Well I’ve already went through the VHS Era which covered the majority of my high school inauguration into anime through my early college years. The reason why I define this era as the “Pokemon Era” is because this Pokemon created a rebirth of anime on TV (as well as resurrecting the popularity of the Nintendo Gameboy) that led into the big Anime Boom that dominated the early 2000s. Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z had a marginal degree of niche popularity but it wasn’t enough to make anime significant in the public’s eyes. But before I get into Pokemon I wanted to bring up an important aspect of my growth as a anime fan, Wizzywig Collectibles.
These days Wizzywig Collectibles has descended into a Japanese gimmicky store that sells the likes of Beerchan T-shirts, Japanese Nintendo merchandise, fluff pillows, and candy and it was that way during its humble beginnings but there was a period of time where Wizzywig was the definitive place to rent anime VHS/DVDs from as well as buy various anime related paraphernalia (calendars, figures, posters, and the like). Before Pokemon aired on TV, Wizzywig opened up a store just down the street from my dormitory on the University of Michigan campus. Gradually they decided to start anime rentals and many hard-to-find series (i.e. Urusei Yatsura pre-DVD) became available to me through their rental program. Wizzywig played a humongous role in my continued love of anime fandom as I no longer had to commit to buying a series to see what it was like. It’s rare that an anime fan (during those days) could test out a series without committing to it so this was a humongous blessing.
The second blessing came in the form of Pokemon airing on US TV, as stated before Sailor Moon and DBZ only made a slight scratch in advancing the popularity of anime in the US. Pokemon, OTOH, was like the second coming. Much like Power Rangers that came before it the marketing of the Pokemon name was a phenomenon in and of itself. It was kid-friendly, pimped by Nintendo, and engaging. Now of course my history with anime guaranteed that I was going to be into the series and I can actually vouch that I’m a rarity in that I got to see both the Japanese version (thanks to Wizzywig having a Japanese copy of the first VHS tape) and English version of Episode 1 on the same day. I was impressed how outside of Misty (Kasumi) slapping Ash (Satoshi) almost nothing, including music was altered from the US broadcast. Of course, over time 4Kids would get worse with such things but during that time they actually were doing a better job than the English versions of DBZ and Sailor Moon.
I recall that even my very Japanese specific friends applauded how Pokemon took risks (the episode where Pikachu and the others were separated from their masters and the majority of the episode was subtitled to translate the Pokemon speak) with their format. The fact is, Pokemon was a major event for anime fandom and video gamers. On the anime end it’s popularity opened a door for companies wanting to license more shows to show on public TV. The show proved that anime could succeed and thrive on television in a way the previous efforts could not. Even it present day it’s one of the few anime shows that Cartoon Network had not dropped because it has the financial backing to support it.
This has a dual effect of sorts, on one hand it gave the opportunity for the growth of anime in the US. On the other hand it spearheaded the very things that would eventually lead into the big anime recession. Nevertheless, for now, Pokemon made anime something that, possibly, gave it a stronger presence here than even its home country.