If you were alive in the 1990s, then the Pokémon craze was an unavoidable, daily reality. While it’s still a prevalent force today, I remember the days where Pokémon was everywhere all the time. I was among the countless anime fans who grew up in this era and had their first experiences with anime through Ash’s adventures. So why do I not have any lasting fondness for the series? I am generally the nostalgic type, yet I don’t have any passion for Pokémon whatsoever despite it playing such a pivotal role in my childhood.
Sure, I watched Pokémon and I watched it a lot. I had the series on VHS, I bought a bunch of merch, I had the video game, I had the trading cards, I was as excited about the Pokémon hype as any other kid at the time. I am not so pretentious as to deny that.
However, Pokémon was really a gateway into anime for me and I quickly found myself growing out of it sooner than my friends did. I grew to dislike the episodic nature of the TV series and remember, in particular, how often I’d voice my frustration about the mini-arc involving Ash needing a ghost-type for his battle against Sabrina. During this storyline, Ash is temporarely killed in an accident and later brought back to life by his ghostly friends. That storyline left a major impression on me and I hated how it was never brought up again and left no lasting impact on the characters whatsoever.
Many shows at the time were similarly episodic, but in Digimon I saw an example of this storytelling done right. It too had episodic adventures, but it felt like the events clicked together more coherently and weren’t so disposable. I liked the ideas and monster designs of Pokémon better, but Digimon‘s story felt more like a legitimate adventure with high stakes and plot twists that really meant something. And Digimon wasn’t the only competition, because I soon fell in love with Mon Colle Knights and Medabots as well.
Aiding the decline of my interest in Pokémon was its offering of video games. The TV series inspired me to nag my parents for a GameBoy and, of course, I had to have Pokémon Yellow for it. I imagined how cool it would to build my own team and battle against other trainers, but reality was disappointing. The technologically-limited GameBoy couldn’t produce anything remotely close to what the TV series looked like and the static, turn-based battle system was terribly boring to me. The game also didn’t have a Dutch translation, so I couldn’t follow the story, didn’t understand instructions, and soon found myself losing interest as I just got plain stuck.
Pokémon Tournament offered some outcome and was definitely more cinematic, but it still didn’t offer the kind of cool adventure that I was hoping to have in the Pokémon World. This made the Playstation game Digimon World, while no less befuddling, much more interesting to me. On the more physical side of things, I did like the Pokémon cards for their art and the fun of collecting them, but nobody knew how to play the game. So when my interest in Pokémon waned, I sold the whole collection for 5 euros to a classmate, still having never played the actual TCG.
You know what card game I did understand? Yu-Gi-Oh. The turn of the millennium opened up a new chapter for me when it came to watching anime. Pokémon and Digimon were just cartoons to me at the time, but the 2000s brought us Shaman King, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Mushrambo, which I immediately understood as being different from the other series I could watch at the time. To my young mind, these shows were amazing adventures with dark storylines and cool characters.
Especially Mushrambo left a deep impression on me, as its story dealt with questions of morality and was set in a grim, post-apocalyptic world filled with death and hopelessness. It was shocking and uncomfortable in a way I had never encountered before, so when I finally gained access to the internet and spoke decent English, I began searching for stuff like Mushrambo and Shaman King. Pokémon wasn’t a part of my life anymore at this point; I only caught bits and pieces of its third season and didn’t play another Pokémon game or rewatch some old episodes until I was well into adulthood.
So that’s my story with Pokémon, but how did this iconic anime franchise affect your life? Was it your first anime as well or was it perhaps influential in getting you interested in anime? Did you too lose interest or are you keeping up to this very day?