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Anime News Network notes that yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the release of the first Pokémon game, Pokémon Red and Green. That game gave rise to a whole series of other games, as well as four anime series, numerous manga series, feature films, and even chapter books. (The chapter books presented a unique challenge for the authors, who had to somehow allow the Pokémon to express complex thoughts and emotions with a one-word vocabulary: their names.)
It also helped shape the manga industry as we know it today. A few years ago I talked to manga translator and scholar Matt Thorn, who was a freelance translator for Viz in their early days. Thorn described the atmosphere as “laid-back” and the company itself as having only three employees, including the president, Seiji Horibuchi. “For [parent company] Shogakukan, it was almost a vanity project,” he said. “They didn’t expect it to make money.”
And then Pokémon came along. Recalls Matt,
One day, I got a call from Shogakukan Productions. They said, “We’re going to try to promote Pokemon in the U.S., and we’d like you to help.” I said, “I’d love to, but I’m really busy these days, so I’m afraid I can’t. And to be honest, I don’t think Pokemon will fly in America.”
Despite Matt’s misgivings, of course, Pokémon went on to become a media phenomenon in the States, and Viz is now the largest manga publisher in the business, thanks at least in part to that initial burst of energy from Pikachu and his pals.