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"Dennō Senshi Porygon"
Pokémon episode
In one of the scenes believed to have caused epileptic seizures, Pikachu uses a "Thunderbolt" attack on a cyber missile, making the screen flash red and blue rapidly.
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 38
Directed by Kiyotaka Isako (井硲 清高)
Written by Junki Takegami (武上 純希)
Production code 138
Original air date December 16, 1997 (1997-12-16)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Ditto's Mysterious Mansion"
Next →
"Pikachu's Goodbye"

"Dennō Senshi Porygon" (Japanese: 電脳戦士ポリゴン Hepburn: Dennō Senshi Porigon, translated as "Computer Warrior Porygon", although more commonly "Electric Soldier Porygon") is the 38th episode of the Pokémon anime's first season. Its sole broadcast was in Japan on December 16, 1997. In the episode, Ash and his friends find at the local Pokémon Center that there is something wrong with the Poké Ball transmitting device. To find out what is wrong, they must go inside the machine.

The episode contained repetitive visual effects that induced seizures in a substantial number of Japanese viewers, an incident referred to as the "Pokémon Shock" (ポケモンショック Pokemon Shokku) by the Japanese press. 685 children across Japan were taken to hospitals; two remained hospitalized for more than two weeks. The shares of Nintendo, the company that produced the games they were based on, fell by about almost 5%. As a result of this incident, Nintendo ordered the episode pulled from rotation and it has not aired in any country since.

After the incident, the Pokémon anime went into a four-month hiatus, removing the TV Tokyo red circle "チュッ!" logo from the Japanese anime, and it returned on TV Tokyo on April 16, 1998. After that, the time slot changed from Tuesday to Thursday. Since then, the episode has been parodied and referenced in cultural media, including The Simpsons episode "Thirty Minutes over Tokyo" and the South Park episode "Chinpokomon".

Plot

Ash, Misty, Brock and Pikachu make their way to the nearest Pokémon Center, where they discover that the Poké Ball transmitting device is malfunctioning. On Nurse Joy's request, they go to Professor Akihabara, the one who created the Poké Ball transfer system. He tells them that Team Rocket stole his prototype Porygon, a digital Pokémon that can exist in cyberspace, and is using it to steal trainers' Pokémon from inside the computer system.

Akihabara sends Ash, Misty, Brock, Pikachu and his second Porygon into the cyberspace system, using his Dimension Transporter, to stop Team Rocket, whom they learn have set up a blockade that stops Pokéballs from traveling the network. Porygon is able to defeat Team Rocket's Porygon; unfortunately, Nurse Joy, monitoring the situation and unaware that Ash and the others are inside, has sent an antivirus program into the system to combat the computer virus Team Rocket set up. In the ensuing chaos, Pikachu uses a Thunderbolt attack on the program, which manifests as 4 cyber missiles, which causes a large explosion. Two of the missiles enter the portal, completely destroying Akihabara's house, much to his dismay, as his Dimension Transporter is now broken. The group and Team Rocket successfully escape the computer, and with Team Rocket's blockade removed, the Poké Ball transmitting device returns to normal.

Broadcast

"Dennō Senshi Porygon" had its sole broadcast in Japan on Tuesday, December 16, 1997, at 6:30 PM Japan Standard Time (09:30 UTC). It was broadcast over 37 TV stations that Tuesday night. It held the highest ratings for its time slot and was watched by approximately 4.6 million households.

Aftermath

News of the incident spread quickly through Japan as well as the headquarters of Nintendo, the company that produces the game it was based on. The following day the television station that had originated the lone broadcast of that episode, TV Tokyo, issued an apology to the Japanese public, suspended the program, and said it would investigate the cause of the seizures. Officers from Atago Police stations were ordered by Japan's National Police Agency to question the anime's producers about the show's contents and production process. An emergency meeting was held by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, in which the case was discussed with experts and information collected from hospitals. Video retailers all over Japan removed the Pokémon anime from their rental shelves.

Reaction was swift on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and Nintendo's shares fell by 400 yen (almost 5%) the following morning to 12,200 yen. Then-president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, said at a press conference the day after the episode had aired that the video game company was not responsible since the original Pokémon game for its Game Boy product was presented in black and white.

After the airing of "Dennō Senshi Porygon", the Pokémon anime went into a four-month hiatus, TV Tokyo removed their red circle "チュッ!" logo from the Pokémon Season 1: Indigo League Opening Credits & Ending Credits, the opening animation was redone, and the lightning flash was removed from the "Who's That Pokémon?" segment. All 37 episodes of Pokémon Season 1: Indigo League were rerun on Kids Station in Tokyo before the show returned on April 16, 1998 with airing of "Forest of Pikachu" ("Pikachu's Goodbye") and "The Four Eevee Brothers" ("The Battling Eevee Brothers"). After the hiatus, the time slot changed from Tuesday to Thursday. The opening theme was also redone, and black screens showing various Pokémon in spotlights were broken up into four images per screen and at the end of the opening animation, they show just the テレビ東京 text logo without the TV Tokyo red circle logo and without the チュッ! text, eventually rebranding to its current logo shortly after in October 1 the same year. The Dare da? segment was also redone, it starts on the black screen without the lightning flash, and it continues on the blue screen without the lightning flash. Before the seizure incident, the opening was originally one Pokémon image per screen, the end of the opening animation was showing TV Tokyo red circle logo and the チュッ! text, the Dare da? segenent still has the lightning flash. Before the resumption of broadcast, "Problem Inspection Report on the Pocket Monsters Anime" (アニメ ポケットモンスター問題検証報告 Anime Poketto Monsutā Mondai Kenshō Hōkoku) was shown. Broadcast in Japan on April 16, 1998, host Miyuki Yadama went over the circumstances of the program format and the on-screen advisories at the beginning of animated programs, as well as showing letters and fan drawings sent in by viewers, most of whom were concerned that the incident would lead to the anime being cancelled. Many Japanese television broadcasters and medical officials (along with the United Kingdom Independent Television Commission) came together to find ways to make sure the incident was not repeated. They established a series of guidelines for future animated programs, including:

  • Flashing images, especially those with red, should not flicker faster than three times per second. If the image does not have red, it still should not flicker faster than five times per second.
  • Flashing images should not be displayed for a total duration of more than two seconds.
  • Stripes, whirls and concentric circles should not take up a large part of the television screen.

This episode kept the episodes "Rougela's Christmas" ("Holiday Hi-Jynx") and "Iwark as a Bivouac" ("Snow Way Out!") off their original broadcast date in Japan following the incident. Those two episodes were about to air after "Dennō Senshi Porygon" on December 23, 1997, and January 6, 1998, respectively. They were eventually only aired on October 5, 1998, as an hour-long special. Airing out of order caused confusion to viewers because Ash still had a Charmander instead of Charizard, and Misty did not have Togepi yet, but Starmie and Horsea. Also, a New Year special was about to air between these episodes on December 30, 1997, but it was cancelled after TV Tokyo pulled any mention of Pokémon from their channel following the incident.

To prevent any similar incidents from occurring, Yamauchi quickly ordered the episode pulled from circulation, and it has not aired since in any country. After the Pokémon incident, TV broadcasters voluntarily added on-screen warnings to shows targeted at young children encouraging viewers to watch anime in a well-lit room and to sit far away from the television set. The anime has not featured Porygon or its evolutions, Porygon-2 and Porygon-Z, in any subsequent episodes.

Cultural impact

The "Pokémon Shock" incident has been parodied many times in popular culture, including an episode of The Simpsons, "Thirty Minutes over Tokyo". In the episode, the Simpson family travels to Japan. When they arrive at their hotel in Tokyo, Bart is seen watching an anime entitled Battling Seizure Robots featuring robots with flashing eye lasers, and asks: "Isn't this that cartoon that causes seizures?", and the flashing eyes cause him to have a seizure. Marge and Lisa are also affected and Homer walks in seeing them all convulsing on the floor and joins in. The same scene is seen again in the episode's end credits, this time covering the entire screen.

An episode of South Park that first aired in November 1999, "Chinpokomon", revolves around a Pokémon-like phenomenon, called Chinpokomon, with which the children of South Park become obsessed. Chinpokomon toys and video games are sold to American children in South Park by a Japanese company. The company's president, Mr. Hirohito, uses the toys to brainwash the American children, making them into his own army to topple the "evil" American "empire". These toys included a video game in which the player attempts to bomb Pearl Harbor. While playing this game, Kenny has an epileptic seizure and later dies, in reference to the Pokémon seizure incident.

In the pilot episode of Drawn Together, Ling-Ling, who is a parody of Pikachu, states that his goal in the Drawn Together house is to "destroy all, and give children seizures". There follows a scene with flashing lights.

In So Yesterday, a novel by Scott Westerfeld, this episode is mentioned and shown to one of the characters. The flashing red light that caused the seizure is also used in the storytelling elements.

On September 19, 2020, the official Pokémon Twitter account referenced the episode, saying "Porygon did nothing wrong," in reference to the resulting explosion from Pikachu's Thunderbolt attack being the in-universe cause of the flashing lights, not Porygon. The tweet was deleted shortly thereafter, speculated to be because of the meme's distant origins in the trolling phrase "Hitler did nothing wrong", leading to accusations of antisemitism, or because of the taboo subject matter.

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