With all the hype surrounding Pokémon Go, it’s easy to forget a full Pokémon game is coming to the 3DS later this year. It is though, and as usual the Pokémon babies are out in droves to complain that the new Pokémon aren’t as good as the ones from when they were kids.
“Waah!” They cry. “That one’s just a sandcastle.”
“Waah, I’ve already got a teddy bear because I’m a baby.”
These are the same people who will defend to the death the original 151 Pokémon, in which someone just said “Take the pokéball and draw eyes on it.” Since the series’ inception, for every tragic and memorable Mewtwo or Cubone, there have been ten monsters that are barely edited versions of real animals, or possessed versions of inanimate objects.
Now I’m not just saying Pokémon is crap and you should all have preferred Digimon – even though that’s true – but what I am saying is that there’s a cultural divide here. Inanimate objects brought to life are goofy in the west, the domain of Pixar films and irritating Microsoft office tutorials, but are extremely relevant in Japanese culture.
Japanese mythology is full to the brim with Yōkai. These demons and spirits, some mischievous and some benevolent, come in many forms and inspired a lot of Pokémon. Those which look like dragons, ghosts and beasts translate easily to western folklore. Gyarados is based on a classical Japanese story of a fish which swam up a waterfall and became a dragon. Mawile is inspired by the Futakuchi-onna, a witch with a mouth in the back of her head.
Another common form of Yōkai is the Tsukumogami. The explanation on Wikipedia, though over-simplified, describes them as any inanimate object which has reached its’ 100th birthday and come to life. This can be anything, from an umbrella, to a weapon or even an entire house. In terms of Pokémon, it gives us pocket monsters based on chandeliers and swords, or indeed ice creams and sandcastles.
Tsukumogami are very prevalent in Japanese mythology, as much as devils, elves or will o’ the wisps in the UK. On their home turf, such creatures don’t seem so out-of-place or, to quote hal-arsed internet commenters, lazy.
Next time you want to roll your eyes at a Pokémon that looks like a sandcastle, imagine Pokémon was made here in Britain. What would Japanese fans be saying about the fifteenth monster that was just a miniature version of an ethnic stereotype who lives under a rock and steals children?
When Pokémon Sun and Moon release, there will be close to a thousand of the little critters. They can’t all be winners and, at the end of the day, you know as well as I do that you love having a go at the crap ones as much as fawning over the cool ones. You wouldn’t have Pokémon any other way.
By Luke Summerhayes