It’s Pokemon Day! According to what’s trending on Twitter. Also, it’s National Pancake Day and I really thought these two days should go hand-in-hand (I don’t wanna work, I just wanna jam pancakes down my throat all day). And that got me thinking, there was a time when I’d wake up early on Saturday mornings to a pancake breakfast, and watch the latest episode in the Pokemon animated TV series. The franchise has come such a long way since its inception. Being lucky enough to witness its claim to fame, and in the spirit of Pokemon Day, here’s a few memories I’d like to share when the Pokemon count was still within 151.
Well, okay, I don’t remember how it started for me. Pokemon, in its early days, took the nation by storm. No, it was a global phenomenon. Whether my immersion into the series was due to the Game Boy games, the trading card game, the TV show, or the toys, I can’t pinpoint where it all started. However, I do know that I had my hands in all of these ‘honey pots’ as it were.
For me, Pokemon ‘blasted off at the speed of light’ during middle school. I absolutely hated my time in middle school. It was a place where I was beginning to come into my own as a teenager, leaving behind, in some ways, the throes of childhood. Middle school was also the place and time when I felt robbed of my identity Monday through Friday by only being permitted to wear a pre-approved school uniform.
Despite that, before class, and in between them, I’d meet with my classmates in the classroom corner to discuss the latest episode of the show, attempt to sing the PokeRap by memory, and, of course, check out each other’s new Pokemon trading cards. Mind you, I was more collecting the cards than actually playing at the time. Cards that I still have to this day. I recall a friend of my sister managed to get their hands on a first edition holographic Charizard card. How I sought that card above all else at the time. Numerous booster packs were torn open to no avail. But there was Charizard in front of me, a holographic first edition no less! Where some played the Pokemon trading card game with tenacity, some relegated to collecting trading cards as a more cosmetic, superfluous hobby. I took advantage of this. I ended up trading a Lapras for that Charizard. A Lapras you could get with practically every Fossil expansion at the time. No, I don’t regret it. That Charizard card sits in a Pokemon-themed card case on my shelf to this day.
Another thing I will never forget, so long as I live, is one Christmas morning when my sister and I finished unwrapping all our presents, taking in all our new beauties, when Mom and Dad pull out from behind their backs two surprise presents. Inside each was a Game Boy Pocket, red for me and yellow for my sister, along with Pokemon Red for my sister and Pokemon Blue for myself. Today, I’m curious just how many hours I logged into my personal copy. That save data is still there to this day. Funnily enough, another Christmas morning, my Mom and Dad did the same thing again, but with the special Pikachu Edition Game Boy Color that came bundled with Pokemon Yellow. I could have all the starter Pokemon now! Just like Ash Ketchum in the TV show.
The TV show! Oh man! How my sister and I would gawk at the TV screen for hours on end when new episodes aired. At birthday parties throughout the years, our aunts and uncles would give us the VHS tapes of the series so we could enjoy anytime we wanted to. Even today we’ll make reference to the show when teasing each other, singing the theme song, the Jigglypuff song, reciting the Team Rocket motto, as well as see who can do spot-on impressions of the Pokemon themselves. Then 1999 came along and with it, Pokemon: The First Movie. Gee how many times I returned to my theater just to collect all the exclusive trading cards. My favorite was the Dragonite with a messenger bag. When Pokemon The Movie 2000 released the following year, well, I still have Ancient Mew cards in their sealed wrappers even now.
Remember Pokemon Snap? Of course you do! What a different game that was at the time. It was a well deserved sigh of relief from catching Pokemon in the main series. This time you had to capture the perfect shot of them in action, or inaction in some cases. A quick toss of a Pester Ball or an apple would change that. Photographing Pokemon on a rail system doesn’t sound all appealing, but it was the fact that you could interact with the Pokemon and even change the properties of the levels that kept you coming back. Remember Blockbuster? You know, that place your parents drove you to where you could rent your movies and games? Well Blockbuster had this wonderful Pokemon Snap kiosk where you could pop-in you game cartridge and print your very own Pokemon pictures and turn them into stickers. My pictures of Mew, Charizard, and that surfing Pikachu adorn a blue notebook somewhere.
There are countless more memories I could go into detail over- Pokemon Stadium anyone? Alas, I wouldn’t say franchise fatigue settled in, but I found myself being preoccupied with other gaming pursuits. Around the time Pokemon Silver and Pokemon Gold released is also when the Sega Dreamcast dropped and a lot of time began to go there. Then the Nintendo GameCube came out and I was smitten over Luigi’s Mansion and Super Smash Bros. I never did get around to picking up Pokemon Silver nor Pokemon Gold, or any generation until Pokemon Platinum came around. My fondness for the series laid dormant on and off throughout the years.
It wasn’t until Pokemon X and Pokemon Y that I felt like an excited Pokemon fan again. I recall that it felt odd that the concept of Pokemon, at its core, remain unchanged over the years, aside from cosmetic or gameplay differences, and here I am immersing myself in this fantasy so easily again. Nevertheless, I absolutely enjoyed playing the games. In my mind, I didn’t think that the wonder and majesty of the 90s Pokemon phenomenon would ever return. Not too long after this moment, I was proven wrong.
The summer when Pokemon Go is another instance in the franchise’s history that I will not soon forget. The entire globe was overcome by Poke-Mania again. Heck, you were lucky to even create a username the day the game launched. The app would crash consistently, or you couldn’t login at all. Yet, what I admire about Pokemon Go is what it did for our communities. Never before had I seen socialization on such a small, personal level. Groups of friends would get caught up in the reverie of coming close as you could be to a real Pokemon trainer. People walking up and down the streets, meeting at parks, seeking out the nearest “gym” on the map. All it took is one passing glance, asking, “Pokemon?”, and getting a “yup” in return from someone you’ve never met to understand how impactful these pocket monsters truly are. It truly did hit the mainstream hard. On college campuses I can’t help but smile every time I hear the Pokemon Go overworld theme play.
Today, I’m playing Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon on and off. I rarely touch Pokemon Go. I’d rather play a full-fledged Pokemon game than on my phone any day. Today, I also recognize Pokemon’s staying power, at least in my life. Detective Pikachu launches next month, and that just looks too darn cute not to look into. Plus that amiibo, what a beast of a figurine! Honestly, at the rate I collect amiibo, which is one of each that ever releases, I’m kind of relieved there’s no Pokemon series. What I’m eagerly anticipating, however, is Pokemon’s eventual debut on the Nintendo Switch. I dream of a world where we can take our consoles outside, into the wild, both offline and online, to socialize, battle, explore, and trade Pokemon at an unprecedented scale. Kind of like a Pokemon MMORPG. I want lightning to strike again. I think the Nintendo Switch is the console to do it, and that time is now. Imagine Pokemon Day in the future, to be connected with other trainers beyond the limits of what a phone app can achieve.
To me, Pokemon really is true to its contracted name: Pocket Monster. Over the years I have moved on from the series and witnessed new experiences in the gaming industry. Yet, like finding a supposedly lost dollar bill in your pocket, Pokemon truly delights me in the knowledge and truth that the franchise never left me this whole time. This fan has been “caught” for a lifetime. Thank you, Pokemon! And Happy Pokemon Day!