Gotta Watch ‘Em All: The Appeal of Cartoon Pokémon

Pokémon hasn’t been a cartoon show for over a decade without a solid formula. Here’s what makes the most popular Nintendo cartoon tick.

By Matthew Tidman. Posted 07/20/2010 15:05 9 Comments     ShareThis

Pokémon is more than a successful game, it’s a successful media franchise. No matter how you look at it, the games are only a part of the reason that the franchise is successful. Its anime series, now in its 13th season, is an integral part of the formula for Pokemon’s success. Here’s why…

Pokémon Diamond & Pearl Cartoon

Relatable Characters

We all want to be the very best. The increase of competitive gaming proves this. The journey from child to adult is an integral theme for the series. Whether it is Ash and his attempts to rise to the top of the Pokémon League, or May and her attempts to become a world-class coordinator, the characters work as a stand-in for our desires to succeed. The characters, while in a fantasy world, still feel down to Earth. We’ve all known an Ash, a Misty, a Brock, or a Dawn. It’s through these characters that we allow ourselves to experience the Pokémon world.

Pokémon Anime Johto Map

Fantastic World

Yeah, the characters may be relatable, but the world portrayed in the anime is amazing. There may be some small amount of crime and exploitation, but the Pokémon world is a lot closer to a utopia than the world we live in. There’s a free, centralized system of health care and a dedicated police squad that exists to help people. Corruption is almost non-existent. On top of all this, there are hundreds of monsters who exist just to fight each other for your enjoyment. Anyone can rise to the top of the Pokémon world. While there are similarities to the real world, the Pokémon world portrayed in the anime just has those elements that make us want to go there, to live there.

Pokémon Cartoon Ash & MistyUnresolved Sexual Tension

More prominent at the beginning of the series, the tension between Ash and Misty spoke to many of us who grew up with the show. Granted, there’s no canon pairing of those two, the show producers not wishing to focus on romantic relationships of the main characters. However, if you’re a diehard fan of the show, you’ve probably got Ash set up with someone in your mind. This “UST” is probably one of the things that still makes the show accessible as you get older. Maybe one day Ash will finally admit his feelings for (insert other character’s name here), but until then we’re free to fight over exactly why our “one true pairing” is correct.

Pokémon The Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Ash

Realized Creatures

We get very little about the Pokémon in the games. Oh sure, they’re captured and some only live in one place, and the Pokédex has a helpful blurb about each of them. But when you break it all down, in the games Pokémon are pieces of data with stats that make them good against some Pokémon and worse against others. The anime boldly confronts this fact and spits in its face. Pokémon are living, breathing creatures that are all different. The anime does a great job of humanizing these lumps of data and making them more than just numbers and a sprite.

Always Another Adventure

Pokémon Cartoon Ash Captures a PokémonThere’s always something else to take on in the Pokémon world. Ash travels the world trying to better himself and become the very best. There’s never a point when he has completed everything. He’s never going to have an Alexander the Great moment where he becomes the best and knows there is nothing else to aspire to. Pokémon shows us that there’s always something on the horizon to look to. Maybe we flunked that French test or totally struck out with that cute girl, but its all just one step on our continuing journey. Ash represents in us that desire to keep going no matter what.

Pokémon Cartoon: Ash as a MaidIt’s Ok To Suck

Watching some of the early episode can be borderline painful. Try watching Ash bumble his way through the first season, when he knows next to nothing and gets many of his badges thanks to pity and luck more than anything else. Now he’s a pretty competent trainer, though he does continually run into trainers who are better than him, but that’s why we get a new character every couple of seasons. It’s a reminder that it’s ok to start out knowing nothing. We all have to start somewhere, and unless we’re some kind of savant, it’s highly unlikely we’ll instantly be great in any pursuit. Pokémon reminds us of this fact without preaching or forcing it down our throats, and sometimes we just need to be reminded.

There are many other reasons to love the series. I’m sure that you may have one or two of your own. Feel free to share in the comments. We’d love to hear why you love– or even hate– the Pokémon anime series.

9 Responses to “Gotta Watch ‘Em All: The Appeal of Cartoon Pokémon”

  • 393 points
    James Stank says...

    In my opinion, they need to reboot the Pokemon anime. In order to keep up with the older fans, there needs to be a darker, more mature Pokemon anime. The current one is fine for younger fans but not for die-hard fans of the series. The main character’s name needs to be Red, not Ash, and he needs to look and be much more badass. He should look similar to Itsuki Minami from Air Gear. They also should do more things with relationships and character development. The Pokemon manga makes the anime look like a joke.

    • 0 points

      I agree. The series was better in the first and third seasons, after that it went downhill. If they reintroduce the series with new characters during the next generation of Pokemon they could revive and pull more people, new and old, into and back into the series.

  • 360 points
    M. Noah Ward says...

    Oh, SNAP!

    Are you referring to some kind of hentai manga, James?

  • 393 points
    James Stank says...

    LOL Air Gear may not be a doujin, but it is slightly perverted. Then again, which manga isn’t? Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach all have their moments……though Air Gear has more of them!!!! Those of you that are interested in manga should definitely check it out- that, and the Pokemon manga. You won’t be disappointed.

    • 702 points
      Matthew Tidman says...

      Which Pokemon manga are you referring to? Its so popular in Japan that there are a lot of different ones with completely different continuities. Pokemon Adventures is the most popular one in the US, but there’s Magical Pokemon Adventure, The Electric Tale of Pikachu, Diamon & Pearl Adventure… the list goes on. Here’s a good list of the various series. Which one are you referring to?émon_manga

  • 697 points
    Adam Sorice says...

    I think he means the Pokémon Adventures manga series (Pokémon Special in Japan). This is the main, ongoing and most prevalent series and all the characters are named after versions of the games, so instead of Ash, Gary and random girl from FireRed and LeafGreen it’s Red, Green and Blue. (Or Blue and Green in America.)

    Tajiri has commented that the manga was the closest realisation of the dream he had for the Pokémon universe, and in some respects it’s a fair bit darker and more cunning than the over innocent anime. In the first couple of series alone, the aspiring trainers must battle with Team Rocket and their three executives, Lt. Surge, Sabrina and Blaine who creates Mewtwo, as well as a corrupt Elite Four.

    I am such a a sadass, back to the anime. There are so many small things that I love about the series that connect it through its entire run, the weekly running gags. Whether it’s Brock falling in love with every girl or the Team Rocket motto, these things have perpetually been a part of the show from the very beginning.

    As for the idea of a darker, more mature anime series, Maddie Blaustein talked about this a bit on the Serebii forums during fan interviews, saying that she thought Pokémon needed to reconnect with the older generation. Blaustein was the voice of Meowth from about the sixteenth episode way up until the last series of the Advanced Generation when Nintendo of America replaced 4Kids production and hired imitating voice actors.

    But the show’s awesome, even if it’s often repetitive, over basic and completely unprogressive. Brock needs to accept the fact he’s around thirty five and go live in a cave though.

    (If this comment makes little sense, it’s because I woke up in the middle of the night and decided to babble about Pokémon, night.)

    • 1332 points
      Andrew Hsieh says...

      I just want to say Pokémon Special is ridiculously good. I’ve bought pretty much every volume to come out so far– over here in Taiwan, manga is ridiculously cheap, around 4 USD as compared to 8 USD back in the States –and though they changed artists a while back (and I do miss Mato, the old artist), the storyline is still rolling on. Check it out if you want, I think Viz is starting to release more under their “Viz Kids” label.

  • 441 points
    Terr says...

    Pokémon is pretty dark as it is… when you really think about the world & everythihg in it. Team Rocket are incredibly dark characters, especially James. It might seem like he’s not too bad because you’re viewing it in a kid’s setting, but geez. Not nice people… not to mention that Pokémon are kept in very small balls as data 90% of the time.

    I never really got into the Pokémon television series, but I have almost all the games & quite a lot of the manga. The television series just seemed a little meh & both the Japanese & American voice actors were a bit pale to me. The ‘newer’ series of Pokémon were a little more entertaining due to the art being a little more bearable.

  • 219 points
    Smith Stuart says...

    I just can’t bear the show without the original 4kids voices. The replacements are beyond painful to me, and Veronica Taylor’s epic, powerful performance and deep, personal connection with Ash is much too deeply connected with me emotionally to ever even consider accepting him speak with the newer, lifeless voice of Sarah Natochenny.

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