The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Look out! Here come
Pokémon's successors!

July 13, 2000
By Franklin Harris

Maybe it's a bit early to sound the death knell for Pokémon, but it's clear the phenomenon is past its peak, even if a second feature film, "Pokémon 2000," is scheduled to open in theaters nationwide on July 21.

A recent Los Angeles Times article by Roy Rivenburg quotes parents and shop owners who've all noticed diminished enthusiasm among children for Pikachu and his fellow pocket monsters. (Perhaps the tykes are all busy reading Harry Potter novels?)

For one thing, many children are moving on to other Japanese anime imports like Fox TV's "Digimon" and The WB's "Card Captors," both of which deal with vaguely similar themes while aiming at a slightly older audience.

And then there is Cartoon Network's increasingly popular "Toonami" lineup, which the network expanded to three hours this past week, 3 to 6 p.m. Not only does "Toonami" feature Cartoon Network's two most popular shows, "Dragonball Z" and "Gundam Wing," it now features a long-time favorite of teen-aged and adult anime fans, "Tenchi Muyo!"

"Dragonball Z" has already proved popular enough to get its own Burger King toy promotion. And as far as "Gundam Wing" goes, the owner of Anime Crash, a New York City shop specializing in Japanese merchandise, says in that Times article that "people are going nuts over it."

Now, as the saying goes, the plural of anecdote isn't data. So, I don't claim that my own informal survey is anything even remotely scientific. But I did note while visiting several area comic-book stores and toyshops this past weekend that there were an awful lot of parents about looking for elusive "Gundam Wing" toys and model kits.

As I said before in this column, expect "Gundam Wing" to be the Big Thing for Christmas.

If you're unfamiliar with the "Toonami" shows, here is a brief rundown:

  • "Dragon Ball Z" -- A martial arts/sci-fi cartoon in which poorly animated heroes and villains spend most of their time grunting and screaming at each other. After several episodes of this, a fight between them breaks out.

    I have no idea what children see in this, but it was incredibly popular in Japan, too. So it isn't just American youngsters who are brain-damaged enough to appreciate it.

  • "Gundam Wing" -- One of the more recent installments in a long line of "giant robot" cartoons. This version, based loosely on 1979's "Mobile Suit Gundam," features five boys sent by Earth's space colonies to attack the Earth Sphere Alliance, which has begun a campaign of oppression against the colonies. Eventually, the five become embroiled in Earth's political intrigues, as a secret society known as OZ is revealed to be behind Earth's militaristic behavior.

    While nowhere near as sophisticated as the original "Mobile Suit Gundam," "Gundam Wing" deals with issues of war, peace and pacifism in ways more intelligent than anything you'll find in American animation. Plus, there are lots of cool battles featuring heavily armed giant robots kicking the you-know-what out of each other.

  • "Tenchi Muyo!" -- Part romantic comedy, part space adventure, "Tenchi Muyo!" is the best show in the "Toonami" lineup. It follows the adventures of a boy named Tenchi Masaki as he encounters several extraterrestrial women, all of whom bring danger and some of whom are madly in love with him.

    Cartoon Network is showing three different "Tenchi Muyo!" series. The first, which is running currently, is the original, 13-episode, direct-to-video series, which most fans regard as the best of the three. Following it is "Tenchi Universe," known in Japan as "Tenchi Muyo! TV." And, after that is "Tenchi in Tokyo," which follows Tenchi as he goes to school in Tokyo and encounters new threats and a new would-be girlfriend, as if he needs another of those.

    The confusing part of all this is that the three "Tenchi Muyo!" series have nothing to do with each other, with each one contradicting the other. In fact, the first few episodes of "Tenchi Universe" retell the story told in the few episodes of the video series, changing numerous things along the way.

    Useless trivia: Kaga Takeshi, the flamboyant "chairman" on Food TV's Japanese-import hit, "Iron Chef," provides the voice for the main bad guy in "Pokémon 2000." But you won't hear him in the U.S. version, as an English-speaking voice actor has replaced him.

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