Last Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the original release of the first Pokémon Gameboy game in Japan and the birth of a franchise, which has continued to be popular until the present day. Alongside video games, The Pokémon craze of the late ‘90s spawned a hugely popular cartoon television series which continues to this day, along with over a dozen feature-length movies, a collectible trading card game, and so many toys, comics and other merchandise that it’s impossible for any fan to live up to Pokémon’s motto and truly "catch ‘em all."
The television show introduced children worldwide to the idea of capturing, collecting and training pet monsters, and millions of viewers around the world have tuned in to watch the adventures of Ash Ketchum, Pikachu, and their friends. The show put a strong emphasis on the friendship and learning aspects of the Pokémon games, encouraging viewers to be the very best at Pokémon training.
With a series as expansive and popular as Pokémon, there are plenty of facts and interesting trivia that even the most die-hard fan probably won’t have heard before. Here are 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Pokémon.
13 Ash and Gary are Named for The Creators of Pokémon and Mario
In the Pokémon cartoon, the hero Ash has a longstanding rivalry with another child from his hometown, Gary – over the course of the series, the two characters bump into each other periodically, trading insults and jibes as they collect gym badges and capture Pokémon. Ash always feels inferior to Gary, who’s often shown to be ahead of him in terms of Pokémon knowledge and skill.
The names Ash and Gary come from the names of the characters used in Japanese anime – for English-speaking audiences, Satoshi became Ash and Shigeru was dubbed as Gary, as these names match the sounds of their Japanese counterparts. Satoshi is named for Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of the Pokémon games, while Shigeru’s name comes from Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the brightest stars at Nintendo, who was responsible for the creation of Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Zelda, and many other popular video game franchises. What’s more, Miyamoto was responsible for convincing Nintendo executives to accept Satoshi Tajiri’s pitch for Pokémon, and worked closely with the team to ensure that the game was as well-built as possible.
In naming the rival character Gary, Satoshi Tajiri was paying tribute to his idol, mentor and friend, acknowledging that however far Pokémon may go, Miyamoto’s creations are still very far ahead.
12 uri Geller Once Sued Nintendo Over a Pokémon
Famous Israeli stage psychic Uri Geller, who is known particularly for his claim of having mental powers strong enough to bend spoons, once sued Nintendo over allegations that the Pokémon Kadabra is an unlicensed copy and parody of Geller himself. As evidence, Geller pointed to Kadabra’s use of a spoon as a psychic aid, and the fact that in the Pokémon anime, psychic type trainers are often shown trying to bend spoons with their mind. Furthermore, Geller argued that Kadabra had an anti-Semitic design, claiming that the Pokémon’s large nose and facial hair are common tropes for making fun of those of Jewish heritage.
It’s believed that as a direct result of the lawsuit, Nintendo have opted to avoid producing any more Pokémon trading cards which feature Kadabra – no cards have been printed featuring the Pokémon since 2003, and new Abra cards often come with the ability to skip the middle stage of their evolution to avoid Kadabra entirely.
This isn’t the only time Pokémon’s come under fire from the Jewish community – in 1999 the Anti-Defamation League criticized Nintendo’s use of the manji, a traditional Buddhist symbol, in one of their cards, mistaking the symbol for a Nazi swastika. In deference to the League’s requests, Nintendo ceased production of the card and ultimately changed the design before it returned to print, a move which was welcomed by the Jewish community, who then praised the company for their cultural sensitivity.
11 Clefairy Was the Original Pokémon Mascot
While Pikachu is undoubtedly the best-known Pokémon, it was originally intended for the pink, curly tailed Clefairy to take on the role of mascot for the series and appear as the main Pokémon character in the anime.
Clefairy was one of the first Pokémon designed, and is the main character in the original Pokémon manga adaptation. In the comic, Clefairy is capable of speech, and typically expresses a very crude sense of humor, unlike the ultimate direction of the anime series. The original pilot for the anime showed Ash receiving a Clefairy, but the character was ultimately changed to Pikachu. This was done because it was believed that Pikachu would better appeal to female viewers, considering Clefairy’s crass nature in the manga. Pikachu was also chosen because designers felt that yellow is a more recognizable color to spot from a distance, making the Pokémon mascot more recognizable.
The Pokémon manga starring Clefairy remains very popular, and has continued circulation in Japan to this day. In addition to this, a Pokémon syndicated newspaper comic strip ran briefly in American newspapers between 2000 and 2001 – while Ash and Pikachu are the protagonists of the strip, the comic also features a bashful Clefairy who attempts to overcome anxiety and insecurity in battle.
10 A Presidential Candidate Once Quoted Pokémon in a Speech
Pokémon’s effects on popular culture have been far-reaching, and references to the cartoon have sometimes turned up in very unexpected places. In 2011, Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain made a speech in which he quoted the words of "a poet" who wrote about overcoming seemingly impossible odds. The speech was well-received at the time, but Pokémon fans were quick to call foul when they recognized that Cain’s quote actually comes from the lyrics to the theme song for Pokémon: The Movie 2000.
Cain ultimately suspended his campaign, amid allegations of sexual harassment and because of the strain that the campaign was placing on his family. In his suspension speech, he again took the opportunity to quote from the second Pokémon movie – this time, reciting more of the lyrics from the song and rightly attributing the words to their original source. This marks the first time that a Presidential candidate has uttered the word ‘Pokémon’ in an official speech, but as the Gameboy generation grows older and gets into politics, it may not be the last.
9 ‘Pikachu’ Literally Means ‘Crackling Squeak’
Pokémon names are known for often featuring wordplay that is descriptive of the monster’s nature – this can be seen with Pokémon such as Snorlax (a portmanteau of "snore" and "lax"), Bulbasaur (combining the words "bulb" and "dinosaur") and plenty of others.
One Pokémon name which might not be obvious to native English speakers is that of Pikachu – the character’s name is the same in Japan, and is made by combining two common onomatopoeic Japanese sounds. ‘Pikapika’ is used to describe the sound of sparking electricity, while ‘chuchu’ is used in place of a mouse’s squeak. Thus the name Pikachu references both the electric quality and rodent nature of the character – but only if you speak Japanese.
There are plenty of other clever foreign-language references in English Pokémon names, such as the names of the three legendary birds, Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, whose names reference the first three numbers in Spanish – uno, dos, and tres.
8 Several Pokémon Episodes Have Been Withheld for Inappropriate Content
While the Pokémon anime is, for the most part, a heartwarming story of friendship and love, every now and then the animators have made decisions which have been considered culturally inappropriate in various parts of the world.
Two early episodes of the cartoon have never been shown in the West – an episode where a Clint Eastwood-inspired park ranger repeatedly threatens Ash and friends at gunpoint, and an episode where James from Team Rocket uses a fake body suit to give himself enormous breasts so that he can squeeze into a tiny bikini and enter a beauty contest. The episode which features an over-reliance on handguns has never been localized into English, while some snippets of footage from the episode entitled "Beauty and the Beach" later appeared as a flashback in the Western version of an episode about dreams.
The most infamous episode of all time has only ever aired the once in Japan, and was never regionalized into any other language. The episode in question featured the Pokémon Porygon, and culminated in Pikachu performing a particularly colorful thundershock. The quick flashes of light during this explosive conclusion to the episode was responsible for triggering seizures in many of the Japanese children watching the show, and many had to be hospitalized. As a result, the Pokémon anime went on hiatus in Japan for several months, and none of the Porygon evolutionary line have appeared in a major role in any episode of the anime since.
7 The World’s Rarest Pokémon Card is Worth Around $20,000
Anybody who grew up during the height of Pokémon’s fame will remember the schoolyard battles and politics that erupted around the trading of Pokémon cards during this era. Friendships were won and lost over cards, and some of the rarest gems changed hands for large amounts of money. While most common Pokémon cards are barely worth anything now that the craze has somewhat lost its early fire, there are still a few cards out there that have held their value. One such card is the "Illustrator Pikachu," which is currently the rarest Pokémon card in existence.
In November 1997, CoroCoro Comic ran a special contest asking fans to submit their own designs for Pokémon cards. Three winners and twenty runners-up were chosen, each one receiving the coveted "Illustrator Pikachu" card – a similar contest the following year gave more children the opportunity to get their hands on the same prize. As only thirty-nine copies of the card were ever distributed, they continue to hold an exceedingly high price – one sold for $20,000, while a collector in Illinois has been auctioning one copy with a Buy It Now price of $100,000 – since the auction has been repeating since 2013, it’s unlikely that anyone feels the card is worth quite this much.
6 An Academic Study has Accused Pokémon of Inciting Violence Among Children
Speaking of schoolyard scuffles over Pokémon cards, there is some academic evidence to support parental claims that Pokémon encourages violence. A study by Iowa State University in 2009 claims that violence levels shown in many television programs, including Pokémon, directly influences the behavior of children, leading to greater levels of violence and aggression.
While these results may seem damning, it’s important to note that relatively violence-free shows such as Scooby Doo were also named by the study as causing aggression levels to rise in children – suggesting that whatever social cues children are picking up from Pokémon, it’s not necessarily isolated to shows about monster fights.
5 Arcanine Was Originally Meant to be a Legendary Pokémon
The original Pokémon games went through a development process that took over five years to complete, and in that time plenty of elements shifted around a lot. One part of development that’s drawn much attention and fan speculation is Arcanine, described in official media as "The Legendary Pokémon."
In the games, there are four "Legendary" Pokémon which only appear once in a single place in the game – in the anime, these characters are typically saved for the Pokémon movies and make a grander appearance than most. It’s believed that, originally, the large fire dog Arcanine was intended to be one of these legendary characters, before the idea was scrapped and the Pokémon gained a common pre-evolution which appears as a police dog in many episodes of the cartoon.
Some evidence for Arcanine’s earlier intended role can be seen in some scenes of the Pokémon cartoon, included a scene where Ash is trying to learn about legendary monsters and sees a stone carving of the three legendary birds and Arcanine, suggesting that at some point, this Pokémon was going to be a much bigger deal.
4 There Used to be a Human Gene named ‘Pokémon’
Scientists are known for occasionally abusing their power over the names of important scientific discoveries. In one such case, the team which discovered an important gene in the human body decided to name it "Pokémon." The Pokémon Company was not too happy about this, though, as the gene in question is involved in the development of some forms of cancer, and the company felt that this provided negative publicity for the franchise. After threatening legal action, The Pokémon Company successfully lobbied to see the name changed.
Strangely, The Pokémon Company haven’t reacted as negatively to a protein which scientists have named "Pikachurin" – this is possibly because, unlike the gene, this protein isn’t related in any way to the development of a disease. Instead, Pikachurin is a protein involved in the sending of electrical signals from the eye to the human brain – as it’s connected with electricity, scientists chose to name it after their favorite electric-type Pokémon.
3 Pokémon: The First Movie Once Held a Box Office Record
American fans of Pokémon (and their reluctant parents) piled into movie theaters in November 1999 to get a chance to enjoy the first full length animated Pokémon feature. While the movie didn’t receive overwhelming positivity from critics, it certainly succeeded with its target audience, to the point that the movie broke the record for the highest-grossing US opening for an animated film not released during the summer.
This record success was short-lived, however – a mere two weeks later, Toy Story 2 was released, overtaking Pokémon: The First Movie's record by around $30 million. Subsequent Pokémon movies have never quite managed to capture audience attention in the same way that the first did. While there have been over a dozen Pokémon movies, only the first three saw a theatrical release in the West.
2 Pokémon: The First Movie is a Very Different Film in Japan
Speaking of The First Movie, it’s been argued that much of the criticism the movie’s received over the years isn’t due to the original film itself, but rather the English-language version, which took multiple liberties with the plot and character motivation.
The original Japanese version of the movie tells a nuanced and morally ambiguous story about the ethics of cloning and the sanctity of life. In the original story, Mewtwo befriends a cloned human child, and is unable to come to terms with her death when it proves that the cloning process is imperfect. His actions throughout the movie are motivated by a desire to prove that his life has worth and that he’s more than just a failed experiment. All of this character motivation, including twelve minutes of footage showing Mewtwo’s backstory, were cut from the American release of the movie in favor of a world domination plot that provides a clear villain so that audiences know who to root for.
What’s more, while the character of Mew appears benevolent in the American dub of the movie, arriving just in time to stop Mewtwo’s evil plans, in the Japanese release the character is less righteous, attacking Mewtwo out of a belief that cloned life is naturally inferior and deserves to die. Fearing that Western audiences would react negatively to such a complex movie, its localization team dumbed down a lot of the philosophical arguments in favor of a moral theme warning that fighting is bad.
The power of Pokémon is undeniable – from box office records to academic studies, from expensive collectibles to scientific terminology, the franchise starring Ash, Misty and Pikachu has touched many aspects of modern life. As Pokémon turns 20, it’s interesting to think about how far the franchise has traveled thus far, and where it’s going next.
Do you have a favorite piece of Pokémon trivia? What’s your favorite memory from the games or the cartoons? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.