Pokémon is truly one of the most iconic franchises—of any medium—in history. If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably spent some time wondering about the origins of the world-famous Pocket Monsters. Who created our favorite red-cheeked companion Pikachu? How did Pokémon go from a set of games to a media juggernaut? In this article, we’ll dive into the history of the creator, his co-founders and the impact The Pokémon Game has had since its genesis. It’s a remarkable journey, so buckle up. It all began with the creator of Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri.
Who Created Pokemon? Meet The Founders of The Iconic Brand
Pocket Monsters: The Origins
Tajiri, a video game designer and co-founder of Game Freak Magazine, created Pokémon around 1990, after conceptualizing a two-person battle with insects through the Game Boy Link Cable. As a child, Tajiri collected insects, a popular hobby in Japan. Pokémon, as you may know, is a portmanteau of the phrase “Pocket Monsters.” Originally the name was Capsule Monsters, but that had to be changed because of a trademark issue. Due to this, Nintendo rejected the 1st proposal by Tajiri. After the change to Pocket Monsters, the idea was again pitched to Nintendo, except it was by Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto is the genius behind Super Mario & Zelda. With his help, Nintendo approved Tajiri’s concept, even though they didn’t fully understand it, and subsequently gave funding for the project.
Original Pokémon Artist, Ken Sugimori, joined the Game Freak team as an illustrator after checking out the magazine in 1981. Sugimori, along with Atsuko Nishida, Motofumi Fujiwara and Shigeki Morimoto designed all 151 original Pokémon characters.
Atsuko Nishida was the original Pikachu designer. She was tasked with designing 24 of the Generation 1 Pokémon, including Bulbasaur, Charmander, Charmeleon & Charizard.
Motofumi Fujiwara joined Game Freak in 1992, and is noted as the original Eevee designer. Satoshi Tajiri had requested a Pokémon that could evolve into multiple different forms, so Fujiwara tried to create “a blank slate Pokémon.” Fujiwara originally designed the evolutions Jolteon & Flareon, while Atsuko Nashida designed Vaporeon. This was all prior to the Eevee illustration.
Shigeki Morimoto is best known for creating the Pokémon Video Game Battle system & designing the character Mew. Other designs from Morimoto include: Diglett, Meowth, Mankey, Taurus and Dragonite. Despite having the responsibility of redesigning the Battle System for each game, Morimoto is also credited as game director for: Pokémon Emerald, Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver.
The First Video Games
Production for Pokémon games Red & Green began in 1991. Over the next 5 years, Game Freak nearly went bankrupt, with the company barely able to pay employees. Five employees quit due to the lack of funding. Satoshi Tajiri worked without salary during the tough times, taking assistance from his father. Running out of money to complete the games, Creatures Inc. joined the fray by providing the necessary funding to finish the games in exchange for 33% of the Pokémon franchise rights.
Fast-forward to February 27, 1996, when Pokémon Red and Green versions on Nintendo Gameboy were released in Japan. The original games were not an instant success, but after CoroCoro Magazine issued a Pokémon offer to provide Mew to 20 contestants, over 78,000 people signed up and demand for the games soared. Pokémon Blue was released in Japan on October 15, 1996. The game provided upgrades to the graphics and music. The original three Pokémon games sold a total of 10.23 Million copies. There have been a ton of games since; we recently ranked the 12 Best Pokémon Games, check it out.
The First Cards
The first Japanese Pokémon Base set cards were released on October 20, 1996 by Media Factory. Although they aren’t the original Pokémon cards to be created, they are the first ones made for the game. Ken Sugimori also designed some of the original cards, such as Alakazam, Chansey and Blastoise.
The TV Show
On April 1, 1997, the Japanese Pokémon TV show aired, with the main character named Satoshi after the creator, Satoshi Tajiri. In the English version, the character becomes Ash Ketchum.
In 1998 the Red & Blue US Versions are released, selling a combined 9.85 Million copies. To date, Pokémon is the #1 Video Game franchise with over $105 Billion at retail in 24 years. That’s more than triple its nearest competitor, Mario.
On September 8, 1998, Pokémon aired their 1st episode: “Pikachu, I Choose You!” In this episode, the protagonist, Ash Ketchum, begins his Pokémon journey acquiring Pikachu, the focal character of Pokémon culture. Along the way Ash befriends Misty & Brock, both gym leaders and Pokémon experts. Team Rocket’s Jesse, James and Meowth are the villains, aiming to steal all the Pokémon imaginable for their boss, Giovanni. Season 1 ran 82 episodes over 14 months, spanning the Base, Jungle and Fossil card sets.
The Rise of Cards
On January 9th, 1999, Wizards of the Coast released The Pokémon 1st Edition Base set. At the time it was dubbed The Pokémon Game, since it was the only English set. The demand then was sky high, with parents scouring to obtain packs for their children. Every set release was highly anticipated, and stores would limit how many packs you were allowed to purchase.
Pokémon Cards, like most sports cards, were originally designed for children. The Pokémon Game is one of strategy, where two players “battle” with 60 cards each. Pokémon, Trainer and Energy cards comprise each deck that you build from the 102 cards provided in the Base set. Due to Pokémon technically being a card game, the majority of cards were used for this purpose. The demand for English Pokémon cards was so great it caused card manufacturers to discontinue sports card lines due to production limitations that year.
Later in 1999, The Pokémon Company created The Pokémon Trading Card Game League, utilizing card shops and companies such as Toys R Us. At these events, you could battle, trade cards and win badges, with every child receiving one promo card a week. Packs and theme decks were also abundantly available at the stores that hosted events. This was a way to establish supervision and education by installing Team Leaders. The leaders were gym leaders of sorts who would utilize their own cards to battle the children participating in the league. Each league had Trainer Decks A (Brock) & B (Misty) to teach beginners the basics of battling. The A & B decks had red backs with their respective letter so it was easy to identify which deck the cards belonged to. Remember, this is a game: the sole intention for the cards was to be used for this purpose.
For more information on Promo Cards and other great deals, you can check out our writeup on 10 Sneaky Pokémon deals on Ebay.
For Perspective, the 1st Edition Base cards were initially sold in $3 packs containing 11 cards, with a hologram being pulled in every 3 packs on average. A box contained 36 packs, 12 holograms, and totaled 396 cards. The cards had different rarity levels: Hologram, Rare, Uncommon & Common. In every pack you would receive one hologram or rare card. The set contained 16 Holographic cards, with Machamp being the only card not available in packs. Machamp was obtainable in The Two Player Starter Set. The Starter Set is the Beginners deck and is the only one to have 61 cards compared to 60 for all other original theme decks. Every Machamp produced to sell had a 1st Edition stamp, with different versions being produced in the Shadowless, Unlimited and Cosmos variations of the Starter Set.
If you’re looking for more info, check out our Pokémon Value and Price Guide.
To streamline the game, 5 Base Set Theme Decks were produced for sale: 2 Player Starter Set (already mentioned), Blackout, Brushfire, Overgrowth & Zap. Each Theme Deck came with a Hologram. These 5 Theme Decks utilized unique pairings to create different challenges for battles. Blackout focused on fighting and water Pokémon with Hitmonchan being the Hologram. Brushfire was a combination of Fire and Grass Pokémon with a Holographic Ninetales in the deck. Overgrowth provided Water and Grass Pokémon with a Gyarados Hologram headlining this Theme Deck. Zap contains Psychic and Electric Pokémon, including 4 Pikachu’s and the Hologram Mew.
Since 1996, there have been 8 Pokémon Generations. That’s 24 years of cards, totaling over $10.25 Billion in revenues. The video game revenues top over $17.14 billion, and $61.1 Billion in merchandise. It’s quite remarkable that a game based off of catching tadpoles and insects has become the most-profitable media franchise ever. On top of this, Pokémon Cards have become a powerful investing tool that’s caught the eye of a plethora of celebrities and investors. If you want to read more about investing and selling Pokémon cards, click here.
In 2016, the Pokémon Go app was released, blowing away expectations. Instantly, people were outside trying to catch Pokémon and walking miles to hatch their eggs. The app shattered records with over 10 Million downloads in the first week. In 2016 the app grossed over $832 Million. 2017 was a down year at $589 Million. The resurgence came in 2018 at $828 Million, followed by $902 Million in 2019 and finally hitting $1 Billion in 2020. John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, is the mind behind the app. Prior to the app, Hanke led the Google Maps and Google Earth projects.
Satoshi Tajiri is currently the CEO of Game Freak, overseeing the Pokémon world since its inception. Tajiri stepped down as director after Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and became an executive producer. He also is credited for his work as an Executive Producer on the Live Action film Detective Pikachu.
The Pokémon world is one of adventure, crafted from the desire to catch and nurture insects. Although you can’t throw a Pokéball at the neighbor’s cat, you can catch a Meowth on your phone. That’s the same thing, right?