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Pokémon has been an innocent and beloved franchise for the last two decades, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t gone by without a bit of controversy sprinkled on top.
The first controversy that Pokémon ever faced hit in the year 2000, when Pokémon went global. On January 5, 2000 children’s book writer and poet Carole Weatherford was the first to accuse Nintendo of using a racist symbol as the inspiration for the Pokémon Jynx. Nintendo promptly changed the color of Jnyx from black to purple and denied that her origin was racist. Since then, there have been many fan theories on what Jynx’s true inspiration was. Everything from a Nordic Goddess to a Japanese subculture called Ganguro (though it’s worth mentioning that a branch of Ganguro is driven from the look of the Yamauba, called Yamuna Girls). However, these are all false; her true inspiration was a Japanese myth, the Yamauba.
The evidence for Jynx being the Yamauba begins with her appearance. The Yamauba is described as having long white-blond hair, a tattered red kimono, a blackened face, and swollen lips and eyes. The only thing that the Yamauba is described as having that Jynx does not is a second mouth on the back of her head, though this detail was used as the inspiration for another Pokémon. The second piece of evidence for Jynx being the Yamauba is in her behavior. The Yamauba is well known to capture her prey through a seductive dance that can force the victim to dance as well. How does this relate? Listen to some of Jynx’s various Pokédex entries:
Pokémon Red and Blue: It seductively wiggles its hips as it walks. It can cause people to dance in unison with it.
Pokémon Yellow: Appears to move to a rhythm of its own, as if it were dancing. It wiggles its hips as it walks.
Pokémon Gold: It rocks its body rhythmically. It appears to alter the rhythm depending on how it is feeling.
Pokémon Silver: It speaks a language similar to that of humans. However, it seems to use dancing to communicate.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire: Jynx walks rhythmically, swaying and shaking its hips as if it were dancing. Its motions are so bouncingly alluring, people seeing it are compelled to shake their hips without giving any thought to what they are doing.
Take note that all these entries mention dancing. Not the female appearance, not her ice attacks, but her dancing specifically. Keep in mind this has been a theme throughout the series. Speaking of her ice moves, the Yamauba has been referred to as an ice fairy and is supposedly the cause for some mountains getting covered with snow. I think it’s worth mentioning that the designer of Jynx, Satoshi Tajiri, grew up in Japan surrounded by the folklore. He based many other Pokémon off of Japanese folklore, and never suspected his game was going to be released outside of Japan.
The second big controversy that Pokémon faced was the accusation that its creators were Nazi sympathizers attempting to indoctrinate children with subtle messages, though I believe this to have no firm footing. The first “sign” of Nazism is in a first generation Pokémon card that features the Pokémon Golbat. In it, we see a swastika. As was the case with Jynx, this card was quickly changed. But what many failed to recognize, is that the modern swastika is a flipped version of the Buddhist and Hindu symbol, the one that appears on this card, which is a symbol of wellbeing and luck and dates back as far as 40000 BCE. Not only did the move on the card reflect the original meaning of the symbol, but the creator is a practicing Buddhist. Looking at this symbol, his first thought would have been of its religious significance, and he would know that a Japanese audience would recognize this meaning. The next piece of “evidence” to support this indoctrination theory is in the Pokémon Registeel’s battle pose, resembling a Nazi salute. This was, of course, changed once it was pointed out. Nintendo stated that they wanted this Pokémon to look like it was jumping out at the viewer and that it was simply an innocent mistake. Another instance can only be seen in the Japanese version of the anime, in which a cheering Team Rocket give a salute visually similar to the German “heil.” However, this scene never saw international release.
The final controversy that Pokémon has faced and will face into the future is that it promotes or trivializes animal abuse. This is where I ruin your childhood. The main goal of anyone playing the game or watching the anime is to be the best Pokémon trainer. While it seems like a friendly competition between players, when you look deeper, you see that there are victims: the Pokémon. Pokémon play the equivalent role in the Pokémon world as animals do in the real world. They are pets, friends, food, and occasionally provide entertainment in the form of battles. Think about real-world dog or cockfights and compare that to the premise of the games. You have a set number of creatures in your control. You have them fight until one of the creatures is unable to battle due to injury and needs to be taken to a hospital to heal. The Pokémon world reinforces the idea that Pokémon have emotions, and in the anime, there was an episode in which the battle arena connected the human to their Pokémon so they could feel the pain of their Pokémon in battle. Ash, the protagonist of the anime, screams out in pain during the entire battle.
Now think for a moment about the slogan, "Gotta Catch ‘Em All!" The entire franchise encourages you to collect as many different types of Pokémon as you can get your hands on. Seems innocent? Wrong. The Pokémon you catch are in tiny, isolated Pokéballs until you bring them out. Players can have hundreds of Pokémon that they never use, and keep for the sake of completing their collection. A trainer can only carry six Pokémon at a time, which leaves many Pokémon to be captured, taken from their homes, families, and friends to live the rest of their lives imprisoned.
An even worse issue that comes up with the games is the breeding process that a competitive player must go through to create their perfect Pokémon. In order to get a Pokémon with a desired set of traits, you must have two compatible Pokémon left together in a Pokémon day care in order to receive eggs. Once the eggs hatch, you have the option to keep the baby Pokémon or release it out into the wild. If a breeder is attempting to hatch a Pokémon with certain desired qualities, they will likely discard many, perhaps even hundreds, of Pokémon in their endeavor. These Pokémon are newly hatched and almost entirely unable to defend themselves from stronger, wild Pokémon. Anyone who has tried breeding will tell you, you have to go through a LOT of Pokémon in order to hatch a perfect one. Think about all those little unevolved, level one Pokémon, who would, at best, have only one or two attacking moves to use before being destroyed by a stronger wild Pokémon.
There is no way Nintendo can justify their acceptance of cruelty towards Pokémon. The entire franchise is based on it. While everyone could talk about how horrible Pokémon is, when you think about it, are we much better? Think about how we treat our fellow human beings. What does it say about us, much less the way we love a game that treats their creatures in these ways?