Fan Response:
March 1998 Issue

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Dogasu's Backpack | Features | Pokémon Shock


How did anime fans respond to Pocket Monsters being taken off the air after "Cyber Soldier Porygon" sent hundreds of kids to the hospital? The March 1998 issue of Animedia may help provide us with clues.

The issue has a cover date of March 1st, 1998.

Letters to the Editor

This month's issue contains almost nothing but reader letters regarding the Pokémon Shock incident. Based on the comments in the letters / art gallery it seems as though a lot of these were written immediately after the incident, meaning this was probably the first issue which covered the incident.

Let's start with the two long-ish letters on Page 72.

Letter 1

Hoping for "Pokémon" to return as soon as possible
After watching the December 16th broadcast of "Pokémon" Episode 38, a lot of people all over the country suffered from convulsions and dizziness, one after the other. It became the top story on TV and in the papers, and the number of victims climbed up to more than 600 people. I hope the victims (most of whom are children) all get better soon but also, as both an animation fan and a mother of two elementary school kids myself, want to share my opinions on the matter.

My youngest, my eight-year-old, suffers from something called febrile seizures, and so once a year we go have his brain waves checked out. During those check ups, they measure his reactions to a series of strong lights that are flashed on him to see what his reaction is this time, and while I was waiting there a few years ago I remember coming across a newspaper article about a boy who had a severe seizure from the flashing lights of a video game he was playing. I read that and thought yeah, in video games they'll often have the screen get dark and then light up with a sudden burst of light whenever a special attack is used. At the time, I remember thinking "You know, they use those same types of effects in animated shows as well...are cartoons OK then...?"

Those fears ended up coming true. And if I'm being honest, when I first heard about the incident I couldn't help but think "yeah, of course this happened." But I was surprised at just how many people were affected. I also imagine the staff of the show was taken aback as well, and that this happened because everyone, the network who checks this show included, just hadn't been doing their due diligence at the time. The show has that something that kids understand but that adults can't. Some of the children who felt the symptoms of this case were a little older, maybe between 8 and 12 or so, and I think it's hard to understand 100% what's happening in the show unless you're at least that old. There was this doctor on TV, an expert on the subject, who said the number of those who suffer these type of symptoms due to being exposed to strong lights is extremely limited. And I think there's a strong connection between "children getting caught up in the story of the show." I guess what I'm trying to say is that children really concentrate on the cartoons they watch, and the shows they enjoy get etched into their hearts.

What I'm trying to say is that I hope they come to a scientific understanding of what happened as soon as possible, take care of it, and return "Pokémon" back to the kids who love it. I'm worried that what happens a lot with TV will happen here, which is that a single screw up means the powers that be will take "responsibility" for this and "refrain from airing" the show anymore, leading to it eventually being canceled altogether. But if you cancel the show all of a sudden then it'll end up really hurting the children who love it. Children wouldn't accept the "responsibility" excuses we in the adult world would use to justify this, after all. That's because while adults might see Pokémon as "just another cartoon," children see it as their "beloved treasure." Please work hard to pinpoint the root cause and bring Pokémon back as soon as possible.

Wakayama Prefecture / Mine Moriyama

Response from Animedia:
-- Unlike with video games, where everyone plays them at their own schedule, TV shows are mostly all shown at the same time all over the country, resulting in a large number of incidents happening all at once. In Pokémon's case, specifically, the show's high ratings unfortunately only widened the scope of this disaster...

The shocking animation techniques requested by fans
A lot of people were shocked by just how many people became victims of the trouble caused by the footage in the December 16th broadcast of "Pokémon" Episode 38. It's possible there were even some involved in the media who fell ill because of this. It's stressing us all out. At the same time, as an animation fan I'm overcome with worry about what will happen to "Pokémon" from here on out. So I checked out news reports related to the incident and in one of the things I saw it said that a cartoon on NHK ("YAT"-something or other) also had a few kids complain of the same kinds of symptoms. When I heard that I felt a mix of emotions. Why didn't NHK report this and then warn the other animation companies sooner? If the people who make "Pokémon" had known about this they could have maybe avoided this whole thing and there wouldn't have been 600 victims.

But what happened happened, and a lot of people became victims as a result. On top of that, everything from Episode 39 onward isn't being aired, and those areas of the country where that are a few weeks behind won't be airing any more episodes, either. And we have no idea if/when the show can come back until TV-Tokyo's investigation team, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare all reach their conclusions. I also wonder what will happen to this coming summer's Pokémon movie...

I feel bad for the children who were met with this misfortune, of course, but I also feel bad for the show's staff.

The reason I feel bad is because the animation technique that caused this issue has been used for the big climax scenes in our cartoons for years and years. Making the images more flashy the closer we get to an episode's climax isn't so rare in the world of animation. But maybe these animation staffs are prioritizing trying to shock their audiences with flashy images over making the shows actually interesting, and as a result they tend to go overboard with those techniques. To put it another way, we viewers aren't the ones who asked them to make the scenes so flashy in the first place, at least not intentionally. If you think about it that way, I feel like you can say this incident was bound to happen sooner or later. Shouldering the responsibility for a show like this must be really, really tough.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that all of Japan is paying attention to every detail of this "Pokémon" Trouble right now. But rather than trying to push the blame on TV-Tokyo or the people who make the "Pokémon" show, I think we should really work hard to find the root cause of this and, after coming up with an explanation that even the kids who love the show will accept and understand, work toward getting Pocket Monsters back on the air.

Tokyo / Mari Shion

Response from Animedia:
-- If the root cause really is the flashing lights used in animation then it's possible the same thing can happen with other shows (not just cartoons, but talk shows and dramas, etc.) as well. We hope this doesn't end up turning into some kind of witch hunt.

The rest of Page 72 and the majority of Page 73 consist of a bunch of shorter letters.

Page 72:

Fish Around for a Solution
The Pokémon Trouble was really surprising. They say the cause had something to do with the red and blue flashing lights in the episode. By the way, have any of you ever felt the screen was too bright when watching TV? If so, I suggest you try adjusting the video settings (the actual wording on the settings menu may vary depending on the manufacturer) on your TV. You can adjust the "Brightness," "Saturation," and "Contrast" all together to change the intensity of the display. You'll want to set them to the lowest setting for a 14 inch TV and about halfway for a 25 inch display. At first you might feel like the image is maybe too dark, but this way if the show you're watching gets bright all of a sudden you'll be able to avoid receiving the shock to your brain and eyes. Why not try it out!

Nagasaki Prefecture / Megumaa Kaji

And Page 73:

Say It! Hear It!
A lot of children fell ill because of images in Episode 38 of "Pokémon," and it became a huge story. And yeah, the checks done by both the network and the production company weren't enough and so they should reflect on that. But on the other hand, I've been watching news reports on this incident (particularly the morning shows) and the big newspapers and I don't feel good about the way they're treating this story. Their reports make it seem like they're saying "Pokémon" itself is to blame and then use all this ominous background music whenever they talk about it. It makes it seem like they're just reveling in the blunder made by a highly rated show on one of their rival networks. On top of that, the sports newspapers have sensational headlines like "Pokémon Attacks Your Kids" or "Pokémon's Coming For Your Little Ones," and it looks like they're just trying to get everyone riled up to sell more papers. If you're a parent of one of the victims then I can understand why you'd think "If only they hadn't been watching "Pokémon"...," sure, but for everyone else, this type of reporting just breeds misconceptions about the show.

Since it seems like this incident involves problems with an old animation technique using rapidly flashing lights then that means it's not just "Pokémon" that's affected but is something that could happen to any cartoon out there. Therefore, instead of trying to point the finger at TV-Tokyo, I want TV as a whole to recognize this problem as a blind spot that they themselves had been ignoring. The questions TV news and print media should be asking now isn't whether "Pokémon" will continue or if it will be pulled from the air, but about the dangers of TV being able to affect such a large number of people all at the same time.

Toride Prefecture / Shortbreat (Douyou 18 Tsuu)

When I saw the news and newspaper articles that came out right after this Pokémon Trouble happened I saw where most of them were saying that "Pokémon" was bad, and this made me feel frustrated and sad and like I wanted to cry. During all this, a certain TV newscaster, K, prefaced his report by saying "We want to say something to the children out there. Pikachu didn't do anything wrong. This whole thing happened because the episode had a lot of unfortunate elements to it, all piled up on each other. So please don't hate Pikachu for this." Of course, this wasn't the network that aired "Pokémon," but one of their rivals. After hearing this I thought "Ah, that's exactly what I wanted to hear" and then bawled my eyes out. Just those words alone probably helped heal the hearts of Pokémon fans all over. Thank you K-san, you made this fan very happy!

Okayama Prefecture / Akari Minamino

Why did this have to happen?
My sisters and I watched "Pokémon" Episode 38 and nothing strange happened to any of this. I think this is because we all followed a certain set of rules we have in our house. 1) Don't watch TV in the dark. 2) Sit back at least one meter from the TV. 3) Don't keep watching for long periods of time.

Our parents has been drilling these three rules into our heads for years. I heard that a lot of the people who complained they weren't feeling well had been watching Pokémon in a poorly lit room. While I do think this whole thing was due to mistakes by the network that aired the show, I also think we viewers could have been a little bit more careful back then. Let's all follow these three rules and be careful not to have a repeat of this incident!

Tokyo / Purple Clouds, Scorching Sun

Pissed Off!
I heard that the day after the airing of "Pokémon" Episode 38, when everyone was causing a fuss over all those kids falling ill, that people were apparently going on the Internet and saying things like "Does anyone out there have a copy of Episode 38 I can see?" I can understand being curious and all that, but what the hell do you think you're doing!? If you were to watch one of those recordings and then went into convulsions then what do you think would happen!? You'd just be adding to the number of victims! And then Pokémon would be in even more trouble!! Didja ever think of that!? Don't be a jerk!

Osaka / Ayumi Shimose

Today's Topic is…?
There have been actual victims of the Pokémon Trouble that's in the news right now and so, moving forward, it's likely they're going to be enforcing some kind of rules or regulations for animated shows. I think it's probably inevitable. However, as an animation fan the thing I worry about is that it'll turn into this slippery slope, where the general public insists that "we think this might dangerous so don't do that right now," which then turns into production companies limiting what they can and can't show, which then turns into the quality of our shows going down as a result. So I think we shouldn't just leave the new guidelines up to the investigation teams to decide, but instead include us animation fans as well, compromising where necessary but always making sure our voices are heard. Now is not the time to fall complacent and think that if we don't get involved then someone else will; instead, we should all work proactively to help protect the shows we love. As of January 1998 it's still not clear how far the new rules will end up going. But, depending on the research teams' reports, we may need to step up and start collecting signatures or something like that. Let's all work hard to make sure "Pokémon" comes back!

Hokkaido Prefecture / Taku

Art Gallery

An art gallery in the middle of the page contains images of postcards that had been sent into the magazine with fan art and little fan messages. Translations of those messages are below:


Pikka chuu ♡

I'm getting used to drawing PikaChu so I thought "Alright! I'm gonna post this!" when my teacher...and then the incident…Anyway, please don't end, Pokémon (cries)

Come Back Pikachu!

Hang in there Pikachu

I'm shocked! Since the show's off the air my son isn't so sunny anymore, and my daughter started to cry…they were fine when they watched the episode live and so it's really disappointing. But I won't let them watch videos of the show anymore. Tokyo TV, we're rooting for you. I hope they find the root cause and hurry up and get Pikachu back on the air! We'll be waiting

Tokyo / Sakurako Niwa

Chu ♥
That incident from the other day was so sad. Pikachu didn't do anything wrong…

And now, a commercial break
I have a manga running in a magazine called COMIC GAMEST. Check it out if you have the time. Oh no, my deadline's coming up…

By Akira Satou

Saitama Prefecture / Akira Satou

What's gonna happen to Pokémon!?
That incident where people watched Pokémon Episode 38 and fell ill. I'm really paying close attention to this…and I've been watching the news nonstop. It seems like more than half the phone calls TV-Tokyo got were in support of Pokémon continuing, and yet the following week it got pulled from the air... (cries) Why did this kind of thing have to happen? We were just having fun and enjoying Pokémon, and so this is a huge shock for us fans. Someone please tell us what's gonna happen!

Toyama Prefecture / Yana Gunmebara

Pokémon getting canceled is the worst! (cries)
Well, they haven't made a decision yet…

"Why did this kind of thing have to happen? (cries) And I loved it so much too 💦

I watched it and I was fine! Nothing bad happened to me!
But I think the ones who maybe have it the hardest right now is the staff of the show. Cheer up ♥ Even though the show's not airing right now we're all hoping this isn't how this story ends. By the time this gets printed we'll have been able to smile and be reunited with Pokémon, right? I believe in you."

Pikachu's praying with tears in its eyes

Dec 19th Masaho

Yamaguchi Prefecture / Masaho Seo

We can't see Episode 38!?
The prefecture I live in's about two weeks behind everyone else and so we weren't able to see Episode 38 (cries) And since everyone on TV's getting so riled up about this it makes me want to watch it even more 💦

You can cut that scene if you want, just please air it for us (cries)
12/17 Tomo

Toyama Prefecture / Tomo

My Buddy (or my sweety LOL) Pikachu ♡

Come back soon, Pokémon!

Aichi Prefecture / Mario Yoshiha

Pikachu did nothing wrong
December 16th, 1997

This has really been something, huh? I know this letter probably looks like chicken scratch to you but I wanted to get something off my chest so here I am. As of this writing, it was announced that "The show's taking a break from next week. Worst case scenario, the show might get canceled" and as I'm writing this I wonder what we should do. Pokémon makes us laugh, cry, and is really's such a great show and so if were to all end like this it'd be such a waste!! Some garbage sports newspaper... things are going around saying that Pokémon's no good, and that pisses me off! Anyway, I hope they hurry up and solve this issue so we can see Satoshi and Pikachu in action again! I'll bet you're getting a lot of postcards about Pokémon this month...

Aichi Prefecture / February Thousand Years

Two Page Spread

Back in the late 1990s, Animedia would dedicate two pages every month toward some kind of Pocket Monsters coverage. The March 1998 coverage, featured on pages 146 - 147 of the issue, was dedicated completely to the Pokémon Shock incident.

The parts of this spread that have to do with fan feedback can be found on Page 147. The names of the fans who wrote the letters are only printed in kanji and so the signatures of the letters below are only educated guesses.

A lot of fans are saddened by the Pokémon animated series going off the air because of the incident that occurred. As soon as the incident occurred we here at the Anime Ai column received tons of worried letters from readers saying things like "they didn't have to go and take the show off the air like that…" Let's introduce some of those letters to you.

"As of today, December 18th, the broadcast of the 39th episode that was due to air on the 23rd has been canceled and all the Pokémon tapes at the front of the rental stores have been taken down as well. The former I can understand, I guess, but the latter just seems like a roundabout way of saying the Pokémon animated series as a whole is no good, and that just doesn't sit right with me." Gifu Prefecture / Makusu Zaki (???)

"For me, dropping "Pokémon" because of this incident when they could just not use those colors in the show…I don't like it. I don't want them to have to limit what colors they can use in the show, of course, but I also think they need to take more precautions when making the show...that's how I feel, anyway. I hope they're able to do their best and develop a brand new way of doing animation." Kanagawa Prefecture / Eri Yasuda (???)

Letters to anime magazines aren't the only way fans are expressing their sadness at the show going off the air. Using personal computers to connect to places where they can exchange opinions with one another called "meeting rooms," heated discussions about this incident are raging. Of course, it goes without saying that comments like "This is too bad...I'm hoping for a quick return to the air" are common. On websites, where people are able to express their opinions freely to people all over the world, sentiments like "Protect Pokémon!" are spreading, and it's even gotten to where people are gathering signatures to to get the show back on the air.

But will the show ever come back…?

Images of the websites and fan letters found by the magazine were also posted:

The Internet
A lot of websites have been made where people freely express their personal feelings about the "Pokémon Incident." No matter where you look, people's love for Pokémon can be seen overflowing from all over.
Reader Postcards
A lot of people were shocked by news of the "Pokémon Incident" but were also angry at the mainstream media for their reports on the incident that insinuated that the animated series itself is to blame. It's too bad for the people who experienced health issues because of this but this is also a good chance to take those lemons and make lemonade by making the animated series even better that ever!

I tried to dig up the various websites posted in the screenshots above but unfortunately I wasn't able to find any of them.





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