Pikachu's Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon

Pikachu's Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon

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by Joseph Tobin

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Initially developed in Japan by Nintendo as a computer game, Pokémon swept the globe in the late 1990s. Based on a narrative in which a group of children capture, train, and do battle with over a hundred imaginary creatures, Pokémon quickly diversified into an array of popular products including comic books, a TV show, movies, trading cards, stickers,


Initially developed in Japan by Nintendo as a computer game, Pokémon swept the globe in the late 1990s. Based on a narrative in which a group of children capture, train, and do battle with over a hundred imaginary creatures, Pokémon quickly diversified into an array of popular products including comic books, a TV show, movies, trading cards, stickers, toys, and clothing. Pokémon eventually became the top grossing children's product of all time. Yet the phenomenon fizzled as quickly as it had ignited. By 2002, the Pokémon craze was mostly over. Pikachu’s Global Adventure describes the spectacular, complex, and unpredictable rise and fall of Pokémon in countries around the world.

In analyzing the popularity of Pokémon, this innovative volume addresses core debates about the globalization of popular culture and about children’s consumption of mass-produced culture. Topics explored include the origins of Pokémon in Japan’s valorization of cuteness and traditions of insect collecting and anime; the efforts of Japanese producers and American marketers to localize it for foreign markets by muting its sex, violence, moral ambiguity, and general feeling of Japaneseness; debates about children’s vulnerability versus agency as consumers; and the contentious question of Pokémon’s educational value and place in school. The contributors include teachers as well as scholars from the fields of anthropology, media studies, sociology, and education. Tracking the reception of Pokémon in Japan, the United States, Great Britain, France, and Israel, they emphasize its significance as the first Japanese cultural product to enjoy substantial worldwide success and challenge western dominance in the global production and circulation of cultural goods.

Contributors. Anne Allison, Linda-Renée Bloch, Helen Bromley, Gilles Brougere, David Buckingham, Koichi Iwabuchi, Hirofumi Katsuno, Dafna Lemish, Jeffrey Maret, Julian Sefton-Green, Joseph Tobin, Samuel Tobin, Rebekah Willet, Christine Yano

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“I took a peek at the table of contents for Pikachu’s Global Adventure, then read a little of the introduction, and the next thing I knew I was deep, deep in the book and didn’t want to stop. The writing was that engaging, the information and arguments that compelling.”—Henry Jenkins, coeditor of Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture

“The contributors to this volume are the smartest scholars working today in the areas of global media and children’s media. This book tells an entertaining and surprising tale of how the little Japanese Pokémon transformed children’s culture and global media economics. The changes that Pikachu wrought are only the beginning of fascinating new trends in role-playing games, video games, cartoons, and toys and the accelerated spread of such fads via the Internet.”—Ellen Seiter, author of Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture

Product Details

Duke University Press Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

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Pikachu's global adventure

The rise and fall of Pokemon
By Joseph Jay Tobin

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3287-6

Chapter One

Introduction Joseph Tobin

In the last years of the last millennium a new consumer phenomenon developed in Japan and swept across the globe. Pokemon, which began life as a piece of software to be played on Nintendo's Game Boy (a hand-held computer for playing video games), quickly diversified into a comic book, a television show, a movie, trading cards, stickers, small toys, and ancillary products such as backpacks and T-shirts. Entering into production and licensing agreements with Japanese companies-Game Freak, Creatures, Shogakukan, and TV Tokyo, among others-and with companies abroad, including their wholly owned subsidiary Nintendo of America, Wizards of the Coast (now a division of Hasbro), 4Kids Entertainment, and the Warner Brothers Network, Nintendo created a set of interrelated products that dominated children's consumption from approximately 1996 to 2001. Pokemon is the most successful computer game ever made, the top globally selling trading-card game of all time, one of the most successful children's television programs ever broadcast, the top-grossing movie ever released in Japan, and among the five top earners in the history of films worldwide. At Pokemon's height of popularity, Nintendo executives were optimistic that they had a product, like Barbie and Legos, that would sell forever, and that,like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, would become enduring icons worldwide. But by the end of 2000, Pokemon fever had subsided in Japan and the United States, even as the products were still being launched in such countries as Brazil, Italy, and Israel. By the end of 2001, Pokemon's control of shelf space and consumer consciousness, already in steep decline in Japan and the United States, was beginning to fade globally. As the Pokemon craze comes to an end we are left with the task of analyzing its significance and understanding the dynamics of its rise and, just as interesting, its fall. To analyze these phenomena, I hosted a Pokemon conference in Honolulu, in November 2000. Presenters came from Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Israel, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, from the fields of anthropology, communication, sociology, and media studies. The papers presented at the conference serve as the cornerstone for this book, which tells the story of Pikachu's global adventure and discusses what the Pokemon phenomenon can teach us about children's engagement with the new media, Japan's rise as a culture- and software-exporting nation, and the globalization of children's popular culture.


I can introduce the central theme of the book by presenting two Pokemon-like versions of the rise and fall of Pokemon.

Version One

A group of men sit around a table at their corporate headquarters on the outskirts of Kyoto plotting to capture the hearts and minds (not to mention the money) of the children of the world. Other companies have managed in the past to cast a spell of consumer desire over such market segments as American girls five to nine or Japanese boys eight to twelve; but the Nintendo plan is far more ambitious and nefarious: they aim to brainwash children everywhere, young and old, boys and girls, and to implant in them a desire for an endless stream of interconnected products including video games, videos, trading cards, and ancillary merchandise. To serve this evil purpose, the Nintendo masters enlist Tajiri Satoshi, a brilliant, reclusive young game designer, to author a new video game. Tajiri and his team at Game Freak in Tokyo come up with the idea of a mythical world in which young "trainers" capture and train over 150 imaginary wild creatures. The genius of this plan is that just as the youthful trainers in this mythical world collect "pocket monsters," seeking to "catch 'em all," so will the gullible and vulnerable children of the world be hoodwinked into spending the majority of their waking hours and a good portion of their parents' money on purchasing all available Pokemon merchandise.

The plan works just as the Nintendo brain trust hoped. Pokemon spreads quickly through Japan, first as a hand-held video game cartridge, then as a comic book, which provides character development and back story for the Pocket Monsters, the trainers, and their adversaries. The Pokemon masterminds next introduce the television show, a show that not only entrances its viewers, but one afternoon in 1997 gives over seven hundred of their young Japanese fans seizures.

The next step is expansion to the U.S. market. The directors of Nintendo in Kyoto direct their minions at Nintendo of America to flood the United States with Pokemon Game Boy cartridges, television show episodes, trading cards, and ancillary merchandise. Nintendo and their partners release the first Pokemon movie in Japan and then, six months later, in the United States. Pokemon trading cards soon become children's most sought-after possessions. The media begin carrying stories of Pokemon-crazed kids cheating, stealing, and fighting over Pokemon cards. The scarcity of the most desirable "hologram" cards produces an overheated Pokemon commodity market, in which cards purchased in stores in packets of eleven for four dollars get resold for as much as a hundred dollars apiece. The story of Pokemon's conquest of Japan and of North America is repeated across Europe, Latin America, East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and the Philippines.

As the millennium draws to a close, the Pokemon directors open a Poke-center in Tokyo and plan stores for other major metropolitan areas. All Nippon Airways introduces a fleet of Poke-planes (747s painted with drawings of Pikachu and friends). Disneyland-like Pokemon theme parks are planned. New episodes of the TV series, each introducing a new pocket monster, are broadcast on Saturday mornings, first in Japan, and soon after in Hong Kong, the United States, and Europe. Nintendo creates a master plan for the systematic release of Pokemon products in a widening arc of world markets. A third movie is released. New series of the Game Boy game are in production and planning. The release of each new character compels children to return to the stores to buy new cards and games. Nintendo has created the perfect children's commodity-one with perfect synergy between its interconnecting domains (hardware, software, toys, TV, movies, cards) and one whose purchase can never be completed. It is in fact impossible to catch, or buy, them all.

By the end of 2001 Pokemon has become one of the top-selling toys and games of all time and Nintendo one of the world's richest and most profitable corporations. The profits accumulating in their war chest from Pokemon sales position the Nintendo Corporation to transcend the world of toys and games and become a major global player in the production of the next generation of interactive computers. Nintendo's state-of-the-art gaming computers, which run one of the most demanding of consumer applications, are poised to compete with desktops, cell phones, and notepad computers as the crossover platforms of the new millennium. Nintendo announces that its next systems will be driven by IBM processors. Today, toys and games; tomorrow?

Version Two

The kids of the world are bored. Power Rangers was a fun for a while, but the show has grown predictable and tiresome. Legos look great in the picture on the box, but halfway through a project they start to feel more like work than play. The Super Mario Brothers aren't as much fun as they used to be. Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter are awesome, but these violent video games invite too much parental interference. Kids are demanding something new, and companies are eager to provide it. But for toy makers and children's television producers, the stakes are high. For each success in this unpredictable business, there are dozens of failures. Kids are a hard group of consumers to read and to please.

Toy makers, desperate to be the purveyors of the next big thing, rush new products into the marketplace, but kids, a tough, savvy, cynical audience, audition and reject product after product. Despite focus group research, multimillion-dollar ad campaigns, and elaborate marketing tie-ins, nine out of ten toys and video games are rejected by the kid marketplace, ending up remaindered in discount bins in off-price outlets, and many of the adults who invented, championed, and marketed them find themselves looking for new jobs.

Meanwhile, Nintendo, desperate to retain market share in the wildly competitive computer game industry, gives a hefty retainer to Tajiri Satoshi and his production house, Game Freak, to make a new game for them. Tajiri, who worked on Nintendo's hugely successful Zelda computer game, is able to convince Nintendo to give him latitude to create an original game based on his childhood love of nature and his hobby of collecting insects and staging beetle battles. Nintendo takes a chance, paying out a substantial advance in the hopes Tajiri can come up with a product that will extend the life of the aging, underpowered Game Boy system. In 1996, Tajiri delivers Pokemon.

Japanese kids take an immediate liking to the challenge of capturing, training, and fighting Pocket Monsters. Three million units are sold in the first three months of release. Kubo Masahiko, of Shogakukan, the publisher of Koro Koro comics, noticing that his readers have taken a real liking to this new video game, makes a deal with Nintendo for the comic-book rights to Pokemon. To Nintendo's surprise and delight, the comic-book stories are so popular with readers that they reignite sales of the Pokemon cartridges. Instead of sales of the cartridges petering out after three months, as do sales of most video games, they take off, with another three million sold in the second quarter. Nintendo rushes Blue and Yellow versions of Pokemon to market, to join the Red version. The popularity of the Pokemon cartridges leads to huge sales of the new color version of the Game Boy. Koro Koro comics have added needed plot and character development to the Pokemon world. Kubo and TV Tokyo enter into an agreement with Nintendo to produce a TV show. The show is a smash hit among Japanese kids, which again rekindles sales of the Game Boy cartridges. The TV show goes strong until the thirty-eighth episode, when a sequence of flashes on screen leads to over seven hundred Japanese children experiencing seizures. The government orders the show pulled from the air. On hiatus and needing to keep their employees busy, the Pokemon TV production team puts their illustrators and writers to work on a feature film. Poketto Monsuta proves to be a huge hit in Japan, rekindling sales of Game Boy cartridges, making Pokemon the most successful computer game of all time.

Nintendo (Japan) develops an American marketing strategy with Nintendo of America (their wholly owned subsidiary, which has its own management and marketing strategies), 4Kids Entertainment, the Warner Brothers Network, and Wizards of the Coast (the manufacturers of Magic: The Gathering and other trading card games). Masakazu Kubo of Shogakukan, Tsunekazu Ishihara of Creatures, Inc., and Takashi Kawaguchi, of Nintendo (Japan), work with Gail Tilden of Nintendo of America and Norman Grossfeld of 4Kids Entertainment to figure out what aspects of Pokemon need to be changed for the products to appeal to American children. They hit on the right formula, and the success Pokemon enjoyed in Japan is repeated in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world.

But then, as fast and inexplicably as the Pokemon phenomenon took off, it slows down. By the middle of 2000, Pokemon's Japanese and American consumers are bored, restless, looking for something new. Pokemon's "cool" factor suddenly has evaporated. Executives at Nintendo are planning Poke-lands, preparing to release new movies, and issuing optimistic press releases. But the kids of the world have moved on.

These two scenarios, though exaggerated, present the two sides of the central debate about not just Pokemon, but more generally about children's engagement with popular culture (Kinder 1999). In the first scenario, Nintendo is an Althusserian apparatus, sinister, powerful, and systematic in achieving its seduction and interpellation of its child consumers, who are seen as lacking agency and the capacity to resist commercial appeals and industry-launched fads. In the second scenario, Nintendo's success with Pokemon is the result less of corporate power and the orderly following of a scripted marketing plan than of a combination of individual creativity (by Tajiri, Kubo, Tilden, Grossfeld, and others), good fortune, and the ability of children to locate and collaboratively construct a product that suits them. In this second scenario it is the children who, so to speak, hold the cards. In the first scenario, Pokemon succeeds not because it has any inherent value as a product, but because of the marketing muscle put behind it and the company's power to manipulate children's desires and forms of play. In the second scenario, Pokemon could not have become successful if Nintendo were not sensitive and responsive to children's desires and if the products they developed lacked quality.

Which of these scenarios we find more convincing is largely, I suspect, a question of our theoretical orientation. The first scenario is consistent with the theories of the Frankfurt school and of neo-Marxist paradigms that view consumers in general and children in particular as dupes, easily manipulated by capitalist corporations into false desires and mindless purchasing. The second scenario is reflective of the much more upbeat American school of cultural studies that emphasizes the pleasure, agency, and resistance of consumers (even when they are children).

This tendency to lead with theory is a weakness of the study of children and popular culture. Much of the scholarship in this field is done by scholars who are guided more by their a priori theoretical stances than by empirical data. Too much of the writing on children and popular culture by both neo-Marxists (e.g., Giroux 1999) and those of the American school (e.g., Fiske 1989) is done by professors sitting in their offices excoriating or praising children's toys and texts without directly studying children, doing careful industry analyses, or systematically investigating the historical, cultural, and socioeconomic contexts of the product's production.

The argument of this book is that the question of which of the above scenarios is more correct is firstly an empirical and only secondly a theoretical question. Interviews and observational studies of Pokemon-playing children can help us determine whether they can be more accurately described as dupes or savants, passive consumers or active coconstructors of the Pokemon world. Analyses that contextualize the Pokemon phenomenon within the history of computer games, animation, character merchandising, and cuteness both in Japan and globally can help us determine the degree to which Nintendo is reflecting as opposed to shaping trends in childhood consumption. Analyses of the pathways and processes of Pokemon's distribution and dissemination abroad can help us decide if Nintendo can be more accurately described as one of the world's most powerful and savvy global players or a Japanese company struggling to compete with the West in the global traffic in popular culture. Textual analyses of the Pokemon computer game, television program, and trading cards can help us determine if Pokemon has succeeded because of the intrinsic qualities of its products or despite the products being mind-numbing, insipid, and morally and aesthetically bankrupt. A systematic analysis of the history of Pokemon's product rollouts, both domestically and overseas, can tell us to what degree Nintendo developed and followed a plan and to what degree they benefited from unforeseen, fortuitous events, and have themselves been taken by surprise, first by the rapidity and size of their success, and then by their products' sudden loss of coolness among the kid cognoscenti.

Another weakness of scholarship on children and popular culture is the tendency to think and argue in stark, binary terms (as I do in the scenarios above). In chapter 2, David Buckingham and Julian Sefton-Green suggest that to understand Pokemon and other children's popular cultural products we need to get beyond the structure/agency binary, a binary in which researchers focus, on the one hand, on the power of media, toy, and advertising companies to structure children's consumption and play or, on the other hand, on the agency of child consumers. The essays in this book, individually and collectively, strive to stake out a middle ground, seeing the relationship between Nintendo and its consumers as both a battle and a collaboration.


Excerpted from Pikachu's global adventure by Joseph Jay Tobin Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joseph Tobin is the Nadine Mathis Basha Professor of Early Childhood Education at Arizona State University. He is the author of “Good Guys Don’t Wear Hats”: Children’s Talk about the Media, editor of Making a Place for Pleasure in Early Childhood Education, and coauthor of Preschool in Three Cultures: Japan, China, and the United States.

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Pikachu's Global Adventure 3.9 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 203 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book makes pokemon look like the devil. Along with nintendo. It basically says pokemon is boring and it makes me feel like a nerd for liking it. Sheesh im low on self esteem to begin with. At first it held my interest and i was like how bad could this be but then the insults started flying and i got hurt and the book got boring. Obviously the dude who wrote thia didn know anything about pokemon or the kids who like it. Dont read if you luv pokemon, this book will only knock u down, chew u up, and spit u out. Long live pokemon~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think no one should make pokemon look so evil. :(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I dont play pokemon so much anymore, I have moved on to online gaming. But I read the saMPLE, and I think thats pretty harsh. You were probably expecting all these upset replies from the younger gamers, but yeah pokemon is not the devils game or evil. Having been the game I enjoyed so much in my childhood (14 now) I can not agree with your opinion. I think pokemon is a wonderful game, the ending of explorers of sky made me cry.. and I've turned out pretty good even though i played pokemon so often. :) Even if the creators intentions were evil, their plan has failed to be evil. In fact, pokemon highly widened my vocab ;) If you think pokemon is bad, id love for you to see the kids who play call of duty. -a former (and sometimes still playing) fan of pokemon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey every body that likes pokemon i have every single pokemon thing in the world i am a pokemon maniack i have every single pokemon in the wold of pokemon if you want some call 909-591-3011 oh and for every one who thinks magikarp is the worst pokemon you are wrong each pokemon is strong and weak agenst diffrent types of pokemon like a charzard is strong agents a venasaur but weak agants a Blastois or a mewtow is weak agants a sizor but a sizor is weak to a charmander
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LONG LIVE POKEMON PS fav pokemon 3 pikachu 2 ditto 1! ZAPODOS YAY!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think pokemon is sooooooo fun. I feel bad for those who havent played it. My favorite pokemon are houndoom, marshstomp( he only has one weakness), glaceon, and dragonite. They all rock. Appearance doesnt matter much to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read part of the free sample. I am a huge Pokemon fan, and I thought it was interesting and want to buy it. They are NOT making Pokemon sound evil, just explaining the bad parts and episodes that they deleted. Pokemon is, in my opinion, for any age or gender. This is the full history of Pokemon, good AND bad parts. If you think it's satanic or bad, don't read it. P.S. Stop rping on here.
Cornelia Saites More than 1 year ago
pikaz rock
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lol I thought this would be a real story or something haha. Great if you wanna know about how Pokemon started and got really big though!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im pretty sure that there is a new generation coming out in october...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im geusing it will show me all of the pokemon
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pikachu, kill the person that wrote this crap,Megavolt!!!!!!! Wah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!!!!!!!!>:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stop writing bad reviews
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Milk milk lemonade around the corner chocolates made
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All the rare pokemon
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite is Donphan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Personaly my friends and my favroite . Espeon is mine, Chicorita is my best friend, and my frienemy's Jiggilypuff. I love pokemon, but I'm getting to old to care about this silly nonsense, and I think thought that this was a game not a book. ;)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wrost book ever!!! It torments children!!!
Nate Xu More than 1 year ago
Pokemon is epic
Katherine Vernon More than 1 year ago
I love this book
Anonymous 12 days ago
Is this book a pokemon book???????
Anonymous 4 months ago
However this book may be informative but it's veeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyy boring. ;^;
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In japnes pokemon means pocket monsters
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rrr that's not my name ( groan) So DO NOT call ME THAT X ok so Just leave me alone
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kiss your hand 3 times repost this on 3 books look under your pillow in the morning