There have been numerous controversies regarding the Pokémon franchise in its various forms and media.
In the TCG
Perceived Nazi imagery
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 features an omote manji, a left-facing version of the swastika.
The Western world generally associates the swastika, or the Hakenkreuz, with the fascist and racist policies of Nazi Germany during the course of World War II, as well as hate, prejudice and white supremacy in general. However, the swastika has its roots as a symbol of peace and good luck by many cultures. The earliest form of the swastika discovered was one used in Ancient India. It also was found in cultures that had no connection with India, such as Native American and First Nation cultures. It was because of its long and ancient history that Adolf Hitler adopted it as the Nazi Party symbol, as he felt it to be—among other things—a connection to Aryan ancestors who lived in Ancient India.
Since World War II, however, its use has diminished, but it is still commonly used by other cultures who either didn't have any contact with the Nazis or who still identify the swastika more as a symbol of peace than as a symbol of hate. In India and its neighboring countries, the swastika represents love and mercy, as well as wealth and good fortune. In Asian countries, such as China, Japan, and South Korea, the swastika can be found on maps to represent Buddhist temples. In all of these nations, the swastika can also be found on all kinds of media, businesses, buildings, and clothing like any other symbol. However, this liberal use has led to international miscommunications, such as its use on the Japanese version of Koga's Ninja Trick.
In the anime
Perceived Nazi imagery
In All Things Bright and Beautifly!, a Team Rocket fantasy involved Jessie, James, Meowth, and many Team Rocket Grunts raising their hands in a manner somewhat similar to the Hitler salute. It was edited out in the English dub of the anime, with the Grunts no longer raising their hands. Despite this, Meowth's arm remains unedited in the dub.
An episode of the Pokémon anime broadcast in December 1997 on Japanese television induced photosensitive epileptic seizures in a substantial number of Japanese viewers, many of which required medical assistance. As a result, the episode was not broadcast overseas and never shown in Japan again, and the incident caused the anime to go into a temporary hiatus. Every Pokémon episode that aired until this episode, including the opening, was edited by lighting certain scenes, removing or changing fast-flashing scenes and more. The original version of the episodes have never been shown again, except mistakenly on Hulu Japan. For this, Pokémon currently holds the Guinness Book World Record for the most photosensitive epileptic seizures caused by a TV show.
- Pokémon - I Choose You!: Misty slapping Ash after he tells her he's okay, presumably because of his apparent lack of care for Pikachu.
- Ash Catches a Pokémon: Misty slapping Ash again due to his recklessness in sending out Caterpie to battle a Pidgeotto.
- The School of Hard Knocks: Misty smashing Brock with a log because he says "To be continued..." rather than beginning the episode.
- EP035: Safari Zone Warden Kaiser repeatedly threatening Ash and the group with a revolver, and also firing at Team Rocket when they trespass onto the Safari Zone grounds, leading to the entire episode being banned outside of Asia.
- Outrageous Fortunes: There are two separate shots of Poliwrath violently slapping Jessie; in one of those shots, she has red spots on her cheeks from Poliwrath's intense slapping. Both of these shots were deemed "too violent" and cut from the broadcast version and first US home video release and replaced with an impact animation. The version streamed on Pokémon TV and the second US home video release, however, leaves the shots in this episode intact.
- There's No Place Like Hoenn: Two separate scenes showing James's head and Max on fire due to Torchic's Ember attack were cut from the dub for being too violent.
- A Corphish Out of Water: A Carvanha hitting Ash in the back of the head.
Scenes like these are common in Japanese animation, and are intended for comic relief purposes. They are similar to scenes in Western animation such as Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry, where characters get hit by extremely heavy objects and are completely fine afterwards.
In the games
Perceived Nazi imagery
In European releases of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the sprite art for Registeel is altered slightly. In the Japanese, Korean, and English releases, Registeel's arm is extended. In non-English European versions an altered sprite is used, depicting it with both of its arms down, presumably due to the original pose's resemblance to the Roman salute, infamously used by (and therefore commonly associated with) the German Nazi Party. In all versions of Pokémon Platinum and Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver, the revised sprite is used.
In Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, if the player shows the Game Director at the Hotel Grand Lake a Pokémon originating from Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, or Platinum, he gives them the Time Travel Award, featuring the Pokémon's original sprite from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Prior to v1.1.3, this award would use the original Japanese Pokémon Diamond and Pearl sprite for Registeel, although this award was not obtainable until Pokémon HOME support was added in v1.1.3 anyway; in v1.1.3, Registeel's sprite was replaced with the revised sprite used in Pokémon Platinum.
Over the years, there has been a growing distaste towards gambling and the exposure of it to minors. Due to the unpredictable “risk-it-all” nature of the activity and the high impressionability of youths, more and more people have voiced their opposition towards allowing minors to partake in gambling and/or gambling-esque activities, with simulated gambling in video games falling under particular scrutiny. As a result, the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) organization implemented stricter guidelines that limited simulated gambling first to older-skewing video games, starting in 2009, then eventually to adult-oriented games, starting in 2020, and all games released in Europe featuring simulated gambling mechanics have been rated accordingly. While such restrictions are absent in other territories, many nations (the United States in particular) perceive gambling mechanics in video games as socially unacceptable, leading to the Pokémon games slowly phasing the concept out from Generation III onwards.
English releases of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen renamed the Gambler Trainer class to Gamer and removed gambling references from their dialogue. The English versions of the Generation IV games renamed Gamblers once more but to PIs instead; however, the references to gambling were kept.
In South Korea, the releases of Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum replaced the slot machines in the Veilstone Game Corner with non-playable game machines. These changes were later copied to the releases of Pokémon Platinum in Europe as a result of changes in the classification standards at PEGI. This change has been greatly criticized by European players, who felt that it completely defeated the purpose and concept of the Game Corner.
All non-Japanese releases of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver replace the slot machines of the two Game Corners in Goldenrod City and Celadon City with a new game called Voltorb Flip. In this minigame, Coins are not wagered against a win or a loss but instead given out for completing a level. While many people find the game to be entertaining, the change removed the ability to buy coins, making Voltorb Flip the only way to obtain them.
With one exception, all core series games since Pokémon Black and White have not featured a Game Corner, remakes included. In Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, the Mauville Game Corner has been closed down; the owner will instead provide the player with three dolls, originally obtained from an NPC inside the Game Corner. In Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!, the Celadon Game Corner remains, due to its importance as the location of the Team Rocket Hideout, but the slot machines have been replaced with non-playable arcade machines referencing other Pokémon games. In Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, the Veilstone Game Corner was removed, and is replaced by the Metronome Style Shop, a clothing store that serves as a means for the player character to change outfits and hairstyles; though, a remix of the Veilstone Game Corner’s background music plays in the Style Shop.
In the Virtual Console re-releases of the Generation I and II games, however, the Game Corner was left completely untouched, although the games did receive the higher-than-usual age rating of twelve and up by PEGI (compared to all other contemporary main-series titles, which PEGI gave a rating of seven and up).
The sudden enormous popularity of Pokémon GO resulted in many controversies worldwide. Numerous organizations and companies complained about the spawning of Pokémon at places such as Holocaust and 9/11 memorials, train rails, and while driving a car. Several people worldwide have been killed or seriously injured in accidents related to playing the game.
In Russia, a 21-year-old video blogger received a suspended sentence for three and a half years in prison for charges of blasphemy after playing the game in a church. Like the Pokémon mania in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Pokémon GO caused strong reactions in the Islamic world, declaring fatwas against the game as it could lead to "haram" activities such as "gambling". The game was banned in Iran over security concerns. In New York, registered sex offenders on parole were banned from playing Pokémon GO. In a Belgian town with 35 inhabitants, playing the game became forbidden at night because the small town was constantly flooded with players.
Sword and Shield Pokédex
During the E3 2019 Nintendo Treehouse live stream on June 11, 2019, Junichi Masuda stated that some species of Pokémon (455 in total across Generations I to VII) could not be transferred to Pokémon Sword and Shield. After a massive amount of backlash from Pokémon fans (most of which involving the hashtag #BringBackNationalDex), The Pokémon Company International posted a statement from Masuda in response on Pokémon.com in Japanese and English on June 28, 2019. Despite this reiterated statement, the fan backlash on social media continued, with many fans requesting that compatibility for all Pokémon be included in a post-launch patch. When asked about the possibility of a patch, Masuda stated that he had not yet finalized a decision on such a patch. The controversy became somewhat mitigated when the Expansion Pass was announced for the games, which added 221 of the missing Pokémon back in.
This controversy is sometimes known as Dexit, a portmanteau of Pokédex and Brexit, which was the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (the basis of Galar, the setting of Sword and Shield) from the European Union.
When Pokémon UNITE was first announced, it quickly attracted controversy due to it being developed by a subsidiary of Tencent, which was controversial due to its ties to the Chinese government. It also brought up a controversy that had been steadily growing about the use of microtransactions in Pokémon games. As a result of these controversies, the Pokémon UNITE reveal quickly became the most disliked video on The Pokémon Company's YouTube channel.
In multiple media
Following the American airing of Holiday Hi-Jynx in 1999, Carole Boston Weatherford, an African-American cultural critic, claimed that Jynx was a negative racial stereotype of African-Americans, due to the Pokémon's black skin, and oversized facial features, which were typical in minstrel shows. She chiefly compared Jynx to the racist characters in the children's book The Story of Little Black Sambo, as well as calling Jynx "a dead ringer for an obese Drag Queen", and further compared Jynx to Mr. Popo of the Dragon Ball franchise, another character who is also potentially offensive in his design.
Weatherford's complaint caused many repercussions in the Pokémon franchise. The sprites of Jynx in the Western releases of Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal were edited, and all episodes featuring Jynx's original design were cut from international airings of the anime, including a sequence depicting Jynx in its original design in All Things Bright and Beautifly!.
Jynx's design was officially revised by Game Freak to be purple rather than black, starting with the international releases of Pokémon Gold and Silver and being included in all versions of the games from Generation III-onwards. This change was reflected in later core series games, including in Japan and South Korea, beginning with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and in the anime starting in Mean With Envy. Jynx has also been recolored in VIZ Media's reissues of Pokémon Adventures. Although the manga is colored in black-and-white, Jynx appearing in the manga are recolored as a dark gray rather than a straight black, suggesting that they are purple instead of black. It is also recolored to purple on the back cover of the reissue of Volume 4. Jynx's skin was also recolored to purple when Holiday Hi-Jynx finally saw a re-airing in Japan in 2012; nevertheless, the episode is still banned in the US due to the implications of African American-esque characters being subservient to a powerful Caucasian figure. The Pokémon Pocket Monsters manga published between 2005 and 2006 in English by Chuang Yi didn't change her color, and thus her original black design appears.
In recent years, some fans of Pokémon have noted that Jynx may be inspired by ganguro, a Japanese fashion where women tan heavily, bleach their hair, and apply large amounts of makeup, instead of a black stereotype. This theory is mainly based on Jynx's long, straight, blonde hair, a common attribute of ganguro fashion. Another theory is that Jynx is based on the Nordic goddess Hel, who was often depicted as having a face half white-half black and who ruled Niflheim, primarily depicted as a land of primordial ice and cold. Some fans say this is supported by Jynx sharing traits with the iconic opera singing "Fat Lady," who is pop-culturally portrayed dressed as the valkyrie Brünnhilde. It has also been stated that Jynx is based on Yama-uba, the mountain Crone.
The Gym Leader of Nacrene City in Pokémon Black and White, Lenora, also brought up concerns of racism. Lenora's original artwork, as well as her in-game sprites, depict her wearing a large apron. Concerns arose that people outside of Japan would allude Lenora to the Mammy stereotype. Similar to Lenora, the mammy is often depicted as a dark-skinned woman who wears a handkerchief on her head and an apron. Because of the similarity, Lenora's artwork was changed, from her wearing the apron to her having it slung over her shoulder like a cape. Despite this, Lenora's in-game sprites were not altered in the international releases of Pokémon Black and White or Pokémon Black 2 and White 2.
In the original version of A Night in the Nacrene City Museum!, Lenora was depicted wearing her apron. When the English dub aired, her apron was removed completely.
In Pokémon Adventures, Lenora is depicted with the apron over her shoulder in the first panel she appears in and she is not shown with it after that. In Pocket Monsters BW, she is not depicted with an apron at all.
In the past, several animal rights groups have tried to ban Pokémon, claiming that Pokémon battles closely resemble cockfights. This aspect of the controversy was actually touched upon in Pokémon Black and White.
Upon the release of Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, PETA released a mock game named Pokémon Black and Blue. In the game, the player controls the Pokémon to attack the opposing human. PETA claims that the way the Pokémon are "stuffed" into the Poké Ball is similar to how circus elephants are chained inside railroad carts. Nintendo responded to this by simply stating, "Nintendo and The Pokémon Company take the inappropriate use of our products and intellectual property seriously." Around the release of Pokémon X and Y, PETA released another mock game called Pokémon Red, White, and Blue that features Nintendo's claimed association with McDonald's and also makes fun of the frequent release of sister games.
Materialism and gender inequality
In official events and tournaments
2024 World Championships location announcement
At the end of the 2023 World Championships on August 13, 2023, it was announced that next year's Pokémon World Championships will be held in Honolulu, Hawaii; it will be the fourth World Championships to be held in the US state. As it was announced in the wake of wildfires happening throughout Hawaii beginning early August 2023, this announcement has been met with criticism, with people citing issues with announcing the news during an ongoing tragedy and the over-tourism in Hawaii causing problems to the state as it tries to meet the tourism demand.
The Pokémon Company made a donation of $200,000 to the Hawaii Wildfire Relief Fund via the nonprofit GlobalGiving, which was announced on the Play! Pokémon Twitter account shortly after the 2024 World Championships location announcement.
- Pokémon are like demons. They are captured and must be called upon to perform tasks.
- Magical talismans (presumably a reference to Gym Badges) are needed to control them.
- Pokémon evolution has often been criticized due to sharing the name with the scientific theory of evolution which fundamentalist creationists usually reject, although the phenomenon in Pokémon is closer to metamorphosis.
- Many Pokémon have extraordinary paranormal powers, notably Psychic-types and Ghost-types.
- Many Pokémon inherently involve East Asian spiritualism or mysticism, due to the franchise originating in Japan. Some Christian groups denounce these as pagan rituals.
- Some claimed that if one were to play backwards the Kanto Pokérap, "Gotta Catch 'em All!" can be heard as "I love you, Satan".[inadequate source]
- This has been referenced in a 1998 trivia board game.
- Pokémon causes homosexuality; the close relationship between the characters Ash and Brock was "a sign of the cartoon’s gay agenda".
In response to these claims, the Vatican City-based Sat 2000 broadcast public approval of Pokémon in April 2000, stating that the games did not have "any harmful moral side effects" and was based on "ties of intense friendship".
On March 15, 2001, an anonymous user online claiming to be located in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, posted a forum thread on the then big Arabic message-board site Montada, making questionable claims of the Pokémon franchise being tied to Darwinism, Zionism, and Satanism.
The post contained the following fabricated evidence of the character's names having anti-Islamic meanings and Zionist undertones when translated in English:
- Pokémon meaning I am a Jew.
- Pikachu meaning Be a Jew.
- Charmander meaning God is weak.
- Magikarp (misspelled as Magmar) meaning God is stupid.
- Growlithe meaning God is lazy.
The following months would see those questionable claims get spread around by either word-of-mouth or anonymous printings of those very misleading rumors that originated off of that forum, which spiraled into a perplexing social smear campaign movement that succeeded in convincing a number of Arabic nations to outright ban and limit the presence of the Pokémon franchise, such as in Egypt, where Mufti Nasser Fareed Wasel declared a ban on remotely interacting with any of its content on April 6, 2001.
Claims of Zionist Jewish plot
Some outspoken, fundamentalist Muslims claimed that Pokémon is a Jewish conspiracy intended to get Muslim children to renounce their faith. These same groups claimed that the word "Pokémon" 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. It claimed that the franchise promoted Zionism by displaying a six-pointed star that resembles the Star of David as well as other religious symbols such as crosses they associated with Christianity and triangles they associated with Freemasonry in the TCG and encouraged gambling in the games due to the inclusion of gambling elements, which is in violation of Muslim doctrine.
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. Games from Generation III on seem completely unaffected by the ban.
In 1999, the Jewish civil rights group Anti-Defamation League complained about Nintendo's use of a swastika (known as a manji in Japan, where it is used as a Buddhist symbol) in the Japanese print of Koga's Ninja Trick, because of the symbol's strong association with the German Nazi Party in the Western world. Nintendo ceased manufacturing the card, a decision that was positively received by the group, which also understood that the symbol was not intended to offend and acknowledged the sensitivity that Nintendo had shown by removing the product.
On 2 November 2000, Israeli magician Uri Geller, known for his attribution of his spoon-bending tricks to alleged psychic abilities, tried to sue Nintendo for £60 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). Another claim was that Kadabra's design is antisemitic in nature due to the star on its forehead and the lightning bolts resembling the logo of the Waffen-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." The symbols themselves are taken from those used on Zener cards, which have been used to conduct research into supposed psychic abilities since the 1930s.
As a result, for almost 20 years, there had not been a Kadabra card in the Trading Card Game since Skyridge in 2003, and Kadabra had not appeared in the Pokémon anime since Fear Factor Phony in 2006, perhaps as a precaution against Geller's history of lawsuits. This is further hinted at by Masamitsu Hidaka's interview with PokéBeach in July 2008, where he claimed that usage of Kadabra on a card is not allowed until an agreement was reached and that the case would not be settled anytime soon.
Abra and Alakazam cards have continued to be printed, despite the fact that this makes it impossible to play Alakazam cards in matches that prevent the use of older cards (without using cards that specifically allows Alakazam to be played directly without evolving it from Kadabra, such as Rare Candy). However, the only Abra card released after Skyridge, in Mysterious Treasures, has an attack that allows it to evolve directly into Alakazam, skipping the Kadabra stage. Any Alakazam cards printed since were Basic Pokémon that didn't need to evolve from anything.
In November 2020, Uri Geller declared that he had rescinded the "ban" on Kadabra's depiction in the TCG, citing fan outcry. About a year later, Kadabra made its first appearance in animation since Fear Factor Phony in the Pokémon Evolutions episode The Show. The first Kadabra card printed since Skyridge is included in the Japanese Pokémon Card 151 subset, released on June 16, 2023; and the English 151 expansion, releasing on September 22, 2023.
Power Bouncer suffocation incident
In January 1999, a 7-year-old boy suffocated to death after a Pokémon Power Bouncer ball became lodged in his throat while playing with it. After his death, his parents created a website named "Pokémon Kills", criticizing Hasbro and Pokémon for not taking appropriate safety measures in their product design. In November 1999, the boy's parents filed a lawsuit against Hasbro and Toys "R" Us.
Burger King toy suffocation incident
In December 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 a child suffocated because she had covered her mouth and nose with half of the Poké Ball, Burger King recalled the Poké Balls and exchanged them for food for a limited amount of time.
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.
Yasukuni Shrine visit
On January 7, 2019, Creatures, Inc. posted a tweet[dead link] showing several employees visiting Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial shrine located in Tokyo, Japan. The shrine, said by Shinto practitioners to house the souls of fallen soldiers who fought for Japan, has been the subject of scrutiny over the years for including 1,068 military officials convicted of various war crimes by the 1946 International Military Tribunal for the Far East, including 14 convicted Class A war criminals. Following social media backlash from fans in South Korea and China (two regions Japan colonized before World War II and conducted war crimes in), the tweet was deleted later that day. An apology was posted on January 22, 2019 in Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin on the Creatures website and the official Korean and Chinese Pokémon websites.
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- Pokémon Kills
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