to pop culture. And I LOVED it! My best friend, Nicole, and her brothers discovered it first and soon they had inducted me into the Pokemon universe. I didn't have a Game Boy and I didn't get cable TV, but I could get the trading cards. Like every other kid in America, I found these collectable cards highly addictive and would pester my mom for packs every time we left the house. I also discovered that you could rent VHSs of the TV show at our local Video Rental (ah the 90s) and this was my first introduction to Japanese cartoons. (Actually I had seen Totoro before that, but this was the first Japanese TV show I saw).

The TV show centered around Ash Ketchum, a boy who, like his viewers, has an insatiable desire to catch every single Pokemon. Once each Pokemon is capture, they become like friends to him and he trains them to fight other Trainer's Pokemon, so that he can win the "Pokemon League". Along the way he meets Misty, a girl obsessed with water type Pokemon, and Brock, a boy who wants to be a Pokemon breeder. Together they travel across the country (with no parental supervision) and collect Pokemon. The TV shows and later movies were a lot of fun, full of family friendly jokes and cartoon violence.

The Pokemon phenomenon may have lost some of the initial craze, but it is still the second most lucrative video game franchise in the word (the first is Mario). With every new Video Game that comes out there is a new generation of Pokemon, which means that at this point there are 729 known species. As someone who obsessively learned the names and evolution of each Pokemon for the first three generations, I find it disarming that there are so many that I've never heard of now. It seems that a lot of the original fans have been in the same boat as me, still holding onto their old card collections and fond memories, but a little out of the loop.

But that all changed when Pokemon Go came out last week, bringing Pokemon back to the millennials. If you haven't heard, Pokemon Go is a new mobile platform game, where in they use your actual GPS location to allow you to catch and train Pokemon on your phone. This is brilliant and I'm sure I'm not the only one whose inner child is going absolutely bananas. Suddenly twenty-thirty-somthings are talking about Snorlax and Psyduck again, their comparing catches, talking about the new "Hot Professor Willow", and throwing around the old pro jargon. The game makers seem to be catering to these nostalgic adults because they've gone ahead and only released the original 151 Pokemon so far.

I can imagine that this may be a bit bamboozling to non-initiates, so if you are one here are a few terms you might hear thrown around.

Pokedex: This is a devise that every Trainer in the game is given so that they can collect information about each species they find and catch. Trainers may be fighters, but they are also scientists. Pokedex is also sometimes used as shorthand for the lexicon of Pokemon species in general.

Poke Balls: This is a little round ball, usually red on top and white on the bottom, that is used for capturing and containing your Pokemon. This way you aren't walking around with a whole zoo of animals following you.

Starter Pokemon: These are the three Pokemon that you get to choose from at the beginning of all the games. It changes with every generation, but the original three were Bulbasaur, grass; Charmander, fire; and Squirtel (my favorite), water. The starter Pokemon are always from these three elements.

Gyms: These are places where any Trainer who wants to move up in the League can go to battle Pokemon Masters. In Pokemon Go there are a bunch of Gyms in towns where I believe you can fight other players. I'm not entirely sure how they work though, since I'm not at a high enough level yet.

Evolve: This is the process with which the Pokemon metamorphosis into their more mature forms. For example, Bulbasaur evolves into Ivysaur and then Venosaur, Charmander into Charmeleon and then Charizard, and Squirtle evolves into Wartorle and lastly into Blastoise. Usually each evolution makes the Pokemon bigger and more powerful. Evolution is permanent.

Attacks: These are the special abilities or moves each Pokemon has, usually somewhere around two or three per Pokemon. They depend on the type or element of the Pokemon and change with evolution. Most of them are pretty funny and cute, but very effective, like a paralyzing lick.

That's pretty much the basics of Pokemon, and I hope that this will help you navigate the new world in which Pokemon Go is a thing. Personally, I love the idea, though I don't really have the time to dedicate to it. However, I still love my trading cards and have started collecting again. For most of us, it is a fun memory from our childhood that has been brought back into our lives. It is very exciting, so don't judge people too harshly for suddenly reverting to their childhood.

My questions for you today is did you play Pokemon, and/or collect the cards? Who is your favorite Pokemon. Is there any other Pokemon jargon you'd like me to explain? Let me know in the comment section!

Until next time, good luck catching those Pokemon!

P.S. If your interested in the ins and outs of Pokemon card collecting, this is a great guide.