Friday, May 20, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Pokemon

Remember back in the fall of 1998 when an unusual little Gameboy game called Pokemon was released in America after having already conquered Japan? Remember how a freaking phenomena was created from that little game? Well, I must confess that I eventually did get swept up in the madness. I didn't buy into it at first, but by December of 1999, I had become a Pokemon fan. It was very gradual. I became fully aware of Pokemon when Nintendo Power created one of their special videos and I received it in the mail. It used the popular anime as a jumping off point, talking about the various types of Pokemon, how the system works, and so forth. My reaction honestly was just, "Whatever." Even more to the point, the first Pokemon game I ever played was not the typical one. It was Pokemon Snap, a game for the Nintendo 64 where you play as a photographer taking pictures of various wild Pokemon on an island. (I'll do a full review of that game next.) I bought it just on a whim because, even though I didn't have any interest in Pokemon at that point, that game looked fun. And I enjoyed it.

My liking of Pokemon Snap eventually led me to getting more interested in the franchise as a whole. I soon began watching the anime (I'll explain how that came about later) and I liked it. And as a result, I eventually started playing the actual Gameboy games. Before long, I was another Pokemon lover. I didn't go deep into it as some did, though. I never did much with the trading cards (I liked them when I ended up getting them in a game or so but that was it), I never battled my friends by hooking two Gameboys together, etc. I guess what I'm saying is that I didn't take it that seriously. I just saw it as a fun hobby. I actually saw a news program about how some kids were taking it way too seriously, using it as a gambling method and as a form of cockfighting. I didn't understand it then and I don't understand it now how someone could get so serious over a game. I also want to say I wasn't ashamed of being a fan of Pokemon but because there were people at my high school who thought it was the dumbest thing ever, I did have to be discreet about my liking it.

Now I'll go into how I felt individually about the Gameboy games and the anime, since they're actually two different versions of the same franchise.

The Games

I'm sure everybody knows what the Pokemon games are all about: they're RPG-style games where you journey throughout the land, catching as many different types of Pokemon as you can and using them in battles. Many individual Pokemon can evolve into more powerful forms when they reach a certain number of experience points, if you use a special item on them, or trade them from one Gameboy to another. You also run into other Pokemon trainers like gym leaders whom you have to battle in order to advance. Simple but very long games. (I'm not sure exactly what happens at the end of any of the games, if they even have endings, because I never got that far but whatever.) This was the only Gameboy game I ever remember having a strategy guide of any kind due to its sheer complexity and popularity.

When the game was first released in North America, it came in two versions: Red and Blue. I honestly don't think there was ever any real distinction between the two versions so I don't get what the point was. When you start out, you have three different Pokemon to choose from. Depending on which version I played, I would usually pick Charmander for the Red version and Squirtle for the Blue. Later, they released a special version called Pokemon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition, which took advantage of the color palette of the Gameboy Color and followed the anime more closely, with you basically playing as Ash and getting stuck with Pikachu as your first Pokemon. (I remember that you could actually turn to Pikachu and a little window with its face would pop up, showing you how it was feeling at the moment.) Pikachu honestly was never my favorite Pokemon. I was always a fan of Bulbasaur, Hitmonlee (whom I thought was named "Hippolee" for a long time), Hitmonchan, and Meowth, among others. I also remembered not understanding the fighting system of Pokemon and how it resembled rock-paper-scissors. But as I started to play it more and more, I quickly understood how certain Pokemon had advantages over others and vice-versa.

I actually almost completed the original Pokemon. I got near the end of the game where you have to face Mewtwo but I couldn't find a way to cross over to the area where you would do so. That bummed me out because I was looking forward to battling and hopefully capturing Mewtwo, since I always thought he was the coolest Pokemon of all. I found out from a friend how to get over to the island and I intended to do so. I never got it to it because, as I'll elaborate on later, I fell out of touch with the whole Pokemon franchise after a point.

The Anime

I found out that Pokemon was a TV show before I even knew it was a game. When I put in that video tape I received from Nintendo Power, the first thing I saw was Ash. Besides talking about the game, the video also introduced various parts of the anime, like Pikachu, Team Rocket, Misty and Brock, and so forth. I didn't actually see the show until we were visiting family who lived in Wisconsin and I saw one episode of it on a local channel. I wouldn't see it again until the following Christmas when my mom got me several volumes of it on VHS. When I really watched it that time, I did like it. Obviously it's superficial and not exactly Masterpiece Theater when you look back on it as an adult but as a young twelve-year old, I did enjoy it. I liked the three main characters and even though Pikachu wasn't my favorite Pokemon, I did like its presence here as Ash's most faithful friend. I thought Team Rocket was funny, especially Meowth (whose voice changed not too far into the show). After a while, though, Team Rocket lost their charm and started to get annoying. The voice acting for all the characters wasn't exactly the best but I didn't mind it. (What I didn't get, though, was why the characters originally pronounced Pokemon as "po-ku-mon" but then switched a little while in and started pronounce as the accepted "po-kay-mon." I always wondered about that.)

Some things about the characters I liked and others I wasn't sure about. I liked Ash's determination and his caring for his Pokemon, but he could also be extremely stupid when it came to certain things. Misty I liked how she came across as a rather spoiled brat at first but slowly grew to care about Ash and become a more likable person. (She even forgot why she began following Ash in the first place.) How old was she supposed to be though? I'm assuming she's a lot older than Ash because she had a very feminine figure from the beginning. (Actually, let's not go into how anime has a habit of making certain age girls look sexier than they should.) I also liked Brock's transformation from a very serious character in his first couple of appearances into a much more laid back guy who goes ga-ga over any pretty girl he sees. One thing I didn't understand about the people in this world was why there were so many sisters who looked exactly alike and were named either Joy or Jenny and were also all nurses and police officers respectively. What are they clones or something?

There were some episodes that I did like. There was a very touching one called Pikachu's Goodbye, where the group come across a population of wild Pikachus and Ash makes the hard decision to leave his there. It's emotional because Ash is clearly hurting from this decision and we got a touching montage of all the times they shared. I thought the ending where Pikachu decides to stay with Ash and the latter's reaction was very heartfelt. You could tell that even though this wasn't exactly high art, they did try sometimes. There was also the episode where they encountered a Jigglypuff that would become a thorn in their side for episodes to come; it wanted to sing to people but its song was so soothing that everyone that listened to it fell asleep and in retaliation, Jigglypuff would mark scribbles on everyone's faces. There was a subplot when Charmander evolved into Charmeleon and it wouldn't listen to Ash due to his lack of experience. It carried over to when it evolved further into Charizard and liked seeing if Ash would eventually gain its trust (which he did but I didn't see that episode).

There was also the first movie, which was even called Pokemon: The First Movie, as if they knew this would become a franchise as well. I liked this movie when I saw it because it introduced Mewtwo, the cloned Pokemon who became my favorite. I was also surprised by how dark the movie actually is, with Mewtwo actually destroying the lab he was created in and apparently killing all the scientists. He also plots revenge of humankind and creates a storm to destroy the world. I was even more intrigued by Mewtwo's deep, creepy voice that would emanate from his psychic mind. Looking back on the movie itself, it was so-so, with really confusing morals when you think about it but due to the popularity of Pokemon at the time, it was a huge hit. It ended up being the only Pokemon movie I would actually watch or own in any format. There was also the short, Pikachu's Vacation, that came with it where Pikachu and all of the Pokemon of their respective trainers chill out in a playground like area. I thought it was funny and was refreshing to see the Pokemon outside of battling and just hanging out.

As I've said, I was a fan of Pokemon for a while. So what happened? Well, it wasn't an immediate thing where I just said, "I've had enough of this silly stuff" and just decided to leave it behind or even that I grew out of it. It was a gradual process, just like how I got into it was a gradual process. As I got deeper and deeper into high school, it became the number one priority and I just didn't have time for things like Pokemon anymore.  And after a while, I dropped out of it completely. I stopped playing the games and watching the anime. Eventually, I did just lose interest in it, as did many others. I guess it was just a fad that eventually petered out. There were things about the franchise itself that made me lose touch with it. Evolution was inevitable, I know, but as more and more different Pokemon were introduced, I became less interested. I liked the original 150 and honestly didn't care for all the ones introduced after that. A relative did eventually get me one of the more advance Gameboy versions (I think it was Silver) but by that point, I was out of it for good. As for the anime, Misty eventually left, and I didn't like the new characters that were introduced. I also felt that after a while, Misty was watered down because she had to be a surrogate mother to Togepi and it didn't allow her to do anything. I also didn't like how it went from Ash trying to catch every Pokemon there was to him just entering league after league and battling in championship after championship. I did get interested in the anime again in late 2006 but when I watched the newest season, the voice actors had changed and that destroyed my interest for good.

Now, Pokemon is a curious part of my life that was fun while it lasted but I doubt I'll ever go back to. It just became too different from what it originally was, for me, and now I'm just not interested anymore. (I guess I did grow out of it.) It may not be anywhere as popular as it was back in the late 90's, early 2000's but I'm amazed that the franchise is still going, both in the TV series and the games, with new versions still coming out. It's actually quite remarkable. Whether you like it or not, there's no denying that Pokemon is one of the most successful video game franchises ever (apparently, it's second only to Mario). And to all new fans of it, I say, "Power to them." Finally, to close, even though I'm not interested in it anymore, I'm not ashamed of having once been a fan of it. You can be addicted to much worse things than Pokemon, to be honest. I look back on my years as a Poke-fanatic with nothing but a smile and I wish things were as innocent today as they were back then. And that's my little retrospective on what Pokemon meant to me in its various forms. Hope you enjoyed it and hope you can relate if you were in similar circumstances at that time.

No comments:

Post a Comment