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Last updated October 10, 2001

Pikachu Attack Induces Seizures
Pokemon Panic Update
Manji Symbol Mistaken for Nazi Swastika
Saudis bans Pokemon

Pikachu Attack Induces Seizures

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).

Neuron Blast!
Pikachu blasts your neurons!

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.

Watch it (Real Video - 124KB)

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: " 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 Panic Update
The August, 2001 issue of Fortean Times (issue 149) has a cover story on the Pokemon seizure phenom. It is written by Benjamin Radford, the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Most of the article is a very in-depth retelling of Pokemon/seizure incident with a hypothesis at the end that the whole incident was a case of mass hysteria. Unfortunately, the article does not appear to be online.

The Simpson family enjoys animae...
The graphic linked to by sites around the world!
The Simpsons parody the Pokemon seizure in their "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" episode.
(Please! If you do link to this photo,
at least provide a link back to this site.)

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?)

Manji Symbol Mistaken for Nazi Swastika

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 manji symbol on "Koga's Secret Transformation Magic"
featuring Golbat and Ditto from the Japanese Gym 2 Trainer Card series

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

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Press Release

Pojo Pokemon site article on the controversy

From It wasn't a swastika, so please get over it by Richard Roeper, Sun-Times
"As for any adult who was offended by the manji or advocated its banishment: Shame on you. How can you justify lumping a positive religious symbol with the swastika--especially when the religious symbol came first?
Consider it from this angle. As any savvy cop can tell you, some street gangs, including branches of the Gangster Disciples, have been known to incorporate the Star of David into their own insignias. In fact, a kid in Mississippi was suspended just this year because the Star of David he was wearing around his neck was deemed to be "gang jewelry."
I guess everyone who supported the removal of the manji from Pokemon cards must also support the stance of that school. Because it doesn't matter what something actually stands for--if it resembles something negative, it's got to go."

Some see troubling symbol in Pokemon card
    By CHRISTINE WINTER, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Oct. 1, 1999
Nikolas Dee, 12, of West Boca, was hoping to get a Pokémon card that would be the envy of his friends and fellow collectors when he purchased a package of the overwhelmingly popular trading cards, based on the Nintendo Game Boy characters, at a baseball shop in Mission Bay.
Instead, he found himself staring down at a card with a bright-red symbol very much like a swastika on it.
The stunned boy, whose family is Jewish, showed the card to his father.
"He wasn't exactly upset, but he was concerned, and wanted to know what I thought about it," said David Dee, founder of the Recycling Revolution Co., a family-owned firm that sells products related to recycling.
The symbol, the reverse of the troubling Nazi icon, is part of the upper, picture portion of a "Trainer" card, which contains Japanese text on the bottom. "But it jumps right out at you if you are Jewish," Dee said.
But as disturbing as the symbol may be to Americans, it has a different meaning in Asia, where it is an ancient symbol of good luck, according to Wizards of the Coast, the Renton, Wash., company licensed by Nintendo Co. to manufacture the hot trading card game in English in the United States.
Still, Dee was unhappy enough to file a complaint with the Anti-Defamation League in Miami. And, according to Alan Schwartz, an ADL research director in New York, he is not the only one who has been troubled by the children's trading card. The league has gotten "a few inquiries and complaints from New York, Atlanta, and now a couple from Miami," Schwartz said.
"We have no reason to presume that Nintendo would recklessly or haphazardly use a swastika on a toy," he said. "But we are preparing a letter to communicate our concerns."
He added that the league understands the symbol had different meanings in other cultures, not only in Asia, but among American Indians in the Southwest and in Latin America, "before it was appropriated by the Nazis."
According to Jenny Bendel, a spokeswoman for Wizards of the Coast, her company is well aware of the confusion the symbol has been causing. She said the backward swastika, which also represents peace and goodwill, was used on the sides of Buddhist temples.
"It only appears on cards from Japan, which are only distributed in Asia, and it obviously doesn't have the same meaning there," she said.
Those cards are made by a Japanese company known as Creatures, and are brought to this country by importers. "We make English translations of the cards, and that symbol will not be on the cards we make for distribution in North America," she said.
She added the cards have been popular in Japan for several years, but were just introduced here in January of this year, so the English versions lag. "We won't even be making that card until next year," she said.

Saudis bans Pokemon
March 26, 2001 -

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.

The Simpsons in Thailand
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