Japanese Episode
038






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Dogasu's Backpack | Episode Comparisons | Kanto Region

Japanese Episode 038
Episode Stats:

Japanese Episode 038:  "Cyber Soldier Porygon"
Pokemon Dare Da?  Porygon

Japanese Air Date:  December 16th, 1997
American Air Date:  Never aired
Important Characters:  Dr. Akihabara (
N/A)
Important Places:  Matcha City (N/A)


The Pokemon Center in Matcha City is in a big panic! Apparently, people who had been using the pokemon transfer system to send pokemon to their friends are finding that their rare and valuable pokemon are being swapped out for common ones! Satoshi and his friends head to the laboratory of the system's inventor, Dr. Akihabara, in order to see if it can be fixed. When they arrive, they are greeted by a holographic rendering of the professor that informs them that the Rocket-Dan are behind the system's malfunction. The hologram leads Satoshi and his friends into a cylindrical chamber that can, unknown to them, send them into the computer world! Once inside, the trio, along with Dr. Akihabara's Porygon, finds the Rocket-Dan and sees that they've set up road blocks to stop the flow of Monster Balls. As a battle between Dr. Akihabara's Porygon and a Porygon the Rocket-Dan had stolen begins, Satoshi and his friends take the opportunity to undo the Rocket trio's work.  Elsewhere, Joy calls a computer technician over to install an anti-virus program into the transfer system's software. Once Dr. Akihabara learns about the program, he warns our heroes that it will see them as a threat and try to destroy them! The humans inside the computer world hitch a ride on the back of the professor's Porygon and high tail it to a portal that will send them out of the computer. With only seconds to spare, our heroes escape into the real world. Now that the computer program has been fixed, Satoshi and his friends head off on their next adventure.

Thoughts
"Cyber Soldier Porygon" is probably one of my favorite episodes from the first series. The episode has a one-of-a-kind location (OMG THeY'RE GOInG N2 THe DIgITAL W0RLD DIG1M0N RIP0FF!!!!11!!1!), shows off an aspect of the franchise that's often overlooked, and has a really eccentric character of the day. I mean, what's not to like about a crazy old guy who greets visitors to his mansion-looking lab with a 3D hologram? Or about a Joy who actually takes matters into her own hands? 

This episode also stands out to me not only because of what it did, but also because it was my very first exposure to this franchise. By the time 1997 came around, I was hungry for anything out there that had that "anime" label. Seriously, all you had to tell me about a show was that it came from Japan and I'd watch it, regardless of whether or not it actually sounded interesting. So when I heard about how this Japanese cartoon sickened "hundreds of children," my curiosity was piqued. "What was this show about?" and "Why haven't I heard of it?," I asked myself.  I eventually found out that "the show that caused all those seizures" was coming to American TV, so I planted myself in front of the TV to see this show for myself. I've been here ever since.

Pocket ni Fantasy replaces Nyarth no Uta as the ending theme as of this episode in Japan.  Because, you know, we were overdue for a song that had absolutely nothing to do with anything.

Why the episode was banned
I know I don't have to tell you this, but just in case:  "Cyber Soldier Porygon" is the episode of Pocket Monsters that caused seizure-like symptoms in about 700 Japanese kids. 

During a scene that aired at around 6:51pm, Satoshi's Pikachu jumps up and lets off a 10,000 Volt attack to take care of a missile headed its way. The resulting explosion filled the screen with red and blue lights for about four and a half seconds, with post-episode reports revealing that these lights flickered over 100 times during this very short period of time.


Red

Altogether it was estimated that about 3.45 million children between the ages of four and twelve were watching Pocket Monsters that night. Video research at the time estimated the TV ratings during this episode were 16.5% for the Kanto region (as in the real-world Kanto located in Japan, not the Pokemon location) and 10.4% in the Kansai region.

After the scene aired, children all over Japan reported dizziness, headaches, nasuea, lost memory, and nosebleeds. The number of children affected varies from news outlet to news outlet but TV-Tokyo estimates that about 135 of the 750 total people affected were taken to the hospital.



Eyewitness reports from a December 18th, 1997 broadcast of Ohayo! Nice Day. The eight year old boy on the left says he felt his head throbbing and his mother reported that he became unresponsive. The 23 year old woman on the right says she passed out for about an hour and a half after catching a glimpse of the scene in question.

Benjamin Radford of the Center for Inquiry wrote this fantastic article about the incident that goes into much more detail about each of the victims and a breakdown as to what exactly caused all those people to feel ill.

The incident was given numerous names by the Japanese media, including "Pokemon Shock," "Pokemon Panic," "The Pokemon Incident," "Porygon Shock," and "Pokemon Flash."

Effects on Pokemon - Pokemon's vanishing act and the four month hiatus
After reports that children had gotten sick began to circulate, a tremendous fallout began. 

TV-Tokyo, the network that airs Pocket Monsters, apologized the following day and abruptly pulled the show from its schedule. While they launched an internal investigation to find out why this happened, the network put a show called Yamazaki, the King of the Class (学級王ヤマザキ) in Pocket Monsters' old time slot.

Takeshi Shudo, the head writer for the show at the time, revealed in a blog post that members of the show's production were called the day after and told not to make any comments that hadn't been approved beforehand when speaking to the media (個人的なコメントは一切言わないように). Work on scripts for future episodes was put on hold, though storyboards and animation production continued. Members of production began to wonder if they were going to get fined or maybe even arrested.

During the episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena that aired on TV-Tokyo the following night, text appeared on-screen urging viewers not to re-watch any VHS recordings they may have made of the
Pocket Monsters episode the night before (きのう放送分の「ポケットモンスター」を (記録した) ビデオでご覧にならないようにお願いします). Episodes of Pocket Monsters that had already been released on home video at the time were pulled from video rental stores across the country.


Video rental store Tsutaya announced that they would stop offering video rentals of Pocket Monsters while the investigation was going on. Meanwhile, shares in Nintendo dropped by a staggering 600 yen after news of the incident broke out.

The Japanese Wikipedia page for the Pokemon Shock incident states that radio show that voice actress Inuyama Inuko had at the time, "Inuko Inuyama 's Pokemon Hour" (犬山犬子のポケモンアワー), addressed the incident shortly after the episode aired. According to the article, a listener called in to Ms. Inuyama and asked two questions;  are they ever going to air an edited version of the Porygon episode, and are they ever going to get around to airing "Rougela's Christmas," the episode that had been scheduled to air the following week. In regards to the Porygon episode, Inuko Inuyama said that they would like them to treat the episode as an "illusion" and as "an episode that never existed" (「あの回(第38話)は幻にしてほしい」「なかった話としてほしい) but that they definitely do want to air the Rougela episode (あと次回分で予告された『ルージュラのクリスマス』の放送は必ずやるので安心してほしい」). "Rougela's Christmas" did eventually air as an "extra episode" the following October.

The episode has never been re-aired, and, as far as all the official companies are concerned, the episode doesn't exist. The episode's title is missing from all official listings of the series. In fact, the desire to expunge this episode from existence even went as far as to omit it from the Pocket Monsters Film Comic, the books that take screenshots from the episodes and arranges them into a comic book retelling of the episode.

There are claims that the episode was banned by the government itself and has been either destroyed or locked in a vault somewhere, but I've found nothing to suggest that those are anything more than mere Internet rumors.

A number of Pokemon-themed specials scheduled for the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998 were also canceled as a part of the network's Pokemon blackout.  TV-Tokyo's variety show "News! The Decisive Source "A Pokemon Course for Fathers"" (情報! ソースが決め手 "お父さんのためのポケモン講座") was swapped out with a highlights-of-the-year special. The December 30th episode of the network's video game variety show "64 Mario Stadium" (64マリオスタジアム) was postponed until January 18th because it featured a "Pokemon Corner" segment. Reruns of Episodes 025 and 026 of the Moomin TV series aired on the originally scheduled date instead. The "New Year's Eve Pocket Monsters Encore" (大晦日だよポケットモンスターアンコール) special was canceled and replaced with a rerun of Mojackou (モジャ公).  A mini-special named "Pokemon Quiz" (ポケモンクイズ) was replaced with "Special Program - Gift Recommendations for the New Year" (お年玉付き新春オススメとくばん).

Meanwhile, a different TV network NHK apologized for not investigating an incident that occurred in March of that same year when an episode of YAT Relief!  Space Travel (YAT安心!宇宙旅行) caused similar symptoms in four children.  The network didn't launch an investigation at the time because of the small number of victims. Many feel that if this incident had been investigated properly then the "Pokemon Shock" could have been avoided.


After months of fans expressing their desire for the show to return to the air (via fax, because this was Japan and it was the 1990s), TV-Tokyo made an announcement on March 30th that the show would be coming back. When it returned it  did so with two back-to-back episodes on April 16th, 1998, and was moved from 6:30pm Tuesdays to 7:00pm Thursdays. Overall, the show's hiatus lasted four months.

Effects on Pokemon - Bye Bye Porygon
In addition to all this, Porygon itself has become sort of the black sheep of the pokemon universe. Ever since its debut episode, the pokemon and its evolutions (Porygon 2 and Porygon Z) have never gotten a starring role in an episode. They're still in the games and the comics and all that, but outside of a few cameos in some of the movies' "World of Pokemon" segments, the Porygon line doesn't exist in the TV series.



Many people are understandably upset by this. After all, it was Pikachu who launched the seizure-inducing attack, not Porygon. Why isn't that electric rat banned instead? 

The thing is, Porygon will always be tied to this episode because of our tendency to label episodes based on the pokemon who stars in them. If I say that I want to talk about the Garura episode, for example, you know exactly what episode I'm talking about. If I say "the Ponyta episode," you know that I mean
"The Big Blazing Pokemon Race!" Episodes tend to get labeled depending on the star, and in this case, Porygon was the main attraction. Not Pikachu.

There's an fan theory going around that the true identity of Mimikyu, a pokemon introduced in Generation VII, is that of a Porygon disgruntled at Pikachu for making it take the fall for this incident, and while I am 100% on board with this idea it's only a fan theory.

It doesn't seem like this ban on Porygon is going to be lifted anytime soon.

Effects on Pokemon - Episode Order
The four month hiatus prevented subsequent episodes from airing in their originally intended order. Here is how OLM originally intended the show to air alongside the way it actually aired, according to TV schedules released at the time:

Originally Planned Broadcast
Actual Broadcast
039
"Rougela's Christmas"
12/23/1997 039
"The Pikachu Forest"
04/16/1998
---
"It's New Year's Eve!  Pocket Monsters Encore"
12/31/1997
040
"The Four Eevee Brothers" 04/16/1998
040
"Iwark the Bivouac"
01/06/1998
041
"Wake Up! Kabigon!" 04/23/1998
042 "The Four Eevee Brothers" 01/13/1998 042
"Showdown! The Pokemon Gyms!" 04/30/1998
043
"Wake Up! Kabigon!" 01/20/1998
043
"The March of the Nassy Squad!" 05/07/1998
044
"Showdown! The Pokemon Gyms!" 01/27/1998
044
"Paras and Parasect" 05/14/1998
045
"The March of the Nassy Squad!"
02/03/1998
...
046
"Paras and Parasect"
02/10/1998
065
"Rougela's Christmas"
10/05/1998
...
066
"Iwark the Bivouac" 10/05/1998

As you can see, "Rougela's Christmas" and "Iwark the Bivouac" were skipped over for the actual broadcast and aired much later than intended. The aforementioned New Year's Eve special that was meant to air between them
was canceled altogether. An episode I can't find any evidence of ever being in production before the incident, "The Pikachu Forest," was thrown together to become the first episode to air after the show's hiatus came to an end.

"Rougela's Christmas"
"Iwaku as a Bivouac"
The reason Satoshi still has a Hitokage in "Rougela's Christmas" and "Iwark the Bivouac" is because they were originally intended to air after the Porygon episode, well before the pokemon evolved into Lizardon.

We can guess the effects the break had on later episodes, too. If the break had never happened, it's safe to assume that "Fierce Fighting!  Pokemon Girl's Day" would have aired on March 3rd and "It's Children's Day! Everyone Gather Around!" would have aired on May 5th  Both of those episodes are holiday themed, and both of those holidays just happened to fall on a Tuesday in 1998  This is pretty interesting because this means that the two episodes were not meant to air back to back the way they eventually ended up airing. Assuming the show didn't take any breaks or have any hour-long specials, there would have been eight episodes between the Girl's Day episode and the Children's Day episode.

A March 3rd airing of the Girl's Day episode would have also meant that the episode would have aired before "Kamonegi's Sitting Ducks" since there would have only been two Tuesdays between "Paras and Parasect" (originally scheduled to air on February 10th) and March 3rd. Musashi already has her Beroringa in the Kamonegi episode, so it seems that it was originally meant to air after the Girl's Day episode, not before.

"Fierce Fighting!  Pokemon Girl's Day"
"Kamonegi's Easy Mark"
Musashi and her Beroringa face off against a Togepi-less Kasumi in "Fierce Fighting! Pokemon Girl's Day."
Musashi calls out to her Beroringa in "Kamonegi's Easy Mark."

"Rival Showdown!  The Orchid Laboratory" is another example of an episode affected by the four month delay.  The episode, which features the destruction of the Rocket-Dan's base at the hands of Mewtwo, didn't end up airing until October 8th, 1998. If you take that airdate and move it four months earlier - the same amount of time that the show was off the air - you can see that it would have aired just a few weeks before Mewtwo Strikes Back was scheduled to hit theaters. There's no way that was just a coincidence.

"Rival Showdown!  The Orchid Laboratory!"
Musashi and Kojirou find their Boss after his base was destroyed by Mewtwo.

There are probably even more delays caused by the four-month hiatus that we would have no way of knowing about. I would assume that by the end of the Kanto Region, the writers would have everything sorted out and that everything from the Orange Islands onward aired as originally intended.

Effects on Pokemon - The editing of existing episodes and the creation of future episodes
After the incident, OLM and TV-Tokyo went back to all the episodes they had made up to that point and re-edited them to fit with the new guidelines that had been put in place
by the National Association of Broadcasters in Japan. Scenes with a lot of flashing or quick cuts were darkened and slowed down even though those very same scenes had already aired (some of them multiple times) without incident.

Another change made was to the show's opening theme, Mezase Pokemon Master.  In the pre-Pokemon Shock days, each instance of the word "naka" at the beginning of the song were accompanied by a full-screen image of a random pokemon. For all broadcasts after the incident, those full-screen images were shrunk down to a fourth of their size and placed four to a screen. This way, only a small portion of the screen would flash when the image changed rather than the entire thing.



Certain scenes were dimmed down, slowed down, or a combination of both in order to conform to the guidelines set up after the Pokemon Shock incident.

Episodes that were still in production when the Pokemon Shock incident occurred had to be edited similarly.  One really obvious example of this are blizzard scenes in "Iwark the Bivouac," which appear really choppy due to the fact that the animators had to keep removing frames in order to adhere to the new guidelines  Before the first movie was released in theaters, a message in the film's trailer assured parents that the movie didn't contain any flashing scenes.

Warning
The text at the bottom of the screen reads "Pocket Monsters The Movie refrains from using extreme scenes" (劇場版「ポケットモンスター」は過激な映像表現を抑えて制作します。).  Click on the image to view a larger version.

Episodes made after the incident were created with these new guidelines in place and therefore did not require any additional editing.

Effects on the animation industry
The Pokemon Shock incident had effects that rippled throughout the entire Japanese animation industry. These effects are still being felt today.

Since the guidelines were created to regulate harmful stimuli in kids' shows, animation studios have had to rethink the way they produce their shows. Currently, networks like TV-Tokyo, Fuji TV, TV Asahi, ytv, and CBC display a warning message at the beginning of the programs they broadcast. The message, which is usually something like "When watching TV, make sure the room is well lit and that you're not sitting too close to the TV" (テレビを見るときは部屋を明るくして離れて見てください) appear as captions that disappear a few seconds into the show. Putting up these warnings is completely voluntary, and different networks can decide when and how often to display them. The warnings typically don't appear on the DVDs or on the versions of the show being streamed on Internet sites like Hulu.

Reruns of older cartoons were edited in ways similar to how older Pocket Monsters episodes were edited. Reruns of shows like Revolutionary Girl Utena, Crayon Shin-chan, Rurouni Kenshin, Dragon Ball, Doraemon, and Flame of Recca have all had certain episodes re-edited to slow down and dim scenes that no longer conform to modern day guidelines. 
 
Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Ball Kai
In order to conform to modern-day regulations, Toei had to reanimate Goku' s and Vegeta's beam struggle for Dragon Ball Kai. On the left is the scene as seen in Dragon Ball Z, while the version on the right is the reanimated Dragon Ball Kai version. It's hard to tell from the still screenshots, but the Dragon Ball Z version flashes with a strobe light-like effect while the Dragon Ball Kai version does not.

Foreign programming must adhere to the guidelines as well. The 2003 TMNT series had frames removed and / or slowed down in order to be able to air on Japanese TV.  Light saber battles in Star Wars movies get slowed down and dimmed whenever they air on TV. A scene in the first Harry Potter movie is slowed down and dimmed down whenever lightning strikes.

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone"
The scene where Harry, Ron, and Hermione fight a troll in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone is edited to slow down the lightning.

Like their domestic counterparts, these scenes are shown unedited in the home video release.

But why was all this necessary?
All of these cancellations and apologies and retroactive edits may seem ridiculous from a Western point of view, but the handling of the incident is standard protocol for these types of things in Japan. Just look around the Japanese media for a bit. L'Arc en Ciel drummer Sakura was arrested for heroin possession, so the Rurouni Kenshin ending theme his band had performed, The Fourth Avenue Cafe, was hastily swapped out with Heart of Sword. Keiichi Yamamoto, one half of the comedy duo Gokuraku Tonbo, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a minor and so scenes featuring him in a drama called "Tokyo Tower" were reshot in order to erase him from the program. In February 2009, Happy End guitarist Shigeru Suzuki was arrested for possession of marijuana and was dropped from his record label of forty years. And so on and so on.

You can argue that what happened with the Pokemon Shock incident wasn't as bad as a lot of the things I just listed.  Making kids feel a little woozy isn't anywhere near the same level as, say, the Rurouni Kenshin guy owning child porn. And it's not like anybody died because of the Pokemon Shock incident so what's the big deal?

But the fact that the victims were young children is what's making all the difference here. It seems like the overwhelming majority of the people affected were elementary school kids, with only a few of the people who felt sick being any older than that. And you all know as well as I do that people have much larger reactions when minors are involved. It's just the way we are.

Is this whole thing an over-reaction? Maybe. But at the same time, none of us had to go into work the morning of December 17th, 1997 to deal with the major backlash from a nation filled with furious parents.


Does an English version exist?
A lot of fans cling to statements made by Maddie Blaustein saying that they dubbed an edited version of the episode but I call shenanigans on that. Because if you sit down and think about it for a minute the very premise of an English version even existing in the first place is absolutely absurd.

"A Way Off Day Off"
"A Way Off Day Off"

Let's look at the timeline here. The decision to never air the episode ever again and put the show on hiatus was reported on December 18th, a mere two days after "Cyber Soldier Porygon" aired. And we know that TV-Tokyo, OLM, Nintendo, and everyone else involved with the creation of this episode wants us to all act like this whole thing never happened.

We also know from the DVD commentary for the English dub of Pokémon 4Ever, which features the dub's producers Michael Haigney and Norman Grossfeld, that 4Kids got the show to start dubbing it in April 1998. We can corrobrate this with the fact that the overwhelmingly majority of the episodes 4Kids dubbed use the post-Porygon edits of the show.

So. In order for 4Kids to have dubbed "Cyber Soldier Porygon," Japan would have had to send over an episode that they knew good and damn well they didn't want anyone else to ever see again, to a company whose job was to produce an English version of the show and then distribute it to the entire rest of the world. Because that makes so much fucking sense.

I know it sounds like I'm calling Maddie Blaustein a liar, but I think it's more likely she was mis-remembering things. She made the comments linked to above a good ten years after Season One premiered on American TV; it's entirely possible that she got it mixed up with one of the other hundreds of episodes she had done up to that point. You can argue that an episode like this would stand out, but can we really know that for sure? 4Kids edits the episodes before the voice actors ever step into the recording booth and so this episode wouldn't have seemed any different from any other episode that came before it.

In the past two decades no one has been able to offer any solid proof of an English dub of this episode having ever existed.

Is a home release likely?
Of course it isn't.

For starters, what would TV-Tokyo or OLM or Shogakukan or anyone else gain from re-opening these old wounds? Why would any sane person subject themselves to essentially telling the parents who watched their children go into shock that it's been long enough, time to move the fuck on? Just to let people watch an episode that, and let's be honest here, everyone's already bootlegged anyway? And if the episode ever got a home release in Japan then it's not like it would ever get dubbed anyway since TPCI doesn't tend to go back and dub older things. There is literally no point to a release at this stage.

Final Thought
The 38th episode of Pocket Monsters is one that will live on forever. It's a piece of animation history, and we all have a chance to witness it. Like the Miniryuu episode before it, finding bootlegged versions of this episode is extraordinarily easy and while I am very much a "support the official release" kind of guy I absolutely recommend you look this episode up if you haven't already.

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