There is a lot here about the marketing and licensing of Pokemon and other franchises. While the book focuses on Pokemon, other properties are brought up. Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh! are the two big ones, but others are mentioned.
I was expecting to read more about video games and the Pokemon series. That is in here, but we wrap up with the third generation of the Pokemon games. However, the video games from the other franchises are mentioned as well.
The book has a lot of information in it. Reading about how the TV shows were put together, trading card games and other things were brought up was interesting. It is interesting to see how the different licensing products are brought into the story.
The first and second Generation games are given more attention than Generation three. The Pokemon games on the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance are covered in this book. We also hear about the Digimon, Monster Rancher, and Yu-Gi-Oh games.
I always like learning about video games I’ve never heard of or vaguely remember. I knew more about the Pokemon games than I did about either Digimon or Yu-Gi-Oh when I was in high school. Learning more about them and what systems they were released on was great.
The Digimon video games and the console they were released on was the subject I was drawn to as I read this book. I wasn’t expecting to hear that the WonderSwan had the good Digimon games or games I would have rather been playing. I remember playing one of the Digimon games on the PS1, but I couldn’t tell you anything about it.
Monster Rancher is brought up as well. I didn’t see it as being a Pokemon clone, but it is seen as one because of the time that it was released in North America. Daniel makes a great point about the Monster Rancher video games. As physical media started to go away, the gimmick that the games were based on meant less. I have fond memories of the games, but I think Daniel is right about them being cult classics compared to others.
It was interesting to hear how Pokemon Gold/Silver was supposed to be the last game. Daniel points out that the story arc points to this. Starting as Red in the first game and fighting Red as the final boss in the second.
I had never considered it like that, mainly since I only played the Gold/Silver in the 2020s and not when it was first released. The Pokemon games would continue. They’ve mostly stayed the same, with minor upgrades along the way.
I noticed how the other franchises, Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh specifically, video games weren’t as consistent as Pokemon. The Digimon games were always changing genre, and the Yu-Gi-Oh games weren’t all that good. While Pokemon did have spin-offs, the main series kept the same formula and only made minor changes that made sense in the gameplay.
The Pokemon anime and movies are the main focus of this part of the book. It is all part of how the Pokemon franchise expanded beyond the games and took over pop culture for 5-7 years. Other shows are brought up as examples of how they succeeded or why they weren’t able to make it.
We chart the rise of anime on television. I was in high school when Toonami was available to me, but I was too busy with other stuff to watch it. Some of it I remembered fondly, and other parts I remember coming too late for me. That is my experience; most people got their first taste of anime with the Toonami anime block on Cartoon Network.
The localization process for some of the different shows is brought up. These shows would sometimes get butchered as they were marketed towards a younger audience than in Japan. In some cases, that doomed the series. However, when anime became more available, people would discover what the show was supposed to be.
Several shows would be shown out of order and have rotating time slots. This reminded me of how I first watched Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z.
The licensed products for each franchise are brought up. Most of the properties discussed didn’t have a larger presence outside Japan. Some of them had quite a few, like Pokemon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh.
While I was reading this, many of the localizations of the tv shows were sabotaged from the start. Like they didn’t get immediate success and were shuffled around before being abandoned, some companies saw what Pokemon was doing and tried to copy it. Still, they didn’t understand what Nintendo and Game Freak were doing.
Pokemon could go from video games to manga, toys, television, and movies. Other franchises tried to do this but didn’t have Pokemon’s marketing campaign. Nintendo put a lot of money and time behind the game, which helped prime the market for other Pokemon merchandise.
It reminds me of the 80s toy market with He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. Those properties had toys, cartoons, comics, and more. Only some things were successful back then, similar to how things played out in the late 90s and early 2000s with anime.
This isn’t a one-to-one comparison but the closest one I can think of. Many of these shows would get a second look, with the internet giving us a look at what these adaptations were supposed to be. However, at the time, they weren’t all that successful.
There was so much merchandising back then that I couldn’t cover everything. You can see some of the trading card games that were able to last. The Pokemon TCG and Yu-Gi-Oh are the two that I know of that were able to have staying power.
Several franchises are brought up here. Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh are the two big examples that are brought up. Some only competed against the Pokemon anime, and others competed against the anime and video games.
Some franchises were forced into being Pokemon competitors, even if they weren’t a good fit. Several of them were butchered in localization so they could go up against Pokemon. There were similar mechanics and products that were released.
Monster Rancher and Digimon had similar monster-fighting mechanics. The collecting parts of those two franchises didn’t line up. I think Monster Rancher had better video games, but Digimon had the better TV show. Digimon was the closest to being a direct competitor to Pokemon, even if parts of it weren’t brought over to North America.
Reading Daniel’s comments about the Digimon anime reminded me of other Japanese properties. It sounded like the history of the Battle of the Planets or Robotech. There is a long history of anime being cobbled together into something new when brought to the US. The Digimon movie is another example of this.
Three short films were cannibalized into one theatrical film, bridging the gap between seasons one and two of the Digimon show. The story behind that process sounds way more interesting to me than a Digimon movie. It is a nice way to explain the change between the seasons as long as you go to see the movie.
Yu-Gi-Oh has the most interesting story of the competitors. It started as a manga with a rotating game that was played until the card game was introduced. Then the version you might know of today as being Yu-Gi-Oh was introduced.
Other adaptations are brought up, but the most recognizable ones are Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh. Pokemon seemed to be the only one with the staying power and the reach into every part of pop culture.
End of Pokemania, Not the End of Pokemon
Daniel does an excellent job explaining that this was the end of Pokemon’s domination of pop culture and not the franchise’s end. This happened around 2003 when the anime’s second season ended, and Pokemon Crystal was released. The hype was diminished as the market was flooded with similar products, and kids moved on to other things.
He also brings up how the media had been declaring the death of Pokemon for some time. I find it very interesting when the media does this. It is usually drawn from things that don’t matter all that much.
It wasn’t the gaming media that was doing this. Many of Daniel’s examples come from newspapers and other forms of traditional media at the time. The internet was still in its infancy in the early 2000s, even though there were fan sites for all parts of the Pokemon media empire.
The media used the declining box office for the anime, the sales numbers of the games, and the growing competition as reasons why Pokemon was dead. All of which makes sense when you only look at them. There are always other reasons why this happens to some properties.
While the hype around Pokemon faded, it didn’t mean it was over. Looking back at the historical reaction is fun with things like Pokemon. It is fun to laugh at traditional media’s overreactions to the declining popularity of a fad. Daniel points out that while Pokemon did decline, it wasn’t a total collapse. Pokemon’s peak was so high that it made its popularity dips look more significant than they were.
My Take Aways
Monster Kids is an excellent book about how Pokemon dominated pop culture for a few years. I didn’t remember many of the different TV shows and merchandise that were released at this time. The games were the big draw for me, but hearing about all of the other things that happened was fascinating.
It was also interesting to hear about what didn’t make it over from Japan. Hearing about the Digimon games that we didn’t get was interesting. After reading this, I can see how Pokemon had more success than other properties.
Looking back to this period of video game and pop culture history made me nostalgic for some of the games. I went back and played the Monster Rancher games. I wish Tecmo had been able to find a way to continue the series, but they did tie themselves to physical media, which is, unfortunately, dying a slow death.