by Laz Carter
Introduction: Pokémon and Intratextuality
Some may argue that this article doesn’t concern cinema or Film Studies, that Pokémon may be better understood within the field of Sociology or Cultural Studies. David Surman writes that ‘the tendency in academia is to understand Pokémon through its social effects, though at the same time hesitating from scrutinising what is issuing from the cartridge to the LCD screen’ (2009:162). I refute such positions, primarily because an understanding of Pokémon’s ‘social effects’ is necessary before one can meaningfully textually analyse a given product. Furthermore, the very ‘franchise’ model propagated by Pokémon – wherein one can consume the Pokémon universe through not only film but also animated television series, videogames, comics, trading card games, theme parks, merchandise and a plethora of other Poké-paraphernalia – means that any attempt to usefully separate one medium from the rest remains a futile endeavour that does not benefit any serious study. Henry Jenkins postulates that the Pokémon franchise adheres to what he terms the ‘convergence culture’ model (2006:133). In other words, the various avenues through which one may encounter Pokémon influence each other to such an extent that one cannot truly comprehend any given individual element in isolation, but rather as part of a larger ‘supersystem’ (Iwabuchi 2004:64). Can one, for example, truly appreciate the eternal struggle between Satoshi (Ash Ketchum) and Shigeru (Gary Oak) in the anime series without battling one’s own rival in the Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue videogame
cartridges? Does one have the same emotional attachment to a Pikachu ‘plushie’ soft toy if one has not endured the epic ordeal of Satoshi’s Pikachu in Pokémon: The First Movie (Myūtsū no Gyakushū, Michael Haigney and Kunihiko Yuyama, 1998)? I would argue that the success of the Pokémon franchise can only be explained through an awareness of interconnected inferences and intratextual in-jokes. The producers of Pokémon were well aware of the necessity for a synergised product release; Pokémon: The First Movie cinema-goers were rewarded with a special edition trading card (Electabuzz, Pikachu, Dragonite or Mewtwo). Other connections are far more explicit, such as the opening sequence of the first episode of the animated television series (Fig. 1) which very deliberately mimics the introductory video of the original Game Boy software (Fig. 2).
Having established that the Pokémon universe relies on constant
references to itself, one should now be able to see how cinema plays a key role in a contemporary analysis of Pokémon. When examining examples of ‘franchise fandom’, one must account for the fact that a consumer’s experiences of any given aspect of the product will affect their appreciation of the remainder. Thus, whilst examples from Pokémon’s many cinematic achievements are not the main focus of this study, they inherently inform and imbue the points raised here, even if only to a peripheral degree. I argue that 2014 has seen a revival of ‘Poké-mania’, albeit a different brand of the fervour which had been evident during the peak of Pokémon’s success.
1. Pokémon in the Past: What Once Was
Before moving on to the main thrust of this discourse, it is first necessary to briefly provide a historical context for the extraordinary success of the Pokémon franchise.
Pokémon is the most successful computer game ever made, the top globally selling trading-card game of all time, one of the most successful children’s television programs ever broadcast, the top-grossing movie ever released in Japan, and among the five top earners in the history of films worldwide. (Tobin 2004a:3)
Depending on which information one chooses to focus on, these observations may well prove to be out of date one decade after Tobin’s time of writing. Continue reading Pokémon and a Fandom of Nostalgia