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The Birth of Pokémon in American Culture

Twenty years ago, the Pokémon franchise burst onto the media scene, sparking an enormous wave of fandemonium. Pokémon, which is short for pocket monster’, is a Japanese franchise that follows Ash Ketchum from the fictional town of Pallet Town as he goes on a journey to become a Pokémon master.

The Quest Begins

pokemon characters
In the Pokémon universe, when a child turns 10, they must choose a starter Pokémon and travel the world catching Pokémon. Once captured, a trainer can use their Pokémon to battle against other Pokémon and trainers.

At the start of Ash’s quest, he discovers the Pokémon League which is like the Super Bowl for Pokémon battles. This is where the best Pokémon trainers battle it out for the chance to be the best of the best. Before Ash can qualify for the league, he must win eight badges from eight gyms. Just like real-life gymnasiums, gyms are places where trainers can go to sharpen their battling skills and where their Pokémon can gain experience. Often specializing in a particular type, the most powerful trainer in a gym is called the Gym Leader. The Gym Leader is revered by both the lower-ranking members of the gym and local fans.

Pokémon Comes to America

pokemon master trainer game
Pokémon Master Trainer board game, one of many Pokémon games

On Feb. 27, 1996, the first Pokémon game was released in Japan, and a year later, the Pokémon TV series also debuted in Japan. In 1998, the Pokémon video games and TV series finally made its way to the US at an electronics expo. On Sept. 8, the Pokémon animated series debuted in the US. Within a month, 1.5 million people were tuning in every Saturday morning to watch. In 1999, Pokémon became a true star with the arrival of the trading card game and the first feature-length Pokémon film. The movie was a box office hit, becoming the highest-grossing animated film at that time.

Pokémon Is for Everyone

Pikachu and Ash

The franchise has had an enormous impact on American culture well before the Pokémon Go fad of today. Many people debate over what age range the franchise is for. The TV shows are usually for younger kids while the card games and the DS games are for anyone but generally appeal to an older audience. I’d say Pokémon is for anyone who is a fan of the franchise no matter what your age.

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