Pokémon Powerhouse

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Image courtesy Pokémon Videogame Championships

Have you ever collected lightning bugs on warm summer nights or collected stamps, rocks, even dirt from places you’ve been? If you don’t know the wonders of collecting, think twice about not only the kind of joy it brings to people but how that very concept helped launch the biggest game franchise in history.

There are many things people can collect in this world but, in the virtual Pokémon World created by Japanese video game designer Satoshi Tajiri, you can compete to collect all 801 Pokémon or at the very least, become the best Pokémon Trainer/Gym Leader of them all. Though 801 is a daunting number, Pokémon did not start with that many. It didn’t even start with the name Pokémon.

When Satoshi Tajiri was a high school student, he was a prime gamer. He didn’t achieve high honors in his classes but his fanzine Gamefreak, first published in 1981, became a top seller in the dōjinshi (doh-o-jeen-shee (1))-self-published magazines- shop of his hometown Machida. His fanzine, handwritten and edited by him, gave other gamers tips and tricks on how to collect highest points in popular video arcade games he played, like game creator Tomohiro Nishikado’s 1978 game Space Invaders and Japanese developer Namco’s 1982 game Dig Dug, who’s namesake was the cover of Tajiri first fanzine (2). 

Ken Sugimori, a fan of the zine, contacted Tajiri about collaborating and so, he became the illustrator of Gamefreak.  In 1986, Tajiri and Sugimori, decided to use their gaming skills to create a video game of their own. Thus, Gamefreak turned from fanzine to video game developing company (3).

The word Pokémon is the hybridization of the English words pocket monster spelled in katana -the Japanese alphabet used to spell foreign words. Poketto monsutā was then shortened to Pokémon (4). Tajiri got the idea for Pokémon from his childhood adventures of collecting bugs. He believed others could experience his joy of exploring and collecting. He worked on the main programming while Sugimori illustrated all 150 Pokémon. They pitched their game idea to game publisher Nintendo and were granted money to start creating the game for Nintendo Gameboy. After many delays due to programming bugs, Gamefreak, in collaboration with the art studio Creatures, finished the first generation of Pokémon within six long years.

Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green were published in 1996 for the Gameboy system. A last-minute Pokémon was added to the game which turned the total of created Pokémon to 151-  but it was never meant to be released and it was never mentioned to the public when Nintendo published the first generation games.  However, some sold games contained a programming bug that ended up releasing the added Pokémon named Mewtwo (5). This unintentional move is was turned the Pokémon franchise into a cultural phenomenon. It created a myth about mysterious Pokémon and sparked a continual interest in playing every game in order to catch the rarePokémon (6). Every generation after Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green now includes one unique Pokémon only obtainable by trading with other Pokémon players who are playing the opposite “color” of their game. 

Each Pokémon game with the same Pokémon (apart from the different rare Pokémon) are one generation. Any game with new Pokémon creations becomes the start of a new generation. The Pokémon franchise is now in its seventh generation with its 2016 release of Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon for Nintendo 3DS handheld system (7). However, the generations are not the only things creating the franchise $1.5 billion annual earnings (8). It also consists of the Pokémon spin-off games, like Pokémon Pin-Ball (Gameboy Color) and Pokémon Snap (Nintendo 64), and the animated show Pokémon (released in 1997 and still airing new generation episodes today (9)). The animated show follows 10-year-old Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town, in his pursuit of becoming an elite Pokémon Trainer. Due to the popularity of Ash and his electric mouse Pokémon Pikachu, the special edition game Pokémon Yellow (Gameboy Color) was created.

Pikachu is to the Pokémon franchise what Mickey Mouse is to Disney (10). Not only is Pikachu an adorable rare Pokémon but his personality on the show also makes him unique. He is a stubborn and loyal friend of Ash. He and Ash have a unique relationship where even the show’s supporting characters point out its weirdness: Pikachu does not live in his poké ball, the item used by Pokémon trainers to catch and store their Pokémon. He instead walks freely next to Ash and Ash respects his decision to do so.

In the famous episode, Electric Shock Showdown (11), Ash and his friends, Brock and Misty, travel to Vermillion City to battle against Gym Leader Serge for a Thunder badge. Pikachu is beaten by Raichu, the evolved version of a Pikachu. While in the Pokémon hospital recovering, Pokémon nurse Joy gives Ash a gem that helps Pokémon evolve. However, Ash chooses to leave the decision of evolving to Pikachu, which is a rare move. It is common and often sought by Pokémon trainers who want to be top Pokémon Gym Leaders, to evolve their young Pokémon into a stronger stage of its life. By Ash letting Pikachu decide, it solidified him as not only a caring Pokémon trainer but a true friend to his Pokémon. Pikachu, by choosing not to evolve, became the icon of the strength one has even if you are at a young stage in life (in the episode, Gym Leader Serge continuously calls Ash and Pikachu “baby”).

Months before the release of the 2016 Sun and Moon generation, the Pokémon franchise went to a different level of playing by adapting itself to the world of ARG (alternate reality game). In collaboration with Niantic- an American software development company- they created the downloadable phone application, Pokémon Go. By using the real world as its playing field, players can now search and compete with Pokémon in their own backyards. The current daily active players of Pokémon Go globally is 5 million people (12). 

With the Nintendo’s newly release system, Nintendo Switch, there is much anticipation on what is to come from the Pokémon World franchise.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

  1. AnimeNewsNetwork. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/lexicon.php?id=16
  2. 2004 interview with Satoshi Tajiri, part 1: the beginning of Game Freak. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBULijYK6wI
  3. Pokémon: The Story of Satoshi Tajiri. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1tOsta5z5Q&t=3s
  4. Steinmetz, Katy. July 19, 2016. The Surprising History Behind the Word Pokémon. http://time.com/4411912/pokemon-go-word-origin/
  5. Cartoonami. February 29, 2016. An Oral History of Pokémon. http://www.ign.com/blogs/cartoonami/2016/02/29/an-oral-history-of-pokemon
  6. Cartoonami. January 12, 2016. Fixing the 20 Years of Pokemon Timeline. http://www.ign.com/blogs/cartoonami/2016/01/12/fixing-the-20-years-of-pokemon-timeline
  7. http://www.serebii.net/pokemongo/
  8. Lamoreux, Ben. July 13, 2014. The Pokémon Company Generates $1.5 Billion Annually. http://www.gamnesia.com/news/the-pokemon-company-generates-1.5-billion-annually
  9. Thomas, Lucas M. February 10, 2011. The Pokemon TV Retrospective: After 14 years, Ash Ketchum’s cartoon quest is still going strong. http://www.ign.com/articles/2011/02/11/the-pokemon-tv-retrospective
  10. Minotti, Mike. February 29, 2016. How Pikachu went from rare rodent to media icon. https://venturebeat.com/2016/02/29/how-pikachu-went-from-rare-rodent-to-media-icon/
  11. Pokémon Tv.Pokémon Episode – 14 “Electric Shock Showdown” (2/2). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKSsxrMUhmE
  12. Smith, Craig. April 19, 2017. 80 Incredible Pokemon Go Statistics and Facts (April 2017). http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/pokemon-go-statistics/

Leszek Jankowski’s music is the soul of The Brothers Quay’s Street of Crocodiles

 

In the stop-motion film, Street of Crocodiles, the Quay brothers- Stephen and Timothy Quay- bring to life the Jewish Polish writer Bruno Schulz’s 1933 story, Ulica Krokodyli (Street of Crocodiles). The film’s lack of dialogue, though very much noticed at first, is not at all missed with all the goings-on on the screen; dolls, mannequins, rolling screws. The music composed by Leszek Jankowski, however, is what gives the films eerie, battered, child-like characters breath.

The film starts with the tick-tock of time accompanied by a human whistling that turns into birds whistling. All of that gets drowned out by harps and cellos conveying what is to come. A man in a back room of a lecture hall spits

A man in a back room of a lecture hall spits onto a spool in a box which greases the spool which in turn, lifts a screen door within the box. The man in the lecture hall back room then inserts scissors into the low end of the box and snips the string of the film’s protagonist: well-dressed puppet with wild hair.

The puppet moves around the box world with caution.

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The music is a screeching violin, the kind of sound you hear at a child recital. This violin is accompanied by the repeating rhythm of a cello, like an instructor trying to guide its pupil. The music then turns into a bwaang-bwaang sound, like a child playing a rubber band guitar and then silence. The puppet looks at all the still mannequins behind clear frames. We, like him, are merely observing the images and sounds some of these things make. The silence of the music gives the room to do so and amplifies the bareness of the objects seen.

The puppet looks at all the still mannequins behind clear frames. We, like him, are merely observing the images and sounds some of these things make. The silence gives the room to do so and amplifies the bareness of the objects seen.

Far away from where the puppet stands, alarm bells with birds trills sound off. The puppet moves toward a squeaky pulley and softly touches the string. This action turns off the sounds of alarms. However, the action brings about murmurs.

There are closeups of the puppet’s eyes, the puppets face, quietly contemplating what he may be hearing. Then comes in a tailor with its three apprentices which pull the puppet into their office to prepare him a suite and new head.

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A whimsical tick-tock and xylophone keys are played with deep cello strings singing and squeaky violins voicing their short remarks while the apprentices twirl about the sewing room. They change his clothes and give him a hollow head like theirs but stuff it with white fibers. However, the tailor has a change of heart and decides to give the puppet back his original head. Once the scene ends, a melancholy harp tune is played which then becomes accompanied by a mature violin and cello.

The moments of the surprise and joy and curiosity which heightened during the tailor and dancing apprentice scene is now a mere memory, an experience in which the puppet internalizes and appreciates.

The music, though creepy at times, really exemplifies the growth of the puppet; from novice screechy violins to harmonious cellos, xylophones, and strings, to the minimal sound of melody by single harp tones. The puppet learns to not run foolishly with his curiosity but instead cautiously investigate his surroundings and know when to leave things as they are.

 

“In that city of cheap human material, no instincts can flourish, no dark and unusual passions can be aroused. The street of crocodiles was a concession of our city to modernity and metropolitan corruption. The misfortune of that area is that nothing ever success there, nothing can ever reach a definite conclusion. Obviously, we were unable to afford anything better that a cardboard imitation, a photo-montage cut out from last years mouldering newspapers.” – Bruno Schulz, Ulica Krokodyli , 1933

Bob’s Burgers: An Animated Series essential for the Whole Family

Creator Loren Bouchard (known for Home Movies) and co-creator/executive producer Jim Dauterive (known for his work in King of the Hill) gave birth to the blue-collar, self-employed, Belcher family. Bob’s Burger stars Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin), his wife Linda (John Roberts), and their three kids; thirteen year old Tina (Dan Mintz), eleven year old Gene (Eugene Mirman), and nine year old Louise (Kristen Schaal) and centers on their struggles for keeping their family sane and their restaurant open. The opening credits of the series show how the family struggles three times to open their restaurant: their building catches on fire, their restaurant gets infested with rats, and finally, a car crashes into an electrical pole that falls into their restaurant window. All of this is juxtaposed with its ukulele theme song which pushes the feeling that though things can get bad, the family can persevere.

What’s great about this series is its ability to give each family member their own individuality and showing how the family respects their individualism. In Frond Files (season 4, episode 12) Bob and Linda go to Wagstaff School to see their children’s work in the school’s show, “Why I love Wagstaff”, however, when they can’t find their work projects, they go looking for the school guidance counselor, Phillip Frond (David Herman). After unsuccessfully hiding from them, Mr. Frond decides to bring Bob and Linda to his office to talk about their kids’ projects. All three of them wrote story reports explaining why they love their school. Gene’s is titled “Fart School for the Gifted” which is a musical, Tina’s is titled “A Tale of Horror” which is about a zombie attack stopped by Tina’s flirting abilities, and Louise’s is simply titled “Why I Love Wagstaff” which is about robot Mr. Frond coming to attack to Louise, Terminator-style. Mr. Frond pulls these projects of the school show because they make him look bad in their stories and he is very hurt by that. Instead of Bob and Linda taking Mr. Frond’s side regarding the subjects of their kids’ stories, they actually enjoy the creativity, even when it’s a little comfortable for them (Bob quickly changes the subject from Tina’s semi-erotic fan-fiction to Louise’s sci-fi fiction). When Mr. Frond sees that they do not see eye-to-eye, he breaks down and cries “why don’t they like me!” Their response is he should relax and try to relate to the kids.

Another great thing about the show is Bob and Linda’s openness and understanding to their children’s individual ticks. 151344_origIn Kids Run Away, Louise runs away from the dentist, Dr. Yap (Ken Jeong), during the families bi-annual dental cleaning. When she finds out she needs a filling, she runs away to her “crazy” aunt Gayle’s (Megan Mullally) studio apartment. Bob supports Linda’s idea of betting Louise that if she cannot handle a weekend with her aunt, she will have to get the filling. Linda sends Tina and Gene to stay with her sister Gayle and has Tina be the spy that will follow Linda’s outside orders via text messages, to try to make the weekend unbearable. This reminds me of all the different measures I’ve taken as a parent to force my kids to do things that need to be done. Louise ends up winning the bet but still refuses to go to the dentist and instead of Bob and Linda just forcing her, Aunt Gayle is the one that helps Louise “turn her fear-believe into make-believe” which creates a beautiful last 5 minutes of the episode showing how the family, including Dr. Yap, works together to get the tooth-filling mission complete. Bob’s Burgers episodes don’t bluntly give out “lessons” but the story lines give important views on how a family can work together.