Good ol’ Pokemon. There is something about this Japanese children’s anime television series from the late ’90s that still has a nostalgic grip on many hearts. It’s seen many new seasons and versions, but the OG Pokemon show was something special. Perhaps it was the Pokemon mass hysteria that shook nations with the quick popularity of the show, card games, and other collectible franchise goodness. But the real nostalgia probably lies in the show– the life lessons and fun adventures paired with a completely new kid-friendly universe of pocket monsters was something many of us looked forward to on Saturday morning back in the day.
A lot of us grew up with Ash, Misty, Pikachu, and Brock and know quite a lot about the franchise and its characters. But there’s a surprising amount of facts about the original Pokemon show and video games that few people know about. For this list, we’re going to mostly look at the original anime.
Check out these 15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Pokemon Franchise.
15. Ash's sidekick was originally supposed to be Clefairy instead of Pikachu
Our favorite fairy type Pokemon was almost the Pokemon series’ mascot instead of Pikachu.
This isn’t exactly out of left field – it is only natural that our Pokemon leader Ash would have a cute and fluffy sidekick that kids would love and recognize. Clefairy was one of the earliest Pokemon to have a fleshed-out design as well, and also was the main Pokemon mascot to be featured in the original Japanese manga.
Not only that, but Clefairy was much more similar to Meowth than Pikachu. In the manga, Clefairy could speak and often had a crude sense of humor. Something about that mental image is pretty hilarious.
When it came for the anime adaptation of the manga to be made, the main marketers of the series felt that Clefairy wasn’t cuddly, eye-catching, or cute enough. And that is how Pikachu became the symbol of Pokemon that we’ve all come to love.
14. Porygon's only been in one episode-- that seizure-causing one
This story is pretty well-known, but many younger fans weren’t around back in the day to know the details of this incident – and of poor Porygon’s lost screen time because of it.
In the original series’ episode “Cyber Soldier Porygon”, Ash and the gang discover that the teleportation device used to move Pokemon between Pokemon Centers is broken. They go to the original inventor of the technology for help, when they find that the professor’s Pokemon creation, Porygon – a digital creature that can exist in cyberspace– has been stolen.
Unfortunately, Porygon’s attacks featured strobing, intense flashes of colors. When the episode released in 1997, children in Japan suffered from photosensitive epileptic seizures. The Japanese press called it “Pokemon Shock” and nearly 685 viewers of the episode had to be hospitalized, with two of them having to stay in the hospital for weeks.
The episode hasn’t be broadcasted since and after the incident the show went on a hiatus for four months. Despite other controversies Pokemon endured during its run (there are a many), the Porygon incident is considered its biggest controversy. The incident has been parodied in pop culture quite a bit since then.
13. Episodes Have Been Pulled in Japan Due To Tragedies
Pokemon has seen a lot of controversy elsewhere in the world, but only a handful of episodes have been banned within Japan. These few episodes were banned mostly because of plots being too similar to recent tragedies.
The episode “Battle of the Quaking Island! Dojoach vs. Namazun!!” follows Ash after he finished the Mossdeep City Gym and sets off to a new location. Ash and his friends get caught in an earthquake on the way, caused by the Pokemon Whiscash. Unfortunately, this episode was slated to air shortly after the tragic Chuetsu earthquake of October 2004 and was discontinued in Japan.
Similarly, “Team Rocket vs. Team Plasma!” had a plot centered around the city of Castelia being destroyed. The episode was meant to be broadcast in March of 2011, but similarities between the destruction in the episode and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 led to the episode being postponed and eventually dumped.
12. Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee are named after famous fighters
The fighting Pokemon that Western fans know as Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee are named after some of our most beloved martial artists– Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.
Furthermore, the Japanese versions of these Pokemon are called Ebiwalar and Sawamular and are named after infamous Japanese boxer Hiroyuki Ebihara and kickboxer Tadashi Sawamura. Kickboxer Tadashi Sawamura has also been in pop culture previously with the anime series Kick no Oni that is loosely based on his life.
This little homage led us to more interesting namesakes within the Pokemon universe as well. In Japan, Abra and its evolutions are named after famous stage magicians Edgar Cayce, Uri Geller, and Harry Houdini. The First Bird Pokemon, Archeops, is named after the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Cheops. The water and steel type Pokemon Empoleon is named after the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Kangaskhan is named after Genghis Khan as well.
We can’t forget the obvious villain references with Butch and Cassidy plus Jesse and James, either.
11. The Lavender Town phenomenon
Is it real? Is it a hoax? Who knows exactly how legitimate the claims are. It was once widely regarded as just another spooky internet myth, but many people across the web have claimed to have suffered from the strange Lavender Town Syndrome.
The story of Lavender Town made its rounds on various paranormal “creepypasta” forums several years ago. After the release of Pokemon Red and Green, the creepypasta tells the story of how multiple child suicide reports popped up around Japan. The location of Lavender Town in the game is considered the culprit, specifically the music that plays when entering it in the game. It was stated that the frequencies in the song caused some kind of psychological disturbance in young players.
Perhaps the placebo effect of reading the story and listening to the song is what causes real-life people to claim feelings of intense dread, or maybe the Lavender Town creepypasta isn’t as mythical as we think. Who knows.
10. An Episode Has Been Pulled Due To Sexually Inappropriate Content
On a less unnerving note, let’s talk about James’ big heaving breasts.
It’s crazy to think such a sweet children’s show would have such a huge pile of dirty laundry behind its name. On top of the previously mentioned Porygon seizure fiasco, there have been countless times that Pokemon episodes have been removed or banned in certain places.
In the episode “Beauty and the Beach”, most of the lady characters on the show enter a beauty contest. Team Rocket enters as well, and James just couldn’t help but want to get in on the action. Wearing a suit with inflatable breasts, he manages to get in on the contest. In one scene in particular, he bullies Misty for being young and having small boobs, groping his own as he taunts her. Later, he puffs up his inflatable breasts even more. The episode had even more weird sexual scenes that included Brock, Ash, and a creepy old man displaying their attraction to Misty in a bikini. The episode was initially edited to remove these scenes, but haven’t been aired since and are not included in the DVD boxset of the season.
9. Animators thought Brock was too racist, so they replaced him with Tracey
Poor Brock. Luckily for him, this change was temporary.
This beloved weirdo from Pokemon is notable for his spiky hair and always closed eyes. Fans of the show were pretty bummed out and a little confused when he was temporarily axed from the show, but there was a reason for it.
One of the Pokemon show’s storyboard artists Masamitsu Hidaka said in an interview a while back that when the show began to surge in popularity in Western countries, most of the crew was worried about the perception people would have of Brock. His slanted eyes may have been perceived as a harmful Asian stereotype and the makers of the show didn’t want to cause offense and controversy, which seemed to follow the show no matter what direction it took. So they took him out of the show before any controversy could happen– and it didn’t. He was replaced with Tracey, a character that looks and feels like a cheap, white Brock replacement. After fans made it clear they missed Brock, he was eventually brought back.
8. Drifloon is a child kidnapper
Seriously, don’t ever trust cute fluffy balloon monsters.
In the Pokedex entry for Drifloon it says that this cutesy ghost type Pokemon enjoys tricking little kids into thinking it is a balloon, then grabs them and carries them away into the sky. Drifloon is considered a sort of “signpost for wandering spirits” and in the anime episode “Drifloon on the Wind!” it is revealed that these creepy-cute Pokemon are created by the lost spirits of Pokemon as well as humans. Despite its tendency to be a child predator, Drifloon are usually friendly and enjoy guiding people. We still don’t trust it.
There are a ton of other Pokemon with equally creepy stories. One in particular is Mawile. This Pokemon is based on the Japanese tale of the “two-mouthed woman”. In the tale, a poor farmer thinks he’s in luck because his new wife never seems to need food, making his financial problems a bit easier. One day, he notices that his grain is depleting. He discovers his sleeping wife in the food storage with a giant mouth on the back of her head eating all of his grain. Mawile has a nightmarish toothed hairdo that is similar to this tale.
7. An Episode/Game Sprite Was Changed Due To Violent Imagery
The banned episodes and controveries haven’t stopped for the Pokemon franchise.
In the episode “The Legend of Dratini”, the gang enters the safari zone and meets an elderly supervisor of the area. However, this guy isn’t playing games– the second the gang arrives and Ash happily greets him, the dude pulls out a gun and threatens them, telling them that only Safari Balls and fishing rods are allowed in the zone. He threatened to shoot them if they disobey his rules, and visibly points his gun at Ash’s head. People freaked out, and 4Kids Entertainment edited the episode before pulling it completely.
Some of the Pokemon games have had similar sketchy features. In the European releases of the video game Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, the Registeel sprite is altered differently than all other versions of the game. This is because the Japanese and English releases show Registeel making what appears to be a Roman salute, the infamous hand motion used by the German Nazi Party. European developers changed the sprite to have his arms at his sides.
6. Poliwag's swirly stomach is modeled after tadpole bellies
We all know how similar Mudkip is to the axolotl, but there are a few other Pokemon that are near perfect replicas of real-life animals.
It’s common knowledge that much of the Pokemon we’ve come to love are based on real-life animals. Poliwag’s design, however, is a little more in-depth than many would think. Clearly based on the tadpole, there’s actually a reason why this little guy has a swirl on his belly– real tadpoles have extremely translucent skin and their visible intestines are arranged in a spiral.
Similarly, Drowzee is an almost exact adaptation of tapirs both physically and in folklore. Japanese old tales say that tapirs devour dreams and nightmares, similar to Drowzee’s psychic attacks. Gorebyss is based on the long nosed chimaera, a deep-sea cartilaginous fish. Caterpie is not just based on the general look of a caterpillar– it’s a near-perfect replica of the Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar.
5. Lickitung Couldn't Lick
You had one job, Lickitung!
This very awkwardly memorable normal type Pokemon is part of the original 151 Pokemon. Its purpose is clear– it has a giant tongue that is easily the most noticeable thing about it. However, during Generation I, Lickitung couldn’t lick. It was unable to learn the move Lick itself. It just sort of left its tongue flapping around without any idea what to do. It wasn’t until Pokemon Gold and Silver that Lichitung was finally able to learn how to use its clearest attribute. Lick isn’t the strongest move by any means, but come on. Your name is literally Lickitung.
Similarly, Charizard had a similar baffling move set where, despite having very clear and functioning wings, it could not learn how to fly until Pokemon Yellow came out. Also the only electric move that Magneton, the literal magnet-shaped electric Pokemon, can learn naturally is the really lame Thundershock.
4. Pikachu Was Almost Super Buff
What a mental image that is! Apparently during an interview that took place in 2015, Satoru Iwata, the fourth president and former chief executive officer of Nintendo, claimed that the president of Ninetendo at the time, Hiroshi Tamauchi, wanted Game Freak to change the design of Pikachu to make him more swole. The intent was apparently for the Pokemon mascot to appeal to American gamers and audiences. Because the only thing American gamers like more than military simulations is sexy yellow buff furry monsters!
The interview states, “Then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi was shown mock-ups of a muscular Pikachu, and advised that only a complete redrawing would make the Pokemon game sell. But the late Yamauchi dug his contrarian heels in and refused to touch the chirpy pocket monster and his discharges of electricity. And so, one of the world’s most beloved gaming characters was born on the global stage.” We’re glad this potentially terrifying Pikachu didn’t happen, and so is everyone who made money off of the Pokemon franchise.
3. Pokemon are hunted and eaten in the canon universe
This got really dark really fast, but unfortunately this little-known fact is true. Pokemon are hunted and eaten within the franchise’s universe.
Since Pokemon‘s expansion, creatives behind the franchise have tried to give more looks into what the Pokemon universe is actually like. We’ve seen in the anime, manga, video games, and movies that Pokemon do much more than simply act as sidekicks and fight each other. Pokemon race, deliver mail, and do tons of other stuff. The show has also revealed that they can be eaten too, and most humans probably partake.
Not only is there rarely a scene in the anime where we see farms or food production, but it was even said that many Pokemon, including Farfetch’d, were nearly hunted to extinction because they taste so dang good. The differentiation between what Pokemon is okay to eat and what Pokemon is unethical to eat is never really talked about.
2. Jynx Was Kinda Racist
Today, the psychic type Pokemon Jynx looks a little weird, for sure. But this Pokemon been redesigned pretty significantly from what it’s design originally was.
In the original games, Jynx had huge lips, an oddly-shaped, curvacious body, and a pitch-black face. Much of her attacks and movements involved sensuality and attraction, and the original Pokedex entry used questionable language like “It seductively wiggles its hips as it walks.” and “It uses a strange, incomprehensible language.” The latter in particular is strange since all Pokemon, besides Meowth, only ever say their own name.
This depiction of Jynx offended a lot of people because the Pokemon definitely looked and acted like a racist black-face stereotype. People started complaining about it and Nintendo finally changed Jynx’s design to be a purple creature. The Pokemon anime episode “The Ice Cave!” was removed from rotation in most countries because of the original Jynx’s appearance in the show.
1. The Pokemon Manga Was Way More Violent
The core theme of Pokemon is definitely fighting, but the anime was much more tame and kid-friendly compared to the hardcore manga.
The anime series had a big focus on friendship and message about relying on the people you love. Nobody ever dies in the anime, and when Pokemon are defeated they simply faint and quickly recover. The manga, on the other hand, straight-up depicted scenes of Pokemon becoming seriously injured and dying. There’s one particular violent scene in on volume of the manga series that shows with some pretty serious gore an Arbok being chopped in half. There was another that showed a Magmar being frozen and shattered violently as well. There were also depictions of cities being destroyed with people inhabiting them, images of Pokemon corpses, and images of Pokemon being stabbed. The Elite Four, who serve as sort of mentors, in the anime are depicted in the manga as villains who want to remove all humans from the world, leaving only Pokemon.