At the time this is published, Detective Pikachu will be one week away from appearing in screens – while this may not be on your radar, it is a rather significant development for the Pokémon franchise and Nintendo as a whole. It’s the first live-action adaptation of a Nintendo property (note: Nintendo only own a third of the franchise, but I’m using Nintendo and The Pokémon Company interchangeably here) in nearly three decades.
The disastrous Super Mario Bros. movie in 1993 pissed off Nintendo to the point of not allowing any theatrical adaptations of their property ever since – they have accordingly never forgiven Disney for their botched adaptation, choosing to go with Universal for their theme park plans. You’re going to be waiting a long time to see a live-action story featuring Steve Buscemi as Waluigi. That is the only possible choice and I stand by it. Waaaah.
However, the significance of Detective Pikachu not only stems from Nintendo’s apparent forgiveness of the West just this one time, but from the power of the franchise – it’s been around since 1995 and has never stopped making piles of money. While Mario may be Nintendo’s mascot, Pokémon is the jewel in its crown. While Mario has sold more games, Pokémon has zero rivals when it comes to the nostalgic whip-crack power it wields. When Pikachu says jump, you say how high. When Lucario says spread your hole, furries say how wide. It’s a big year for the franchise – not only is it about to release its most ambitious venture in decades, the franchise is gearing up for the release of the eighth generation of consoles games later this year, with the assured promise that it will rake in hundreds of millions for Nintendo’s sweet little pussy. Not that it needs to – Pokémon is literally the highest grossing entertainment property of all time, bar none. Tens of billions have been spent in the name of these pixelated gods. Like, there are over 800 of them – you are bound to find one you like. Each new generation of Pokémon breathes new life into the bloated corpse of capitalism, with plushie sales alone rivalling the economies of small countries – much like Atlas holding up the sky, Pikachu is the titan that props up capitalism’s rotted left tit. Pikachu could snort freshly delivered coke off every sun-kissed arse in Miami for a decade and the company accounts wouldn’t have a clue. It speaks to the nostalgic grip of the franchise that even as we get older, and there are some games in the franchise that are closer to 30 than 20, it only seems to adapt and grow.
Some things have changed, obviously. Pikachu is no longer the cute faced, chubby waisted, thicc thighs, in-shape queen he once was. His rump doesn’t shake both ways… he just doesn’t have the stats for that nowadays. He succumbed to the pressures of fame like everyone else – he didn’t have a choice. It’s a tragedy that he and Jonah Hill can bond over. The audience demographic has changed as well; while the franchise remains a family-friendly classic, and that’s where the money comes from, the critical attention and the renewed presence in the public sphere comes from millennials who have grown up with the franchise since Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire in the wee years of the ‘00s. Little Michaehyla and Braxtonnn aren’t the content creators on Youtube and Twitter and such, and Nintendo knows that. While Generation 1 may be the touchstone that even our parents recognise, and the cornerstone of any successful ‘hey, remember these fucks!?’ campaign by Nintendo (as evidenced by the global success of Pokémon Go for two weeks in 2016), the catering goes towards the millennials that increasingly define the franchise’s ventures as time goes by. But at the same time, they want to appeal to a very particular kind of millennial: the 20-something weirdo.
The English Pokédex entries have changed over the years – they’re increasingly darker and morose, focusing on the creepier aspects and the logical conclusions of Pokémon existing in their world. The cutesy bear doesn’t know its own strength, so it accidentally crushes the spines of its owners. There’s a sandcastle that buries the bones of small children beneath itself. The adorable little koala is forever trying to wake up from the coma it has been in since birth. This has been a trend since 2013, when the younger group millennials raised on internet culture largely came of-age and gained their own purchasing power, thereby stimulating the all-powerful Nintendo economy. These entries read like the Livejournal offerings of 2008. But here’s the thing – the Japanese entries are entirely different in translation, which says a lot about how the branches of the franchise owners view the two worlds. They think us English speakers crave the creepy over the cutesy, despite Pokémon being the embodiment of childish cuteness. Detective Pikachu is perhaps the most interesting example of this – it hasn’t even come out yet, but just from the trailers, we get an idea of what Nintendo thinks about Americans, and by extent, the West. They think our kind are pretty fucking weird. They don’t think we want ‘our’ Pokémon to be cute, but instead that we want them to be off-brand, we want them to be realistically slimy, we want them to have fur that doesn’t look like fur. We want these recreations of our childhood to carry the disproportions of our dreams – stretched out, not resembling our conceptions of how the console’s pixels should be represented on screen. They’re designed with the sense of appearing realistically unreal. They believe we want our Pokémon to look fleshy in the same way David Cronenberg wants his characters to look fleshy. Furthermore, they know that the average player is well into their university years at this stage. The human protagonist is not a child, or even a teenager. He’s 21. The audience surrogate has been aged appropriately, a stark contrast to almost every child-friendly franchise that prides itself on accessibility to children. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It’s just funny to note how Nintendo sees the Western audience as 20-somethings inherently craving oddity in their content.
My neighbours taught me how to use an emulator on my PC in 2004, presumably in an attempt to get my horse-looking self to leave them alone (I never got the hint and still banged on their door at 4pm on the dot!), and it’s been 15 years of playing the games since then. I genuinely squeal if I run into a shiny, as that hits my serotonin receptors the same way the opening sounds of Philosopher’s Stone do. Nostalgia powers activate. I truly do love the franchise, and have many positive memories attached to the games and how they got me through varying levels of boredom and loneliness in my younger years – it’d be weird to imagine not jumping back into it every now and then.
I just wish Nintendo would let Pikachu live his best life and put on some weight again. I know he misses those fat rolls.