I’m not a diehard Pokemon fan. Honestly, at this point, I’m gonna go on a limb and say that I’m more of a Digimon fan, and if anyone wants to fight me about it, bring it on.
But that doesn’t mean that my childhood wasn’t filled with the adventures of Ash and Pikachu, and I’ll be damned if Nintendo isn’t upping the nostalgia ante even more in advance of their Pokemon X and Y release.
Okay, so I haven’t played any of the Pokemon games since the Gold/Silver generation. And I stopped watching the cartoon a long time ago. But if someone starts singing “I will travel across the land searching far and wide” under their breath (because that happens so often, natch), I will immediately jump in with a “BAM, BAM, BA-DUM!”
The first few generations of Pokemon are just so uniquely memorable for my particular generation. There’s a reason why people who’ve never played a minute of the games can do a perfect “Pika-chu!” impression — because in some way or another, we all grew up with that little electric mouse, and with Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny, and with the Pokemon generation’s perpetually flummoxed protagonist, Ash Ketchum.
A couple years ago, I was having a spirited conversation about Pokemon with some folks, and then one of the guys in the group completely turned up his nose at the subject. “Pokemon? I was too busy playing sports to do that,” he scoffed, probably while lifting dumbbells in both arms (this may or may not be a hyperbolic portrait), but then someone else in the group scoffed right back at him: “Dude, it’s Pokemon. Everybody knows Pokemon.”
To some extent, that’s true. There’s nothing about Pokemon that suggests growth; at the start of every season, the protagonist begins pretty much back at storytelling square one, and in the games, that’s how each one, regardless of generation, starts. But, precisely because of that narrative tabula rasa, every generation after Gen. 0 has something new, yet familiar to those who came before, to hold onto. And even though it’s been a long time since people walked out of theaters crying about Mewtwo and Mew and Ash’s sacrifice for the Pokemon world (C’MON, YOU CRIED TOO), these things still resonate.
The fact that these creatures were, and still are, called “Pocket Monsters” is another interesting part of their particular mythology. In American culture, monsters are the things that go bump in the dark; that’s part of what made “Monsters Inc.” so incredible, because it took that idea and flipped it on its head.
But many other cultures, including that of Japan, look at the otherworldly with a spirit of reverence, of respect, instead of unmitigated fear. They see monstrosity as an expression, not a perversion, of spirit. Monster is not a bad thing. Evil still is, but the two are not entwined in definition or in practice.
So these Pocket Monsters, many of whom have quite visually terrifying designs, are not expressly good or evil. They just are, and they’re susceptible to the same conditions that have applied to the beasts of the world, humans included, for as long as they’ve existed. It presents a very interesting ethical dilemma: if such a genus of hyperintelligent creatures actually existed, or supplanted our current animal kingdom, what could and would we do to and with them?
I don’t have the patience or the ability to think that line of thought out (the medicine this very sick girl is taking is… making things interesting), but to go back to my original point, yesterday night, I was watching the new 4-part Pokemon series starring Red and Green, which takes the Pokemon narrative back to its origins
and it felt so familiar, and so instantly so, that it was actually a little frightening. Like, oh, I can’t remember the stuff that I’m going to be tested on for a midterm in a week, but as soon as I hear this game music, it’s like I’m 7 all over again and I’m trading cards on the bus with the middle schoolers, or I’m yelling at my mom because I can’t find the link cable that I need in order to battle my friends, or I’m running through my limited catalogue of obscenities as I try to make my way through the Saffron City Gym,
and it makes for a bittersweet reminiscence. Ah, to forget everything I know so I could know it all for the first time, this intrinsically weird, universally understood, ever-expanding world…