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The untold truth of Pokemon

Gotta catch 'em all! The Pokemon series has been around for over twenty years, and in that time has had entries in nearly every form of media and entertainment. The video games have spanned multiple generations of systems, feature films have made millions, the anime and manga have told compelling stories, and the trading card game is still going strong. According to the Pokemon Company's sales figures, the Pokemon franchise's market size as of March 2017 is over 6 trillion yen, which equates to over USD $54 billion. This makes Pokemon one of the most valuable franchises in the world. And the eighth generation of games is rumored to be releasing this year.

Let's dive into some of the lesser known facts about this beloved franchise, and see what really makes Pikachu and the rest of the pocket monster crew tick.

Pokemon was inspired by the creator's love for bug catching

Even though he created one of the most popular video game franchises of all time, Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri does not quite have the name recognition of other superstar designers like Shigeru Miyamoto or Sid Meier. Despite his creativity, Tajiri has been described in publications like the Independent as "reclusive" and "eccentric." Like many creative people, Tajiri drew upon his childhood passions to create his most beloved works.

Kotaku writes that Tajiri grew up in Machida, Japan. Although the city has since been absorbed into the Tokyo metropolitan area, it was a mostly rural place in the 1960s. Tajiri grew up collecting insects in the area around his home, earning the nickname "Mr. Bug" from classmates and dreaming of becoming an entomologist. As the Japanese arcade scene grew in the '70s and '80s, Tajiri's bug obsession became a video game one, and he eventually purchased a Famicom so he could take it apart and learn how it worked.

The story is that, in 1990, Tajiri saw two people playing Game Boys connected by a link cable, and both of his childhood passions came together in a "eureka" moment. He envisioned a game that could allow people to collect their own virtual insects and pit them against one another. Six years later, the first Pokemon games were released, and the franchise began to take the world by storm.

Tajiri's verb philosophy

Long before he was the man who created Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri was a 16-year-old student who loved video games so much that he created a fanzine. It was called Game Freak, the name he would later give to his company, and the first issue featured Dig Dug on the cover, complete with Tajiri's own pixel-by-pixel drawing.

As an adult, he became a game developer himself, and brought a unique sensibility to the world of gaming. According to an interview he did with Japan's Game Center CX, he was thinking back to English classes in school and Dig Dug — which was, of course, based entirely around the act of digging — when he realized that you could build a game by starting with a single verb and working your way out from there.

The first example of this philosophy was Quinty (released in America as Mendel Palace), a game that was all about flipping over floor tiles to change their effects. Later, after he'd had some success developing the Yoshi puzzle game for Nintendo, he thought about a rare item in Dragon Quest that artist Ken Sugimori had two of, which made him wish he could trade things between games. With the verb "trade," the newly introduced Gameboy link cable, and his childhood interest in collecting bugs, the idea for Pokémon was born.

Pikachu wasn't always the mascot of the Pokemon series

Pikachu, Ash's first pokemon, has become one of the most recognizable pop culture icons in the world. Outside of Japan, most people don't know that Pikachu was not even the original chosen mascot for the Pokemon series. That title belongs to "Pippi," who is known as Clefairy in English.

In his unfortunately titled book Pikachu's Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokemon, author Joseph Tobin writes that, in the original manga adaptation of Pokemon, Clefairy was Ash's first Pokemon. But the fairy-type had the ability to speak, and its crude sense of humor did not fly with the family-friendly dynamic Nintendo wanted from the Pokemon series. Rather than starting out with a Clefairy, Ash instead received Pikachu.

There were a few other reasons for the change from Clefairy to Pikachu. For one, Pikachu's more traditional design made it seem more like a pet a child might have than the strange design of Clefairy. Pikachu's bright yellow color also made it stand out more, as only Winnie the Pooh had a similar color scheme targeting the same demographic.

Pikachu's design wasn't based on the animal you think it was

The decision to make Pikachu the mascot of the Pokemon series catapulted the little electric mouse to fame, and Polygon suggests that Pikachu may actually overtake Mickey Mouse as the most recognizable icon in the world. Two mice battling it out for cultural dominance, and … what? Pikachu isn't based on a mouse?

Yes, sorry to shatter your dreams, but Pikachu is actually based on a squirrel. Its design makes quite a bit more sense in that regard. Atsuko Nishida, who designed the character, spoke with Yomiuri about her inspiration (via Twinfinite): "At that time, I was really into squirrels, so I wanted the character to have puffy cheeks. Squirrel tails are cute, so I wanted it to have a tail. However, I wanted the character to have a lightning element, so I made it shaped like lightning … Since I thought the ways squirrels moved were comical and cute, I wanted one."

After Nishida submitted the design and it was named Pikachu, Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri actually made a few modifications, transforming it into the more recognizable electric rodent we know and love today.

The real "pocket monster" is ... Satan?

Like most things that gain massive popularity among kids — like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and of course, Dungeons & DragonsPokémon drew its fair share of criticism from concerned and usually ill-informed adults. A lot of this was the standard stuff about how The Kids These Days were spending too much time on video games, but a lot of it was more about how people thought Pikachu was a tool of Satan designed to teach children how to summon and command "oriental demons" in a direct attack on Jesus Christ.

The prime example of this comes from "Pokémon Power," a sermon that went viral when Everything Is Terrible released a highlight reel of a pastor explaining that Pokémon was actually teaching kids how to "take control of spirits in the Dark Realm," and forever bar their souls from Heaven. This viewpoint wasn't just limited to VHS tapes from the '90s, though, instead keeping pace with the continued popularity of the franchise. When Pokémon Go was released, a whole new wave of bizarre fundamentalist criticism was directed at the game, including a discussion from radio host Rick Wiles about how the "virtual cyber-demons" could lead "Islamic jihadists" to churches, rather than to, say, Bulbasaur. This is, of course, of primary concern, since before 2016, church locations were shrouded in the utmost secrecy.

One Pokemon episode hospitalized almost 700 children

Pokemon could hardly become the cultural sensation it has without its fair share of problems, and an early episode of the anime nearly rang the death knell for the franchise about a year after it got started. Kotaku has the story on the now-infamous episode, "Electric Soldier Porygon," that sent hundreds of children to the hospital and knocked the anime off the air for over four months.

In the episode, Ash, Pikachu, and the rest of the crew enter a broken virtual world to try and fix it. When Pikachu uses its lightning to fend off the virtual defense mechanisms, the animators used a red and blue strobe effect to create the explosion. Children across Japan immediately began suffering from ailments: passing out, vomiting, nausea, and even some cases of seizures and temporary blindness.

All told, 685 children were sent to the hospital due to "Pokemon shock," as the ailment was later called. The show was taken off the air for months to get to the bottom of the problem, and stocks plummeted due to the uncertainty of what was happening. The episode has never aired again, even in edited form, and Porygon has never appeared as a focal character on the anime since the incident.

The man who saved Pokemon

Even if you don't recognize Satoru Iwata's name, you're absolutely familiar with his work. As a developer, he was partially responsible for classics like Smash Bros., Earthbound, and Kirby's Dream Land, and as the president and CEO of Nintendo for 13 years, he was the public face of the company. Oh, and he's also the reason that we have Pokémon in America.

The initial plan for the original Pokémon games was to release them only in Japan, but after their massive success, Nintendo made the decision to localize them for the Western market. The problem was that Game Freak was already directing their resources toward Pokémon Stadium and the first sequels, Pokémon Gold and Silver. According to developer Tsunekazu Ishihara, they were ready to give up on the localization when Iwata stepped in and found a way to bring the first games overseas. And he didn't stop there: not only did he port the battle system to the N64 in a single week, he also helped with reprogramming Gold and Silver. His data compression gave the developers enough space to fit the entire Kanto region, joining it with Johto and giving players a second quest.

Tragically, Iwata died in 2015 at the age of 55 due to cancer, but among the numerous tributes to his life and work, there's one hidden within Pokémon Sun and Moon. If you visit the Alola offices of Game Freak, a programmer will tell you about an "amazing guy" who helped to "solve all of our problems" before becoming a company president.

The lies children tell

The Pokémon games are primarily directed at children, and if you've ever spent more than fifteen minutes around a kid, you already know that they have a tendency to lie constantly. With video games, those lies would often take the form of impossible accomplishments or supposedly secret knowledge that could be handed down from fictional uncles who worked at Nintendo to get some instant cred on the playground. "Nudalities" in Mortal Kombat, rescuing Aeris in Final Fantasy VII, Guile busting out a handgun in Street Fighter II — these things spread around elementary schools like chicken pox.

A series like Pokémon, which was loaded up with hard-to-find monsters, intriguingly weird situations, and an anime that never quite matched up to what you were experiencing in the game. The most common by far were the ones that said you could increase your chances of catching a wild Pokémon by hitting a button at exactly the right time (you can't, but it feels good to do it anyway), or involved Mew. Kids had become familiar with Mew thanks to Pokemon: The First Movie, but outside of special events, it could not be caught in the game itself. Unless, of course, you figured out how to move the otherwise inexplicable truck that you could only get to by surfing past the SS Anne, that is. Mew's definitely under there. Our uncle said so, and he works at Nintendo.

The problematic monster

Pokémon designs have taken their inspiration from plenty of different sources over the years, from the simple (a horse, but on fire) to the downright bizarre (what if an ice cream cone could fight?), but none have ever sparked the controversy that the franchise saw with Jynx.

As one of the original 151 monsters, Jynx made its debut in Pokémon Red and Blue, where its vaguely human shape and a Pokédex entry about how it "seductively wiggles its hips as it walks" meant that it was starting as one of the weird ones. The real problem, though, came from its design. While Jynx may have been based on the yama-uba, a mountainous monster occasionally depicted with long white hair, the end result bore an unfortunate but undeniable resemblance to racist caricatures of black people. With that in place, Pokédex entries about Jynx's talent for rhythmic dancing and "incomprehensible" but human-like speech were easy to see as being rooted in offensive stereotypes.

When the franchise moved to the Game Boy Color, however, Nintendo made the decision to change Jynx's design to something a little less offensive. Rather than the black skin-tone that was mandated by the original Game Boy, the new version of Jynx was purple, and its depictions in the anime and official art were changed to match as well. The connotations of her original design are still there, but not quite as obvious as they were.

Team Rocket's got nothing on this

Whether it's a minor bit of shoplifting, kids snatching them up on the playground, or even a full-on smash-and-grab, there have been plenty of cases of Pokémon cards being stolen over the years. On one level, that's to be expected, since they're items that collectors will pay top dollar for that can also fit in the palm of your hand. In January of 2018, however, some thieves pulled off a Pokémon heist that puts Team Rocket to shame.

While trading card game stores in the United Kingdom were preparing for a pre-release event for the Ultra Prism expansion, a massive stock of brand new cards were stolen from the distributor before they even made it to stores. The result was that over 80 shops across the UK canceled their events, shutting down most of the country's Pokémon-related celebrations. All told, the thieves made out with an estimated $36,000 worth of merchandise, and that's just the retail value.

While the affected stores would later restock, the Poké-thieves themselves have yet to be apprehended, and the actual details about the heist have yet to be released.

Cease and Desist, I choose you!

ROM hacks have been floating around since the rise of emulation in the '90s, but most of them are pretty straightforward. If you want to play a punishingly difficult Mario level, or a version of Punch-Out where everyone's naked for some ungodly reason, they're out there. With some series, though, fans have taken ROM hacking to the next level and produced full, completely new games. Pokémon fans are no exception.

The most well-known fan-made Pokémon game is definitely Pokémon Uranium, which was developed over the course of nine years and — according to its creators, at least — was downloaded over 1.5 million times. It introduced 150 brand-new fan-created Pokémon, including a new set of starters, and a new Nuclear type to go along with its radioactive themes. It was popular enough that its launch was considered news by tech sites, and needless to say, Nintendo's legal department took notice.

In 2016, Nintendo issued cease-and-desists to the creators of Uranium, as well as other completed fan-made games like Pokémon Prism. Unlike older Mario games, for example, Pokémon is still very much a going concern, and even virtual console releases of older titles are big news for fans. New creatures, new twists, and even revisiting older regions is a major selling point of the new games in the franchise, and Nintendo definitely doesn't want fans getting those things elsewhere.

Gold and Silver's prototype Pokemon

When they were originally released in 1999, Pokémon Gold and Silver were a huge expansion, bringing in a new region and 100 new Pokémon for trainers to catch. In 2018, however, it was revealed that there were originally plans for even more new monsters.

In 1997, a playable demo of Gold was shown off at a trade show called Nintendo Space World, two years to the day before the final game was released to the public. It was early enough in the development cycle that the game didn't have music, and contained plenty of content that didn't make it to the final release.

Out of all the new content, the biggest surprise was the existence of unreleased Pokémon. Gold and Silver introduced the idea of "baby Pokémon," giving younger forms to classics like Pikachu and Clefairy, but the game's code also included baby forms of Meowth, Goldeen, and Grimer, among others. There were also new evolutions for Ditto and Farfetch'd, and a completely different trio of starter Pokémon than the ones that ended up in the game, including a fiery teddy bear and a water type that bears a resemblance to Gen VII's Popplio. Needless to say, artists on Twitter took to drawing these unreleased Pokémon and as unlikely as it is, that kind of fan response could potentially lead to an official release someday.

There are over 100 Pokemon games

People who are out of touch with the Pokemon series might just assume it is a few games that have been added to over the years. Those a little more familiar might know that, every few years, a new "generation" starts, and new games come with it. Pokemon has done everything it can to saturate the game market, however, and there are probably a lot more Pokemon games out there than you realize.

According to Bulbapedia, there are 122 different Pokemon games for you to sink your teeth into!

The core games and spin-offs are fairly well known, but there is an eclectic selection of titles starring Pikachu and his friends. Pokemon puzzle games, Pokemon pinball, the Mystery Dungeon series, a "Learn how to type" game — the creatures are so iconic that they have been licensed and added to a huge number of titles across dozens of platforms. Chances are, if you want to play a game, there is a Pokemon version of it somewhere out there.

The world of Pokemon is based on real-world locations

Pokemon may seem like its fantastical world is drawn up from pure imagination, but the game designers actually based each generation's region on a specific area of the world. Inverse wrote on each generation's counterpart.

The first four generations of Pokemon, which include Red/Blue, Gold/Silver, Ruby/Sapphire, and Diamond/Pearl, are all based on different regions of Japan. Kanto, from the first generation, draws inspiration from Tokyo and its surrounding areas. Jhoto is based on Kansai, where historical cities like Nara and Kyoto are found. Hoenn is based on Kyushu. And the fourth generation's region, Sinnoh, draws inspiration from the northern Hokkaido area.

Pokemon continued to go strong after the fourth generation, so Game Freak needed to begin branching out of Japan for its in-game counterparts. Unova, from Pokemon Black and White, is based off of New York City. The sixth generation's region, Kalos, is modeled after France and Great Britain; Kalos is full of gothic architecture and small cafes. Finally, Pokemon Sun and Moon's Alola region is modeled after the a tropical Hawaiian paradise. Not quite the same as going there in person, but it's nice that Pokemon takes us on a tour of some different parts of the world.

Pokemon Adventures is Tajiri-approved

Pokémon is one of the most popular media franchises in the world, so it shouldn't be surprising that the core idea has been presented to fans in a variety of different ways. There are the games and the anime, of course, which have been presenting slightly different takes on the Pokémon world for decades, but there are also plenty of offshoots.

If you're wondering which one bears the most compelling seal of approval, though, it's the Pokémon Adventures manga. As Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri told Viz, "This is the comic that most resembles the world I was trying to convey."

While Adventures follows the events of the games rather than the anime, it also deals with some much darker elements than you'll find in Ash Ketchum's eternal childhood. Pokémon are shown to be more than capable of injuring and even killing humans, and the villains are much more violent, attempting to murder the characters rather than just steal their Pokémon. Giovanni even kills a Magmar by freezing it in ice and shattering its body, and there's a higher price to being a trainer, too: Steven, a gym leader from Ruby and Sapphire, dies of exhaustion after trying to control three legendary Pokémon. You know, for the kids.

Crime and punishment in Pokemon Go

For many fans, the release of Pokémon Go provided a beautiful glimpse of a finer world, where you could encounter Charmander or Meowth on your way to work or at a local landmark, but it wasn't long before a few overzealous players found themselves in trouble. Several players were robbed while being distracted by an IRL Venomoth, stumbled off cliffs, or worse. One of them, though, used the game as an opportunity to break the law, and recorded the whole thing on video for his fans.

On August 11, 2016, Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky decided to play Pokémon Go in the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg, Russia. The problem? Not only was this illegal, but according to Reuters, he did it specifically because he knew it had been outlawed beforehand. To make matters worse, he recorded it all for YouTube, including the parts where he cracked jokes like "I regret not catching the rarest of Pokemons: Jesus," which got him on the wrong side of a Russian law against "inciting religious hatred." Needless to say, the video was used as evidence, and Sokolovsky received three years' probation and 160 hours of community service for his premeditated Pokémon training, avoiding the kind of prison sentence that was handed down to punk group Pussy Riot for the same crime in 2012.

After being sentenced, Sokolovsky was asked if he planned to return to the game, and told reporters, "I won't play Pokémon, it's already out of fashion."

Pokemon has courted some serious controversy

Besides the infamous "seizure" episode, there have been plenty of other reasons for parents to be wary of Pokemon media. There were also disproportionate female characters on the show, like Jesse of Team Rocket and Misty, who were transformed to be less overtly sexualized in the Americanized version of the anime. It was especially problematic for Misty, considering she is a preteen girl on Pokemon. Another infamous episode that has since been banned saw James (also of Team Rocket) crossdressing to win a beauty pageant, complete with inflatable breasts.

There are far too many weird controversies to name here, but how about one more? Uri Geller, a self-proclaimed psychic who gained fame for supposedly being able to bend spoons with his mind, tried to sue Nintendo over the pokemon Kadabra, claiming they stole his image for the psychic-type pokemon. As such, Kadabra has not appeared on any Pokemon cards since.