Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
Pokémon cartoon is like
cockfighting, except cuter


September 30, 1999
By Franklin Harris

I wrote two weeks ago that cable TV superstation WGN is no longer carrying the hit animated series "Pokémon," thus depriving children throughout the Tennessee Valley of one of their favorite 'toons. Now I've learned that WZDX-TV Fox 54 has added the sure-fire ratings winner to its line-up.

Of course, the programming geniuses at Fox 54 are putting the show on at 5:30 a.m., when no sane parent wants his children up and roaming. But there is always a catch, isn't there?

Fox 54 also has picked up four WB network programs. "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," "Charmed," "Dawson's Creek" and "7th Heaven" all air through the week at 12:30 a.m. Check your TV listings for your favorite show's day.

Meanwhile, Pokémon is certain to get another boost when "Pokémon: The First Movie" hits theaters Nov. 12.

If ever there was a movie set to break the Disney stranglehold on feature animation in America, this is it.

If all you know about "Pokémon" is that your children's love of it costs you lots of money, you should know that Pokémon began in Japan as a rather humble Nintendo game.

Pokémon the video game soon begat Pokémon comic books, which begat Pokémon cartoons, which begat Pokémon plush toys, which begat -- well, you get the idea. We're talking begatting of Old Testament proportions.

The cartoons made headlines a few years ago, when strobe-light effects used in one episode caused about 700 Japanese youngsters to have seizures. (The offending episode was omitted from the package syndicated in America.) But not even that could dim Pokémon's popularity.

"Pokémon: The First Movie" was Japan's fourth-highest grossing film in 1998.

The Pokémon cartoon's plot is basically this: a young boy named Ash travels the world with his friends in search of Pokémon, cute and cuddly creatures who have special abilities that make them excellent fighters. The idea is for Ash to catch as many Pokémon as possible and train them to fight against other trainers' Pokémon.

It's like cockfighting, except cuter.

Ash is aided by the cutest Pokémon of all, Pikachu, who is sort of a mouse, but with the ability to hurl bolts of electricity.

"Pokémon" is the No. 1 cartoon among children ages 2 to 11 and the No. 3 animated show among teen-agers. Meanwhile, "Pokémon" videos consistently top the bestseller lists.

As you might guess, all this means big business.

Hasbro, the nation's second largest toy manufacturer, recently purchased Wizards of the Coast, a games company best known for its collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering. Wizards of the Coast also holds the license to produce Pokémon game cards, which investment firms predict will account for $225 million in sales this year.

Naturally, this has earned the attention of greedy lawyers.

According to ABC News, two Long Island boys have filed suit in California alleging that WotC's practice of randomly inserting ultra-rare cards into some Pokémon card packs amounts to gambling.

4Kids Entertainment and Nintendo of America are also named in the suit.

That the value of the ultra-rare cards is determined solely by the demand of the children who claim to have been wronged is simply a detail the lawyers will try to obscure in the courts.

ABC also has reported that several schools have banned Pokémon cards on their campuses, citing supposed classroom disruptions.

Now, am I the only one who thinks ABC's sudden interest in the "dark side" of Pokémon might have something to do with the fact that ABC is owned by Disney?

Anyway, if you can even find Pokémon cards, you are among the lucky few. Most retailers can't keep them in stock.

With any luck, the Hasbro deal will give Wizards of the Coast improved production and distribution resources, solving the Pokémon shortage problem just in time for the whole fad to come crashing down.

But there is always a catch, isn't there?

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