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 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, 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, involving Jessie, James, Meowth, and many Team Rocket Grunts raising their hands in a manner somewhat similar to the Hitler salute, 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.
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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.
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 afterward.
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, 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 removed gambling references from their dialogue. The English versions of the Generation IV games renamed Gamblers once more but to PI 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.
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-releases of the Generation I games, however, the Game Corner was completely untouched, although the games were rated 12 by PEGI.
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.
During E3 2019 Nintendo Treehouse live stream on June 11, 2019, Junichi Masuda stated that some species of Pokémon 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 still 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.
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 children's book 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. 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 is 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. 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 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 claim that if one were to play backwards the Kanto Pokérap, "Gotta Catch 'em All!" can be heard as "I love you, Satan".[inadequate source]
- 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".
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.
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 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.
In 1999, Uri Geller, a man who claims he is a psychic and that he 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.
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.
Yasukuni Shrine visit
On January 7, 2019, Creatures, Inc. posted a tweet 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.
- European Pokemon Platinum's missing Game Corner explained | GamesRadar (archived copy)
- Holocaust Museum, Auschwitz want Pokémon Go hunts out
- Holocaust museum pleads: stop playing Pokémon Go here • Eurogamer.net
- Pokemon Go players told to stay away from Amsterdam hospital and rail tracks
- Tens of Thousands of People Are Driving While Playing Pokémon GO | Fortune
- ‘Pokémon Go’ players fall off 90-foot ocean bluff — The San Diego Union-Tribune
- Pokemon Go player killed in Guatemala and cousin injured while playing game | Daily Mail Online
- Driver distracted by Pokémon Go kills woman in Japan — The Verge
- Campuchia: Mải bắt Pokemon trên phố, cô gái trẻ bị ô tô đâm chết thảm thương
- Pokemon Go: Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky convicted
- Malaysian Islamic leaders say no to 'Pokemon Go' | The Japan Times (archived copy)
- Fatwa against Pokemon Go in India | Gadgets Now
- Fatwa No. 21,758: Saudi clerics ban Pokemon Go
- Pokemon Go banned by Iranian authorities over 'security' — BBC News
- New York Bans Registered Sex Offenders From Pokémon Go : All Tech Considered : NPR
- De Wever verbiedt nachtelijke Pokémon Go in Lillo | Nieuws | HLN
- Nintendo Treehouse: Live | E3 2019 - Youtube
- A Message for Pokémon Video Game Fans - Pokémon.com
- Game Theory: Pokemon Racism, Jynx Justified
- Nintendo responds to PETA’s Pokemon attack | canada.com
- Pokemon The Movie 2000 (2000) | PopMatters (archived copy)
- Straight Talk on Pokemon - StraightTalkonPokemon.pdf
- ISIS Will Use Pokémon Go to Murder Innocent Christians and Spawn Demons (Says Radio Host Pastor)
- POKEMON on studytoanswer.net
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- The Time They Thought Pokémon Was Satanic on Kotaku
- Televangelist Creflo Dollar claims Pokemon causes homosexuality
- GayNZ.com Pokemon 'turned teens gay' - preacher (archived copy)
- POKEMON EARNS PAPAL BLESSING | New York Post (archived copy)
- 10 Egyptian Conspiracy Theories
- Arabs See Jewish Conspiracy in Pokemon - latimes
- ADL denounces claim by Muslim leaders that Pokemon game is “Jewish Conspiracy" - Press Release (archived copy)
- Saddam Hussein tried to ban POKEMON in Iraq for an utterly bizarre reason - Mirror Online
- Saudi Arabia issues fatwa against POKÉMON for being ‘un-Islamic’ and ‘blasphemous' | World | News | Express.co.uk
- Dubai Family Consultant Dr. Khalifa Al-Makhrazi: Pokemon Go Is Prohibited, Spreads Darwinism | MEMRI
- Fatwas of the Permanent Committee
- 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
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- `Swastika' Pokemon card dropped - Chicago Sun-Times | HighBeam Research (archived copy)
- BBC News | ENTERTAINMENT | Geller sues Nintendo over Pokémon (archived copy)
- Nintendo faces £60m writ from Uri Geller | UK News | The Guardian
- 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)
- Pokémon Studio Criticized After Visiting Controversial Shrine | Kotaku
- Pokemon Studio Under Fire For Visiting Controversial Shrine | ComicBook.com
- Pokémon's Creatures, Inc. in Hot Water Over Visit to Controversial Yasukuni Shrine | Anime News Network