This year marks the 20th anniversary of Pokemon, a long-standing franchise that has influenced every facet of American pop culture, from music to art to books to film. It would prove very difficult to find a young adult who hasn’t heard of Pokemon in some way or form in today’s world. In fact, with the meteoric rise of the Pokemon Go mobile application this summer, it wouldn’t be a surprise if every living person knew about Pokemon to some extent.
As UCLA college students, many of us are at the ripe age where we were the first generation of children to be exposed to Pokemon as the franchise’s target audience. We watched the cartoons featuring Ash Ketchum and his beloved sidekick Pikachu, we played the games on ours Gameboys and home consoles, and we traded the beautifully drawn Pokemon cards with one another. What we don’t know, however, is some of the history behind one of the most lucrative franchises in the world.
The idea for Pokemon was first born out of the childhood experiences of inventor Satoshi Tajiri who would catch insects and tadpoles in his youth. He loved exploring the world around him and wanted to bring that to children living in large Japanese cities like Tokyo, where large expanses of nature were hard to come by.
Tajiri and Ken Sugimori, the eventual head designer of every single Pokemon, founded the Game Freak company for video game development in the late 1980s. They were contracted by industry leaders like Nintendo and Sega to develop their Yoshi and Mario games.
In the early 90s, Tajiri pitched his original idea for Pokemon to Nintendo, which did not quite understand his concept but agreed to fund the project because of the strong relationship between them and Tajiri’s Game Freak. In addition to the funding, Nintendo assigned Shigeru Miyamoto to be Tajiri’s mentor for the project. Miyamoto was the man behind Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong among other famous titles. With all of this talent, Pokemon was a success from its inception.
In 1996, Nintendo released Pokemon Red and Green versions in Japan, which were met with financial and critical success, spurring the creation of Pokemon Blue, which was just a remake of the original two games with minor differences. The fact that Blue, being just a minor change from Red and Green, actually sold copies is a testament to the franchise’s sensationalism.
Two years later, American audiences would be just as entranced by Pokemon with the release of Pokemon Red and Blue. Between the United States and the United Kingdom, consumers purchased over 13 million units of the game. This only foreshadowed the great success that would be to come over the next two decades, with countless games, movies, anime episodes, toys, etc. being produced and distributed throughout the entire world.
Pokemon Sun and Moon are widely anticipated to be one of the best installments of the Pokemon franchise yet. The seventh generation of Pokemon games includes references to the original 151 Pokemon, not just new creatures to encounter. These reinventions of the original series’ Pokemon are sure to please young adults who have stuck with the franchise all throughout these years.
Additionally, Nintendo is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pokemon by giving away legendary Pokemon to people who have the sixth generation games: Pokemon X, Y, Alpha Sapphire, and Omega Ruby.