When I was a kid I witnessed something huge, something that managed to define a generation of children and make a permanent change to pop culture. I am, of course, referring to the international phenomenon known as Pokémon.
It is easy to forget what a big deal this franchise was when it first came out. Granted, it is still unbelievably popular and marketable but it is no longer the all-consuming entity it was twenty years ago. When the Pokémon games first came out it became unavoidable. Kids couldn’t stop talking about it and their parents had to either find a way to drown it all out or embrace it full force. There was a Pokémon anime, Pokémon movies, Pokémon toys, Pokémon bed sheets, and let’s not forget the all-important Pokémon underwear. I think I even saw Pokémon coasters at one point. It is enough to drive you crazy when you think about how strange the basic premise is, yet this humble video game managed to take over the world and for about a year or so it looked like it would never disappear.
In the middle of all this was me, possibly the last kid in my school to find out about Pokémon. There was no build up, one day I got to school and literally everybody was talking about this weird Japanese cartoon where people catch animals in balls and make them fight. I had to see what they were talking about; otherwise I would have been the only one who was left out. Soon, I was right there with the rest of them, catching strange monsters and then bragging about it to my friends.
I guess every generation of kids has its own version of the Pokémon craze, but this particular generation can boast something no other generation really can. We never really outgrew it. Pokémon is still popular with kids, but the honest truth is that the franchise makes its real money off adult fans that still play the games. When I was a child it was more than a game, it was an invitation to be part of a greater community of fans and all these years later it is still bringing people together. All someone has to do is admit to being a fan of Pokémon and that creates an instant connection brought about through a shared experience. A connection that no other medium could have provided.