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On December 17, 1997, children in Japan sat down to watch the 38th episode of the Pokemon cartoon show. The episode was entitled "Computer Warrior Porygon" (Dennou Senshi Porigon).
In one segment the heroes are inside a computer when an antivirus program attempts to delete them by firing missiles. Pikachu, the lead Pokemon, jumps forward, and with a blast of yellow light detonates the missiles and saves the group. The resulting blue and red flashing colors that the explosion causes were at just the right speed to cause seizures in susceptible persons.
Hundreds of children became sick during the initial showing followed by hundreds more when they rented the episodes on videotape. More fell ill when they saw the clip on evening news shows reporting the phenomenon.
Although it sounds like a classic unverifiable urban legend from a distant (and therefore weird) land, it was indeed true. Apparently, the flashing sequence happened to be in time with the firing rate of TV picture tubes, multiplying the impact of the flashing on the optic nerve.
A Pokemon website, Pokemon Press Battle, makes the following observation: "...photo induced epileptic attacks can be caused by exhaustion, stress, and sitting too close to the television. All of the above are facts in most Japanese schoolchildren's lives, who live under constant academic and social pressure in small homes. Experts have speculated that the children were intensely focused and involved with the show, literally 'glued to the set' when the scene went off like a bomb in their faces."
After further study, some experts contended that the show inadvertently uncovered a heretofore unknown form of epilepsy since those affected had no prior history of attacks and the area of the brain disrupted was not previously associated with epileptic fits.
A bizarre article bashing the entire Japanese animation industry soon appeared in USA Today. Written by Jefferson Graham and Tim Friend and entitled "U.S. kids safe from cartoon seizures," it confidently contended that "American children aren't likely to suffer seizures provoked by TV cartoons," mainly because US networks don't air the "graphic Japanese cartoons known as 'anime.'" But there was nothing graphic about the scene or the show--the effect was caused by an unlucky combination of factors.
The massive conglomerates that control children's broadcasting
assure the public that all copies of the offending episode have been
burned, destroyed, flogged, and their ashes sealed in lead containers
and sunk to the bottom of the sea--but, of course, the episode is readily
available on bootleg video and on the net.
Pokemon Seizure Links
Cartoon-based illness mystifies Japan - CNN, December 17, 1997
Pokemon Press Battle - website to rebut the bad press concerning Japanese animation
Angry Anime Fans - ABC, article concerning angry fan reaction to the USA Today article bashing Japanese animation
Photosensitive epilepsy - small blurb on the type of illness the show caused
Japanese webpage describing the incident
Pokemon.FAQ for parents and grandparents - interesting resource - fields typical hysterical questions Americans have about anything new (Are Pokemons satanic? What about that episode of Pokemon that caused seizures?)
Some panicky people have mistaken the Buddhist manji symbol that appears on the Japanese version of the Pokemon card game with the Nazi swastika. The manji symbol stands for good fortune, life, or hope and is the reverse image of the Nazi swastika.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a press release that included the following: "While Nintendo says this [the manji symbol] is considered an ancient religious symbol of hope in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, the image of a swastika in any form has clearly negative and hateful connotations in the Western world."
The ADL position is foolish. What is more culturally intolerant--to display the manji symbol in the West or to mistakenly contend that another culture's symbols are offensive because they merely resemble the Nazi swastika? One thing about ADL's press release--you will never find more confident assertions. It must be nice to so sure of one's position.
Nintendo bowed to the pressure and will no longer produce the "offensive" card.
Pokemon Swastika Links
wasn't a swastika, so please get over it by Richard Roeper,
see troubling symbol in Pokemon card
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Pokemon games and cards have been banned under an Islamic edict issued by Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority. The fatwa by Saudi Arabia's Higher Committee for Scientific Research and Islamic Law said Pokemon "possessed the minds" of Saudi children, promoted Zionism and involved gambling which is banned in Islam. The edict stated that the video game and cards featuring the Pokemon characters have symbols including "the Star of David, which everyone knows is connected to international Zionism and is Israel's national emblem."
A Nintendo spokesperson in Tokyo on Monday has denied that religious symbols are depicted on Pokemon items and said Nintendo did not design them with religious symbols in mind. Pokemon cards typically have a brightly coloured picture of a character along with geometric symbols corresponding to the fanciful powers it possesses. The Pokemon phenomenon originated in Japan three years ago as a video game. It quickly expanded in cartoons, comic books and trading cards, becoming a multi-billion dollar enterprise that is enormously popular around the world.
The edict alleges that Pokemon "has possessed the minds of a large chunk of our students, captivated their hearts and become their preoccupation, (they) spend all their money to buy the cards and compete with each other to win more."
The game has been criticised in several countries, with a Christian church in Mexico calling it "demonic" and organisations in Slovakia saying television shows based on the game are detrimental to children. In Turkey the series caused a public scandal last year after two children jumped off their balconies apparently to imitate Pokemon characters with special powers. Both children survived.
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