Sixteen years ago, “Pokémon” was more than just a video game and cartoon, it was a massive pop culture phenomenon. So many Japanese children were glued to the show when a new episode was broadcast this week in 1997 that an oddity in the animation simultaneously made viewers across the country ill. Learn about this airwave error and then turn the TV off to enjoy a custom cocktail.
Concerned parents? You’re right: it turns out cartoons… really can be bad for you.
Case in point: “Electric Soldier Porygon.” An episode of the hit show “Pokémon,” based on the Nintendo video game. If you’ve talked to any kids at all in the last 20 years, you know what “Pokémon” is about. All the rest of you need to know is that in 1997, about four million kids in Japan watched the show.
Which is where the “Electric Soldier Porygon” episode debuted. The storyline was typical: something about travelling through cyberspace. But then — twenty minutes in — came a scene where the show’s blobby yellow hero blew up some missiles. Suddenly, doctors around Japan fielded thousands of calls from frantic parents. Their children were turning nauseous, passing out, and in some cases suffering epileptic seizures. In a half hour, Pokemon sent close to seven hundred kids to the hospital.
The cause? “Paka Paka,” an animation technique where red and blue flicker onscreen, rapid-fire strobe style, to simulate an explosion. When Japanese TV news aired the offending segment later? More people suffered seizures. Media around the world called it “Pokémon Shock.”
No one was more shocked than Nintendo, whose stock took a five percent dive the next day. The show went off the air for four months while government and medical officials drew up new cartoon standards including how fast paka-paka colors are allowed to flicker.
As for “Electric Soldier Porygon,” the episode never aired again, even with the seizure-inducing scene edited out.
The Porygon Cocktail
Animated by Nilton Vanegas at Izakaya & Bar Fu-Ga in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.
- Bombay Sapphire East Gin
- Cherry Syrup
- Aladdin Yuzu Sake
- Blue Curacao
Shake ingredients together with ice. Sugar the rim of a cocktail glass and strain the neon-red cocktail into the prepared glass. Carefully pour the Curacao into a layer at the bottom of the glass, to suggest the red-and-blue of “paka-paka.”