From video games and animated TV shows to worldwide events and even an (albeit confusing) trading card game, Pokémon has not only ingrained itself into contemporary culture, it's also touched our hearts in many extraordinary ways. If someone says they didn't cry during Mewtwo Strikes Back, when Ash gets turned into stone, that person is lying. How could you not when gazing at that sorrowful, tearful expression on Pikachu's face? This is only but a tiny moment in a story that has lasted nearly 24 years, gifting us memories that we shall cherish for a lifetime.
Such is the case with a franchise that has now lent itself even to the live-action genre, a category of anime film design that isn't easy to pull off (let alone beating out the video game movie curse itself). Raking in over $400 million worldwide on Detective Pikachu alone, and with the upcoming release of Masters, in addition to Sword and Shield in November, it will be interesting to see how Pokémon will steal our hearts this time...
That is, if they haven't already.
The very first Pokémon games debuted in Japan for the Nintendo Game Boy system on September 27th, 1996. At first having to change the name from "Capsule Monsters" to "Pocket Monsters" due to trademark issues, Pokémon was then born with a Red and Green version, of which are among the 5 best Pokémon games. Their immediate success led to an updated Blue version, manga series, and even a "Legendary Pokemon Offer" event in order for fans to retrieve Mew in-game. Thus was the start of an everlasting relationship, one that grew and blossomed across the world in ways unimaginable.
International acclaim wasn't an easy task, but with the beautiful mind of Satoshi Tajiri, the reach of Nintendo, and the face of Pikachu, Pokémon grew into one of the most successful video game franchises, rivaled only by Mario. Well into the late 1990s, Pokémon soared to new heights with an animated cartoon series, Pokémon center stores, and the release of Mewtwo Strikes Back, which more or less sealed the franchise as a worldwide phenomenon. By the time Yellow version was released in America on October 25th, 1999, it was clear the once cute and cuddly "Pocket Monsters" had taken the world by storm.
Though the first four titles were largely based on Japanese areas, like Eastern Chūbu as Kanto, Kyūshū as Hoenn, Izu and Bonin as the Sevii islands and Hokkaidō as Sinnoh, the Pokémon company sought to draw the world into their games using creative ingenuity. Unova, from Black and White, would be the first step in this outward process by drawing on the likenesses of New York City and parts of New Jersey. This new trend became an even better way for Pokémon to reach across the globe, with Kalos mirroring metropolitan France, Alola appearing similar to Hawaii, Orre based on Arizona, and even the upcoming Galar region being inspired by the United Kingdom.
It may seem as though this new creative concept had broken all the barriers, bringing Pokéfans together from all over the world, but in fact, that was a job for Pokémon Go. Very few mobile applications have taken off with international acclaim quite like Go. Released in 2016, the mobile game gave fans an even more streamlined experience, an adventure using augmented reality that gave us all the ability to catch wild Pokémon right outside our homes. Not only did the game bring fans closer together unlike ever before, it also led to an estimated $795 million profit by 2018 and even helped to initiate the remake of Yellow, Pokémon Let's Go with integrated features.
With an armored Mewtwo now in Pokémon Go, making the game that much more special, and with Masters only two days away from launch, Pokémon mobile gaming is still going strong.
Did you know? There are more Water-type Pokémon than any other type! 🌊🌊🌊— Pokémon GO (@PokemonGoApp) August 25, 2019
A Journey Just Begun
It took Satoshi Tajiri several tries to pitch Nintendo on the series. Only when the legendary Shigeru Miyamato, the mastermind behind Mario and Zelda, got involved did the Japanese gaming company pick up on its potential. Now, well into almost 24 years of its existence, Pokémon has had a long, heartfelt journey mirroring that of Ash's own quest. Fans far and wide still congregate in the masses all across the globe, whether it be in card games, Pokécenter events, online battles, or friendly catch-a-thons using Go together. The hunt to catch them all and be the best is not a singular mantra, it's a way of life for every single fan.
As the story continues well into the future, there are countless ways to get in touch with that Pokémon master in all of us. What makes this franchise so special is this very power, the ability to draw us all together in ways both friendly and competitively. It's not for one, it's for everyone. Pokémon will only continue to thrive and bring us all closer together in creative ways, drawing their world fuller as they bring us into that fold, as well.