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"Dennō Senshi Porygon"
Pokémon episode
Ash, Misty, Brock, and Pikachu ride on Porygon's back in cyberspace.
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 38
Original airdate December 16, 1997 (1997-12-16)
Episode chronology
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"Ditto's Mysterious Mansion" "Pikachu's Goodbye"

"Dennō Senshi Porygon" (でんのうせんしポリゴン Dennō Senshi Porigon?, literally "Computer Soldier Porygon", although most commonly translated as "Electric Soldier Porygon") is the thirty-eighth episode of the Pokémon anime's first season. It was first broadcast in Japan on December 16, 1997, and has since not aired anywhere else. 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's wrong, they must go inside the machine.

The episode is infamous for using visual effects that caused seizures in a substantial number of Japanese viewers, an incident referred to as the "Pokémon Shock" (ポケモンショック Pokémon Shokku?) by the Japanese press. Six hundred and eighty-five viewers were taken to hospitals, but only two people remained hospitalized for more than two weeks. Due to this, the episode has been banned worldwide.

After the shock, the Pokémon anime went into a four month hiatus, and it returned on TV Tokyo in April 1998. Since then, the episode has been parodied and referenced in cultural media, including episodes of The Simpsons and South Park.



Ash, Misty, Brock, and Pikachu discover that the system used to transfer Pokémon from one Pokémon Center to the other 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 system 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, but Nurse Joy, monitoring the situation, has sent an anti-virus program into the system to combat what she thinks is a computer virus. Pikachu uses a Thunderbolt attack on the program, which manifests as "vaccine missiles", which causes an explosion. The group and Team Rocket successfully escape the computer, and with Team Rocket's blockade removed, the system returns to normal.

Reception and controversy

One of the infamous scenes that caused the seizures

"Dennō Senshi Porygon" aired in Japan on December 16, 1997 at 6:30 PM Japan Standard Time.[1] The episode, which was broadcast over thirty-seven TV stations that Tuesday night, held the highest ratings for its time slot,[1] being watched by approximately 4.6 million households.[2][3]

20 minutes into the episode, there is a scene in which Pikachu stops some vaccine missiles with its Thunderbolt attack, resulting in a huge explosion that flashes red and blue lights.[4] Although there were similar parts in the episode with red and blue flashes, an anime technique called "paka paka" made this scene extremely intense,[5] for these flashes were extremely bright strobe lights, with blinks at a rate of about 12 Hz for approximately four seconds in almost fullscreen, and then for two seconds outright fullscreen.[6]

At this point, viewers started to complain of blurred vision, headaches, dizziness and nausea.[4][7] A few people even had seizures, blindness, convulsions and lost consciousness.[4] Japan's Fire Defense Agency reported that a total of 685 viewers, 310 boys and 375 girls, were taken to hospitals by ambulances.[4][8] Although many victims recovered during the ambulance trip, more than 150 of them were admitted to hospitals.[4][8] Two people remained hospitalized for over two weeks.[8] Some other people had seizures when parts of the scene were rebroadcast during news reports on the seizures.[7] Only a small fraction of the 685 children treated were diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy.[9]

Later studies showed that 5-10% of the viewers had mild symptoms that did not need hospital treatment.[6] 12,000 children who did not get sent to hospital by ambulance reported mild symptoms of illness; however, their symptoms more closely resembled mass hysteria than a grand mal seizure.[4][10] A study following 103 patients over three years after the event found that most of them had no further seizures.[11] Scientists believe that the flashing lights triggered photosensitive seizures in which visual stimuli such as flashing lights can cause altered consciousness. Although approximately 1 in 4,000 people are susceptible to these types of seizures, the number of people affected by this Pokémon episode was unprecedented.[8]

An article attacking the entire Japanese animation industry soon appeared in USA Today. Written by Jefferson Graham and Tim Friend, it confidently contended that "American children aren't likely to suffer seizures provoked by TV cartoons", mainly because U.S. networks do not air the "graphic Japanese cartoons known as anime".[12] Ron Morris at stated, however, that "there was nothing graphic about the scene or the show – the effect was caused by an unlucky combination of factors".[12] The incident, which was referred to as the "Pokémon Shock" (ポケモンショック Pokemon Shokku?) by the Japanese press,[13] was included in the 2004 edition and the 2008 Gamers Edition of the Guinness World Records book, with the dubious honor of holding the record for "Most Photosensitive Epileptic Seizures Caused by a Television Show".[14][15]


The news of the incident spread quickly through Japan. The following day the television station that had aired the episode, TV Tokyo, issued an apology to the Japanese people, suspended the program, and said it would investigate the cause of the seizures.[4] Officers from Atago Police Station were ordered by the National Police Agency to question the anime's producers about the show's contents and production process.[5] 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.[4]

Reaction was swift on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and the Nintendo shares went down 400 yen (almost 5%) the following morning to 12,200 yen as news of the incident spread.[4][16] Nintendo produces the game upon which the Pokémon anime series is based. 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.[16][17]

After the airing of "Dennō Senshi Porygon", the Pokémon anime went into a four month hiatus until it returned in April 1998.[18][19] After the hiatus, the time slot changed from Tuesday to Thursday.[2] The opening theme was also redone, and black screens showing various Pokémon in spotlights were broken up into four images per screen. Before the seizure incident, the opening was originally one Pokémon image per screen.[2] Before the resuming of broadcast, "Problem Inspection Report on Pocket Monster Animated Series" (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, a woman named Miyuki Yadama went over the circumstances of the program format and the on-screen advisories at the beginning of animated programs.[2] Many Japanese television broadcasters and medical officials got together to find ways to make sure this never happened again. They established a series of guidelines for future animated programs,[8][20] 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.

The episode itself has never been broadcast again in any country. The episode was dubbed and altered in the United States by 4Kids Entertainment to slow down the flashing lights, but was never broadcast.[21] In an effort to put the event out of the public's minds and prevent trauma, the anime has not featured Porygon in any subsequent episodes.[22] Its second-generation evolution, Porygon2, is the only second-generation Pokémon to never make an appearance in the anime.[22] Its fourth-generation evolution, Porygon-Z, has not appeared in the anime either.[22]

Cultural impact

The "Pokémon Shock" incident has been referenced many times in popular culture, including an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Thirty Minutes over Tokyo".[19] In the episode, the Simpson family travels to Japan. When they arrive in Japan, Bart is seen watching a cartoon featuring robots with flashing eye lasers, and asks, "Isn't this that cartoon that causes seizures?" The on-screen character's flashing eyes proceed to give him a seizure, and soon everyone in the room is having a seizure (though initially Homer spasms on the floor willingly because everyone else was doing it). The name of the cartoon is revealed to be Battling Seizure Robots. The end credits sequence of the episode consist entirely of the usual credits superimposed over a fullscreen image of the robot's eyes flashing.[19]

An episode of South Park that first aired in November 1999, called "Chinpokomon", revolves around a Pokémon-like phenomenon, called Chinpokomon, which the children of South Park become obsessed with. 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 American government. 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.[19]

In the pilot episode of Drawn Together, Ling-Ling, who is a parody of the Pokémon 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, a direct reference to this episode.[23] In So Yesterday, a novel by Scott Westerfeld, this episode is mentioned and shown to three of the characters, one of which ends up having a seizure as a result. The flashing red light that caused the seizure is also used in the story telling elements.[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b Sheryl, Wudunn (December 18, 1997). "TV Cartoon's Flashes Send 700 Japanese Into Seizures". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-19. 
  2. ^ a b c d "ポケモン騒動を検証する" (in Japanese). TVアニメ資料館. Archived from the original on 2008-01-13. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  3. ^ "Policy Reports/Study Group/Broadcasting Bureau". Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. April 1998. Archived from the original on 2002-11-04. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Radford, Benjamin (May 2001). "Pokémon Panic of 1997". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2002-01-25. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  5. ^ a b Wudunn, Sheryl (December 18, 1997). "TV Cartoon's Flashes Send 700 Japanese Into Seizures". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  6. ^ a b "Pocket Monster incident and low luminance visual stimuli". Pediatrics International (Blackwell Science Asia) 40 (6): 631–637. ISSN 1328-8067. OCLC 40953034. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  7. ^ a b "Japanese cartoon triggers seizures in hundreds of children". Reuters. 1997-12-17. Retrieved 2007-09-29. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Pokémon on the Brain". Neuroscience For Kids. March 11, 2000. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  9. ^ "Fits to Be Tried". Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  10. ^ Radford B, Bartholomew R (2001). "Pokémon contagion: photosensitive epilepsy or mass psychogenic illness?". South Med J 94 (2): 197–204. PMID 11235034. 
  11. ^ Ishiguro, Y; Takada, H; Watanabe, K; Okumura, A; Aso, K; Ishikawa, T (April 2004). "A Follow-up Survey on Seizures Induced by Animated Cartoon TV Program "Pocket Monster"". Epilepsia (Copenhagen: E. Munksgaard) 45 (4): 377–383. doi:10.1111/j.0013-9580.2004.18903.x. ISSN 0013-9580. OCLC 1568121. PMID 15030500. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  12. ^ a b "Forbidden Pokémon". Archived from the original on 2005-11-07. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  13. ^ Papapetros, Spyros (2001). On the Animation of the Inorganic: Life in Movement in the Art and Architecture of Modernism, 1892-1944. University of California, Berkeley. OCLC 51930122. 
  14. ^ Menon, Vinay (August 25, 2004). "Records: The biggest load of ...". Toronto Star. p. F04. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  15. ^ Clodfelter, Tim (April 17, 2008). "Record Book Focused on the Gamers". Winston-Salem Journal. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  16. ^ a b "Popular TV cartoon blamed for mass seizures". Asahi Shimbun. December 17, 2008. 
  17. ^ "Pocket Monsters Seizures News Coverage". Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  18. ^ "10th Anniversary of Pokémon in Japan". Anime News Network. March 27, 2007. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  19. ^ a b c d Hamilton, Robert (April 2002). "Empire of Kitsch: Japan as Represented in Western Pop Media". Bad Subjects. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  20. ^ "Animated Program Image Effect Production Guidelines". TV Tokyo. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  21. ^ "The Pokémon Anime — Censorship". Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  22. ^ a b c Innes, Kenneth. "Character Profile: Porygon". Absolute Anime. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  23. ^ Maureen, Ryan (October 27, 2004). "`Together' dances to edge of offensiveness". Chicago Tribune. p. 7. 
  24. ^ Westerfeld, Scott (September 8, 2005). So Yesterday. Razorbill. ISBN 1595140328. Retrieved 2008-10-19. 

External links



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