P is for Pokémon

By Chris Tilbury

Pokémon is a Japanese media franchise that has dominated the lives of young people for over a decade, spawning anime and manga, trading cards and movies. The brand is now in its sixth generation and has over 700 different title characters.

Originally a GameBoy game, created in 1996, Pokémon soon became popular across the world. The trading cards were the subject of almost every child’s playground conversation and caused innumerable arguments, but like most things that have become popular, people find controversy.

Fundamentalist Muslim groups have claimed that the word “Pokémon” means “I am Jewish”. No explanation needed. The issue actually became so inflammatory that the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia issued a fatwā in 2001 banning Pokémon because it “promotes gambling and Zionism“. Though it was allowed to return, the demand for Pokémon products was greatly reduced.


Bizarrely, as well as being labelled pro-Zionist, Pokémon has also been described as anti-Semitic. Eagle-eyed purchasers of the playing cards in Japan may have spotted that the one of the trainer cards contained a left facing swastika. The image was edited for the European and American audience because of its connotations. The Zionist imagery doesn’t stop there though, viewers of the television episodes spotted that members of Team Rocket raised their hands in a similar gesture to the Hitler salute.


One of the characters was even identified as portraying a racist stereotype. Jynx, a dual ice-psychic Pokémon, was originally black, but after public outcry claiming that the character resembled the racial stereotype, she became purple.


If all of that wasn’t enough, animal rights groups have also criticised Pokémon. One PETA member claimed that the franchise included drug references in the “Leaf Green” version of the game. They have also suggested that the characters “Cubone” and “Marowak” have no skin on their head because they have been subjected to animal testing, even though the animals appear to be wearing skulls as masks.

Probably drugs

Probably drugs

Despite the controversies, Pokémon is Nintendo’s second most successful video-game-based franchise, behind only Mario.

In fact, the franchise was so popular during the late ’90 and early ’00s, children behaved violently to collect or protect their card collections. In 1999, a 14-year-old boy was stabbed at his school, just outside of Montreal, after approaching a 12-year-old and accusing him of stealing a box of Pokémon cards worth around $45.

Whether there are controversies or not, you should still try and “catch them all”.