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Dogasu's Backpack | Features | Pocket Monsters in 1996
It's been twenty years since the Japanese release of Pocket Monsters Red & Green. While fans in the West wouldn't know what a "Pokémon" was for another two years or so the Japanese media was covering the franchise pretty frequently. So, as a neat kind of time capsule, I thought it'd be nice to take a look at the magazines that were out in Japan at the time and see how Pocket Monsters was being represented in the early days.
Click on each image to view a larger version.
The March 8th, 1996 issue (I think...) of the video game magazine Famitsu reviewed Pocket Monsters Red & Green. The games received a score of 29 out of 40. Here's what the editors had to say about this new Game Boy RPG:
On-sale: March 15th, 1996
The April 1996 issue of CoroCoro Comics went on sale about half a month after the release of Pocket Monsters Red & Green. How did the magazine cover the series?
Not a whole lot.
The original Game Boy games weren't overnight hits and so media coverage of the games was a bit restrained in the beginning. The first place anything Pokemon appears is in the monthly Tokoton Ranking, a listing of the month's most popular video games. The game doesn't place in the Top Ten but let's check in on what was popular at the time anyway.
Now I should point out that this isn't a list of the best-selling games or anything like that; this is just the games that received the most votes from the magazine's readers the previous month.
At the bottom of the page is a list of "most anticipated games." Pocket Monsters ranks in at number four.
The complete list:
First Place: Super Bomberman 4
Second Place: Mini Yonku Stallion (working title)
Third Place: Super Mario RPG
Fourth Place: Pocket Monsters
Fifth Place: Kirby Super Star
Sixth Place: Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball 3
Seventh Place: Final Fantasy VII
Eighth Place: Excite Stage '96
Ninth Place: Super Mario 64 (working title)
Tenth Place: Super Mario Kart R (working title)
The red box over to the right highlights this new Pocket Monsters game:
So the game didn't hit the charts right away. I'm sure it'll start picking up steam soon.
On page 408 we get a single page talking about how to beat the first four Gym Leaders.
I won't bother translating this page since the strategies here aren't exactly mind-blowing (use electric attacks on Water-Types!) but I would like to point out that CoroCoro keeps referring to Ground-Type attacks as "Earth-Type attacks" (大地系) for some reason. The text under the picture of Pikachu and Pippi there advertises the start of the new "The Strange Pokemon Pippi" (ふしぎポケモンピッピ) in the April issue of CoroCoro Comics' sister magazine CoroCoro Special. "The Strange Pokemon Pippi" is what Anakubo Kousaku's Pocket Monsters manga was called for the first half a year or so.
The final appearance of Pocket Monsters in the April issue is this two-page advertisement for the aforementioned CoroCoro Comics Special.
What's interesting to me is that, throughout this first issue, Pocket Monsters Red & Green is only ever referred to as simply Pocket Monsters.
So the text splashed across the top of the two pages there are "We're giving away the 151st pokemon in Pocket Monsters!" Here's what the rest of the text on that first (right-most) page says:
On-sale: April 15th, 1996
Pocket Monsters was beginning to pick up steam as more and more people began to play this new Game Boy RPG. The first mention of the franchise comes in the monthly Tokoton Ranking where it debuted on the charts at number five! Not too shabby!
The text under the image there reads "Which one do you want? Red or Green?" It then states that the game received 2,509 votes that month.
The big story in this issue, however, was the official reveal of the mythical pokemon Mew! In the January 2016 issue of Switch, series producer Ishihara Tsunekazu was asked when he realized that Pocket Monsters was actually becoming a big hit. He talks about the games causing a shortage of Game Boy Link Cables for a minute before going on to talk about Mew:
The CoroCoro Comics media Mr. Ishihara's talking about probably started with this:
The top half of the second page says that it's impossible to capture Mew but hey, here are three pokemon that you can capture that can be kind of tricky! Those three are Kabigon, Strike, and Lucky.
The bottom half explains how you can enter the Mew Giveaway:
Back in those days you had to physically send you game carts to Nintendo via the postal service in order to get a mythical pokemon added to your games. Can you imagine if that was still the case today!?
The only other presence Pocket Monsters had in the magazine was in these ads for the upcoming issue of the sister magazine CoroCoro Special which was going to feature the second chapter of Anakubo Kousaku's Pocket Monsters manga as well as a guide to all the pokemon and a set of silver-colored stickers:
The franchise's presence in the magazine is only going to keep growing!
On-sale: June 15th, 1996
I wasn't able to get my hands on the June 1996 issue but I was able to get the following month's issue.
Pocket Monsters' first appearance in this month's issue comes on the very left there of this Batomen feature. Batomen were these little puck things that featured characters from popular series and the announcement on the left side of the page is that there would be Pokemon (and Virtua Fighter Kids, and Super Bomberman) versions of these Batomen things coming soon.
I also kind of love how the piece of artwork they used to represent Pokemon was a picture of Nidoking, of all things. Like, back in those days you could just slap a picture of any old pokemon and everyone would be happy; the marketing departments weren't so cold and calculating back then as they are now.
Next up is this page talking about the soon-to-be-released Game Boy Pocket. Guess which franchise they got to represent Game Boy games?
I'm not entirely sure why they used a Super Game Boy screenshot of Pocket Monsters to advertise the black-and-white Game Boy Pocket, but it is what it is.
Up next is the Tokoton Ranking! This month Pocket Monsters keeps its Number Four spot after climbing up from fifth place the month before.
The text under Pocket Monsters' entry reads "If you let Kabigon get away once then you won't be able to catch it again!" Which is an outright lie, of course, but whatever.
Next up are a couple of ads that feature Pocket Monsters. The full-color ad mentions that they'll be giving away 100 Mews (whose name they misspell, by the way) in the next issue of CoroCoro Comics even though they just gave away 20 of the things back in April. The black-and-white ad says the same thing, name misspelling and all.
There's also this ad a bit later on for a strategy guide to the games that features that piece of Sugimori Ken artwork of Red, Green, and unnamed girl.
CoroCoro Comics had a special hobby section (which is kind of weird considering the entire magazine is one big hobby section) and this month's section features Pocket Monsters merchandise.
The first page (the cover) shows off these new "Jumbo Cardass Chip Shooters" from Bandai, which just look like Pogs to me featuring pokemon characters.
The next page shows off a series of Gachapon figurines, of which there are 30 in total. For toys made in the 90s they look pretty alright, I guess? The figurines feature data chips on them with one of only three elements - Fire, Water, or Grass - that appear to be assigned randomly to each pokemon. Pikachu's Grass now, for example, and Kabigon's Water. The figures are tiny enough that three of them can fit into a single Gachapon capsule. You "battle" with your friends by hiding a figurine in your hand and then playing a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, presenting the figure whenever you get to "go!" The "type" of your figurine determines who wins the match. Instructions at the bottom of the page tell kids how to vote for which pokemon will be turned into a Gachapon figure next.
The rest of the magazine is ads for game guides and the next issue of CoroCoro.
Unfortunately I don't have the next issue but I was able to get my hands on the issue that comes after!
On-sale: August 15th, 1996
By the time the September 1996 issue of CoroCoro Comics came out Pocket Monsters Red & Green had been out for almost six months. Let's check in to see how it did in the Tokoton Ranking:
The text under Pocket Monsters' entry this time? "It seems like you'll be able to trade your monsters to Pokemon 2!" Pokemon 2 also makes it to Number 2 in the list of "most anticipated games" at the bottom of the page with a total of 3,541 votes.
So I'm guessing that at some point in the August issue - which came out in July - the fact that sequels to Pocket Monsters were in development was announced at some point?. That's pretty fast! To put that in perspective, that would be like learning about Sun and Moon in April 2014, six months after the release of X&Y! Can you imagine?
Next up is an ad for the next month's issue of CoroCoro Comics that mentions that the next issue will come with a "golden game stationary kit" featuring characters from Let's Go and Pokemon. An image of a constipated-looking Pippi from Anakubo Kousaku's Pocket Monsters manga is used to represent the franchise, for some reason.
The first full section devoted to Pocket Monsters is this two-page spread talking about the brand new Trading Card Game due to come out in late October. CoroCoro refers to the game simply as Pokemon Card.
...let us just take a moment to enjoy how absurd the claim that Fushigibana "becomes invincible" is for just a second, shall we?
And at the bottom of the page is a short blurb advertising Anakubo Kousaku's Pocket Monsters manga despite it have absolutely nothing to do with the TCG.
The very next page moves away from trading cards to talk about stickers. There's also a giveaway for a pokemon notebook at the bottom of the page.
There are a few ads for a new Batomen Cyclone line (left) and the next issue of CoroCoro Comics. The next issue promises to have exclusive information on the play system of the Pokemon TCG (center, right).
A little further into the magazine we come across a mini booklet that features this:
It's a radio program where kids can call in for help with their homework, apparently? I'll let a translation of the text speak for itself:
The TBS Kids' Phone Hotline wrapped up in 2008, according to the hotline's official website.
After that is the "first" chapter of Anakubo Kousaku's Pocket Monsters manga!
I'm putting the word "first" in quotations because the manga had already been running in CoroCoro Special for a number of months by this point under the title "The Strange Pokemon Pippi" (ふしぎポケモンピッピ). This chapter, however, is the CoroCoro Comics debut of the manga and, as you can see, it receives a full-color title page.
At the end of the manga chapter is this two-page "Pockemon Club" section that catches readers up to speed on the plot-less manga they just read. Notice how they use the older "pockemon" romanization that, if you really think about it, makes more sense? They also misspell Pikachu's name, something that would be absolutely unheard of today.
Toward the end of the magazine are two more ads for the next month's issue of CoroCoro Comics that more or less say the same thing that all the others said:
Finally, CoroCoro Comics, like other manga anthology magazines, prints comments from the authors at the end of each issue. Let's see what Pocket Monsters artists Anakubo Kousaku has to say about his first chapter of the manga:
...and that's it for this month! Pocket Monsters is really starting to pick up steam!!
On-sale: September 15th, 1996
The first thing you see when you open the October 1996 issue of CoroCoro Comics is this build-it-yourself "stationary set" featuring Let's Go and Pocket Monsters. It's printed on cardboard stock and has perforated lines that allow you to detach the pieces. A how-to guide is printed later in the magazine.
When you click on the images above to enlarge it you'll see that the pokemon they use to advertise the franchise for this particular set are Lizardon, Arbo, Eevee, Seadra, and Mew. How delightfully random!
Next up is this feature on the Trading Card Game which, according to this page, now has a set release date of October 20th, 1996. Here's a translation of the five main elements the magazine points out:
And here's the text in the green-ish box that features the Pikachu and Orchid-Hakase cards.:
"Just like in the manga"...remember, at this time Anakubo Kousaku's Pocket Monsters was the only Pocket Monsters-related manga in existence! It was literally "the" manga at the time!
And finally, here's the text in the orange-ish scroll at the very left:
Next up is the monthly Tokoton Ranking! This month Pokemon moves up a spot to Number Three.
The text for Pocket Monsters this month says "There will be over 200 pokemon in Pokemon 2!"
Pocket Monsters 2 also retained its Number Two spot in the list of "Most Anticipated Games" with 3,866 votes.
The franchise's next appearance in the magazine came in these two ads. The one on the left is an ad for the next month's issue of CoroCoro and features a giant pair of women's breasts, nipples and all. The 90s sure were a different time, huh? The ad on the right is for some gashapon toys.
Next up is this feature on Pokemon Cardass, the awkwardly-named trading card series. There are two sets - a red set and a green set - and you can only get certain pokemon in certain sets just like in the games. The feature on the left shows off the second wave of Gashapon pokemon figurines with some rather questionable sculpts. The rules for how to play with these are repeated from the previous issue.
Next up are some more ads; the one on the left is for the next issue of the now-defunct Famitsu Bros magazine while the one on the right's an advertisement for next month's CoroCoro that tells us that the next issue will come with an exclusive Pikachu and Pippi TCG card.
Once we get to page 500 or so we're given a page explaining how to put together the stationary kit that was at the front of the magazine. You can use the cardboard pieces to play a board game and also they double as stencils?
After that is an ad for the next month's CoroCoro because apparently they like having half the magazine be ads for the next issue for some reason. This ad is pretty much exclusively pointing out all the pokemon-related extras that'll come packaged with the next issue: there's the aforementioned Pikachu and Pippi TCG cards, a "Pokemon Card Game Pre-Sale Victory Manual," information about the second wave of Pokemon-themed Batomen, information about a new Pokemon battle pencil game, and an exclusive report on the upcoming Pokemon Cardass stickers.
Oh, and also information on the upcoming Pocket Monsters Blue version, the newest game in the series being released to celebrate Red & Green selling over a million copies! From what I can tell this ad right here is the very first mention of this game anywhere in this magazine which is really weird way to announce the first new game in a white-hot series like Pocket Monsters.
Next up is the chapter of Anakubo Kousaku's Pocket Monsters manga that would eventually be released as the fifth chapter of the first volume, "Search for the Mythical Pokemon Mew." After that is an ad for, you guessed it, next month's issue of CoroCoro.
The rest of the magazine is just more ads, basically. The one on the left is for the next month's issue of CoroCoro Special and will feature two chapters of Anakubo Kousaku's Pocket Monsters manga, apparently. The one on the right is yet another ad for next month's issue of regular CoroCoro Comics. This one is kind of funny because it uses one of the janky "pokemon" Mr. Anakubo created for his manga to help promote the franchise.
As we get to the end of the magazine we get some new comments from Mr. Anakubo:
"I'm really thankful for all the impressions and fan letters I got after the first chapter. I'll continue to do my best! (Anakubo)"
Finally, the back cover of the magazine features this art board (basically a piece of cardboard you put under your paper to avoid scratching whatever surface you're writing on) featuring characters from "Pocke mon" in what is apparently the second in a series of three images. I'm a bit confused by this last part; the previous issue most definitely did not come with one of these art boards so I'm wondering when and where "Part One" would have been released. The text at the top there challenges us to find all three legendary birds in this image.
I unfortunately don't have the November issue at the moment but I did manage to find the December one!
On-sale: November 15th, 1996
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