On paper, an electric mouse and its species of cute but often bizarre monsters would have been a great premise for a children’s Saturday morning television show. As it turned out, Pokémon did become a popular anime, watched by millions across the world. Ash Ketchum’s journey – and our own within the games – across many regions with friends, foes, and fellow pocket monsters turned into a pop culture phenomenon that still reigns as the most successful franchise in its 25th year.
The Pokémon brand is attached to an endless amount of industry projects, merchandise, consumables, and even household items – from Magikarp Taiyaki to toothpaste – and it’s expanding every day. However, the franchise’s demographic is primarily invested in Nintendo’s video game series, as well as the trading card game started by Wizards of the Coast. Both niches have been the most lucrative for the franchise, and the trading card game is one hell of a collector’s paradise. With new content being consistently produced, it’s easy to see why Pokémon has had long-lasting success, and with a handful of new games on the way, it’s time to turn your cap backwards and remember where its 25-year stretch began.
Pocket Monsters is first and foremost a wonderful gift from Japan, created in 1995 by Satoshi Tajiri, Ken Sugimori, and Junichi Masuda. Current titles are produced under The Pokémon Company umbrella, but the original Game Boy games – Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue – were built by Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures, released on western soil in 1999. The success of its collect, train, battle dynamic spawned the hit anime and addictive card game, but it’s the base games that house the iconic designs, musical themes, and rewarding gameplay mechanics which amount to a crucible of nostalgia for millennials. Pokémon advanced in tandem with Nintendo’s consoles producing at least one title per year, including Ruby and Sapphire on the Game Boy Advance, Diamond and Pearl on the Nintendo DS, Sun and Moon on the Nintendo 3DS, and the well-received remake on the Nintendo Switch. In short, the video game series is a masterpiece and the source of the franchise’s triumph.
Subsequent to Pokémon’s video game success was the release of the anime that aired shortly after, projecting the expanse and core values of the 8-bit handheld game into a riveting animation with an unforgettable opening theme. Ash Ketchum was introduced as the 10-year-old with enough ambition to sink the S.S. Anne, and his friends and fellow trainers, Misty and Brock, accompanied him on his quest to be the best – the very best. Elite trainers, gym badges, and Team Rocket’s hot-air balloon entrance comprised every episode, and the series has now produced over one thousand episodes within 23 seasons. The original show’s repetitive formula is a little hard to digest as a grown-up – particularly Jessie, James, and Meowth’s painfully monotonous intro – but we’ll never forget its initial impact, nor Caterpie’s tears in episode three.
The Game Boy games and the anime virtually released as a package deal, as well as the trading card game which arrived in stores under a beam of light – at least it looked that way as a kid. The Pokémon Trading Card Game starter deck along with the original blue booster packs made up the tabletop’s first base set, which is now somewhat of an antique amongst collectors. Mitsuhiro Arita is the illustrator behind the artwork and has been drawing most of the Pokémon in their habitat for over two decades. From 1999 to 2021, the card game has been releasing around five expansions per year, with additional Elite Trainer Boxes, V Boxes, and tins to make your collection as healthy as it can be. Being a card collector is not a cheap hobby, however, and a rare first-edition Charizard card recently sold for over $300,000 (approximately £217,570) – to put that into perspective. Nevertheless, enthusiasts of all ages still dish out the big bucks in hopes of catching the sleepy boy Tyranitar or the rainbow chonky Pikachu.
The merchandise accumulated within the Pokémon franchise is too vast to remember, let alone list. Japan is certainly the hub of this bonanza with its Pokémon stores and themed cafes, but the franchise’s merch presence can be felt throughout the world. Pikachu – the aforementioned electric mouse and companion to Ash in the anime – is regarded as Pokémon’s mascot and the only pocket monster known to less accustomed individuals. More involved fans will have their favorites picked out and an established battle party at hand, ready to dive into the franchise’s spirited community. Whether it’s through the trading cards or playing the popular mobile game Pokémon Go, its fan base is a comforting one to be a part of.
Pokémon has made itself known as a heavyweight in pop culture, and history is about to repeat itself this year. To celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary, Nintendo has lined up a plethora of goodies for fans, including a virtual concert and anniversary-themed Pokémon cards in McDonald’s’ Happy Meals. An animated movie titled Pokémon The Movie: Secrets of the Jungle will be released this year, featuring the new character Koko and the legendary Pokémon Zarude. The big news on the anniversary front, however, was the announcement of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl – remakes of the 2007 Nintendo DS games – set to follow in the footsteps of 2018’s Pokémon: Let’s Go duo. Lastly, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the brand new title on the horizon, which will introduce the first open-world game of the series.
Nintendo is generous when honoring its treasured IPs and its respective community, making Pokémon’s birthday no different. It’s an evergreen franchise that has left millennials with a warm sense of nostalgia, whilst presenting an exciting new frontier for younger generations. Its longevity and resilient foundation make it easy to pop in every once in a while – if you’re not an avid fan – without feeling intimidated by drastic changes. With a load of new content being delivered every year and more within our reach, fans will never have to worry about filling a Snorlax-shaped void, because Pokvémon will always be around to protect the world from devastation.