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.
Even though the Western world perceives the swastika to be a symbol of 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, 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 their use of the swastika as a symbol of peace was still stronger than the swastika as a symbol of hate. In India and its neighboring countries, the swastika represent 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 these nations, the swastika can also be found on all kinds of media, businesses, buildings, clothing just as much as any other symbol would. However, it is because of its liberal use that the swastika can create 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 involves Jessie, James, Meowth, and many Team Rocket Grunts raising their hands in a manner somewhat similar to the Hitler salute. This 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 the incident caused the anime to go into a temporary hiatus.
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- Pokémon - I Choose You!: Misty slapping 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 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, leading to the entire episode being banned.
- A Corphish Out of Water: A Carvanha hitting Ash in the back of the head.
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.
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 (whose brains are still in development and are more likely to be permanently influenced by certain stimuli), more and more people have voiced their opposition towards allowing minors to partake in gambling and/or gambling-esque activities, with gambling in video games falling under particular scrutiny. As a result, the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) organization implemented stricter guidelines that limited gambling to adult-oriented video games and rated all games featuring gambling 18+. While such restrictions are absent in other territories, many nations (the United States in particular) perceive gambling 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 altered their dialogue to remove references to gambling. The English versions of the Generation IV games renamed Gamblers once more but to PI instead; however, the references to gambling were kept.
In the European Union, the releases of Pokémon Platinum replaced the slot machines in the Veilstone Game Corner from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl with non-playable game machines 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 find the game to be entertaining, the change removed the ability to buy coins, effectively making Voltorb Flip a requirement for obtaining them.
All core series games since Pokémon Black and White remove the Game Corner entirely, remakes included. This is referenced in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, where the Mauville Game Corner has been closed down; the owner will instead provide the player with three dolls. In the Virtual Console re-release of the original games, however, the Game Corner was completely untouched.
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, oversized facial features, and resemblance to drag performers, who were typical in minstrel shows. She chiefly compared Jynx to the racist characters in The Story of 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 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 version 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.
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 a Nordic princess as per the legends saying things like due to the blistering cold, a princess's skin turned black. They argue that Jynx's hair looks more like royalty than an African stereotype. They also say that being based on a Viking could be the reason why they are Ice type. This is further expressed by Jynx sharing traits with the iconic opera singing "Fat Lady," who is portrayed in pop culture dressed as the valkyrie Brünnhilde.
The Gym Leader of Nacrene City in Pokémon Black and White, Lenora, also brought up concerns of racism. While no complaints were filed, actions were taken to alter her clothing. 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 archetype. Similar to Lenora, the mammy is a dark skin-toned 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
- 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 Psychic-types. 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. Some Christian groups denounce these as pagan rituals.
- Some claim that if one were to play backwards the Kanto Pokérap, "Gotta Catch 'em All!" can be heard as "I love you, Satan".
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".
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. 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.
As noted above, Members of the Jewish civil rights group Anti-Defamation League accused Nintendo in 1999 of using a manji, the Japanese name of the swastika as a Buddhist symbol, in the Japanese print of Koga's Ninja Trick because it is considered offensive to the Jewish people. Nintendo ceased manufacturing the card, a decision that was positively received the group, which also understood that the symbol was not intended to offend and acknowledged the sensitivity that Nintendo showed by removing the product.
In November 2000, Uri Geller, a man claiming to be a psychic who is able to bend spoons with psychic powers, tried to sue Nintendo for £60 million ($86.93 million at the time), 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 psychic abilities.
As a result, there has not been a Kadabra card in the Trading Card Game since Skyridge in 2003 and Kadabra has not appeared in the Pokémon anime since Fear Factor Phony, 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 claims 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 a card that specifically allows evolved Pokémon to be played. 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. Although this is probably a coincidence, the Everstone in the core series games from Generation IV onward fails to prevent Kadabra's evolution into Alakazam.
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 daughter suffocated because she had covered her 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.
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 Pokemon Platinum's missing Game Corner explained | GamesRadar (archived copy)
- Pokemon The Movie 2000 (2000) | PopMatters (archived copy)
- POKEMON EARNS PAPAL BLESSING | New York Post (archived copy)
- The Escapist - Archive - Saudi Bans Pokemon (archived copy)
- BBC News | MIDDLE EAST | Saudi Arabia bans Pokemon (archived copy)
- BBC News | Middle East | Qatari religious leader bans Pokemon
- Peterson, Mark Allen. 'Anthropology & Mass Communication: Media and Myth in the New Millennium'. 2003. Print.
- `Swastika' Pokemon card dropped - Chicago Sun-Times | HighBeam Research (archived copy)
- BBC News | ENTERTAINMENT | Geller sues Nintendo over Pokémon (archived copy)
- Second Interview with Masamitsu Hidaka – Many Interesting Points! (July 4th, 2008) « Website News « PokéBeach (archived copy)
- BBC News | AMERICAS | Burger King in Pokemon recall (archived copy)
- Nintendo faces £60m writ from Uri Geller | UK news | The Guardian (archived copy)