EDITORIAL: Criticism, frustration, disappointment, and Pokémon announcements

Pokémon Day 2021 is upon us, marking the 25th anniversary of the release of Pokémon Red and Green in Japan. The day will kick off with a special Pokémon Presents presentation at midnight Japan time, with a promised 20-minute-long stream of Pokémon news. Ahead of this special presentation though, we need to have a chat. A chat about how we as a fandom respond to news and announcements, particularly when those announcements weren’t quite what we were hoping for. Because quite frankly, if we’re going to see the same kind of behaviour with the Pokémon Day announcements this year as we’ve seen with other unpopular announcements like Sword & Shield not including the entire National Dex, or Pokémon UNITE, then we’ll only have proven we don’t deserve to have good things.

Fan expectations for Pokémon Day announcements have been running wild for weeks, prompted not only by promises from The Pokémon Company in their press releases of announcements for the week of Pokémon Day from across the franchise, but also by a series of supposed “leaks” from people claiming to have inside knowledge of big announcements to be made on Pokémon Day itself, specifically claims that we’ll see announcements of Generation IV remakes, something fans have been dreaming of since pretty much the moment Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire hit store shelves. These flames were only fanned further as these claims were repeated, often uncritically, by media outlets and micro-celebrities concerned more about chasing clicks than on the consequences of encouraging these sorts of unrealistic expectations. Certainly, I think this Pokémon Day will undoubtably see the announcement of some very nice things for Pokémon fans. But therein lies the problem. The Pokémon fandom is incredibly diverse. From young children who’ve only just got their first taste of Pokémon with this latest generation, to the 30 and 40-somethings like myself who were there right at the beginning, and even through to Boomers who got into the franchise via their kids and/or Pokémon GO. The Pokémon fandom has long since surpassed being a franchise “just for kids”, and today spans generations, genders, countries and cultures. It includes both people who live and breathe the franchise, and people who only follow certain aspects of it, whether that be the core series games, the anime, the TCG, or something else entirely. It comes as little surprise then, even at the best of times it will always be a challenge for any Pokémon announcement to satisfy everyone. Those nice things that are going to get announced may not be the specific nice things that you personally are hoping for, or even for that matter things that you yourself think are nice. One thing we have to always keep in mind is that, at its heart, Pokémon is still a franchise primarily intended for kids. Nods and lip service may be given to the older fans at times, however even for things being announced as part of an anniversary, the primary target audience is generally going to be the younger generations who represent the future of the franchise and the fandom. That’s something that we older fans all need to accept and be prepared for, even if it might leave a bit of a sour taste in our mouths at times.

Let me be very clear however. In no way am I suggesting that we can’t ever criticise The Pokémon Company about decisions they might make, or that we don’t have the right to feel upset about those decisions. Over the years, there’s certainly been more than a few mystifying decisions from the company which have justly attracted criticism. I can certainly understand how some older groups of fans in particular might feel like their years of loyalty to the Pokémon franchise haven’t been entirely reciprocated by The Pokémon Company. I’m no stranger to having those sorts of feelings myself. As a long-time fan of the Pokémon anime, I’ve been wanting to see it receive a proper subtitled release for more than two decades now. In the past, I could at least understand it on the basis that it’s a “kids show”, and that they may have concluded that including subtitles in their releases wouldn’t result in enough additional sales to cover the expense of creating the subtitles in the first place. That we still don’t have officially subtitled Pokémon anime today however, despite that simulcast streaming of anime has become commonplace thanks to platforms like Crunchyroll, is just incredibly frustrating. It’s not like these platforms don’t already stream plenty of subtitled anime that were intended for young children, none of which have the advantage of Pokémon’s level of global awareness. If it was profitable enough for Crunchyroll and Toei to come to an agreement last year over simulcasting the latest Pretty Cure series, then I’m left feeling like the only thing that could be standing in the way of seeing subtitled Pokémon has to be The Pokémon Company themselves.

But I digress. What I want to talk about today isn’t my own criticisms of Pokémon, but rather how we criticise Pokémon. Let’s be honest, we as a fandom have an utterly embarrassing record in how we’ve responded to news that people decided they didn’t like. This isn’t just a recent trend either. In the leadup to the release of the original Ruby and Sapphire back in late 2002 in Japan and early 2003 in the west, many Pokémon fans were livid that not only would they not be able to transfer their Pokémon from Gold, Silver & Crystal versions into Generation III, but also almost three quarters of the Pokémon from the past two generations wouldn’t be available to catch in Ruby & Sapphire at all. Many of us at the time viewed this as a complete betrayal of what the franchise said it stood for. How could we build a team of our favourites when all of the friends we’d spent so much time training were going to be brutally ripped away from us? Similarly, who can forget the massive outcry from certain anime fans back in 2006, after the 4Kids voice actors were replaced wholesale following the Pokémon dub being brought in-house by TPCi (then known as Pokémon USA, Inc), which led to a multi-year campaign by a group of dedicated fans to “Save Our Voice Actors”, a campaign that was still active as recently as 2018.

While the way our fandom acted during those two examples was bad however, those were nothing compared to the frankly disgraceful behaviour we’ve seen from fans in recent years in response to events such as Sword and Shield leaving out certain past Pokémon (in an echo of what happened with Ruby & Sapphire over 15 years prior), or the announcement of Pokémon Unite. I don’t want to unjustly tar everyone who was upset with those announcements with the same brush. There were plenty of people who were able to express their displeasure and disappointment with those announcements in an appropriate way. But there were also far too many people who were all too willing to attack people working at Nintendo, Game Freak, and The Pokémon Company (including in many cases people who wouldn’t even have been involved in the decisions themselves) with hurtful language and threats of physical violence or worse. Plenty of people in the fan community who spoke up in favour of the decisions also found themselves under assault. Even those who’d stayed silent were impacted in some way, including numerous community moderators who had to wade in to fights to try and cool down tensions, and the potentially millions of Pokémon fans out there who would’ve been passively exposed to the fights and aggressive behaviour just reading community forums and their social feeds. This kind of behaviour diminishes us, both figuratively as people, and literally with people deciding to exit the fandom rather than have to put up with this kind of activity around them.

I’m not going to say you should curb your enthusiasm and anticipation for the impending announcements. Regardless of how dubious and unreliable any of these supposed “leaks” may be, that doesn’t change the fact that speculating about what could be and what you wish would be is incredibly fun. Heck, it could be argued that if you just consume Pokémon (or any other media franchise for that matter) without ever really thinking about the what if’s, you’re not really all that engaged with it to begin with. And if you don’t get what you want, come Pokémon Day? It’s okay to be disappointed, even if part of the reason for that disappointment is that you built up your expectations a bit too much. But dissatisfaction and disappointment can never be an excuse for abuse and hate.

Now more than ever, with so many of us isolated from others IRL due to the ongoing effects of the COVID pandemic, it’s important that our fan communities be safe and inclusive place for people to connect with each other. Pokémon’s 25th anniversary should be a time for us to celebrate the diversity of our Pokémon community, rather than a source of stress and division. In the end, Pokémon is a flawed creation made by flawed people, for flawed people. Criticizing and wanting more from it, as opposed to simply accepting whatever is given to us, is a natural part of appreciating it. But only so long as it’s in moderation. So this Pokémon Day, let’s show that we can be the best fandom, like no one ever was. We can protect our fandom from devastation, and unite all peoples within the fandom, if only we can stand up for truth and love.
Archaic Written by Archaic