I’ve got this serious thing for Pokemon.
I don’t know how many readers (if there are any, heh heh) are familiar with this erstwhile phenomenon. I’m going to assume pretty much anybody with an internet connection has some familiarity with Pikachu, Ash, and the gang, but I suppose anything’s possible.
To repeat, I’ve got a serious thing for Pokemon.
The games, the cards, the manga, the TV show….I adore it. The only possible exceptions are the later seasons of the show. Actually, the only season I really enjoy is the first. You can’t beat the Indigo League.
Now, until recently, I’ve done a fantastic job hiding this weird little passion of mine. I have managed not to brag about my card collection for seven years. (At the height of the craze, when I was 11 0r 12, it was assessed at a $6,000 value. For a kid, that’s impressive, right? Misplaced determination is still determination.) I have not played any of the games since I was 15. The reason for that? I started playing Pokemon Red about midway through my sophomore year of high school. Great student, 3.8 GPA, the teacher’s pet you all probably disliked. About two thirds through my sophomore year of high school, my GPA was about a 2.7, and my parents staged a casual form of an intervention. That game was like crack. I couldn’t stop. (Well, I probably could’ve, but I didn’t.) I strongly suspect, after several years, that the games are probably still like crack. I’m going to test that over the summer with Pokemon Black. Wish me luck. No, better yet, pray.
Now, backtracking here, I want to tell you a little bit more about my card collection. About the time of the Pokemon Red intervention, I stashed that bulging folder away. I didn’t look at it for a looooooong time. In fact, I forgot I hid it (I forget things a LOT) and assumed it had been stolen. This wasn’t an entirely unfounded fear. One particular summer, a lot of things disappeared from my parents’ house. Having forgotten about my mad skills for hiding stuff, I naturally assumed this bizarre paean to an obsessive childhood–I would call it the sum of my pre-adolescent life–had gotten stuck to a couple of sticky fingers and slid away.
A few months ago, maybe February, my youngest brother unearthed this collection. I was ecstatic. Wild. Never mind a couple of card slots had emptied in the intervening years. Of once-$6,000, I probably still had once-$5,800. All my favorites were there. It made my month.
My youngest brother was just as excited. In fact, he was developing a nice little Poke-obsession himself: he’d amassed a good 300 cards over the last year, no mean feat for a kid with no allowance and sporadic earning potential. Even now, booster packs cost anywhere from $3 to $6. I was proud.
That pride morphed to shock when he asked if he could have my collection.
“No way!” I cried. “You know what these mean to me?”
To cut a long story short, my Scroogey sensibilities persisted. My brother’s obsession did not wane, however, and culminated with some thievery on his part. However, it was kind of a joke. He is, by the way, a joker, and filmed himself (on my camera!) taking them. He also hid them in the bathroom. I confiscated the cards, but I was so amused, it was all in good humor.
I did feel kind of guilty, which was definitely warranted. I mean, think about it. I couldn’t even remember WHY I loved Pokemon so much. I have been an adult for a few of years now. I haven’t touched the game since high school, the show even longer than that. So what was up? Not to brag, but I’m normally a very generous person. I do develop weird attachments to inanimate objects, true. Things like Carls Jr. cups, water bottles, coffee mugs, old coats, frog sculptures, empty lotion pots, 5-year-old homework notebooks, bolts of fabric, pieces of deconstructed music boxes, cracked aquariums, headless figurines, plastic meal buckets (also from Carl’s Jr, incidentally) and stuffed animals. (Regarding stuffed animals: until I was seven, I actually believed they had feelings. Isn’t it nice when you can pinpoint the origin of a particular neurosis?) Naturally, I assumed my thing for Pokemon cards was along those lines. Not that it excused anything, and I did make a vague promise to gift him some lesser cards.
Shortly after this first round of the Thief Game (there were several more) my brother managed to wheedle a DVD set of the first half of the first season of Pokemon. Those of you in the know will remember it as The Indigo League.
Shamefully, I was every bit as excited as my brother.
Working around my employment schedule (which was pretty minimal) we settled in for a marathon that week.
Within ten minutes, I was stunned.
Not long after, I was swept away.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Pokemon is almost crazily childish. Cliches abound. The situations are, with very few exceptions, kind of laughable. Even the bad guys aren’t scary. Team Rocket is cringingly inept, and provides comic relief much more often than conflict or even tension. It turns out they even play for Ash’s team every once in a while. Damian, Charmander’s former trainer (you remember this episode, my fellow nerds?) is much more sickening than dopey James can ever hope to be. Shoot, his and Jessie’s determination, perpetual ingenuity, unswerving loyalty is moralistic in itself. (I might be biased in their favor, though, as they both dropped out of the academy. I’m not a dropout by any stretch, but I hate school.)
Moving on, the show’s morals are overwhelming. Their perennial “preserve the enviroment!” message don’t even make an effort toward subtlety. Nor do the themes of friendship, patience, personal development, responsibility, respect, or equality. Ash is a stubborn, pigheaded, often idiotic example of a child, but this kid can’t go five minutes without learning some lesson or other. He doesn’t even get a free pass for stupid, poor thing. Every time he’s silly, arrogant, self-centered, or displays a lack of empathy, he’s punished in some way or other. Even when he’s overcoming an obstacle, he gets bashed if he doesn’t overcome it with complete selflessness and humility. It was kind of embarrassing. I remembered why, as a child, I felt stupid if my parents were in the room watching it with me. It was a fun, addictive show with good lessons, but jeez maria.
My brother and I kept on watching, though. We weren’t about to be deterred. We were INTO it. We were basking in the silliness and adventure and the awesomeness of the Pokemon universe. A world filled to the brim with adorable, intelligent creatures, with tons of adventure and just the right amount sof danger–how does anyone with a childish heart stand a chance? Even the bad guys don’t want to hurt you. They just want to take your Pikachu. That in itself can be traumatic, of course, but think. No matter what, it always turns out well. Even when Ash loses his battle, even when Charmander is abandoned, even when Team Rocket is on the cusp of success, it always turns out okay. But not simply, or without work. The ghost in the machine is present, but it requires some sacrifice. These characters have the passion, the honesty, the ingenuity, the creativity, the drive, the courage, and the pureness of heart to always do what is right, and thus to always come out happy. Think about it. Ash is soooooooooooo not a winner in the traditional sense. The only way he works his way up through the League is through unusual means. In fact, this clueless child usually ends up risking his life for others. The desire to win dissipates in the face of threat to his friends, Pokemon, and even strangers. In the end, after everything, Ash can’t even get into the Pokemon League. All that work, all that heartache and danger and grueling work, and he can’t even achieve his dream. Lack of skill or not, this boy has earned this. But he still can’t get it.
Does he give up?
Of course not. He accepts this defeat, this crushing disappoint, with the ultimate grace. And he sets out to try again.
About halfway through the season, it started to hit me.
My craziness regarding cards and games actually tuned the show out. I really didn’t even watch this cartoon after I turned eleven. But to be honest, I think that was my loss. Not to write over the childishness, the simplicity, of the thing. But it was those things–always do what’s right; take care of your world; face adversity with graceful courage; respect your enemies; take care of those who depend on you; put yourself last; never, ever, ever give up–that captured my imagination as a child. And it recaptured my imagination at an adult. (To be fair, I haven’t really matured. Obviously.) And what was so wrong with that? “The Lord of the Rings” is jam-packed with similar themes. Narnia? Don’t even get me started. Harry Potter, same deal. The Dark Tower? Well, maybe subtract the “respect your enemies”, but yeah. (Oooh, on the subject of Stephen King’s work, pick up his and Peter Straub’s brilliant collaboration, “The Talisman.” In fact, stop reading this and go do that now.) To be honest, Pokemon’s not doing anything but putting forth the messages, morals, and themes held up by the best works of fantasy since the inception of storytelling. Pokemon did what it was meant to do, and it suceeded wonderfully.
Now….is Pokemon among the greatest works of fantasy? Of course not. It’ll never be. It’s a cliche-ridden cartoon that’s honestly seen better days. Most of you probably don’t even think it’s worth your time. And it probably isn’t. But it is worth mine. And I’m very, very glad.
Tragically, very recently there cropped up a situation that required me to leave my precious cards. I had to resort to a Spartan amount of possessions (and oh boy, if you’re anything like me, you can imagine the agony.) I’m kind of humiliated to admit that I did consider packing them, but it was impossible. And I’d been promising to trade cards with my little brother for a long time by then. Somehow, I never got around to it.
So, I offered that bulging, messy, crazy folder that, once upon a time, had been worth thousands of dollars. That, to me, is still worth thousands of dollars, pathetic as that may be. And I gave it to the one person who valued it as much as I do. A person who just might value it more. And the funny thing about it? It didn’t feel like a loss. Honestly, I think I was probably just a little bit happier than he was.