Afternoon all, I hope you’re having a pleasant day. Not that I can be sure, after all, as I’m only a writer and this is only an article. I can be sure that I’m having a good day because I’m currently writing about Pokémon. Pocket Monsters. Pikachu et al and so on and so forth. And if you read Nintendojo regularly, you’ll know that I have a bit of a soft spot for Pokémon, meaning that I tend to bring it up… now and again.
But today I’m not talking about the main games in the Pokémon series or the Pokémon anime, the trading card game, or any of the toys, the figurines, any of the numerous spin off titles, or even the Pokémon breakfast cereal (which didn’t taste that great to be honest). No, today I’m rabbiting on about manga based on the Pokémon series, which should have been pretty obvious given this week’s theme and you know… the title. Pokémon has gone beyond many other notable gaming franchises and inspired not just one manga series but several, using the games, the anime and more to springboard new ideas and stories into the inky world of comics and manga.
The longest running Pokémon manga, and the one you’ve most likely heard of, is the Pokémon Adventures manga, known as Pokémon Special in Japan. Dating back to the earliest days of the franchise, Special‘s first volume was released in 1997. The series reinterprets the narrative of the Pokémon games and throws action, treachery and legendary Pokémon into a world where no one has heard of Ash Ketchum. Following the imaginatively titled heroes, Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Gold, Silver (I think you get the idea where that’s going), on their journeys to defeat gym leaders and save the world now and again, Pokémon Adventures focuses on the bonds between friends, trainers and their Pokémon as a group of gifted young adults must work together to overcome great evils.
And when I say “great evils,” I do mean that. You think Ash had it hard in the anime with the bumbling Team Rocket falling over themselves every two minutes before blasting off into the mid-distance? In Adventures, Team Rocket is a much more organized force in Kanto, complete with secret operatives in high positions and a wealth of technology to help them try to achieve their nefarious goals. With the cunning, knowledge and power of the Rocket Elite Executives Sabrina, Lt. Surge and Koga and the intellect of Blaine, Team Rocket was able to not only breed Mewtwo but ultimately merged the three legendary birds, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres, into one terrifying monster before they were ultimately defeated by the series’ protagonists. Not to be outdone, the following saga saw Kanto’s Elite Four turn evil as they set out to gain control of the region. And all Ash had to worry about was a man, a woman and a cat in matching mustaches.
While that was a long time ago, Pokémon Special is still going strong, covering everything from child slavery and the abuse of legendary Pokémon to time traveling and the heir to the Team Rocket bloodline in its time. And while the series long ago stopped being released in the Western world (although bizarrely it still sees an English language release in Singapore to this day), publishers Viz have recently began re-releasing the volumes from the very beginning up until the end of Pokémon Gold and Silver saga, further than the series had initially been released. Rather convenient if you missed out the first time round, like I did.
However, if you think Pokémon Adventures is the only Pokémon manga about town, then you’re thoroughly mistaken; the genre is very much the crowded field. The Electric Tale of Pikachu echoed the anime series closely up until Ash’s victory in the Orange Islands League, adding a focus on the lighthearted sexual and romantic chemistry over-ignored by the cartoon show. While this did work out with some interesting results (by the end of this electrifying tale, James and Jessie were engaged to be married), it did lead to the American translators to feel the need to edit several of the original illustrations, most notably the likes of Misty and Jessie precariously posing in outfits that inadequately concealed their disproportionate busts. Of course, most of the artwork survived this de-smuttifying procedure, including my Nintendojo avatar of Misty. (In case any of you wondered where it originated from.)
Beyond the Electric Tale, Pokémon manga has gone out in all forms and directions, ranging from the girl-oriented series, Pokémon Magical Journey, to the toilet-humor obsessed Clefairy of Pokémon Pocket Monsters. In between there has been mangas of varying themes, ranging from game-specific stories to one off stories about the transformation of Pokémon into specific Pokémon trading cards (as you can probably guess, that second one didn’t emerge out of Japan.) Check out Wikipedia for an exhaustive list of bizarre sounding manga titles, though my undeniable favorite has to Pokémon Puzzle Round Pikachu is an Excellent Detective.
While manga may not be for everyone, and by “not for everyone” I mean “not for those who can’t figure out the backwards orientation,” the many different series that exist in the realm of Pokémon manga all have something to offer fans of the anime or the games. Whether you’re a nostalgic fanboy who fondly remembers the early days of Ash’s adventures around Pokémon Island or a seasoned Pokémaniac craving an intense and turbulent narrative, you’re definitely not a Pokémon master until you’ve checked these out.