While fads come and go, this is never an excuse to ignore them. If you are a parent with young children1, or a relative of such a family unit, you will find your life eased somewhat if you take the time to acquaint yourself with your children's interests, or at least have enough basic knowledge to bluff your way out of a corner with enough kiddie credibility to avoid future embarrassment.
Pokémon, while not as insanely popular as it once was, is still a favoured fad among children because, liked or disliked, fresh or foul, it has become the spawning ground for dozens of similar concepts in toys, card games and console cartridges.
The root of the Pokémon series is in the Nintendo games, and there have been loads.
The basic concept of most of the games is simply to:
- Battle your monsters against other trainers' monsters
- Evolve monsters into more powerful monsters with equally stupid names
- Breed baby monsters (in later versions of the Game Boy games)
- Defeat the half-baked plans of Team Rocket
- Become champion of the world at the expense of all others
The ideals of becoming champion are tempered with the idea that you should love and befriend your monster companions. The fact that these games have fostered playground bullying far beyond the simple swapping of football or baseball cards has nothing to do with anything.
Pokémon Blue, Red, Green and Yellow
The original monochrome Game Boy version of the game required you to collect 150 monsters, defeat eight Gym Leaders and then finally defeat the Elite Four.
The game was translated, with padding, into the first series of the Pokémon cartoon. The Green version was only available in Japan, while the Yellow version allowed you to have a permanent Pikachu companion. The difference between Red and Blue was that you could only collect certain monsters in each and had to have both to complete the set. The introduction of Game Boy Colour led to an effort at spot-coloured versions of these games.
Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal
The updated, full-colour Game Boy version of the original that followed the same basic story in a slightly different setting.
Defeat the eight Gym Leaders of Johto and the Elite Four and then you can go off to defeat the original Gym Leaders and the Grand Champions Blue and Red from the original games. Crystal allowed you to play either a male or female trainer and included a few additional story elements not in the original games. The selection of accessible monsters was again split between Gold and Silver and expanded by another 100 monsters to excite new interest and maximise profits.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire
A further Game Boy Advance update of the original concept with enhanced graphics, more characters to battle and a further enhanced and expanding selection of Pokémon to ensure that the rest of the merchandising chain can continue to draw profit from struggling parents and demanding kids.
Pokémon Stadium I and II
A Nintendo game console concept that allowed kids to battle their monsters on the big TV and buy an extra piece of hardware to transport monsters from their Game Boy cartridges.
Pokémon Puzzle League and Puzzle Challenge
A variation on Tetris2 that requires you to form combinations of four or more similarly coloured bricks to get rid of them. On the console game it could be played in a 3D tube-like version, in two player mode or as an increasingly finger-numbing challenge mode. On the handheld Challenge version the puzzles were tied into a fairly weak map/story concept.
Pokémon Trading Card Game
An odd game that translated the Pokémon trading game (discussed below) into a Game Boy game that required you to defeat Gym Leaders and an Elite Four in trading card game battles.
A stab at first-person computer games with the bullets and big guns pulled out of the equation. Snap, the main character, roams around various levels trying to take top-class photographs of scampering and cavorting Pokémon in their natural environment.
Hey You! Pikachu!
An opportunity to look almost as deranged as people who use hands-free phones and earpieces with mobiles in the middle of the street. The game included a microphone that mounted on the back of the standard Nintendo game controller and allowed the player to shout frantically at the TV screen like some deranged beggar. The kinks and problems of voice recognition technology and regional accents meant only a fraction of the prospective players could say a single thing that the game could translate and understand.
Stretching the concept yet further, a chance to fight and evolve Pokémon in a pinball game with a Red and a Blue table. Mini-games featured Meowth, MewTwo and others.
A marketeers dream, the Mini-Games are tiny-screened handhelds that take a single idea - such as a card game and give it a Pokémon twist - and a Pokémon price tag.
Bluffing the Computer Games
The easiest way to impress a child is:
If they're playing Red, Blue or Yellow - proclaim you have a Level 100 Mew, MewTwo, Surfing Pikachu and Pikablu3.
If they're playing Gold, Silver or Crystal - proclaim you have captured all the Legendary Birds and Dogs4 and trained them to Level 100 and got a Celebi from the Nintendo roadshow.
If they're playing Stadium - proclaim you have a Level 100 Amnesiac Psyduck.
If they're playing Ruby or Sapphire - proclaim the whole series is passé and you've started collecting stamps or marbles.
You might also want to try: 'Have you caught the XXXth Pokémon yet? Powerful or what?' - where XXXth is equal to a number higher than the current known limit of Pokémon.
The TV Series
The TV series was originally based on the Game Boy game, but now the relationship has been blurred. There are 51 episodes in series one, 52 episodes in series two and three, and 50 episodes in series four.
Series One: The Original Series - charting events from the Game Boy game with additional padding to bring in the enormous number of total episodes that primarily see Team Rocket trying to kidnap Pikachu and other unusual Pokémon, and Ash earning his first six Gym badges.
Series Two: The Orange Island League - after being knocked out in the fifth round of the Pokémon League Championships in episode 26, Ash heads out to the Orange Island League Championships from episode 28. Brock leaves in episode 31 and the team is joined by Tracey, a Pokémon Watcher.
Series Three: Johto Journeys - after winning the Orange Island League, Brock returns in episode ten of season three, and the journey to the new continent of Johto starts in episode 12, with new Pokémon and a new Championship.
Series Four: Johto League Champions - the Johto League Championship continues...
The basis of most episodes is a new Pokémon, a missing Pokémon, a battle with a Gym Leader, or a plot by Team Rocket. The primary characters throughout these episodes are:
Ash Ketchum - young upstart Pokémon enthusiast who follows the call of destiny and stands centre-stage in the Pokémon merchandising empire.
Pikachu - electric mouse Pokémon, friend to Ash, target to Team Rocket and key cute subject of hundreds of marketing tricks.
Misty - Cerulean City Gym Leader, water Pokémon expert and girl-power focus for the series. Her main Pokémon pals are Togepi and Psyduck.
Brock - Pewter City Gym Leader, earth Pokémon expert and incapable girl chaser. His main Pokémon allies are Onyx and Zubat.
Tracey Sketcher - Pokémon Watcher who replaces Brock for a time in the Orange Islands stretch of Ash's journeys. His main Pokémon are Marril and Venonat.
Jesse - feisty female member of the regular and inept Team Rocket trio responsible for tracking down and kidnapping Pikachu.
James - somewhat limp male member of the Team Rocket trio, high born and under the thumb of the foul tempered Jesse.
Meowth - streetwise Scratch Cat-species Pokémon who talks with a thick New York accent.
Giovanni - Viridian City Gym Leader and Machiavellian head of the shadowy Team Rocket organisation.
Professor Oak - respected expert on most things Pokémon and known throughout the world for his knowledge and research.
While there are mounds of other characters, knowing this scant information should be enough to cover you for the couple of hundred episodes that make up the series.
Trading Card Game
The whole Pokémon trading card phenomenon has passed its peak, although valiant efforts are being made to revive it. It started in Japan and was translated into the western world by Wizards of the Coast, who are responsible for reincarnating Dungeons and Dragons and turning geeks into rich geeks with the 'Magic: The Gathering' trading card game.
The game involves constructing a deck of Pokémon, along with energy cards to feed them and other cards to perform special actions or provide power-ups, and then battling against another player's deck. If a player wins a certain number of battles, or the other player runs out of cards, they win.
There are too many different sets to be worth bothering with, so the key terms are:
Foils (or holofoils) - these cards are rendered in vaguely holographic foil that looks like those little holograms you find on banking and credit cards. The foil manufacture technique tends to result in the cards curling slightly towards the corners. Originally the cards were unique and powerful, and therefore became the target of much attention and playground bullying. Foils are now usually versions of existing ordinary cards.
E-Cards - an attempt to generate more revenue through the need for additional hardware. The seemingly standard trading cards have an embedded magnetic strip that allows collectors to run them through something like a credit card reader to find hidden information and powers. Reincarnation of a mid-1990s barcode reader fad in toys that never quite took off.
Bluffing the Trading Card Games
While powerful cards command considerable prices and are extremely expensive to find if left to chance by buying packs of cards, there is another route to bluffing success. Look to online auction sites and purchase the latest pack of Pokémon cards from Japan, then make up your own translations of their powers while showing them to dumb-struck youngsters.
Useful phrases include:
'My Psychic Cannon Blast does 100 damage to everything on your bench.'
'This little beauty is totally immune to sleep, confusion, poison and paralysis and starts with five energy cards.'
'If I get a heads I heal all my damage and if I get "tails" you take a hit for 100 damage on your active Pokémon.'
'When I use the Dark Whirlwind attack I get to throw your entire deck across the room. You lose any cards that land face up.'
While great for impressing youngsters such cards are not tournament-legal outside of the originating country unless an equivalent translated card exists, so don't get clever and think you can bluff your way through an official Trading Card League event.
The concept has spawned a tidal wave of other merchandise, sufficient to swamp a small town.
Fancy dress costumes that allow children to storm around the neighbourhood looking daft and having only a passing resemblance to the Pokémon they are meant to represent.
Large quantities of confectionery that have Pokémon on the wrapping but look like standard sweets in every other respect.
Logo-based cover-versions of old standards such as Snap, Monopoly and Yahztee that introduce virtually nothing new to the concept except a higher price tag.
A yellow car painted to look like Pikachu, including a tail on the rear end.
There have been five Pokémon films so far that have been translated into languages other than Japanese. The basic plotline is Ash and friends must rescue/defeat X who has Y, thereby averting Z.
Pokémon: The First Movie - genetically-altered super-Pokémon seeks meaning in existence by cloning other Pokémon and threatening the world.
Pokémon 2000: The Power of One - greedy trading card/Pokémon-collecting lunatic collects three Legendary Pokémon that will allow him to release a final Legendary Pokémon to complete his collection, but will potentially destroy the entire world.
Pokémon 3 - grief-stricken child who has the incomprehensible power of the Unown at her command threatens conversion of the world into a crystalline state and kidnaps Ash's mum.
Pokémon 4Ever (Celebi: A Timeless Encounter) - when Celebi uses its powers of Time Travel to escape a hunter in the past, it becomes the target of Vicious, a Team Rocket member from the future, armed with a Dark Ball that will turn Celebi to evil and threaten the entire world.
Pokémon 5 - yep... another one. The fifth movie involves a mysterious waterbound city plus Latias and Latios, two new Pokémon, known as the Guardian Spirits of the Water Capital.
In all instances the American version has:
- Made slightly more sense than the Japanese original
- Added more moral values and cheesy final thoughts
- Inserted or deleted various scenes to pander to the saccharine tastes of the western audience
Knowing the Copycats
As is common in the modern, competitive marketplace, Pokémon has become a target for copycat concepts. The majority of these have found their spawning ground in the Anime hotbed of Japan and undoubtedly many afficionados will declare that some preceded Pokémon in their creation. However, for the purposes of bluffing you require only the basic details.
A bunch of kids with an affinity for a virtual world populated by evolving digital-monsters find themselves transported there and faced with the perils of the evil Devimon who is turning other monsters to evil by infecting them with black gears. The cartoon is one of the few, like Pokémon, to make it to the big screen and has almost as much merchandise - cards, videos, games, t-shirts, soft toys, fancy dress costumes and so on.
A great aspect of this series for the wannabe bluffer is that the kids involved have changed several times over the course of the cartoon series and movie, so it should be simple enough to make up new characters. Most Digimon creatures are named with a '-mon' ending associated with a vaguely common term - such as Devimon (devil), Seadramon (sea dragon), Angemon (angel) and Mushroomon (mushroom). To make your self-created Digimon more powerful add any of the following terms at the front:
- Were- (eg, Werefridgemon)
- Metal- (eg, Metalbiromon)
- Mega- (eg, Megapatiomon)
- Skull- (eg, Skullteapotmon)
- War- (eg, Wartumbledryermon)
Kid transported to a new world, monsters, training, defeating evil... nothing like Digimon at all. It too has spawned cartoons, video games and card games.
Although certainly preceding Pokémon, this is a thoroughly confusing martial arts epic involving wish-fulfilling crystals called Dragonballs, aliens, gods, Oriental mysticism and massive fights and battles. Originally a long running graphic novel series, the cartoon popularity has brought on action figures, trading cards and roleplaying games.
The primary character is Yugi Muto who is a master player of a card game called Duel Monsters and is seeking to save his grandfather from an evil, white-haired villain called Maximillian Pegasus, the creator of the Duel Monsters championship. Yugi wears an ancient Egyptian amulet that allows him to change into an older and more poker-faced card player, Yami Yugi. The characters all look thoroughly odd, and the series has its own card game, toys and associated spin-offs.
A marketing vehicle to sell a product if ever there has been one, the heroes of Beyblade battle with spinning tops that generate illusionary creatures in pursuit of becoming supreme champion. Spinning tops are invariably a core product here.
South Park - the Antidote
In the standard tradition of this 'out on the edge' adult cartoon show, South Park delivered the episode 'Chinpoko-mon'. The kids of South Park are running riot over the new fad Chinpoko-mon, cute little monsters freshly imported from Japan to the USA. The kid hero of the Chinpoko-mon cartoon series must collect all the Chinpoko-mon to allow him to fight the Evil Power. While Kyle lags one fad behind everyone else, Kenny suffers an epileptic fit and the parents of South Park are lost as to what the heck is going on. The plotline rapidly reveals that the Chinpoko-mon are being used to brainwash the kids of America to assist the Japanese toy manufacturer in bombing Pearl Harbour, while the Japanese businessmen offset parental concern by proclaiming that all American men have 'such large penises'. In the end the parents rescue the kids by taking an interest in Chinpoko-mon, which immediately renders the craze uncool and so they move on to another fad. Inevitably Kenny is revealed to have died some time ago and become a nest for rats.
While the references to penises may be a little disconcerting in considering this video of choice for your children, it is an ideal tool in undermining the Pokémon menace. The Chinpoko-mon will be vaguely familiar to Pokémon-fixated kids and you can quote them during Pokémon-related games to annoy and confuse. For reference, the primary Chinpoko-mon are:
- Lambtron - a yellow rat-like lamb with a laser
- Shoe - yeah... exactly that
- Furry Cat - a pink cat with a remarkable resemblance to Meowth
- Pengin - a purple Penguin
- Roostor - a robotic rooster
- Roostallion - evolution of Roostor
- Tchu-Tchu Nesbie