The Cultural Politics of Pokemon Capitalism

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The Cultural Politics of Pokemon Capitalism It is fall 1999 and a jet from Japan has just pulled up to its berth at LAX airport in Los Angeles. Immediately a crowd of kids excitedly gathers by the window to view what appears to be a huge flying Pikachu: the yellowy cute, electrically charged mouse-type pocket monster of what was then the biggest kid’s craze of the decade, Pokemon. Even parents recognize this iconic figure, familiar as they are with the basics of the phenomenon. Starting out as a gameboy game in Japan in 1996, it grew quickly to a multi-stranded empire: comic books, cartoon, movies, trading cards, toy figures, video games, tie-in merchandise. And, starting in 1997, Pokemon got exported, hitting the U.S. in August 1998. The principle of the game, duplicated in the plotline of the movies, cartoons, and comics, is to become a pokemon master by trying to capture all 151 monsters (expanded to 251 in recent editions) inhabiting the playscapes of Poke-world. In this world, any child can become a master like Satoshi (Ash in English) who, in the story versions, is the 11 year old protagonist traveling the world with his two buddies, Misty (an 11 year old girl) and Brock (a 15 year old teenage boy). All one needs to do is keep playing: maneuver one’s controls to move through this game space, discovering and catching (mainly by fighting) new monsters whom consequently become pocketed as one’s own. Hence, the name “pocket monster.” Pocketed monsters are trained to fight new monsters therefore becoming both the medium and end of this game. The logic here is acquisition; “gotta catch ‘em all” is the catchword of Pokemon. But entwined into this, as Benjamin noted about commodity fetishism at the dawn of modernity, is enchantment. The monsters to be gotten are not only things, possessions, and tools but also enchanting beings akin to spirits, pets, or friends. Pikachu iconizes this weave of relationality taken, I will argue, to the age of millennial postmodernity. With its electric powers, Pikachu is a tough, therefore prized, pokemon. But, with its smallish, yellow body, Pikachu is also cuddly and cute: features played up on screen where it becomes the best buddy pokemon of the lead character, Ash. This monster is at once property and pal, capital and companion: the key features in a form of intimate or cute

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