There's really no stopping them, is there? Almost twenty years after the original "Pokémon" craze, those little pocket monsters are back with "Pokémon Go," and everyone is out to catch 'em all, all over again.
My first exposure to Pokémon was the cartoon, which aired in syndication on the early weekday mornings, before it got snapped up by Kids WB in 1998. The animation was terrible, the characters were dull, and it was obvious that it was only made to promote the video games. Since I had younger siblings and cousins it was impossible to avoid watching it completely. So I learned about Ash, Misty, Brock, Team Rocket, Officer Jenny, and Nurse Joy. I recently quizzed myself and can still name about forty of the original Pokémon. And, of course, I can recite the Team Rocket motto and all the words to the Jigglypuff song. As the craze went on, it invaded all areas of American pop culture - the "Pokémon" movie broke a few minor records, and there were news reports about the first Pokémon Happy Meal tie-in madness. Christmas of 1999 was the height of Pokémania. And I just kind of learned to live with it.
Despite what certain nervous Christian groups maintain, "Pokémon" games and shows are fairly harmless. I can see how the cockfighting aspect might concern some parents, but it's couched in so much fantasy that it's difficult to really draw real world parallels. You could make the same arguments about the Ninja Turtles or the Gi Joes. I found the Pokémon critters themselves to be bright, silly, and appealing. I got used to seeing Pikachu pillows around my college dorm, and the stuffed animals being toted around by my youngest cousins. One year my mother, a music teacher, even let her younger group classes sing the "Pokémon" theme song for the big finale of their winter concert. The one aspect of "Pokémon" I had no connection to were the video games, which were numerous and apparently very addicting. And yet, the original Pokémon fans have grown up into perfectly normal, well-adjusted adults.
As an anime fan, I have a lot to thank "Pokémon" for. The cartoon was such a massive hit in the United States, it led to a big surge in other anime imports in the late 1990s. And while I didn't like "Pokémon," I have a tremendous fondness for the much weirder "Digimon" and "Cardcaptor Sakura" that followed in its wake. The downside was, of course, that all anime was suddenly "Pokémon," or for the slightly more informed average citizen, anime was either "Pokémon" or ultraviolent "Akira" cartoons. A well-intentioned co-worker, upon learning I liked anime in the early 2000s, gave me several pieces of "Yu-Gi-Oh" merchandise, an especially ghastly series based on a trading card game aimed at twelve year-old boys. I was in my early twenties at the time, watching "Cowboy Bebop" and "Ghost in the Shell: SAC." It would take a solid decade of Miyazaki movies and Adult Swim action shows to undo misconceptions.
Eventually, like all the kids' crazes, "Pokémon" subsided as the fans grew up and the next wave of kids decided that SpongeBob was more their thing. However, it never really went away. The anime is currently in its twentieth year and still airing on Cartoon Network and other channels. It's up to nearly a thousand episodes if you add up all the different series and spinoffs. The animation has improved, but not by much. The Pokémon games, of course, are still going strong, though there hasn't been anything to rival the overwhelming success of "Pokémon Go." All the fuss actually reminds me of the original furors in the '90s, when people were scouring stores for Pokédexes. It's oddly heartwarming to see so many people connecting over a shared love of cute anime monsters.
Oh, and no, I'm not playing "Pokémon Go" myself. Plenty of my friends and relations are, but Pokémon was never my thing and never will be. I'm really fascinated by the new AR component of the game, though, which recalls the obscure AR anime "Denno Coil." I suspect that when there are future AR games featuring different IP, I can be convinced to give it a try. Heck, if Disney ever does one, I may actually buy a smartphone.