In case you hadn’t cottoned on by now, I really, really love Pokemon. From the day I first set off with my trusty Bulbasaur in the winter of 1998, I became entranced with this sprawling universe of untold wonders.
To this day, I try my best to maintain a complete PokeDex, and though the latest efforts of Scarlet and Violet would leave a bitter taste in my mouth, I maintain my fandom unfettered by failure. Though I am constantly singing the praises of Resident Evil and Fire Emblem, at the end of the day, Pokemon remains entrenched as #1.
It’s bigger than gaming, in fact, occupying a space of significance in my heart rivalled only by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So it should come as no surprise that beyond just enjoying the games as they are released every few years, I have a few memories of the franchise itself more broadly.
So with this in mind, I thought it might be fun to seek out a little bit of my journey with those kooky pocket monsters; an enduring partnership that has gone on for nearly a quarter of a century.
And remember: gotta catch ’em all! …Unless you play on the Switch, that is, in which case you just catch the ones Game Freak have decided are worth keeping.
Poke Tour (1999)
Never was my fascination with Pokemon quite so vivid or wholesome as it was in the 90s. It stands to reason this would be true, as it marks not only the franchise’s peak in popularity, but it also aligned with a window of time when I was the target demographic. As Pokemon GO has proven, there is still a sizeable market for the fans who grew with the series, but regardless, I carry a modicum of shame whenever I add to my collection of Bulba merch.
In 1999, I was set to add the first mythical beast to my roster by venturing out to obtain the New Species Pokemon, Mew. My dutiful father drove me out to one of the shopping centres (which one I cannot say with certainty, but odds are it was either Brimbank or Watergardens) where he would join me in the honour of standing in a massive line.
Other than the peer pressure that convinced me to buy Pokemon Blue in the first place, my journey with Pikachu and his pals had been a fairly insular one up to this point. But here, there were kids just like me, obsessed with the world of Kanto and eager to land a Mew of their very own.
Despite the length of the queue, I don’t actually remember the wait as being too oppressively long. Perhaps it was merely my enthusiasm keeping me engaged, or the performers on-hand trying to get us to join in as they sang the anime’s theme song. We did not acquiesce to these demands.
I did briefly strike a conversation with one of the other boys standing in front of me, at which point the topic of favourite Pokemon came up. He confidently declared that his top candidate was Magmar, to which I returned with Vulpix. Near as I recall, the discussion would end hastily and awkwardly thereafter. My complicated fancy for Vulpix is a tale for another day.
When at last it was my turn, I brandished my two cartridges; one Blue and one Special Pikachu Edition (aka Yellow, just call it Yellow, Anthony). With some exasperation, they queried whether I had saved in the Pokemon Centre as we had all been advised to do multiple times, clearly indicating that a myriad of dipshit kids had failed to do so.
For me, this was serious business, so of course I was prepared. Into the kiosks they went, where some sort of magical ritual was performed that gifted me with my Mews. The job successfully completed, I received my Poke Tour 1999 promotional Pikachu card and was on my way! My poor father received neither Mew nor Pikachu card, but I’m sure he had a great time, too.
The Yellow Mew would become a staple of my competitive team, shouldering the load of poor team building and move distribution, while the Blue Mew was relegated to the role of HM slave. I don’t think it has ever truly forgiven me for that indignity.
Minty Thrill (2002)
Right from the franchise’s infancy, I had been writing my own little Pokemon stories that I saved on my computer. In one, I had been transformed into a Vulpix — again, I really need to unpack my passion for Vulpix someday — while in another my friends and I travelled the world in a bid to become the greatest Pokemon trainers of all time. Wow, such truly original premises!
They were fairly innocuous, though if I were critiquing it nowadays I would probably discourage the author from constantly giving my self-insert all of the coolest dialogue. Once I had entered my teenage years, my prose would take the next big step by being unleashed on the unsuspecting public.
In 2002, I commenced writing a Pokemon fanfic on a forum. Starring the bumbling Tony Chambers and his “Bulb-is-sore” Leaves, it was loaded to the gills with surreal gags and constant self-deprecation. At one point, Tony has to loudly pantomime a Pokemon battle so someone in the next room wouldn’t find out that his opponent had accidentally sat on their Larvitar. In another instance, he encounters a mad scientist who inadvertently summons a horde of zombies from the earth. Said scientist also forcefully affixes Tony with a Smeargle tail.
Grammatically, it was an absolute shit show, and though it’s a little on the nose with its adherence to tropes and punchlines you could see coming from a mile away, I still think it’s a lot of fun. In fact, it would stick around for much of the turn of the millennium; the original fic ran until I gave up in 2004, while a sequel was written in 2005. In 2006, I attempted to clean up its formatting with a rewrite, a project that I worked on, on and off, until 2011.
As earnestly as I’ve been trying to eke out a career as something resembling a journalist, my true passion remains in creative writing; crafting a world and its characters as I see fit. And yes, my fiction is just as self-indulgent as my journalism. But that should come as no surprise, really.
A Diancie with destiny (2014)
For as charming and humble as Poke Tour 1999 was, my later endeavours in obtaining mythical Pokemon would not always be quite so enjoyable.
By the mid-2010s, my relationship with the franchise had pretty much become what it is today; I play the games, I buy some trinkets on occasion, and I go through the motions to ensure I haven’t got a single missing entry in the PokeDex.
This somewhat laissez-faire approach was fine and dandy for Pokemon such as Meloetta, which merely required you to connect to the wi-fi connection of participating retailers in order to collect. In gen 6, however, a different tact was implemented in the form of promotional codes.
Most likely, this was in an effort to encourage players to actually venture into the store, rather than lurking outside its door like the bush man of San Francisco. What I had failed to realise at the time was the ephemerality of this physical medium; that is to say, codes were being snatched up left, right and centre.
It came to a head with the sparkling humanoid jewel Diancie, when I had the audacity to wait four whole days before inquiring on its availability. It was, needless to say, long gone, with stores having already gone through two batches of codes. What ensued was a stressful series of phone calls across the Melbourne suburbs in a desperate bid to retrieve just one of those elusive Diancies.
As noted in the linked blog post, my saving grace was a penchant for pestering, ascertaining the days that the Nintendo rep would sweep through with a restock and calling JB Hi-Fi as early as possible. You can practically feel the severity surrounding the sentence: “The staff member asked me, in a rather serious tone, if I was going to be able to get there that day.”
Though I averted crisis that day, I would make a similar mistake years later by missing the distribution period for Zarude, forcing me to think outside of the box in order to find one. Incidentally, all of those phone calls I made to try and land a rare Pokemon in 2014 were made while I was at work.
I used to joke that I should have been fired years ago, until karma circled around and I actually did end up getting fired not too long afterwards. Oops.
Tournament for schmucks (2020)
It would be a stretch to say I’ve ever been particularly good at Pokemon, but at the very least, I came a long way from my dubious beginnings. As of 2014, I’ve been engaging in competitive battling, which for me consists of trawling Smogon recommendations, trying to retain that strategy in the heat of the moment, and bemoaning the fact that everyone else is using cheap legendaries.
In 2020, my sister gamely entered the big leagues of the Pokemon Oceania International Championship; the nation’s official tournament to determine who would go on to the World Championships, representing Australia against the planet’s most elite trainers.
As a full-time desk monkey at the time, I unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately? — was unable to participate over the three-day contest. While there to support her on the weekend, I caught wind of the Premier Challenge, a small-scale tournament that was held over the course of a single day.
It sounded like a lark, so I hastily cobbled together a competitive team for the gen 8 meta. For those unfamiliar, this was during the Sword and Shield era, which meant Dynamaxing, Gigantamaxing, and a whooooooole lot of Duraludon.
I was fairly familiar with the most popular Pokemon, giving me an idea of what to expect. In my infinite wisdom, I championed creativity over convention, shoehorning several inappropriate combatants into a ragtag roster of misfits. The result, as detailed in my tournament recap, was an absolute disaster.
The reason why everyone else was using the same Pokemon and the same tactics, you see, is because it works very well, and while assigning my move sets I neglected to consider the 2-on-2 medium that was taking place. A Calm Mind offensive Alcremie might work in a conventional fight, but the lack of symbiotic support from one teammate to another led to their constant, early demise.
I did win one match at least, possibly because my strategy was so damned weird, but I went 3 KOs to 16 falls in the remaining four losses, placing me 31st on the ladder of 32 entrants.
Aside from that lone victory, I quite enjoyed stalling for dear life with my Leech Seed/Recover Appletun. That was quaint.