Pokemon: Games vs TV vs Comics
Last summer, Pokemon Go took not just the US but the world by storm. This casual game took what everyone knew about Pokemon—catching the creatures—and made that into a cellphone app that anyone could use. But there is more to Pokemon than just “catching them all.” Pokemon is a franchise that spans video games, TV shows, movies, and books, and it would be doing the series a disservice to think they are all the same.
Pokemon started as a video game for the original Nintendo Game Boy back in 1996. Actually, the first iteration was a pair of video games named Red and Blue. They were standard RPGs (Role-Playing Games) with elements of strategy: The player starts with one of three Pokemon and begins wandering the region, encountering wild Pokemon and other players. They have Pokemon battles both to increase their number of Pokemon and to train them, and they can also go to the eight gyms spread out over the region and challenge the Gym Leader. After defeating a Gym Leader, the player receives a badge. If they collect all eight badges, they can then qualify for the Pokemon tournament to see who is the best Pokemon trainer in the region. As a secondary objective, players are also trying to fill their Pokedex, a sort of encyclopedia of all the Pokemon available in region. Each time they capture a creature, it is added to their Pokedex along with information about it such as traits, stats, evolutionary forms, and battle moves.
All of the Pokemon games share some basic elements. There is always a rival for the player to beat and an evil organization to defeat. In the first game, the rival is Professor Oak’s grandson, and the evil organization is Team Rocket. Legendary Pokemon were first introduced as game mascots that had appearances in the game, but they became prominent elements in the story in later games.
The fact that Pokemon comes as two cartridges is important: Each cartridge has the same story and game play, but not all of the creatures were available on one cartridge. In order to proverbially “catch ‘em all,” the player had to trade with a player with the opposite cartridge to get their version-exclusive creatures. Also, some creatures only evolve after being traded. This helped differentiate the game from other RPGs and encouraged players to get together on what is otherwise a single-player platform. Gold and Silver, a third game that introduced game fixes and new elements to the story as well as a new Legendary Pokemon, was released a year or so later.
After the video game became popular, Nintendo expanded it into a media franchise with both a TV Series and comics. The Pokemon cartoon, or anime, follows the some of the basic elements from the video game but splinters off into its own canon. It follows Pokemon trainer Ash Ketchum (aka Satoshi in Japan) as he explores the Kanto region. The Pokemon and their powers are the same; Ash has a rivalry with Gary Oak, Professor Oak’s grandson, and has to stop the evil organization Team Rocket. The cartoon, however, splits off from the game right from the start: Instead of picking one of the starter Pokemon of Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle, Ash picks Pikachu, a character that quickly became popular. He does not go through his journey alone but is joined by Brock, the gym leader from Pewter City, and Misty, the youngest of the sister gym leaders of Cerulean City. Team Rocket, a group of villains who try to steal and exploit Pokemon, are mostly competent villains in the games, but in the anime Ash and company are assailed by the bumbling Jessie, James, and their talking Pokemon Meowth. They are obsessed with catching Ash’s Pikachu but are usually foiled by Ash and his Pokemon and are sent sailing into the distance with their trademark cry “Team Rocket is blasting off again.”
Each episode of the cartoon would feature a different Pokemon for Ash and Co. to encounter—and introduce to the audience. The cartoon follows the video game’s story line very loosely, and the episodes are mostly self contained, so viewers could watch any episode at any time. While the cartoon kept pace with the video games’ changing Pokemon and regions, Ash and Pikachu remained the main characters in every series, with only their companions changing. Jessie and James of Team Rocket continue to be the thorn in their sides, but they do go up against some of the other organizations from the video games, such as Team Aqua and Magma from Ruby and Sapphire and Team Plasma from Black and White. Ash also has friendly rivalries with several other characters. Mostly though, the cartoon focuses on Ash and the Pokemon he meets, catches, and trains so he can participate in the the Pokemon League finals at the end of every series. There have been 20 feature films as well, and they follow the cartoon’s continuity. The movies tend to feature one or more of the Legendary Pokemon.
Along with the cartoon, several comic series, or manga, were serialized in Japan. The main series, known as Pokemon Special, has been released here in the US as Pokemon Adventures by Viz Media under their Perfect Square imprint. This series follows the video game stories more closely than the cartoon. The main characters are named after the games, i.e., the main characters in the first arc are Red, Blue, and Green, and while they may have other Pokemon of their own, they begin with one of the starter Pokemon and are given (or take) a Pokedex to collect data. Each game is a new story arc; the protagonists change with the games, but because the stories take place in the same world, characters from previous arcs can appear in the current arc. In the Gold and Silver arc, for instance, Red, Blue, and Yellow all return to help Gold, Silver, and Kris fight against the re-formed Team Rocket.
The characters in the comics are the most developed and have very different personalities. Red, the protagonist of the first arc, is serious about his training and his mission to stop Team Rocket, while Gold is more impulsive and quite the hothead, jumping into situations impulsively. The characters go through their own arcs as well. In Sapphire and Ruby, both Sapphire and Ruby are confident that their way of training is the best, but their adventures teach them there is value beyond just battling or looks. The stories are more complex than the cartoon. In the Yellow arc, Red has to fight the Elite Four, four powerful Pokemon trainers who believe the best way to protect Pokemon is to get rid of the people. While their intentions are good, their methods are far too extreme.
The manga release in the US had a few false starts. Viz LLC, the precursor to Viz Media, first published the Pokemon Special series as “floppy” comic books under the title Pokemon Adventures from 1997 to 2001, covering the first 7 volumes. In 2006, Viz Media released two sampler titles, The Best of Pokemon Adventures: Red and The Best of Pokemon Adventures: Yellow, collecting select chapters from Red’s and Yellow’s arcs. Two years later, just after the release of the games Diamond and Pearl, Viz started releasing the separate series Pokemon: Diamond and Pearl Adventures. This eight-volume series does follow the story line of the games, but it isn’t part of the Pokemon Adventures series.
In 2009, Viz restarted publishing Pokemon Adventures, releasing volumes 1-7 as second editions and continuing with the rest of the series. To try to catch up with the series in Japan, which had volumes in the 30s by then, Viz started publishing different arcs out of order. In 2011, they started the Ruby and Sapphire arc at volume 15, and they also started the Diamond and Pearl Platinum arc with its own volume 1 (which was volume 30 in Japan). Also starting in 2011, they began publishing more current chapters in shorter books, only three to four chapters long, more frequently, to satisfy fan demands. These shorter books were just called Pokemon and started with the Black and White arc. They were later collected into the regular Pokemon Adventures series, again with each arc restarting at volume 1. This has been the format that Viz has been following with all the subsequent arcs, X and Y, and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. There hasn’t been an announcement yet for the newest series, Sun and Moon, but there should be no doubt of one coming from Viz soon, perhaps even later this year.
No matter how you prefer to consume your media, Pokemon has as its bases covered. Whether it’s interacting directly through the games, passively through the TV series, or somewhere in between with the comics, it’s never been easier for casual and hard-core fans alike to get their fill of Pokemon.
Previously at Good Comics for Kids:
Review: Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Movie Trilogy
Review: Pokémon the Movie: Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice
Review: Pokemon Black and White Pocket Comics
Review: Pokemon Adventures Ruby & Sapphire, vols. 15-21
Perfect Square Levels Up with New Pokemon Manga
The Year of Pokemon
About Lori Henderson
Lori Henderson is a mother of two teenage daughters and an avid reader. She blogs about manga at her personal blog Manga Xanadu as well as contributing and editing for Manga Village. She blogs about all things fandom (mainly Doctor Who) at her other personal blog Fangirl Xanadu. She's been at it so for over 5 years now and counting!
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