For my entire life, my family never been able to “settle down” like most people today. Before my residency in Columbia, Missouri, my family had relocated from three different countries — China, to Japan, to the U.S. — in a span of three years from 1999 to 2002. From there we went on to move from three different states — Texas, Iowa and finally Missouri. We’ve never stayed in one place for very long and for a while it’s been hard for me to confidently identify myself as a resident or a citizen of some nation or community that I haven’t become specifically attached to.
However, there are variables that have persisted. Despite all the moving in my life, one stable group of people I’ve established myself as a part of — as stupid as it sounds — are Pokémon fans. Yes, that Pokémon. The one with the little yellow rodent with the big red cheeks and the people who chuck red and white balls unannounced at these monstrosities also known as “pocket monsters.” I am, and have always been, a fan of it.
For me, Pokémon has been a constant factor of my life no matter where I was. It all started with my older sister who became a fan of the show and card game whilst in China and would eventually pass that interest on to me when I grew up later in Japan and in the U.S. In little Ames, Iowa, where I spent most of my elementary and preschool years, I was given all of my sister’s old cards and memorabilia. I remember my family would eat dinner as I blasted rented Pokémon movies on repeat in the living room.
The series was also how I initially bonded with most of my unexpected but treasured friends. Although in Ames there was only one central elementary school and I would have met these people anyways, my friends and I would have never talked until we each noticed each other doodling pikachus and charmanders in class. On the weekends we’d meet in the park to barter trading cards and would check-out Pokémon glossaries from the library’s nearby book mobile; we had made own own little “community”.
Although as I grew older and the series eventually “grew old” for me, the recent arrival of Pokémon GO has brought the franchise back to the mainstream and sparked my interest once again. My friends have admitted to raving over the series in their childhoods as well and even my 27-year -old sister who, despite having a proper job and whatnot, texts me every so often bragging about her growing collection of digital pocket monsters. We all feel like children again, finally becoming the “Pokémon trainers” we wished we could be and reliving our younger days when we were focused on the present rather than worrying about how successful we’ll be in the future.
Even to this day, whenever I walk downtown, I can see the eyes of people of all backgrounds light up when a virtual Pokémon pops up on their screens as they hurry towards its designated location, and I find myself doing the same. The Pokémon franchise has consistently brought together a global casts of fans — whether it be through an app, trading cards, a corny show, or digital gaming — with childlike nostalgia and fantasy despite the distinct and diverse backgrounds from which the fans are brought up from.
No matter how juvenile it sounds, many relationships I’ve built and furthered have been thanks to the Pokémon series and I think many people feel the same. The franchise has grown to become more than just a massive money-making machine, but to something that connects me to friends, loved ones and strangers.