The year is 2003. The internet is dial-up, the television is cable, and it’s too hot to go outside. So you switch on the TV and punch in the familiar channel number that takes you to good old Cartoon Network. And that’s when you see it – a new show, with a strange name that will go on to become a big part of your childhood – Pokémon.
That was how the journey started for me, and for a lot of 90s and early 2000s kids. Come hell or high water, every day at 4 PM, like clockwork, the TV would be switched on, and the latest episode of Pokémon would be watched with wide-eyed wonder.
For thirty brief minutes, thousands of children across the country tuned in to sing along to the opening jingle, to watch the protagonist Ash Ketchum travel the world, and to wish with all their heart to one day call a Pikachu their own.
Poké-Mania: How I Caught the ‘Fever’
Real life Pokémon were nowhere to be found, so we made do with the next best thing – trading cards. And what a rage they were! Outside schools, in toy shops, and even in bags of potato chips, Pokémon cards and ‘tazos’ were suddenly everywhere. Poké-mania was growing, and the usual outdoor games of hide-and-seek were suddenly replaced with intense trading card battles. Many a negotiator earned their first stripes swapping Pokémon cards and making sacred handshake deals. For all of us, that pack of cards, whether held together with a rubber band or a shiny new case, was the most treasured possession in the world.
“Gotta catch ‘em all” – that was the catchphrase, and the motto we lived our lives by – to reach that magical number of one hundred and fifty-one and complete the set.
For some, that journey continued in video game form, on the much-coveted Nintendo DS gaming console which allowed players to come one step closer to interacting with the beloved pocket monsters. For others like myself, Pokémon action figures and life-sized Pokéballs were the next big pursuit.
It never grew old, because the hunt never stopped. As the seasons wore on, the series expanded. New characters were added, new regions were explored, and hundreds of new Pokémon were added to the roster. Over the years, I tried my best to keep up with the series. Some die-hard fans still do. But somewhere along the way, Pokémon stopped being a part of my daily life and was relegated to the memories of my childhood.
A Pokémon Reboot, Circa 2016 — Reliving the Glory Days
And then, in late 2016 came the sensation that was Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that allowed players to travel to real locations and use their smartphone devices to capture Pokémon in real time. It was the closest that any of us had come to experiencing the world of Pokémon first-hand, and it was an overnight success. It made no difference whether you were six or twenty-six – if you had a smartphone and you knew Pokémon, you found yourself roaming the streets of your city looking for the next big capture.
Somehow, it didn’t matter that I had left Pokémon behind years prior, or that I had forgotten the cleverly thought-up names of many on the original list.
When I saw the iconic red-and-white Pokéball light up on my screen, a part of me sat up with delight. Memories came flooding back to me as I scrolled through the list of critters, like a long-lost love that had been rediscovered.
With time, the craze for Pokémon Go receded as well, but it left me wondering what it was that made Pokémon so universally loved. Surely, I thought to myself, there was more to it than the side-splitting antics of Team Rocket, or the undeniable cuteness of the Pokémon themselves. My search led me back to the original 82-episode first season, now easily available online for me to watch at my own pace. What I found were lessons in friendship, loyalty and perseverance in the face of overwhelming adversity. These central tenets were embodied in its unforgettable original opening song, and were woven into the narrative of each of its episodes.
Pokémon: Our Larger-than-Life Friends Forever
What struck me even further was the creative decision to humanize the Pokémon themselves. These were not just creatures to be collected and counted – they were companions to be understood and befriended. Through his many trials and tribulations, Ash Ketchum repeatedly drove a single point home: that it’s not just enough to be master to a Pokémon, you have to be responsible for it. Today, many can unequivocally say that part of the reason for their love for all animals great or small was the early influence of Pokémon in their lives, an influence that continues to mould the thought processes of generations of young minds.
Now in its twenty-fifth year, Pokémon enjoys widespread appeal across age groups and geographies, all of which has contributed to it being the highest grossing media franchise of all time, with revenues in excess of USD 90 billion.
A large chunk of that figure comes from merchandise, bought in droves by children and adults trying to own a small piece of one of the biggest tentpoles of 21st century pop culture.
Pokémon has come a long way from where it started, and the journey has been bittersweet for many fans. In 2019, after a whopping 22 years of failed attempts, Ash Ketchum finally won a Pokémon league, fulfilling his dream and securing the title of Pokémon Master. Over these two decades, our protagonist has more or less maintained his appearance as a teenager who never seems to age, but also never seems to lose his single-minded dedication to his goal. And if that’s not worth rooting for, what is?
(Prithviraj Tankha is currently pursuing his MBA in sales and marketing from SCMHRD Pune. An avid reader and a film enthusiast, he hopes to travel extensively someday. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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