There have been numerous controversies over events, images, names, and other themes stemming from Pokémon. This is likely due to the game's extreme popularity eliciting a backlash from some members of society.
Imagery, religion, etc.
Perceived Nazi imagery
In the TCG
Members of the Jewish community accused Nintendo of using an offensive image in the Japanese version of Koga's Ninja Trick. The image in question, pictured at right, features an omote manji, a left-facing version of the swastika.
While in the Western world, the image of the swastika in any form brings to mind the fascist and racist policies carried out by Nazi Germany during the course of World War II, the swastika's origin was in ancient times. It is used as a symbol of peace and good luck by many cultures, including that of Hinduism, where the left-facing swastika represents, perhaps a bit ironically, love and mercy.
In the games
In European releases of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the sprite art for Registeel is altered slightly. While in Japanese and English releases Registeel's arm is extended, the European version uses an altered sprite presumably due to the original pose's resemblance to the Hitler salute. In all versions of Pokémon HeartGold, SoulSilver, and Platinum, the sprite takes on its European form.
Some fundamentalist Christian groups have accused Pokémon as being linked to Satanism. The following is a summarized and possibly incomplete list of their reasons for this accusation:
- Pokémon are like demons. They are captured and must be called upon to perform tasks.
- Magical talismans (supposedly a reference to Gym Badges) are needed to control them.
- Pokémon evolve. Though this transformation is more akin to metamorphosis in most Pokémon, the theory of evolution is denied entirely by the most fundamentalist creationists, who believe that all things as they are presently were divinely inspired.
- Some Pokémon evolution even requires the use of certain magical stones.
- Many Pokémon have extraordinary paranormal powers, notably Template:Type2s. Those with Psychic powers are labeled as having been given these powers by Satan in the Bible itself.
- Many Pokémon embody or practice East Asian spiritual or mystical concepts, being that the franchise originated in Japan. Many right-wing groups denounce these as pagan rituals.
- Some claim that if one were to play backwards the Pokérap, "Gotta Catch 'em All!" can be heard as "I love Satan".
Claims of Zionist Jewish plot in the Arab and Islamic world
Some outspoken, fundamentalist Muslims claimed that Pokémon is a Jewish conspiracy that is intended to brainwash Muslim children to make them renounce their faith. These same groups claimed that the word "Pokémon" is a phrase that means "I am Jewish", with the claimers and their followers generally unaware of the franchise's Japanese origin. The "Evolution vs. Creationism" conflict was also commonly brought up.
In 2001, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, who is the highest religious authority in the kingdom, issued a fatwā banning the Pokémon franchise, claiming it encourages gambling and promotes Zionism. High Muslim authorities in Qatar and Egypt then joined the ban. As this happened during the second Intifada, a Jordanian newspaper printed a caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sitting in a tank and laughing at an Arab man chasing a Pokémon. This is meant to convey that Arabs are distracted from their conflict with the Israelis by popular franchises, with Pokémon as an example of such "distractions."
Despite the initial banning, which quickly wiped away Pokémon merchandise, especially the card game, from markets in Saudi Arabia, Pokémon video games quickly returned to be sold normally, but under much less demand from local consumers. Some Pokémon merchandise, such as the Expedition Base Set reappeared in certain stores a few years later, but newer sets were never brought. Generation III and Generation IV games seem completely unaffected by the ban.
Carole Boston Weatherford, a cultural critic, claimed that Jynx, which had recently appeared in Holiday Hi-Jynx, was a negative racial stereotype of African-Americans. She chiefly compared Jynx to the racist characters in Little Black Sambo, and further compared Jynx to Mr. Popo of the Dragon Ball franchise, a character who is also potentially offensive in his design.
Weatherford's complaint caused many repercussions in Pokémon. The sprites of Jynx in the international release of Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal were changed, and EP250 was cut from international airings of the anime. A Jynx that appeared in All Things Bright and Beautifly! was also cut from the dub.
Jynx's design was officially changed by Nintendo to being purple, rather than black, and this change was reflected in later games (beginning with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire) and the anime (starting in Three Jynx and a Baby!). In the dub, Jynx was edited to its new design in Mean With Envy. Jynx has also been recolored in VIZ Media's reissues of Pokémon Adventures. Although the manga appears in black-and-white, Jynx appearing in the manga are recolored as a dark gray rather than straight black, implying that they are purple and not black. It is also recolored to purple on the back cover of the reissue of Volume 4.
In recent years, some fans of Pokémon with knowledge of Japanese culture have noted that Jynx is more likely inspired by ganguro, a Japanese fashion where girls tan heavily, bleach their hair, and apply large amounts of makeup, instead of a black stereotype. Most people who support this theory base it on Jynx's long, straight, blonde hair, a common attribute of ganguro fashion.
In the past, several animal rights groups have tried to ban Pokémon, claiming that Pokémon battles closely resemble cockfights.
Various lawsuits have been filed against Nintendo and Game Freak regarding Pokémon or Pokémon characters.
In November 2000, Uri Geller, a psychic who claims to be able to bend spoons, tried to sue Nintendo for £60 million (the equivalent of US $100 million), claiming that Kadabra, known as Yungerer in Japan, was an unauthorized parody of himself. Besides Kadabra's use of bent spoons to enhance its Psychic powers, the katakana for its name, ユンゲラー, is visually similar to the transliteration of his own name into Japanese (ユリゲラー).
He also claimed that Kadabra was anti-Semitic in nature, with the star on its forehead and lightning bolts resembling the logo of the Nazi SS. He is quoted as saying: "Nintendo turned me into an evil, occult Pokémon character. Nintendo stole my identity by using my name and my signature image."
A parents' group attempted to sue manufacturers of collectible cards, including Nintendo and Wizards of the Coast, claiming that the cards' collectible nature and the random distribution of the cards in packs constitutes illegal gambling.
European releases of Pokémon Platinum replace the slot machines in Veilstone City's Game Corner from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl with non-playable game machines in fear that they would encourage younger players to gamble. This change has been greatly criticized by European players, who felt that it virtually destroyed the concept and point of the Game Corner.
All non-Japanese releases of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver replace the interior of the two Game Corners in Goldenrod City and Celadon City with a new game called Voltorb Flip. In this game, similar to Minesweeper, coins are not wagered against a win or a loss, but instead given out for completing a level. While many find the game to be entertaining, unlike the case with the European release of Pokémon Platinum, the change in the Game Corners' interior design removed the ability of coins to be purchased in bulk, making playing Voltorb Flip the only possible way to get coins. Additionally, due to the change, the location of the Coin Case was changed in the international versions, and is now given directly by the man in charge of the Game Corner.
In 1999, as a promotion for Mewtwo Strikes Back, Burger King released a series of promotional toys in handheld Poké Balls with their Kids' Meals. After their son suffocated because he had covered his mouth and nose with half of the Poké Ball, two parents set up a website named "Pokémon Kills".
In response to this, Burger King recalled the Poké Balls and exchanged them for food for a limited amount of time.
- Pokémon - I Choose You!: Misty slaps Ash after he tells her that he's okay, presumably because of his apparent lack of care for Pikachu.
- The School of Hard Knocks: Misty hits Brock with a log because he says "to be continued..." rather than beginning the episode.
- EP035: Safari Zone Warden, Kaiser, repeatedly threatens Ash and the group with a revolver, leading to the episode being banned.
- A Corphish Out of Water: A Carvanha hits Ash in the back of the head.
Scenes like these are common in Japanese animation, and are a source of comic relief, much like how characters in Looney Tunes who are hit by heavy objects are completely fine afterward.