I would argue that Pokémon is the single most influential anime in North America today. I say this because I know far more people, many younger than me, who have seen or watched Pokémon and don’t otherwise watch anime. For me, my first anime was Pokémon: The First Movie. I watched it at my best friends house in 2000. So what does this show say about anime? What is it about?
(First off, I grew up in a home that did not allow anything related to Pokémon. Anime was considered bad by not just my family, but many Christians I knew. However, my best friend liked and introduced me to it at a young age. I do like Pokémon, but some Christian websites do have problems with it. I personally, find most of their problems with it unfounded.)
Pokémon has a couple of major ideas running through out it. Many of these are very important to Japanese culture, such as dedication, hard work, adventure, friendship, evolution, mythology, and collective improvement through personal advancement.
- Dedication: Pokémon emphasizes dedication to what you do. Ash is a ten-year old kid who has been traveling throughout different regions battling Pokémon since before I was ten. The show says he does it to become the best Pokémon trainer, because that is his dream.
- Work: Pokémon is very much about hard work. Battling is incredibly important to achieve success, but also at times for personal safety. Success in battling only comes after lots of training. Trainers Train Pokémon to execute orders and move on command, and to at times operate without instruction. One must also train oneself in order to be respected and obeyed by his or her Pokémon.
- Adventure and Friendship: I believe that these two themes actually fit together. Pokémon in some ways has become as big and as important as Journey to The West was in its day, crossing borders and influencing many around the world. It has a strong taste of adventure, but at the same time layers on the importance of friendship. Adventure with friendship or better yet, camaraderie, makes all parties stronger. Ash makes many friends and rivals along the way that help him in all kinds of difficult situations. I believe this varies quite a bit from the classical tales of individual heroes. It is more like Sherlock.
- Evolution: This is the part of Pokémon that makes many Christians squirm. Unfortunately, this is a clear misunderstanding. This does not refer necessarily to Darwinist Evolution, as Pokémon exists in an alternate world that is very different from ours. The show and games make this clear. This type of evolution is simple personal change – evolution at its purest definition. Pokémon species do change, but they change because of leveling up, or friendship, or touching a certain type of rock, not because of natural selection.
- Mythology: Pokémon does have its own mythology that governs the games and anime. This, if anything, is what Christians should pay attention to. Many of the ideas of Pokémon’s mythology come from traditional Japanese and Chinese mythology. If our view of God shapes us, then this is something that may be important to discuss. Pokémon has a creation myth. It has myths about the creation of life, and most recently life and death.
- Collective Improvement Through Individual Advancement: This is very much a Japanese idea. It is not very prominent in the west, except maybe in Capitalism. It is much more simple than it sounds. If I work hard, then everyone will benefit; if we all work hard, things will get better for everyone. Whether right or wrong, this idea is very influential in Japan. It runs throughout Pokémon and is one of the reasons each main character has a rival. The main character and rival continue to compete and grow stronger till they both reach the top. They support and kind of pull their friends along as they go.
I really like Pokémon, so I am clearly biased. However, I am trying to be as objective as possible as I have been on both sides of the arguments. So let me be clear, I do not believe anyone can condemn the Pokémon series because of religious reasons. I believe that is a religious spirit, not a Godly one. I am not saying Pokémon is Godly, but if we have an issue we need to deal with it, not run away from it. If we don’t know what to say, then don’t say anything at all. I believe that Christians and non-Christian alike can enjoy some anime, but if you disagree I would love to talk with you about why I believe that.