Looking Back: Generation One


So we've finished going over the original 151 pokemon, and what have we learned?

I was already an ancient thirteen years old when Pokemon Red first came to the United States, and let me tell you, the pre-pokemon world was no picnic. Sometimes I wish I could truly say I "grew up" with these games - that they were there for me when I was only five or six years old - but then I wonder if I might not have just taken them for granted.

Those of you born after Pokemon's debut must think it's normal for video games to let you pal around with giant, killer pitcher plants and floating smog monsters, but in 1998, this stuff felt radically new, even considering the fact that Monster Rancher and Digimon had already landed in North America just prior.

I was there when people were still figuring out how "pokemon" was properly pronounced, when the news media hotly debated whether it was a corruptive influence on children, when people took one look at it and quipped "what were they SMOKING?" as though this now genre-defining staple of our lives was the single most bizarre, preposterous thing anyone had ever seen... and when every parent felt certain it was nothing but a passing "fad" their children would forget all about in no time.


"Parents who have had to suffer through the games, the TV series and shopping trips can take some comfort in the fact that the Pokemon demographic is the same one that has abandoned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers."

-"Pokemania! Crazy for Pokemon," Time Magazine, 1999.

Time even makes a bit of an understatement, here; in only my first thirteen years of life, us kids had rabidly obsessed over He-Man, She-Ra, Thundercats, Madballs, Care Bears, Jem and the Holograms, G.I. Joe, Popples, Transformers, Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony and Ghostbusters before we got to Turtles and finally the Power Rangers, to say nothing of the less fantastical fads like snap bracelets and POGs, none of these properties lasting more than one to three years before we seemed to quit them cold turkey in favor of the next big hit.

It made sense that the adult world would roll its collective eyes with a "here we go again" attitude once Pokemon hit the scene, but for every single human being I knew between ages of about two and nearly twenty, it was as if we all just somehow knew that this time, this was the one. The franchise with such broad appeal that we would never get over it completely, and we were absolutely right.

Granted, the same ultimately rang true for most of our other "fads." After an extended hibernation of sorts, there's once again no escaping the gaze of Optimus Prime, Donatello or Slimer, and geeks well into their thirties and forties continue to collect Skeletors in multiple head variants. It's as if Pokemon changed us, as if we all suddenly said "wait...we actually never totally stop liking anything!"

Sixteen to twenty years have passed, depending on your home country, since we learned what a Tentacool was, and Pokemon fandom has remained positively insatiable. Its marketing is nowhere near as pervasive as it was in the days of Red & Blue - when everything from macaroni and cheese to medical supplies came in Pikachu flavor - but it's still a mainstay wherever you go, a series that seems to unite more people under a common interest than virtually any other.

It's easy to see why the fandom holds such a special adoration for the original 151, and having just gone over them all so painstakingly, I can even agree more than ever that some of its best qualities have been forgotten over the years. Their designs really were overall more pleasant, naturalistic and readable than some of these jumbled messes that would come later, and I say that as someone who can count more than a few jumbled messes among their all-time favorites. They would probably still be my favorites if their designs were toned down and rounded out a little, after all.

Conceptually, however, I believe pokemon has only continued to uphold a very high standard of imagination. Our first taste included creatures as outrageous as a telepathic head-tree, clusters of sentient magnets, a bug with a fungal infection and a holographic digital bird, but at the same time, a pokemon could still be nothing more than a rat, a goldfish or a fiddler crab. The key to pokemon's success has always been that it offers something for so many, drastically variable tastes, and it's never stopped trying its best to keep at it.

Tomorrow, we begin reviewing the second generation, a favorite of many, but in retrospect? I always thought the Gold & Silver batch was a little underwhelming, even when it was exciting new territory. Could that change by the time I review Celebi? I guess we'll find out together!

In the meantime, I'm going to round up some pokemon of note from these last 151 reviews, six at a time! Team size!

MY PERSONAL FAVORITES:

My top six favorites of the first generation have changed very little since its release. Gloom remains my #1, and the only newcomer is pretty much Tangela, who might have been bumped down at one time by Venonat, Tentacruel, or Weepinbell.

Personal favorites, however, are a whole different category from...

THE COOLEST:

Setting aside some of what I just love most in a pokemon, here's my picks for the most striking, memorably formidable badasses of the first generation. Perhaps Mewtwo belongs here for its backstory alone, but it was bumped off by the 660% more unholy Alakazam.

THE CUTEST:

Perhaps a tad more bias is showing here, but not only do I think these six are the most adorable, I think they pull it off without even trying. These aren't, for the most part, traditionally cute organisms in traditionally cute ways, or the same pokemon the franchise itself constantly pushed as media darlings, but they have a natural, more subtle sort of sweetness about them.

THE MOST CREATIVE:

Picking out the six strangest, most imaginative pokemon of the generation actually surprised me, because it wasn't really all that long of a list. I thought this would be harder! I guess these goofs and a few others are just SO outstandingly bizarre, they leave me remembering Red and Blue as much more of a weirdfest.

MY LEAST FAVORITES:

This was hard to do, because I can't say I strongly dislike any of the original 151. Dodrio is only here because I find Doduo so much more precious, while the rest are just pokemon I don't find especially exciting. That's not their fault, and they're favorites of many, they just feel outperformed by so, so many others in the imagination department. Just so we don't end on a semi-negative note, I'm coming up with one more category:

THE CLASSICS:

Perhaps this category is tougher to explain...it's not about being the "best" in any particular aspect, exactly, but I feel as though these six pokemon serve as the best "faces" of the 151. These are six I'd have chosen as franchise mascots for their immediate recognizability and accessible mix of the cute with the peculiar. Does anyone get what I'm saying? That there's an "iconic" quality to these guys distinct from our other categories?

Feel free to share your own choices or even your own entire categories! Tomorrow we talk Chikorita!


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