User:Minibug/Pokémon shock

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The Pokémon Shock (Japanese: ポケモンショック Pokémon Shock) was an incident that occurred on December 16, 1997, as a result of the broadcast of the 38th episode of the Pokémon anime, (Japanese: でんのうせんしポリゴン Computer Warrior Porygon), during which some viewers experienced seizures in response to rapidly flashing lights, requiring hospitalization.


Prior to the incident, "Paka-Paka" (Japanese: パカパカ pakapaka) was a widely used effect in the animation industry consisting of bright, strobing colors, intended to make the show look better on a small budget.[1] This practice was known by experts even at the time to have the potential to be harmful, with countries such as the United Kingdom already having restrictions on the number of times lights can flash per second.[2]


Compared to earlier episodes of the show, EP038 had significantly more scenes featuring the "paka-paka" effect, including scenes where the entire background flashed between red and blue at a rate of 24 times per second, a version of the effect not used previously. According to a post-incident report by TV Tokyo titled The Record of the Pocket Monsters Animated Series Problem, the greatest density of these red/blue flashes occurred during a 7-minute window, with the longest scene lasting six seconds, in which Ash's Pikachu destroyed "vaccine missiles" launched at them by Team Rocket.

Immediately after this scene aired, Japanese emergency services began receiving numerous calls about children experiencing seizure-like symptoms. In total, 750 people, mostly children, had been taken to the hospital, with 135 staying overnight.[1] Tens of thousands of people additionally reported minor symptoms such as headaches and nausea that did not require hospitalization.

Initial response and investigation

The first news channel to report on the incident was the NHK at 8 P.M., less than 2 hours after the episode's broadcast. Two hours later at 10 P.M., TV Tokyo provided their initial statement, reporting that they were beginning an investigation. Many news stations had sought copies of the entire episode as well as the scene in question from TV Tokyo, but were denied. In an interview, Satoshi Tajiri said he went back to the office as soon as he heard the news from the NHK, planning on "putting their heads together" and gathering information with the people still working.[3]

Masakazu Kubo, executive producer for many of the Pikachu Shorts and movies, discussed his initial reaction to the news after receiving a phone call from ShoPro's head producer two hours after the episode had aired, saying, "He told me that TV-Tokyo's Viewer Center had gotten a call from a doctor earlier that night. Apparently five children were brought in for convulsions, and all five of them said they were watching Pokémon when it happened. And so the doctor wanted him to tell them what kind of show it was. At that time I still had no idea what was happening but I could tell this was going to end up being something major." As more and more stations aired the story, Kubo called everyone back to the office for an emergency meeting to discuss how to handle the situation.

On the morning of December 17th, TV Tokyo held a press conference and announced the show would be pulled from the air if they couldn't determine the cause by the time next week's episode was scheduled to broadcast, and warned viewers to not watch any taped recordings of the episode. As part of their internal investigation, they began to bring in doctors and psychologists to try and help investigate the situation.[2]

In response to the incident, many Pokémon-associated companies saw their share prices temporarily drop when the market opened, including Nintendo, Toho, and Meiji Seika.[2]

During the December 17th nightly broadcast of NHK News, the network revealed that a similar incident had happened earlier the same year, in March 1997. The incident affected four viewers of (Japanese: YAT安心!宇宙旅行 YAT Untroubled Space Tours), an educational cartoon produced and broadcast by the NHK. The four children had reported feeling ill, with one even requiring hospitalization. The next day, the network officially apologized, acknowledging that they did not take the proper steps to address the root cause of the issue at the time, which may have prevented the current situation.[1]

On the December 18th broadcast of the show (Japanese: おはよ!グッドモーニング Good Morning! Nice Day), they discussed the faxes they had received in response to a request on the previous day's broadcast asking viewers to share their thoughts about the incident. They received faxes that they categorized in three ways; hospital reports from how the victims of the incident were affected, people asking for networks to reconsider how cartoons are made in order to make them more safe, and people asking for the show to not be cancelled.[2]

Takashi Kawaguchi, executive producer of many Pikachu shorts, thought there was no hope that the show would survive being cancelled. "Especially during that first week, those first ten days, we thought that this was going to be the thing that puts an end to Pokémon. It felt like an extremely dark, hopeless time."[1]

Further investigation

TV Tokyo took an immediate and aggressive response to the incident, including "pulling Pokémon from the air, refraining from broadcasting any Pokémon related TV shows or segments, sending out formal requests to stop airing the show to the 31 affiliate networks that had also been airing Pokémon at the time, sending out formal requests to video rental stores to pull all their Pokémon videos from their shelves, agreeing on the formation of both internal and external investigation teams, formulating internal guidelines, dispatching research teams, creating and then airing reports and inspection specials, developing a device called the "Anime Checker" and then installing it... if there was anything that could be done to prevent a reoccurrence then TV-Tokyo probably did it."[1]

Multiple organizations announced the start of their official investigations, including the Ministry of Health and Welfare, TV Tokyo, and a joint investigation by the NHK and the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association (JBA). TV Tokyo's goal was to set up guidelines similar to the United Kingdom's Independent Television Commission (ITC), intending to send a research team at the start of 1998.[1]

On December 20th, TV Tokyo announced that Pokémon would be entirely taken off the air until the results of their joint investigation with the JBA could be published. This would include the cancellation of the upcoming New Year's special, titled It's the New Year! Pocket Monsters Special! It was also announced that four members of the internal investigation team would be sent abroad to study the rules and regulations used in the United States and United Kingdom.[4]

The Japanese National Diet held a conference on December 24th in which TV Tokyo president Yutaka Ichiki and senior managing director Masao Oka gave their testimony on the incident and how they thought it should be prevented from happening again in the future.[1]

Several British organizations were asked by TV Tokyo to participate in a breakdown of EP038, including the ITC, BBC, Channel 4, and others. The world's leading authority on photosensitive epilepsy at the time, Graham Harding, was also invited to participate. [1]

For the three months between January and March of 1998, when the fate of the show was still uncertain, ShoPro kept production funded, allowing the animation studio to continue work on the show and upcoming movie, totaling around 120,000,000 yen (roughly $890,000 in 2024).

In August 1998, a device called an "Anime Checker" was installed by TV Tokyo, which would automatically analyze video content to determine if it was harmful to view for those with photosensitive epilepsy. Any show thought to pose a risk was first passed through this device.[1]


Masakazu Kubo has said the only reason the show was able to return to air was due to the outpouring of support from Pokémon's fans, sent in the form of letters, phone calls, and faxes, to both the staff of the anime and the National Diet, some of which even came from those who were affected.[1]

In a December 2000 interview, Satoshi Tajiri referred to the incident as an "unfortunate accident", regretting that adults at the time had been too careless to recognize the dangers of TV's effect on children, instead concerned with making shows more and more intense in order to make more money. He discussed his concerns with TVs getting larger as children were increasingly being left at home alone to watch it without supervision, and acknowledges that even in 1997 people knew that the way kids watched Pokémon by scooting up close to the TV screen was more of a factor in the incident than the flashing lights themselves. He ends on a hopeful note, concluding that all forms of media could be much better if the conversation about incidents like these are carried out to their conclusion, instead of rushing to close them as quickly as possible.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Hatakeyama, K. & Kubo, M. (2000). Pokémon Story (pp. 355-391) (Dogasu, Trans.) Nikkei BP-sha.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 12/18/1997 Broadcast of Good Morning! Nice Day - Dogasu's Backpack
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hatakeyama, K. & Kubo, M. (2000). Pokémon Story (pp. 505-507) (Dogasu, Trans.) Nikkei BP-sha.
  4. 12/22/1997 Broadcast of FNN News - Dogasu's Backpack