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Beginner's Guide to Pokémon

A primer for the phenomenon.

Odds are, unless you’ve been living in a subterranean cave, you’ve more than likely heard of Pokémon. The franchise is a global multi-media phenomenon that’s been the “entry point” for almost an entire generation of anime fans. I wasn’t part of that generation, myself: DRAGONBALL Z was my “entry point” and I was a little too old for Pokémon when it first rolled out in America but, luckily, I’ve got some younger friends who were big fans. Thanks to my pal Dan Lherault  for the help. 


The Story

This show’s world is filled with more than 500 species of Pokémon - - fantastical “Pocket Monsters” who possess a whole gamut of unique powers relating to fire, water, poisons, rocks and shape-shifting (to name just a few.) Said species mix and match the traits of real animals like lizards, horses and birds into charming amalgamations like Bulbasaur, Charmander, Jigglypuff and Psyduck (to name only just a few.) As if that weren't enough complexity, instantaneous evolution runs rampant in these creatures. So a Pichu can evolve into a Pikachu which, in turn, can evolve into a Raichu. Got it?

If keeping track of all these species, power types and evolutionary stages seems like a vexing prospect, then you'll want to consult  a Pokedex - - an electronic device specifically designed to keep track of all this fantastic fauna. Plucky 10-year-old Ash Ketchum always keeps his Pokedex handy. See, this world is full of Pokémon trainers who capture and train these cute creatures for battle in regional competitions. Ash wants to be the best of the best but, wouldn't you know it, his quest doesn't start off that grandly. Because he sleeps in for his first appointment as a trainer, he winds up getting the only “starter Pokémon ” left - - a seemingly-lame Pikachu.  At first, this Pokémon refuses to cooperate with Ash. It won't even get into his  Poké Ball, the device every trainer uses to capture and store Pokémon in the wild.

With time, Pikachu comes to trust Ash and the two become quite a good team (even though Pikachu never relents about the Poke Ball.) The starter Pokémon who at first seemed like a lemon for Ash turns out to actually be the best he could ever ask for, as Pikachu soon demonstrates powers above most others. Those powers are so great, in fact, that they attract the attention of the nefarious trainers, Team Rocket, who want to to steal Pikachu from Ash and use it to put the world under their crime syndicate’s rule. Though Ash finds enemies in Team Rocket, he also collects allies like fellow trainers, Misty and Brock, who join him in his "quest to be the best."

The Characters

As mentioned before, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of Pokémon  - - simply far too many to list.  Though Pikachu's the star of the show, it's Ash who's the lead and, thus, the most important characters to spotlight here are his fellow and rival trainers.

Just your average kid from Pallet Town, this eager beginner trainer wants to be the best in the world (the very best, as the theme song reminds you.) He might seem like an underdog, at first, only starting with a lowly Pikachu in his arsenal, but his skills and Pokémon collection increase significantly as he goes further and further into the world.


This cutesy critter’s something between a giant mouse and an electric eel. Believe it or not, the red circles on its cheeks aren’t just there to make it look pretty - - they actually store electrical power! Keep in mind that this is just one of an entire species of Pikachu, who all can only say “Pika Pika.” Out of all the Pokémon that Ash captures, however, Pikachu's the only one who refuses to go into his Pokeball. 
A hot head with fiery red hair, Misty’s a rival for Ash who's actually more advanced than he is at the start. She’s the leader of the Cerulean Gym, but leaves it to her three sisters’ control to join Ash’s quest. Oddly enough, she joins him only after Pikachu burns her bike to crisp and she insists she won't leave Ash until he pays her back.

Another gym leader who leaves his post to join Ash's quest. 
He doesn’t want to be the best trainer - - he just wants to be a good Pokémon breeder. Think of him as the older brother who’s always got a map, directions and a cool-headed explanation. Though, he's got a boyish tendency to fall madly in love with a girl in every new town.  

A couple of no-good punks, Jesse and James are part of a crime syndicate that steals other trainers’ Pokémon  to horde enough for their boss’ world domination scheme. With the wily Pokémon, Meowth (who can actually talk!) they're always trying (unsuccessfully) to steal Pikachu. 



What Can This Be Compared To?

Ha… DIGIMON! I think anybody's going to notice that two shows about kids collecting and battling  monsters share more than a few similarities. That aside, I’d say that Pokémon is really your quintessential Saturday Morning cartoon. More specifically, comparisons can be drawn to any number of Japanese-imported, kids-targeted, game-or-toy-derived adventure shows like POWER RANGERS, BAKUGAN or YU-GI-OH.

What You Need to Know

This whole franchise started with a Game Boy game Satoshi Tajiri created for Nintendo in 1996. The conceit of players capturing “Pocket Monsters” from the wilderness and training them for battle against other players (through system link-ups) was intended to capture Satoshi’s boyhood hobby of collecting bugs. The game proved popular enough that an anime show was spun out of it the next year by Oriental Light & Magic’s Masamitsu Hidaka who crafted a story to spring out of the gameplay. Thus, Ash Ketchum (named Satoshi in Japan, after his creator) and his world were born, begetting 13 seasons & movies, a host of shorts & specials and two spin-off TV shows.

What Should You Watch?

This show's easy to get into. There's no complicated continuity or intricate back story you need to be versed in to enjoy any given episode. In fact, the "reset button" is more-or-less pushed at the end of every season. Ash will leave all the Pokémon he's collected (except Pikachu) in a lab so he can start fresh and collect a whole new assortment for the next season. He'll usually get a whole new group of friends, too. You can currently watch a huge chunk of the third season on the official Pokémon site for free, and that's an easy place to start.  Bear in mind that each season of Pokémon has a sub-title rather than a number. The very first season is sub-titled INDIGO LEAGUE and the DVD box set is available on Amazon for around 30 bucks. You can enjoy this show at any point, but if you really want to star from the beginning, then that's what you need to get.

fightbaiton July 2, 2010 at 12:55 p.m.
I worry that early Pokemon is losing its relevance among new fans. A while ago I did a podcast on the first series and I got an email complaint because we talked about "old anime."
Kelleth moderator on July 2, 2010 at 1:02 p.m.
@fightbait: Well if anyone does not care for the old franchises that's their problem. But if anyone starts complaining about other people discussing older anime that person is a jerk!!
fightbaiton July 2, 2010 at 1:05 p.m.
@Kelleth: Word. The funny this is that most of what we talk about is from the 80s and 90s. 
More importantly, Pokemon is the business. I'm really sad that I lost my DS; otherwise, I'd be playing SoulSilver right now.
Kelleth moderator on July 2, 2010 at 1:35 p.m.
@fightbait said:

" I worry that early Pokemon is losing its relevance among new fans. A while ago I did a podcast on the first series and I got an email complaint because we talked about "old anime." "

Well then that person has even more issues then i thought!! lol  
@Tom_Pinchuk: BTW Why does the Power Rangers link lead to Carranger? it should lead here!
I always watched Pokémon and because of that i'm still kind of a Pokémon nut, In fact i still blog regularly about Pokémon and Power Rangers!! lol :)
JDon July 2, 2010 at 2:11 p.m.
I didn't know that this show needed character descriptions.  All that is pretty easy to get just by watching the show.
Gaseroon July 2, 2010 at 3:34 p.m.
Does Pokemon really need a beginner's guide? Almost every episode of Pokemon is a beginner's guide because essentially the same thing happens every episode. Well, maybe not the SAME thing, but there are about 5 different formulas for a Pokemon episode. Admittedly I still watch Pokemon every week...over 10 years later.
sotyfan16on July 2, 2010 at 4:51 p.m.

I loved Pokemon back in the day. I don't know how far I watched the series and I've only seen 3 or 4 of the movies. What I liked most though were the Gameboy games. I'd play them for hours (either Silver or Crystal) and would even play on occassion when I was in high school in the mid-2000s. I have no idea what is going on in the world of Pokemon now and that's ok with me. I'm happy to have started with DBZ like Tom as it is my preferred choice between the two.

Killajadeon July 2, 2010 at 5:36 p.m.
Nice hot pic of Misty up there:D
Daniel_Newton moderator on July 2, 2010 at 7:44 p.m.
Damn, I was going to suggest I make a Pokémon beginners guide for the site but I was beaten to it!
Despite what the article says though, I think anyone wanting to get into it really should watch it from the start, it's just better that way, and even though I haven't watched any of the newer seasons I know enough to virtually guarantee that the first few were the best, you know, before they started "hitting the reset button" and retelling the same story with a few different characters and Pokémon.
@Killajade said:
" Nice hot pic of Misty up there:D "
Haha, he used official pictures for the rest of the article but the for Misty he picked fan art of her with her shorts' button undone. Classy! :P
ninjadude853on July 2, 2010 at 7:45 p.m.
ah, nostalgia,
i was like, 6 when pokemon was  popular,  my brother would always make me watch with him
MrDirector786on July 3, 2010 at 4:07 a.m.
That Pikachu freaked me out.
DocHauson July 3, 2010 at 7:42 a.m.
What? I was expecting a title about an evil yellow mouse who eats brains and the ten-year-old with a shotgun who has to put him down! You lied to me, Anime Vice!
Seriously though, I remember Pokemon back in the day when Red and Blue first hit US shores. Sparked a card game, an anime, a movie, the Pokemon Rap and my "if it's Japanese it's awesome" phase. I remember when there were 150 Pokemon, how the hell did it explode into 500?
RadiantTheLighton July 3, 2010 at 12:13 p.m.
BobCaton July 4, 2010 at 4:48 p.m.
The HKSS pokemon trainer's platoon is always looking for new members.
Gotta recruit 'em all :)
reinon July 4, 2010 at 4:54 p.m.
There is definitely some wincest going on between Ash and His milf.
JohnZimmermanon July 5, 2010 at 7:17 a.m.
@RadiantTheLight:   rofl
terrycarron July 14, 2010 at 9:10 p.m.
i like this
buhssuhton July 20, 2010 at 9:49 a.m.
this brings back some memories
natsumehiragion Aug. 27, 2010 at 9:15 p.m.
maybe someday ill remember this^^
99_cellson Dec. 31, 2011 at 9:42 p.m.

This was one of my first animes for certain.

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