Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The True Story of the Pokemon Empire


The realm of children’s entertainment has always been suspect of willful subversion. Animated cartoons in America are largely written by drug-addled ad-men in order to sling product to eager young minds freshly abuzz from the infusion of sugar provided during after-school “snack time.” In my youth, the oats and grains conglomerates worked in open partnership with the big three network television stations to provide a competitive marketplace selling ad space to a captive child audience for four hours every Saturday morning. We sat attentively, shoveling sugar cereal into our gaping maws as anthropomorphic animals in t-shirts flew in cars and tricked the park ranger with our tacit approval. Sadly, upon checking the television one recent Saturday morning, this partnership seems to have been dissolved. A wasteland of paid programming and Golf tour footage litter that which was once a mighty refuge of childhood delight. But where network television now lacks, cable television persists in its efforts to sell your young son or daughter some useless piece of plastic junk that lights up and makes music. From Spongebob to Morphin Rangers, none of today’s most popular programming can compete with the might of the new Mickey Mouse from the land of the rising sun, Pikachu. With lightning bolts and rosy cheeks, Nintendo, the video game juggernaut of the 1980’s and 90’s, has successfully transformed their Pokemon property from a platform on their handheld Gameboy into a multi-media phenomenon that has transfixed children worldwide.

The marketing division of the Nintendo Corporation has tirelessly cannibalized its own material creating a variety of new video games, a role-playing card game, manga comic books, and sundry other Pokemon-themed literature (ex: Pokemon Chapter books #8, Return of the Squirtle Squad). All of this was birthed by Satoshi Tajiri’s original video game that introduced 151 species of beasts with special abilities that could be tamed, befriended, and coached to engage in one-on-one battles against other creature-human teams. Flight, hypnosis, manipulation of the elements, and immense physical strength are but a few of the possible traits a Pokemon might possess. The battle-friendly angle appealed greatly to young boys, but it is the irresistibly cute, wide-eyed manga vulnerability that has sold thousands of stuffed animals to both boys and girls alike. As the popularity of the Pokemon franchise has grown, its number of species has increased to a total of 493 uniquely attributed battle-beasts released incrementally over four “generations” of multi-media programming.

American children (and those around the world) were enthralled instantaneously and have remained so in thrall for over a decade. The stars of Pokemon cartoons are all children with their own amazing creatures that obey their commands. Acting upon the parentally neglected dream of puppy ownership, the young child sublimates this desire by embracing the world of Pokemon. That pet store window-shopper envy as veiled through the collectible and attainable universe of Pokemon can be appeased through immersion into the game, the characters, and the morality inherent to it (there are no bad Pokemon, only evil Pokemon trainers). The underserved always witness their enemy's comeuppance in the Pokemon plotlines. This accesses the psychological need for protection that young children experience while attempting to navigate the trials and tribulations of the playground during recess hour. A magically endowed beast that is loyal to kind and gentle children would be the ultimate bodyguard against bullies, teachers, and the neighbor’s German shepherd. Protection and companionship is combined with the coolness of super-abilities all packaged in an ultra-cute animal that possesses the speech qualities of a baby able to just barely squeak out its own name.

It’s a childhood fantasy in which young boys and girls retreat to a land of stories and adventure filled with possibilities and successes. But with the advent and growth of genetic engineering and genome mapping, is the reality of species-unique exotic pets so very far away? They would have to be created as sterile specimens, of course, in order to protect the native bio-diversity of mother earth, but it is a small concern in any event. The rest is just like breeding guppies: take the traits you want from your mixes and combine them, culling the ugly and misshapen experiments. Genetically modified creatures mixed from various natural species would be infused with modern technology in order to create the extra-ordinary abilities described in the lore of Pokemon. Cybernetic voice boxes, surgically implanted at the neck, could transform any vocal utterance that animal makes into its Pokemon name as recorded by a cute Japanese voice actress. If it were possible, wouldn’t you want one?

This possibility is a reachable dream. Foreign geneticists have been working diligently on these types of creations for the last decade. Unfortunately for the US, the eight-year freeze on stem-cell research seen under the Bush Administration puts America at a unique intellectual disadvantage in the coming decades. Our top geneticists have already been lured away to private medical corporations in Germany and Japan, which will leave the world’s biggest superpower vulnerable to the loss of its title. While the Germans have taken a simplistic approach and seem to be breeding over-sized, all-terrain cattle with both edible and wartime capabilities, the Japanese government has taken its cue from the marketing team at Nintendo and begun the scientific groundwork necessary for creating a diverse menagerie of bio-engineered, human-compatible creatures.

Japanese state scientists in league with the engineers at Nintendo are presently conducting genetic experiments, attempting to re-create both the appearance and abilities of fictional Pokemon species in the flesh. No cybernetic voice box will be necessary, as enough human genes for rudimentary speech are spliced into every new monstrosity created in the lab. Domestic dog genes are another staple ingredient in the genetic recipe, ensuring a loyal and obedient demeanor which has been consistently bred into canines for centuries. A mĂ©lange of other species’ traits are mixed and matched frequently. Snake eyes and batwings on the back of a dolphin and other things like this are attempted on a daily basis. Staying true to its origins, each creature possesses a calculated amount of genetic chaos controlled by infinitesimally small nanotechnology that allows the creature to mutate into an “evolved” form. The nanites in the blood act as genetic stabilizers, a framework on top of which the architecture of the genes drapes itself. At moments of extreme physical strain nearing death the nanites scatter, leaving the genes momentarily without form. As quickly as they disperse, the nanotechnology will re-activate, the animal’s form will change to affect the re-organization of its already muddled DNA. In the event that the resulting creature is unable to survive in a battle situation or is considered just too ugly to be allowed to live, it is promptly culled. It is a dark truth that many “evolved” genetic creatures die from a result of this planned inconsistency.

The Japanese are close to perfecting their science and when they do, what will emerge is nothing less than a new system of world citizenship. Once they have perfected the first 151 species from the original generation of Pokemon monsters, they will begin to auction them off in exchange for national loyalty to the state of Japan. In exchange for transferring your citizenship to the land of the rising sun, you will receive an ironclad contract that grants you the rights to your very own genetically modified battle-beast. Whether you enter the newly formed fight leagues in order to gain fame and fortune or whether you choose a more domestic existence with your semi-conscious, lightning-powered rat creature is up to your discretion. The Japanese government will reward you for your loyalty by promptly replacing an expired creature no questions asked. So feel free to be irresponsible and disgusting, as it couldn’t possibly be a crime against god or remotely considered abuse.

At first, the demand will exceed the supply and Japan’s shores will be engorged with immigrants. As foreign nations begin to lose their industry along with their populace, a new international landscape will evolve. It will no longer be necessary to live in Japan in order to be a citizen and receive your very own Snorlax. Nations will relax their restrictions to allow their former citizens to still reside in their native countries so long as they pay property and income taxes. Federal taxes will be collected by the Japanese and those ex-patriots still living in their abandoned states will suffer increased tolls on federal highways and increased ticket prices at national parks. This system of transient citizenship will have a great effect on the global political community. Heads of state will be lured away to foreign lands by competitive contracts, as constituents are traded as assets to aspiring nation-states from the Japanese surplus. It will resemble closely the system that is present in American professional basketball. Nations will be forced to advertise for new citizens, creating free market competition that will allow the individual to choose the best set of rights, privileges and restrictions for him and his family. Totalitarian utopias will abound in many colors, and you will be able to freely choose between them and Japan.

Japanese dominance will be overly apparent once all is played out. This superiority will stem from its creation of this system. While other nations will have suffered from their loss of citizens, Japan will have prospered in the interim. By the time the rest of the world has adapted and begun its aggressive marketing for new citizenship, there will be no catching up to Japan. Still, its monopoly on the new commodity of genetically created companion animals will eventually disappear, leaving an internationally competitive market in its wake. Trade secrets cannot be held long in the scientific community. This will briefly destabilize the newly defined order. Germany’s mecha-organic Bovines of Despair will make a wasteland of Northern Europe as Japanese geneticists work tirelessly at developing a countermeasure from the genes of fossilized dinosaurs. Once this is successfully accomplished by crossing raptor genes with those of a lemur (making for an extremely acrobatic killing machine with opposable thumbs) things will settle down a bit. War will be replaced by huge battle beast tournaments held between chiefs of state in order to settle border disputes and negotiate treaties. A new League of Nations will be formed in order to officiate these spectacles. Nations will reveal potent and deadly beasts at expositions in order to flaunt the strength of their genetic creations and effectively keep the peace in much the same way nuclear deterrence has for the last sixty years.