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What Pokémon can teach us about conservation and climate change

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There’s a moment in the live-action movie Detective Pikachu when the ground beneath our heroes’ feet is crumbling. As they slip and slide, Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, yells to no one in particular, “At this point, how can you not believe in climate change?” It’s a good quip — one of a million small jokes that’s easily missed. But it’s also one of the first times that Pokémon, the most lucrative media franchise of all time, addressed the climate crisis. It certainly won’t be the last.

Fans appreciate Pokémon for its camp humor, adorable monsters, and emphasis on the quest for excellence. But for more than two decades, Pokémon has also delivered a crash course in environmental science. Like a professor par excellence, it’s addressed ecological vulnerability and land management, extinction and de-extinction, the plight of endangered species and the dangers of invasive ones, and, most recently, the real costs of climate change. There’s a lot more to Pokémon than just catching ‘em all.

Pokémon was an eco-conscious project from its conception. Nineties kids know the origin story well. Satoshi Tajiri was born in Japan in 1965. He was an avid insect collector — the other kids called him “Dr. Bug.” At the time, Tajiri’s hometown still had rural pockets, but as the Tokyo metropolitan area subsumed outlying villages, plants and animals gave way to concrete and skyscrapers. Decades later, when he first played with a Game Boy, he saw an opportunity to ensure a new generation of urban kids could experience the simulated joys of taxonomy and tromping through the wilderness. In 1996, Tajiri’s company, Game Freak, released the first games in his fantastical universe of Pocket Monsters, better known as Pokémon.

 

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Today, there are eight generations of Pokémon games and, depending on how you count them, about 900 individual monsters. They’ve spawned dozens of video games, 24 movies, and more than 1,000 episodes of television. Along with trading cards, Croc Jibbitz, and other merchandise, the franchise has grossed over $92 billion in total revenue.

In many ways, the Pokémon universe still resembles that of Tajiri’s childhood. There are patches of tall grass full of unknown creatures, dark forests, and rushing rivers — all imbued with a sense of aliveness that cultural anthropologist Anne Allison called “techno-animism” in her book Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. While there are ghost pokémon and sentient ice cream cones, many pocket monsters mimic real-world biodiversity: Caterpie, with its bright orange osmeterium, is clearly the caterpillar form of the eastern tiger swallowtail. Pikachu, an electric mouse, is based on the actual pika, a teeny mammal that’s more closely related to rabbits than rats. Vileplume is a grumpy corpse lily, Sandslash is a superpowered pangolin, and Drowzee is a neon-lit Malayan tapir.

read more here https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/30/21115034/pokemon-conservation-climate-change-detective-pikachu

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