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Dogasu's Backpack | Episode Comparisons | Kanto Region
Japanese Episode 038: "Electric Soldier Porygon"
Pokemon Dare Da? Porygon
Japanese Air Date: December 16th, 1997
American Air Date: Never aired
Important Characters: Akihabara-Hakase (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, Akihabara-Hakase, 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 Akihabara-Hakase's Porygon, finds the Rocket-Dan and see that they've set up road blocks to stop the flow of Monster Balls. As a battle between Akihabara-Hakase's Porygon and a Porygon the Rocket-Dan had stolen begins, Satoshi-tachi take the opportunity to undo the Rocket trio's work. Elsewhere, Joi calls a computer technician over to install an anti-virus program into the transfer system's software. Once Akihabara-Hakase learns about the program, he warns Satoshi-tachi that it will see them as a threat and try to destroy them! Satoshi-tachi and Musashi-tachi hitch a ride on the back of the professor's Porygon and high tail it to a portal that will send them back to the real world. 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.
This is going to be another long one.
"Electric 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 Joi who actually takes matters into her own hands?
I do find it kind of weird that the TV series makes Porygon out to be this super powerful pokemon, though. It can shapeshift into all sorts of weapons, can grow and shrink at will, and is able to copy any pokemon's power with its Texture attack.
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.
Similar to "The Legend of Miniryuu," rumors that an English language version of this episode exist persist to this day. I have my doubts about that, but I'll get into that more at the end of this essay.
Pocket ni Fantasy replaces Nyasu 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.
I'll use one of these Side Note headings because I don't know where else to put these.
The name of this episode's character-of-the-day, Akihabara-Hakase, comes from the famous electronics district in Tokyo named Akihabara. His name is also written entirely in kanji, as seen in the ending credits, and that's pretty rare. In a franchise where everyone's name is written out in katakana, having a character's name rendered entirely in kanji is rare.
And here's another piece of trivia for you; this episode aired on Inuyama Inuko (the voice actress for Nyasu)'s 32nd birthday.
Why the episode was banned
I know I don't have to tell you this, but for those of you who somehow don't know this: "Electric Soldier Porygon" is the episode that caused seizure-like symptoms in about 700 Japanese kids.
A quick Google search will give you more details, but the long and short of it is that the alternating red and blue flashing lights shown when Pikachu attacks an anti-virus missile about twenty minutes into the episode triggered seizure-like symptoms in children across Japan.
I don't know the first thing about seizures or the science behind what caused them in this particular episode, so I'm not going to sit here and start going on about it as if I do. There are tons of articles on the Internet about this episode and the seizure is caused (I think this article sums everything up pretty well), so if you want to know more about the science of what happened here, check that out.
The incident was given the name "Pokemon Shock" by the Japanese media.
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.
The Japanese Wikipedia page for the Pokemon Shock incident states that radio show that voice actress Inuyama Inuko had at the time, "Inuyama Inuko'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." In regards to the Porygon episode, Inuyama Inuko 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」).
It looks like Ms. Inuyama's wishes may be coming true. 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 Father"" (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, the 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, but the Pokemon Shock incident kind of reminded them that, yeah, they probably should have done something about that at the time.
After months of fans expressing their desire for the show to return to the air, TV-Tokyo made an announcement on March 30th that the show would be returning to the air. When the show was welcomed back with back-to-back episodes on April 16th, 1998, it 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 had an episode to themselves. They're still in the games and the comics and all that, but as far as the TV series is concerned, they don't exist.
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 Race of Blazing Pokemon." Episodes tend to get labeled depending on the star, and in this case, Porygon was the main attraction. Not Pikachu.
I agree that it sucks for Porygon, but there really isn't much that can be done about it.
But why was all this necessary?
All of these cancellations and apologies 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 the band had performed, The Fourth Avenue Cafe, was hastily swapped out for Heart of Sword. Yamamoto Keiichi, one half of the comedy duo Gokuraku Tonbo, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a minor. After the scandal broke out, the desire to keep him off the airwaves went as far as re-shooting scenes he did for a drama called "Tokyo Tower" in order to erase him from the program. In February 2009, Happy End guitarist Suzuki Shigeru was arrested for possession of marijuana and was dropped from his record label of forty years. In April 2009, SMAP member Kusanagi Tsuyoshi was arrested for public nudity in April 2009 and was subsequently dropped from his scheduled TV appearances and ad campaigns.
You can argue that what happened with the Pokemon Shock incident wasn't as bad as a lot of the things I just listed. After all, it was only a tiny percentage of the millions of people who watched the show who were affected. And it's not like anybody died, right?
The fact that the victims were young children makes all the difference here. It seems like the overwhelming majority of the people affected were elementary school kids, with only a few of the victims 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.
on Pokemon - Episode Order
As you can see, "Rougela's Christmas" and "Iwaku as a 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 the works, "Pikachu's Forest," was thrown together to become the first episode to air after the show's hiatus came to an end.
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" 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 Easy Mark" 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.
"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 Myuutwo, 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 right before before Myuutwo Strikes Back hit theaters. There's no way that was just a coincidence.
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 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.
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 "Iwaku as a Bivouac," which appear really choppy due to the fact that the animators had to remove frames in order to adhere to the new guidelines. When the first movie was released in theaters, a message assuring parents that the movie didn't contain any flashing scenes was displayed in the trailers.
Episodes made after the incident were created with these new guidelines in place and therefore did not require any additional editing.
on the animation industry
Reruns of older cartoons were edited in ways similar to how older Pocket Monsters episodes were edited. 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.
Foreign programming must adhere to the guidelines as well. The 2003 TMNT series had frames removed and / or slowed down in order to adhere to Japanese television guidelines. 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.
Like their domestic counterparts, these scenes are shown unedited in the home video release.
Does an English version exist?
We have quotes from Maddie Blaustein saying that they dubbed an edited version of the episode, but I have my doubts about that for a number of reasons.
For one thing, the idea that 4Kids was given a tape to dub and then distribute to American TV networks in the first place just doesn't make any sense. 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. So why, then, would they give a tape to 4Kids so they could release it overseas? We know from the Pokémon 4Ever DVD commentary that they didn't start dubbing the series until April 1998, and we know that the versions of the episodes they got were the post-Porygon edits. Yet we're to believe that, despite all this, 4Kids was given a tape anyway?
I know it sounds like I'm calling Maddie Blaustein a liar, but I'm not. I'm just saying that it's entirely possible that she was mis-remembering things. She made the comments 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, so she wouldn't have noticed anything out of place in this episode.
So what about "A Way Off Day Off," that Orange Islands episode that featured Porygon as the "Who's That Pokémon?" It has a new voice for the dub, so a lot of people jumped to the conclusion that the voice we hear during the eyecatch is the same voice 4Kids ended up using for that lost dub of the Porygon episode. What these people are ignoring, however, is that it really doesn't take a whole lot to hop into a recording booth, say "Porygon" a few times, and then hop out. Why give it a dub voice when its name is the same in both languages, you may ask? It's simple - if 4Kids was never given a copy of the episode, they wouldn't have access to the audio of Porygon's Japanese voice, either.
(By the way, I can't wait for someone to scroll through this essay without reading it, see the two images up there, and then post them elsewhere claiming they were taken from the dub of the Porygon episode)
In my mind, we really don't have any concrete proof that the episode was ever dubbed. All those people claiming otherwise are just reiterating the rumors they heard elsewhere on the Internet.
Is a home release likely?
The short answer; no. The long answer; read what I wrote in regards to "The Legend of Miniryuu."
All of the same issues with regards to the desire to avoid bad press applies to this episode as well. Hell, it probably applies even more in this case since you'd also have people in Japan, in addition to people in America, trying to block a release of this episode. Those who believe that everything will be OK if they just slow things down or just cut out the offending scene altogether really don't know how TV works.
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, so I highly recommend you check it out if you haven't already.
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