It's all about caring

April 04, 1999|By J.D. Considine

Plenty of video games have been remade as Japanese animation, from Street Fighter to Tekkan to Final Fantasy. What makes Pokemon so special? The other games are about power. Pokemon is about caring. Even though the basic idea behind Pokemon is built around strategy and combat -- to capture a new Pokemon, the player must weaken it through combat with other Pokemon -- the heart of the game has more to do with nurturing. To have strong, vital Pokemon, you have to care for the critters, and caring can be more important than a trainer's skill. That's certainly the case in the animated version of Pokemon. Ash, the young trainer who's the hero of the show (he's called Satoshi in Japan) rarely wins because he has the best strategy or strongest Pokemon. Instead, his Pokemon try harder because they know how much he cares for them. Pokemon have personalities, and that makes it easy for Pokefans to bond with them. In this sense, the Pokephenomenon is not unlike the rage for such other electronically animate beings as Tamagochi and Furbies. Best of all, Pokemon are cute. Pikachu, the Pokemon who serves as Ash's companion, looks like the cutest pet any kid ever had, as cuddly as a stuffed toy. Unlike the typical Disney animal sidekick, Pikachu and the other Pokemon don't come on like people in critter costumes; they're beings in their own right, and in a weird way, that makes their antics that much more engaging.

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