‘Pokémon’ at 15: Success is still in the cards, films and TV shows

April 11, 2012 | 2:42 p.m.

After 15 years, 700 TV episodes and 14 feature films, Ash Ketchum and millions of kids are still trying to catch ’em all.

In April 1997, the animated version of “Pokémon” premiered on Japanese television. Based on the hit Nintendo Game Boy title introduced two years earlier, the series follows the travels and travails of Ketchum (Satoshi in the original) as he tries to become a Pokémon Master by building a team that can beat other trainers in stylized battles. Traveling with Ash are perennially love-sick Brock, feisty Misty and Pikachu, the “electric mouse” Pokémon.

The series scored a huge hit in Japan, and by 1999 the game and show had conquered America. Pokémon paraphernalia were everywhere. The original motto, “Pokémon Getto Daze!” (Let’s Get Pokémon!) became “Gotta Catch ’em All!” The first “Pokémon” feature film grossed more than $85 million, and horror stories appeared on the news about kids stealing one another’s “Pokémon” trading cards.

Once the craze peaked, the mainstream media and a large portion of the population assumed that “Pokémon” faded away. But gamers, anime fans and parents of elementary school boys know it’s still very present — as its staggering sales attest.

videogames Pokémon at 15: Success is still in the cards, films and TV shows

Pokémon Black Version/White Version video game. (The Pokémon Company International)

“People remember the late ’90s/early 2000s ‘Pokémon’ because it was so big,” says J.C. Smith, marketing director for the Pokémon Co. International. “Many people believe ‘Pokémon’ went somewhere after that, when it’s been steady for 15 years. Over that time, 230 million ‘Pokémon’ video games have been sold worldwide: The franchise is second only to ‘Mario,’ which began 10 years earlier. The most recent game, Pokémon Black Version/White Version, has almost sold 14 million units so far. Over the years, we’ve also sold 19 billion Pokémon cards.”

That’s more than two cards for every person on the planet.

The animated series is licensed in 160 countries in 30 languages. More than 700 episodes have been broadcast over the last 15 yearsby comparison, in February, “The Simpsons” hit its 500th episode over 23 seasons.

pokecc81mon  bw rival destinies group character shot Pokémon at 15: Success is still in the cards, films and TV shows

The characters of the "Pokémon: BW Rival Destinies" TV series. (The Pokémon Company International)

Although “Pokémon” has been accused of fostering gambling, un-Islamic conduct and Darwinism, the series and games stress friendship and good sportsmanship. When a player wins, it’s not a glorious victory but a testament to his exceptional bond with his Pokémon. In the series, Ash never allows anyone to mistreat a Pokémon, and he learns self-sacrifice when he permits his Butterfree to find a mate and depart for their nesting grounds.

“Pokémon” also awakened a generation of American children to the wonders of Japanese animation. Roland Kelts, the author of “Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.,” comments, ” ‘Pokémon’ was a breakthrough series for anime and remains one of its touchstones. It also introduced audiences, usually kids, to what I call anime style: the line-based, edgy-looking, two-dimensional visuals, and a golden triangle of merchandising strategies comprising games, collectibles and the stories themselves. Shows like ‘Pokémon’ and ‘Dragon Ball Z’ serve as gateway drugs to anime, manga and sometimes Japanese culture itself. They’re often the childhood catalysts for college students who study Japanese in the U.S., or sign up for short-term home-stays or English-teaching gigs.”

tradingcards Pokémon at 15: Success is still in the cards, films and TV shows

Pokémon game cards. (The Pokémon Company International)

In August, players from 25 countries will compete in the Pokémon championships in Kona, Hawaii. The 14th “Pokémon” feature recently aired on Cartoon Network and will appear on DVD this month. This fall, Pokémon Black and White Version 2 games will debut—the first sequels in the history of the franchise. The online Pokémon Trading Card Game — for people who want to learn and play whenever they have free time — is in open beta at www.pokemontcg.com.

When asked about the enduring appeal of “Pokémon,” Smith replies, “One of the reasons is the richness of its world. There are more than 640 Pokémon now, so everyone has a favorite or a team of favorites. The principle tenet of ‘Pokémon’ is collect, trade and battle: Now you have 640 options. You can collect them, trade them with your friends, or train them for battle in the trading card or video games. People want to complete their collections or find that one new Pokémon that helps their battle strategy.”

— Charles Solomon


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8 Responses to ‘Pokémon’ at 15: Success is still in the cards, films and TV shows

  1. ahhh the memories that come flooding back from my childhood when i read this, Pokemon will always hold a special place in my heart.

  2. Julian Rapoport says:

    It is NOT the first sequels. Gold and Silver released in 1999 in Japan and 2000 in the US are the first sequels. The working title was even Pocket Monsters 2: Gold and Silver. You could at least look this up first, everything is online.

    • John Collier says:

      yes they are. When it says it's the first "sequel" it means black and white are the first "color" versions to get a sequel, hence black and white 2, not gray like everyone thought it would be. There is no blue 2 and red 2, or gold 2 and silver 2, etc. And in response to "The working title was even Pocket Monsters 2: Gold and Silver. You could at least look this up first, everything is online." Maybe it was the "working" title, but not the one they went with, therefore not sequels.

      • @TyeWatson says:

        No they are not. Gold and Silver were indirect sequels to red, blue, green and yellow. It wasn't a working title because Gold and Silver take place three years after the main character of RBGY defeated Giovanni and Team Rocket. Team Rocket tries to start over and it is up to the main character in GSC to stop them. In the remakes heart gold and soul silver there is a special event where you could witness Giovanni talking to your GSC rival saying he is done with team rocket for now therefore sequel because it states what happens after the original games. You should have done even more research into it

  3. sharon says:

    I have pokemon gotta catch em all in the tin box 6 pks of cards from 1999 how much are these cards worth and how do u check the value They were an xmas present for my daughter when she was 11 well will be 23 this summer she now is 23. you may contact me at email

  4. pokemon game says:

    Magnificent put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the other experts of this sector do not notice this. You should proceed your writing. I am sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!|What’s Taking place i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely useful and it has helped me out loads. I’m hoping to contribute & help other users like its helped me. Great job.

  5. pokemonchris says:


  6. agniss says:

    i had sorta pokemons puzzle game and dude my childhood was awesomely spent playing it.

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