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The Pokèmon Phenomenon

By Tawsif

I magine a world abundant in gaudy colours, where juveniles, instead of aspiring to become rock-stars or something like you'd expect them to, go around chasing unusual creatures and aspire to become their traders. Now, add a bunch of silly 'pocket monsters' which have to be trapped inside shiny, little balls, so that they can slip out of your grasp and drop into the river just when you happen to need them the most. Add some stereotyped dialogues. And, voila, you get Pokèmon, the flamboyant Nintendo-extravaganza that has set fire to the hearts of the naive, little kids all around the globe.

The introduction of the Pokèmon game in 1996 paved the way to the pretentious Pokè
mon craze, which is yet to reach its zenith. Money was there to be made, and the shrewd businessmen out there didn't miss out on the opportunity. They trailed the success of the game with Pokèmon animé series and the collectible Pokè
mon Trading Card Games. Soon, Pokèmon cards were introduced to the market, and the kids bought them like crazy. In a matter of months Pokèmon turned into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, thanks to the utter innocence or should we say gullibility of the juveniles.

It didn't stop there. A Pokèmon movie was made, followed closely by two sequels, all of which were blockbusters, and the Pokè-mania skyrocketed even further. Some avid gamers complained that the animé series and the movies looked rather silly, since they lacked in the ruthlessness, not to mention the authenticity of the Pokèmon -antagonists, the Team Rocket. After all, in the games the Team Rocket happens to be a dangerous and widespread source of crime. While in the animéthey only comprise of three characters- a dumb looking Jessie, a dumber James, and a talking (hence, even more irritating) Pokèmon called Mewtwo. In almost every episode the 'deadly' trio tries to steal either Pikachu or any other Pokè
mon belonging to Ash, and in the end are always sent flying into the distance, often due to Pikachu's Thunderbolt attacks or yet another mechanical failure in whatever weird-machine they'd been piloting. They always mark their departure with the typical "Looks like the Team Rocket's blasting off again" dialogue.

If you're smart enough, you don't need to watch each and every episode. After all, they always have the same plot.

Perhaps it's the lack of quality shows for the kids or perhaps it's because kids tend to fall for anything and everything which looks cute and makes a lot of unnecessary noise, or maybe it's all the 'stuff' they bring with them. Pokèmon has a huge influence on the youngsters all around the globe. Our country is no different.

With Cartoon Network airing the Pokèmon animé series, Pikachu and friends are gaining vast popularity in our country. The kids in Dhaka are already addicted to the Pokè mon cards, and the ill-fated parents are paying the price. Often, the teachers are facing troubles in the classroom due to too much fuss being made over the Pokèmon cards.

Of course, we ourselves used to throw tantrums in our times over GI Joe's and the lot. Then again, we were always content with half a dozen of GI Joe's. We never wanted to buy them in the hundreds!

According to the CNN archives, Pokèmon had been reported to have a rather pernicious effect on certain ill-fated kids. In Turkey, Seda Aykanat, a seven-year-old, jumped off her fifth-floor balcony, apparently believing that she was a Pokè
mon with superhuman powers. She was the second child in Turkey to do so.

The Health Minister of Turkey asked the health experts to study the effect of the Pokèmon 'cartoon' on children. The experts concluded that Pokèmon confused the children and distanced them from reality. The cartoon (or animé ; I don't care) was banned in Turkey for a significant period of time.

Of course, Pokèmon DOES teach the children the merits of friendship and teamwork. Then again, so does Captain Planet and most other cartoon-shows made for the kids. They don't have so much controversy, do they?

In a nutshell, Pokèmon is nothing but a dumb animé (or cartoon; whatever) which has captured the hearts of the gullible youngsters through utter flamboyance; there's nothing cool about that. Making a colossal fuss about it will only convince the juveniles into believing the bizarre facts depicted in the animé
, hence confusing their minds.

Unless you've been abducted by aliens in a mass conspiracy to subvert the human race (in which case refer to other more paranoid TV show) the chances are that you've heard of the new rage that's running hotter than the sun right now.

Just in case you HAVE been otherwise occupied for the past eight years, I'm talking about Pokèmon. There. That got you sitting straight, didn't it?

Pokèmon is the brainchild of Satoshi Tajiri, who in early 1984 decided that the then recently introduced Gameboy was the next ultimate thing, especially because it came with a data cable and allowed two Gameboy users to communicate and "exchange" as he puts it himself. The world of Pokèmon on the Gameboy made the gamer go out and capture, raise and exchange their "Pocket Monsters" with other players, thereby gaining new Pokèmon. Of course, to children, Pikachu and friends brought a whole new world to explore and a whole new genre of interests.

The Pokèmon games were first released in 1996 (Pokèmon Red and Green) and the trading card game soon after. The TV show started airing in Japan, and caught on like wildfire. Then, in 1998, Pokèmon exploded into the USA with the release of the first Pokèmon Movie, "Pokèmon: Mewtwo Strikes Back" and the subsequent invasion of the state of Kansas by Nintendo's latest and greatest creation. The Pokè
mon TV show started airing in September, the trading card games sold on like crazy, and the rest is history.

In Bangladesh, of course, Pokemania began with the TV series on Cartoon Network. Our hero, Ash Ketchum and his brave Pokèmon trainer friends set off on their Pokèmon trainer quest making new friends and saving people, Pokè mon and anyone else on the way. Of course, capturing the odd Pokèmon and overcoming the trials of a great battle or two and surviving the evil plans of Team Rocket to steal Pikachu (undoubtedly because it's just the cutest thing ever, though its amazing lightning powers probably help) just happens to be part of the bargain. That's never stopped heroes before, has it? And, of course, you've "gotta catch them all!" (for the uninitiated, the 150 Pokèmon originally released and any special ones that might tag along).

What is it about Pokèmon the TV show that's fired the hearts of kids in Dhaka? It's an awfully kiddy show (the mighty Pokè
mon say their names over and over again?) and Ash probably has the worst dress sense of any hero since Speed Racer. And, to top all of that off, there's the truly sad excuse for a bumbling villain team - Team Rocket.

But that doesn't really matter, does it? Pokèmon's not about flashy action, or incredibly rough language, or anything of the sort. Pokè
mon TV is about.... first and foremost... friends. The relationship between Pikachu and Ash, for example, is the one of the simplest and most telling stories of trust pulling people together and overcoming odds that you'll ever see. The other Pokèmon manage to give off this same message of together-against-the-odds and of teamwork over everything. Which is pretty cool, no matter how old you are.

Then there's the people of the show growing up. Ash is quite the hero type, but fans get to actually see him as he turns more and more into an actual role-model as he goes along; his courage and his taking risks for his friends, and the faith he shows in his friends. Which is not to say he doesn't have his flaws (as does everyone else) but kids CAN relate to that. I know I can.

Pokèmon also brings out the collector in kids. Which, of course, has been a controversy of sorts, seeing as how kids have been known to throw tantrums for cards (which is something I find silly to mention, because we've all thrown tantrums for GI Joe's in our days, and Tintins, and all that too), but on the whole it's a whole new arena for people to bond in. Not just pre-teens, too, because there've been reports of people buying 1000 tickets to the movie premieres to get the ULTRA-RARE-HOLOGRAM-CARDS that were out on promotion.

You have got to catch them all. And that's what it all boils down to.

Having said which, Pokèmon is here to stay. And it's a good thing, too. Besides the fact that its global exposure to Japanese culture, it's also been responsible for teaching teamwork and friendship to kids and sell stuff that has Pikachu on it anywhere in the world. Single handedly raising the cuteness factor all around the planet. Now THAT's cool.

By Lancer


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