Do you remember any of these classic commercials?
Detective Pikachu is only days away and if you're a Pokémon fan, I imagine that you're probably pretty excited. Even if you look at it and think "Ugh, I wish it was Detective Metapod instead," there's just something about getting to see Pokémon on the big screen in a live action movie that seems inherently thrilling. You're gonna watch actual actors interacting with Pokémon (one of which is voiced by the star of the best R rated superhero film ever....Blade Trinity.) on a big budget scale. At the very least, it's different, considering that the franchise has mostly been relegated to anime and manga and a video game series that you may have heard about.
Because, if you were alive in the 1990s, you may remember a series of commercials that also featured flesh-and-blood people dealing with Pokémon. Kids like me who became desperately attached to the original set of Pokémon Red and Blue back when they first came out for the Game Boy, looked forward to these commercials more than actual television shows sometimes. Because they presented a world that 1) Had Pokémon in it, and 2) Had people in it that were just as obsessed with Pokémon as we were.
Take a look at this first one, in which two kids, separated by an alley, literally trade Pokémon across a high wire link cable:
Hey, look! It's Drake Bell, the star of Drake & Josh and the voice of Spider-Man in about a thousand things. But more important than him is the bus driver looking up in astonishment at these creatures walking from apartment to apartment:
Remember his face, because his story continues in the next Red and Blue commercial. Yes, these commercials told a story. And that story was horrifying. See, apparently after witnessing this feat of Nintendo sorcery, the bus driver concocted a plan to capture and then crush all 150 Pokémon. He would lure them onto his bus and, well, I'll let you watch...
So, the funniest thing about this commercial is the way the bus driver says "Yeah, whatever" when Pikachu introduces itself to him, which is the exact response I got whenever I was a kid trying to tell an adult about Pokémon. But that goofy moment is quickly replaced by terror as these critters are compacted and shoved into a Game Boy. Sadly, Bus Driver Boris And His Magical Game Crushing Machine never really took off as a PBS kids show.
Pokémon Yellow, in which Pikachu hates you and then begrudgingly follows you around and then grows to love you, took a different approach. Realizing that it couldn't win against a human race that was eager to crush it into a game console, it BETRAYED ITS SPECIES and helped humans to load a bunch of Pokémon into the back of a truck. Their fate? Unknown.
And it wasn't just the original set of games that did this. But before we jump to that, I'd like to remind you of what might be the weirdest Pokémon commercial of all time, in which a kid holds up flash cards at a screaming, tortured goose until it agonizingly GIVES BIRTH TO A GAME BOY COLOR. I don't understand how you'd be tasked with coming up with a Pokémon commercial and then arrive at...this, but it's an abomination of biology, humanity, and marketing all at once.
See? I bet you thought when I said "screaming goose" that I was exaggerating to get you to watch the video. Nope. That goose lets out a death screech that you can only make when your own anatomy is being liquified in order to spawn handheld Nintendo products. And then the boy, this wretched adolescent who has smiled into the abyss only to see the abyss recoil in fear, asks about producing five more for his friends. WHAT FRIENDS DO YOU HAVE, HATE GOBLIN? Leave the goose alone and get a new hobby, you trash can of a child.
Pokémon Gold and Silver went back to the Yellow concept of having a kid conquer the Pokémon world. Only this time, he does it without Pikachu. If you can only watch a few seconds of this, because you've somehow, against all odds, found a more "important" use of your time than reading about old Pokémon commercials on an anime website, skip to about twenty seconds in, when a kid throws a Pokeball so hard that he absolutely gives that Elekid a concussion.
Jeez. That kid really beans that monster. In the end, we see him flying in the sky, atop a Lugia, acting as the new lord of his domain. Sadly, the commercial for Pokémon Crystal wouldn't feature any Pokémon and instead just had a bunch of explorers being unable to read some Unown symbols.
Ha! You can't even understand a simple Pokémon language? Who are you, my parents, my wife, and every person that I love? Losers.
The next commercial for Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire is kind of cute, as people hang out with Pokémon that resemble them. I'm glad that this commercial came out for the third generation of Pokémon rather than the fifth one, if only because it would be sad to tell someone "Be in our commercial, because you look like the Pokémon that is actual garbage."
From then on, Pokémon commercials would do a 180 and go full-on apocalyptic, though they never had any actual Pokémon in them. The one for Emerald is about a child being the lone survivor of some kind of mass hysteria/geological disaster, and the one for Diamond and Pearl is about Pokeballs falling from the sky. In fact, we wouldn't get a "What if Pokémon, but in real life?" commercial until Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee, but in that, Pikachu only exists so that it can lead you inside to play its video game, presumably forever.
So there you have it. Whether it was scary or cute or just plain weird, Pokémon have existed in live action settings for years, and watching all of these makes me even more excited to see Detective Pikachu. But rather than end with Pikachu, I feel like it's only fitting to end with Meowth. Here's the Japanese commercial for Pokémon Yellow, in which Meowth complains to an oden bar chef about Pikachu being the star of the franchise. It's wonderful. God, I love Pokémon.
Daniel Dockery is a writer for Crunchyroll. You can be his Pika Pal on Twitter.
Do you love writing? Do you love anime? If you have an idea for a features story, pitch it to Crunchyroll Features!