A few weeks ago, I had an unexpected trip down memory lane as I remembered the good ol’ days where Pokémon took the world by storm.
I’ve always loved Pokémon. I wasn’t exactly a Pokémon nerd who followed each episode of the English-dubbed anime (or the original Japanese anime, for that matter) or attended local trading card game tournaments, but I had my fair share of obsessions. Like many others, I totally dug the Pokémon video game. What is so fantastic about the handheld franchise was exactly the idea of Pocket Monsters. Teenagers could explore the Pokémon regions anytime and anywhere. It was a world that felt expansive and endless (151 Pokémon felt like a lot at the time) and was accessible all at the flick of a switch. It was a game that was super easy to get into and out of, with tons of people almost mixing the two together.
In Silver, I paid more attention to the dolls, posters, and other items I bought for my home in New Bark Town than making sure to clean my own room that I actually slept in. When Shapphire introduced the ability to place your purchases/gifts nearly anywhere in the room (given you placed a carpet) **plants, bed, and made spinny/jump/music note mats, hours and hours were spent in collecting nearly all the decorative items there were. Somehow, it was more enjoyable creating my virtual identity. This was all many years ago, and although I still love Pokémon and its core essence, I’ve grown up a tiny bit (if any at all) and sort of moved out of the “play the game” and “collect ’em all” phase. Gone are the days where my imagination could supplement everything that technical innovations could not employ at the time, and distant are the dreams of being able to live a lift of just catching imaginary creatures without having to go to school.
I remember having a small conversation with EFuzzy, discussing what it would be like if Pokémon were in reality, real (see what I did there?). Obviously, it would be awesome as h*ll (remember, folks, we must keep this blog PG) if Pokémon were real, but EFuzzy thought otherwise. He felt that certain Pokémon were creepy and potentially frightening. Though I can see Giratina or Drapion being a little scary and Ditto being, perhaps, icky and ugly, Pokémon by nature are human loving and are always looking for companionship (granted, Pokémon have personalities too and some may be more anti-relationship oriented). I mean, who wouldn’t want to catch/get/adopt a Pikachu or Mudkip?
Each Pokémon generation’s design have always been one of the franchise’s selling points. Each iteration of a new colored handheld video game introduces another 100-ish Pokémon to find, catch, and train. After the release of Pokémon Black/White, the roster count has reached a total of 649. Similar to movie and game sequels, Pokémon is sometimes criticized for milking the series by continuously producing new iterations of the game without large changes to the games. I must admit, I tried playing SoulSilver and Black on DS emulators, but despite clearly being a superior game in terms of gameplay diversity, the game mechanics were too old and the game premise quickly felt somewhat childish. I still plowed through the entire game, but ever since their monumental debut with Pokémon Red/Blue/Green/Yellow, GameFreak has never really changed the playing field and tried to help the Pokémon games evolve like the Pokémon themselves (see what I did there?).
649 Pokémon is definitely not a small amount of creatures to fight, catch, and train. Not to mention remembering what is what type and has what type of stats. With more and more elemental types and Pokémon species being made, the general design of each Pokémon becomes more and more variant. A number of old fans complain how the recent Pokémon look more ugly than their predecessors, causing a fair amount of original Pokémon fans to stop following the franchise. I personally have a soft spot for the older generations Pokémon (pre-Diamond), but I can still definitely pick out several Generation V Pokémon that are ridiculously cute (Reuniclus and Emolga). Regardless, the Pokémon franchise has always been successful, catching the attention of each young generation of kids with every new variation of the game. This situation is similar to the point of view of a high school teacher or college professor. Each year, the teacher or professor explains the same material, passes out the same test (or at least, somewhat similar versions), and answers familiar questions. What is even more amusing is that with every year, the instructor gets older, and by his or her tenth year of teaching, despite having aged a whole decade, the class he or she teaches is still composed of the same age group; they stay young forever. A lot of the design concepts for Pokémon deal with this same observation.
Ken Sugimori, (杉森 建), illustrator of the original artwork for the Pokémon games, always aims design Pokémon for the age group of kids; however, even though children of the same age group will always be the same age as another generation, their tastes and styles are subtly different. Over the years, Sugimori’s style has also evolved from a stiff, lightly shaded technique to drawings of people and creatures with more muscle definition and natural/fluid poses (there it is again!). These changes are probably a result of Sugimori’s constant attempts to stretch his creativity while designing a new set of Pokémon.
Pokémon game design doesn’t stop there, though, oh no. Each game of Pokémon introduced a new pair or trio of Pokémon trainers, as well as a slew of Pokémon opponents to fight and train against. My personal favorites is the male lead from from Gold/Silver, but I can’t forget the female from Diamond/Pearl because the scarves and hats (and not to mention her boots) in Generation IV make her look so cute.
When all is said and done, I still wish Pokémon were real. I’ve always just enjoyed the thought of having a personal being or companion-like creature that can form a bond similar to that of a best friend. A similar idea exists in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and the existence of dæmons. On a more wishy-washy note, I recently asked several of my friends to pick a Pokémon that they felt most comfortable with as a friend. This was idea that was inspired by the PokéHoodie Family, a collection artists on DeviantArt that commissioned a suite of avatars with themselves in Pokémon hoodies and lil’ Pokémon following behind:
AH! So adorable! The family’s closed, so no new members are allowed to join, but definitely check out each of these people’s deviantart pages because they are all fantabulous artists (hover your mouse over each picture to see the url). Though Pokémon are fictional and may never actually exist in real life, us fans can keep them alive by imagining them as such.
I neglected to mention in this post anything about the Pokémon game soundtracks composed by Junichi Masuda, and since there is no real need elongate this post anymore I will dedicate a future article to how the themes that we have come to know and love have changed over time; it’s actually quite fascinating. Some renditions of the Pokémon Battle Theme are better than others. Why is that?
I will cheerfully close this post with two audio clip that I’m sure all of you have heard of:
[audio:http://www.christopherhsing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Pokemon.mp3|titles=Pokemon Song 1]
[audio:http://www.christopherhsing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/PokeRap.mp3|titles=Pokémon Song 2]