RetroVision – The Origins of Pokémon

Pokémon began in 1996 with the Japanese Game Boy release of Pocket Monsters Aka and Midori (Red and Green). However, in order to experience Nintendo’s latest phenomenon, the west would have to wait until the late 90’s, when the enhanced Japanese Ao (Blue) version was re-packaged and released as Pokémon Red & Blue. Since then, Pokémon has evolved from a product with little expectation, to a multi billion dollar franchise, with instantly recognisable characters and a global patronage.

The Forests of Machida

Through this commercial success Pokémon has reached an international audience, something exemplified through the recent Pokémon Go. Nevertheless, its origins can be traced all the way back to a place called Machida. A small western Tokyo suburb, and the hometown of games creator Satoshi Tajiri.

Viridian Forest
It isn’t long before Ash (or Satoshi as he is known in Japan) is in a forest himself.

Before the urban sprawl of Tokyo had transformed the satoyama forests of Machida into a concrete jungle, Tajiri used to love spending time outdoors. What’s more, whilst exploring the rice paddies, rivers, and forests that made up his local area, he became fascinated with the world of insects. In fact, Tajiri became so enamoured with these critters, that he planned on becoming an entomologist.

In his spare time he would go hunting for insects, trapping them in jars to take them home to study. He didn’t make them fight as has been previously reported, but would see them fight whilst trapped in the jars. However, as the urbanisation of the Greater Tokyo area continued, insect habitats would be lost, and Tajiri would drift away from the hobby.

All Bug Pokémon
There are many insects to be found in Pokémon.

A Return To The Wild

It wasn’t until much later that when Tajiri was searching for a new game concept, that he would return to the long forgotten past time of his childhood. This made him begin to think about how children had stopped going outside of their homes, with this consequently making them unable to have the same experiences in the natural world as he once had. As such, he saw this as an opportunity to create a game to fill this void.

By combining his experiences within the world of insects with his other interests, such as video games, television shows, and Ultraman, he came up with the idea for Pocket Monsters. Although it was originally known as Capsule Monsters, before being changed to Pocket Monsters due to issues with trademarking.

pokemon beedrill metapod venonat parasect scyther caterpie butterfree pinsir heracross weedle shuckl_www.wallpaperhi.com_67

From Insects To Pocket Monsters

In Japan, catching and collecting insects is a popular hobby still to this day. However, it’s not just the inspiration that Tajiri took from this hobby. In fact, many other traits from this activity can still found within the Pokémon universe. One example of this is how trainers catch wild Pokémon and develop a bond with them, much like the way in which bugs are caught and kept as pets.

It’s also important to note the use of the word “trainer”, alongside the battle system which is used. As both of which can be linked to beetle fighting. A sport that is popular in some areas of Japan.

Pinsir Herracross
The beetle Pokémon Mega-Pinsir and Mega-Herracross are considered to be two of the most powerful bug Pokémon.

Additionally, the collecting and registering of insects aspect of the hobby is also mimicked in the game through the Pokédex. This is a device which trainers use to track the number of caught Pokémon, and in order to receive vital information about the species. Much like a personal insect collection combined with an encyclopaedia.

Finally, another element connected to insects can actually be seen within the way in which these creatures evolve. You see, that’s because this technique actually bears a striking resemblance to metamorphosis. A process that many bugs utilise in order to grow stronger.

Metapod Evolution
Caterpie’s evolution into Metapod is a literal interpretation of the metamorphosis of Insects.

From Small Beginnings…..

Before it came out, Nintendo did not have high expectations for Pokémon. It was released on a console that was waning, and at first sales were slow. As time progressed though, Pokémon’s sales grew slowly and steadily. This came in no small part thanks to young males who continued to buy software on older more affordable hardware. Although the influence of the rumours of a hidden 151st Pokémon, cannot not be understated either.

In fact, it was with this success that Nintendo commissioned both an animated series and a Trading Card Game. From this point on Pokémon continued to grow and grow, until it became the global franchise that it is today. What’s more, Pokémon’s ability to sustain its popularity over these last 20 years is nothing short of remarkable.

Pokemon Train On Ad
A scene from Pokémon’s 20th Anniversary Super Bowl commercial.

Nevertheless, given the franchise’s own metamorphosis from humble beginnings to international powerhouse, it’s important to understand where the origins of Pokémon lie. Within the fond childhood memories of one kid, and the time he spent outdoors catching and collecting insects. As such, whilst it may not be the same as the main series titles, in many ways Pokémon Go not only helps to fulfil the dreams of many Pokémaniacs, but also those of the man who created this global phenomenon.

Stuart Drake

Not very good at writing about games and even worse at them. Is that going to stop me doing either? Absolutely not! You can follow this Pokémaniac on Twitter and Instagram via @Boogbn